Wednesday, 11 May 2011

Polpette – Meatballs

Polpette - Artusi's simple classic
Spaghetti with meatballs is like chicken chow mein – a dish unknown in its native land, devised by lonesome expatriates to fill their souls and bellies, and those of the people who came to eat in their restaurants. (You can pick up on this tradition at the musically challenged )  Meatballs can be eaten with pasta but in Bologna they are more likely to be served by themselves, probably in a delicate tomato sauce, as they do at Trattoria Meloncello.

I have failed to persuade the sisters who run Meloncello to part with the recipe for their light as air tasty as anything polpette so I have fallen back on Signor Artusi. His renowned La scienza in cucina e l'arte di mangiare bene (The Science of Cooking and the Art of Eating Well) has the status in Italy that a book written jointly by Elizabeth David, Delia Smith, Nigel Slater and Jamie Oliver with the help of Mrs Beeton might have in England. Although not a Bolognese, Artusi is big on the food traditions of the city and its region, Emilia-Romagna, and true to their spirit. So his polpette recipe is strikingly simple, without the onion, garlic and herbs that you might reach for instinctively.

Garlic, in particular, is used cautiously in Bolognese cookery. ‘Put it in for flavouring and then take it out before you serve’ was the advice I received from one elderly lady as she showed me a recipe for a pasta sauce with prosciutto.

Anyway, here is Artusi’s slightly adapted recipe for polpette which I serve with a tomato sauce and a green vegetable (for colour contrast as much as anything). Polenta would also be good.

Makes more than enough for 4 as a main course.


for the tomato sauce

2tbl olive oil

1 onion, finely chopped

2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped

1 tin chopped tomatoes

1 sprig rosemary, finely chopped

½ tsp sugar

salt and pepper

for the polpette

250g minced pork

250g minced beef

50g breadcrumbs

50g finely grated parmesan

50g finely chopped bacon or pancetta

salt and pepper

½ nutmeg, grated

2 eggs

4tbl olive oil

4tbl finely chopped parsley


1. place the meats, breadcrumbs and parmesan in a food processor. Process until well amalgamated. Add nutmeg, eggs, salt and pepper and process again. Transfer to fridge.

2. Gently fry the onion and garlic in the olive oil until they begin to soften and go brown. Add the remaining ingredients and cook gently for 30 minutes. The sauce should had lost its liquidity and become smooth. If not use a wooden spoon to break down the tomato and cook if for a bit longer until it is drier.

3. Heat the olive oil in a large non-stick frying pan and gently add the mixture formed into balls about 2.5cm in diameter. Fry gently until beginning to brown, for five to eight minutes.

4. Add to the tomato sauce and re-heat together, gently, adding some warm water if the sauce begins to stick. Add the parsley just before serving.

5. Serve either alone with bread or with polenta or some wilted spring greens.

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