Polpette: Classic Italian Meatballs
This Italian polpette recipe is made with a mixture of meat and cheese, flavored with a hint of nutmeg, and sautéed with wine. A simple and delicious main dish of traditional Italian cuisine that you should try at least once.
What are polpette?
Polpette are traditional Italian meatballs prepared with various types of meat, which depending on the one used is the name given to the recipe.
The word polpette means meatball, that is why there are recipes for polpette di manzo or maiale (beef or pork), di pollo (chicken), di pesce (fish), and even polpette di verdure, made with various types of vegetables such as zucchini, artichokes, eggplant, etc.
Italian meatballs can be cooked in various ways, for example lightly fried or sautéed in a skillet, baked or in the Air-fryer. They can also be cooked with tomato sauce or simply “in bianco”, that is, with a light sauce of white wine or meat stock.
What meat to use?
This traditional main dish can be prepared with various types of meat, for example, pork, beef, chicken, turkey, etc. Or you can also use a mixture of any of those.
To enhance the flavor, some cold cuts are sometimes used, such as mortadella, ham or prosciutto, Italian sausages, salami, etc.
MEAT – We have made these meatballs with pork, mortadella, and Italian sausage. You can use only pork or beef if you prefer, but I strongly suggest using any cold cut to flavor them, such as mortadella, ham, or salami.
BREAD – Use any white bread for the meat mixture and breadcrumbs for coating the meatballs. If you can’t use Italian breadcrumbs, use Panko instead.
EGGS – This is optional, if you don’t want to add them, just add 3 or 4 tablespoons of milk to the mixture to make it more manageable.
CHEESE – The special flavor of Italian meatballs is because they have grated parmigiano cheese, this gives them a delicious flavor.
SPICES – You don’t need any “Italian seasoning”, really. All you need for this recipe is salt, pepper, and nutmeg! Maybe a little bit of garlic, but not too much because this recipe is all about simplicity.
WINE – Use any white wine you have available, if you don’t like wine, you can replace it with meat stock.
Step by step recipe
Place the bread in a bowl and pour the milk, mix well so that the bread can soak well the liquid, and then let it rest for 10 minutes.
In a food processor place the meat, mortadella, and Italian sausage. Add the bread soaked with milk, two tablespoons of breadcrumbs, egg, parmigiano, 1 teaspoon of salt, pepper, and nutmeg.
Turn on the processor for a couple of seconds. Check if there are some chunks in the mixture.
Keep working with small intervals until you’ll have a smooth mixture. It should be manageable and not fall apart in your hands or get too sticky, just like the photo below:
Make the meatballs about 1 ¼-inch (3cm), if you want them to be all the same size you can use an ice cream scoop or a kitchen scale, the important thing is that they are not too big. The ones you see in the photo below weighed about 22 g each.
On a large and deep plate, put plenty of breadcrumbs and coat the polpette one by one until they are well covered on all sides. Set aside.
In a large frying pan, heat 3 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil. Working in batches to not overcrowd the pan, fry meatballs on all sides over low heat until golden brown (about 9 minutes).
Take them out and place them in a bowl while continuing to fry the remaining pieces. If necessary, add a little more oil but remember to also remove the burned bits from the pan.
Once the meatballs are all cooked, return them to the pan and turn the heat to the highest. Pour the wine (or the stock) and sauté for 1 minute.
Add 1 cup of water or beef stock and keep cooking for 2 more minutes, long enough to finish cooking the meatballs, and allow a light sauce on the bottom to form.
Turn off the stove and serve with the side dish of your choice.
How To Serve
- With a potato salad: This delicious and fresh potato salad with onions is perfect to pair, plus it is very simple to prepare.
- Sautéed Mushrooms: If it’s mushroom season, this recipe for Funghi Trifolati is a good option.
- Sautéed Chicory: One of my favorite side dishes is this Cicoria alla romana, plus it’s very simple to make.
- Italian Veggies Au Gratin: Don’t be fooled by the name, these Italian vegetables are a great light option for serving this amazing main dish.
- Creamy cauliflower: This roasted cauliflower mac and cheese will be perfect too!
Make ahead and store
You can make this dish from start to finish and store it in the fridge for up to 4 days in a container with a tight lid, or you can freeze it for up to 3 months.
Otherwise, you can prepare the meatballs and place them in a small tray, freeze until they are firm, and then transfer them to a bag. When you’d want to make the recipe, just add them frozen to the pan, it will take longer to cook but the flavor and texture will be better too!
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Classic Italian Polpette
- 1 lb (450g) minced pork (or beef)
- 2 (200g) Italian sausages (casings removed)
- 1 cup (120g) mortadella or ham (diced)
- 1 cup (50g) white bread (diced)
- 2 Tbsp Italian breadcrumbs (or Panko crumbs)
- ½ cup (120ml) milk
- 1 large egg (or 2 small)
- ½ cup (50g) parmigiano cheese (grated)
- ½ cup (120ml) white wine (or beef stock)
- 1 cup water or beef stock
- 1 tsp ground nutmeg
- salt and pepper
- Italian breadcrumbs (for coating)
- Extra virgin olive oil (for frying)
- Place bread in a bowl and pour the milk, mix well so that bread can soak well the liquid and then let it rest for 10 minutes.
- In a food processor place the meat, mortadella and Italian sausage. Add the bread soaked with milk, eggs, parmigiano, 1 teaspoon of salt, pepper and nutmeg.
- Add two tablespoons of breadcrumbs and turn on the processor for a couple of seconds. Check the mixture's texture to see if there are some chunks left.
- Keep working with small intervals until you’ll have a smooth mixture.
- Make the meatballs about 1 ¼ inch (3cm).
- Coat the polpette with breadcrumbs one by one until they are well covered on all sides. Set aside.
- In a large frying pan, heat 3 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil. Add enough meatballs to fit in the pan and fry on all sides over low heat until golden brown (about 9 minutes).
- Take them out and place them on a plate while continue to fry the remaining pieces. If necessary, add a little more oil but be remember to also remove the burned bites from the pan.
- Once the meatballs are all cooked, return them to the pan and turn the heat to the highest.
- Pour the wine and sauté for 1 minute. Add 1 cup of water or beef stock and keep cooking for 2 more minutes, long enough to finish cooking the meatballs and allow a light sauce on the bottom to form.
- Turn off the stove and serve with the side dish of your choice.
Polpette is so good! My daughter love meatballs so much and I always make polpette for us to enjoy it as well. I agree with adding cold cuts, definitely makes it yummier and more flavorful! We always add salami to ours and lots of cheese!