Delicious and easy to make, Italian meatballs (we Italians call them “polpette al sugo“) are made with ground beef or veal; when they are made with fish or vegetables, instead, we call them “crocchette“. While Americans are accustomed to the famous Italian dish spaghetti and meatballs, what they don’t realize is that it doesn’t exist in Italy. In Italy there is nothing humdrum or mundane about meatballs. In many culinary traditions, ground or crushed meat in the shape of balls or patties often yield the most exotic, unique and delicious tastes. So, when Italians make beef or veal meatballs (polpette),you can be sure some special ingredients are always added to lift them out of the ordinary—such as adding garlic, parsley, eggs and sometimes even Parmigiano, mortadella or béchamel sauce to the ground beef. Though the Italians’ fondness for polpette can’t rival the Americans’ love for hamburgers, it is certain that meatballs and their many variations must be included among the favorite recipes of Italian cuisine.
INGREDIENTS FOR THE MEATBALLS
3 tablespons fine white breadcrumbs
A little milk, to soak
200g minced beef
200g minced pork
2 garlic cloves, chopped
½ bunch of flat leaf parsley
2 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan, plus extra to serve
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Flour, to dust
2 tablespoons olive oil
INGREDIENTS FOR THE TOMATO SAUCE
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 shallots, peeled and finely diced
3 garlic cloves, peeled and halved
½ red chilli, finely sliced
Splash of white wine
2 x 400g tins chopped tomatoes
Small bunch of basil
2 tablespoons pitted green olives, drained (optional)
1 tablespoons chopped oregano
Let’s start preparing our Italian meatballs. Tip the breadcrumbs into a bowl, pour on just enough milk to cover and set aside to soak. Heat the oven to 180°C/350°F/gas mark 4. To make the tomato sauce, heat the olive oil in a pan and gently fry the shallots, garlic and chilli for 2-3 minutes until soft. Deglaze the pan with a splash of white wine, then add the tinned tomatoes along with the basil and some seasoning. Throw in the olives if using and let the sauce simmer for 5-10 minutes to reduce and thicken. While the tomato sauce is cooking, prepare the meatballs.
Put the minced beef and pork into a large bowl and add the garlic, parsley and Parmesan. Squeeze the breadcrumbs to remove excess milk, then add to the bowl. Mix well, using your hands, and season with salt and pepper. Shape the mixture into balls, the size of a walnut, and dust in flour. Heat the olive oil in a large frying pan. When hot, fry the meatballs, in batches if necessary, until golden. Add the meatballs to the tomato sauce and then transfer to an ovenproof dish. Bake in the oven for 10 minutes. Discard the basil. Serve Italian meatballs with salad on the side.