Italian Meatballs

(now with 50% meat!)

Polpette (italian for meatballs) are probably the reason why, sometime in the future, a war between America and Italy will start. This is what will happen: a random american tourist sitting at a restaurant table somewhere in Italy will order Spaghetti with Meatballs. The waiter, having to explain for the millionth time that Spaghetti with Meatballs is not an Italian dish, will loose his brains and kill the american, burn his flag (american tourists always go around with an american flag), and nuke the closest McDonald’s just because.
Well it’s true, Spaghetti with Meatballs is not an Italian dish. Maybe, just maybe, in some very small town in a very small region of Italy someone eat them, but that’s it. Apart from that, they don’t really exist. It seems to be an Italian-American thing. I can imagine how it happened: this Italian immigrant started a restaurant let’s say in New York, and cooked polpette (Italian for meatballs), but some client argued that “Hey, paisà, where’s my pasta?”, because of course Italy equals pasta, and the immigrant had to start putting meatballs on pasta.

But you know what? Feel free to eat them as you like, I will probably stick to the rule, mostly for romantic reasons: when I was a kid my Aunt Maddalena cooked for me the best meatballs ever, and she had a secret for her meatballs: a lot of bread! Probably more bread than meat, maybe because Zia Maddalena didn’t have a lot of money to buy meat, or most likely because with a lot of bread the meatballs came out soft and flavourfull. So here’s my recipe for Meatballs in tomato sauce. Again, you do as you feel like, but please be advised: waiters in Italy get angry easily.

Created with Sketch. 1 hour Created with Sketch. 4 servings


  • 350 gground beef (not too fine, please)
  • 3 slicesof 4/5 days old bread
  • 1 clovesgarlic, finely minced
  • 3 tablespoonfinely minced fresh parsley
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • 1 tablespoongrated Parmigiano cheese
  • 1 egg
  • Grated bread for the "coating"
  • A lot of vegetable oil for frying
  • 750 gramsgood quality tomato sauce
  • 2 tablespoonsolive oil
  • 1 clovegarlic
  • Salt and pepper to taste


  1. You want to use good bread for this: possibly not soft toast bread, or baguette, or any other light bread. You want some bread whose inside part (in italian is called mollica) is firm, and heavy and moist, possibly with big holes from the raising process. And the bread has to be a bit old, at least 3/4 days. You take the 3 slices (crust and everything) and rinse them under running water; then you squeeze them well so the excess water goes away.
  2. Now just mix all the ingredients together well (bread, meat, minced garlic, parmigiano, parsely, egg, salt and pepper) so that the bread and meat are well mixed evenly, and shape the meatballs. I like to weight them (≃ 60 gr. each) so I’m sure they’re the same size (which means they will also cook evenly).
  3. Now you can coat them with grated bread: the egg in the mix should be enough fot the bread to stick to the balls, but if you feel you need more “glue” you can whip an extra egg, dip the meatballs in it, then bread them.
  4. Now you can fry them, even deep-fry them if you prefer, in a lot of vegetable oil (canola or peanut oil will be perfect) for 7/10 minutes or until the surface of the meatballs obtain a nice orange/brown/gold color.
  5. On the side prepare the tomato sauce: olive oil and garlic on medium heat until the garlic turns gold/brown. At this point add the tomato sauce and salt and pepper and let cook for 10 minutes.
  6. Add the meatballs (use a deep pan, so the meatballs will be covered with tomato sauce) and let cook for 10 more minutes.

After some research, I came to the conclusion that Italy is the only place where the traditional meal is divided in primo-secondo-contorno-frutta.
Primo is usually a pasta dish, or it can be a risotto or rice soup dish.
Secondo is fish or meat or some elaborated eggs or cheese or vegetable dish.
Contorno is a side dish: it can be a salad, some simple steamed greens, or other simply cooked vegetables.
Frutta is of course fresh fruit, usually one piece.
Especially for lunch, this is what you get at an italian table. Probably not in the big cities where the labour market of the globalized times has changed habits, but for the majority of suburban Italy it’s still like this (i.e. my parents’ lunch)

My point here is, Italian meatballs are a secondo, and probably in the globalized world we live in today, they don’t make a lot of sense as a stand-alone dish. They need some contorno to accompany them. I would recommend some simple fried diced eggplants, or some good aged cheese.

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