Wednesday, July 04, 2007


Polpette are Italian meatballs, mostly found in the south of the country and mostly made at home. Traditionally made to use up leftover cooked meat and often stuffed with a surprise treat like a slice of truffle or a pitted olive they are the frugal cook's delight. This version uses ricotta mixed with the meat to make it very light, but stale bread soaked in milk is also very common, more economy that produces a wonderful dish.

You seldom see meatballs on western menus - they are an essentially domestic creation, a family meal most would be unlikely to serve to guests. Certainly not to someone you didn't know well. And that's a shame really - they are great food. Not haute cuisine perhaps, but well flavoured and textured and generally juicy they are a proper treat.
This recipe is from Anna del Conte's Classic Food of Northern Italy - in her introduction to it she tells of eating them as a child at home to use up cooked meat with 'surprises' inside. The surprise in this version is little nuggets of grated Parmesan, a treat. I served them with a light tomato sauce and some little ears of pasta but they would be equally good with salad and crusty bread, probably a more practical way to serve them mid week. They are certainly fantastic cold next day for lunch.

450g/1lb ground beef
125g/4oz fresh ricotta
1 egg
3 tbspns flat leaf parsley leaves only
1 clove garlic, crushed
salt and pepper
about 2 tbspn plain flour
1 tbsp olive oil
15g/ 1/2 oz butter

Put the meat in a bowl and mix in the ricotta. Lightly beat the egg and then incorporate it into the meat mixture together with the parsley, garlic and Parmesan. Now season with salt and pepper. Anna del Conte says - do remember that salt brings out the flavour of the ingredients; be wise but not mean. (Not a bad rule to follow in general). Mix everything together very thoroughly - by hand works well here.

Pull away some of the mixture the size of a golf ball. Roll it in your hands quickly and gently and flatten the balls at opposite poles to shape the polpette. continue making polpette until you have used up all them meat. If there's time, refrigerate for 30 minutes to firm them up.

When you are ready to cook put the flour on a plate and lightly coat each polpette. Heat the oil and butter together till bubbling then slide in the polpette in batches and cook them for about two minutes. Turn and cook the other side for about three minutes. If you prefer your meat well done turn the heat down a little and let them cook a few more minutes.

I made a light tomato sauce and let the balls infuse with it for about twenty minutes while I cooked some pasta and it was a great dinner.

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