Polpette – aka meatballs – is a staple in much of Italy and can be found on the menu at any old-school restaurant in Rome. Polpette is served as both an antipasti (appetizer) and as a secondi (main course).
Americans and Italians both love meatballs while they do differ on how they should be served. Many Americans and Italian restaurants in America believe that spaghetti and meatballs is an iconic Italian dish. It is certainly true that Italians are big into both meatballs and spaghetti but they do not serve them together. Pasta is typically a course of its own – it you ask for spaghetti and meatballs in Rome, or anywhere in Italy, they think you are quite strange.
Meatballs are served solo when served as an appetizer and frequently alongside Gnocchi alla Romana or roasted potatoes in Rome. They are eaten for lunch or dinner and you can always enjoy pasta as a first course .When in Rome…
One last note on meatballs in America is the troubling practice of serving meatballs that are sinkers – made nearly entirely of meat and frequently just one meat. These meatballs are served with pride exclaiming that they are pure beef with no “fillers.” While this is a great thing for crab cakes that should contain just enough bread to bind the crab. In Rome the perfect meatball includes a generous portion of bread making the meatball seem light while absolutely meaty as well.
- 1 pound ground beef
- 1 pound ground pork
- 1/2 pound sweet Italian sausage
- 3 cups Italian bread cubed and dry (day old)
- 3/4 cup milk
- 1/2 cup grated Pecorino Romano
- 1/2 cup finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
- 2 eggs
- teaspoon dried oregano
- salt and pepper
(Optional additions to the polpette include diced red onion, diced prosciutto, or pine nuts.)
Cube the bread after removing the crust. The bread should be partly dry but not completely dry and hard. Soak these bread cubes in milk tossing until the bread is all wet (add a small bit of water if needed). Let the soaked bread stand for 10 to 15 minutes and then squeeze the liquid from the bread and add the bread to the meats in a large bowl. Mix the meat and bread well, kneading it by hand or get some mechanical help with a large mixer with a bread hook.
When the bread and meat are well worked add the remaining ingredients and work these into the meat and bread. You can let this mix rest in the refrigerator or immediately roll into balls that are bigger than a golf ball but smaller than a tennis ball.
At this point you can pan fry the meatballs, bake them, or par fry and finish in a simple red sauce (my preferred method).
Serve your Italian meatballs with roasted potato or Gnocchi alla Romana. Wine pairings are plentiful and I do recommend that you stick with Italian wines save a bright, youthful, California Zinfandel. Chianti is a great choice as well as Rosso Piceno, Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, or Montefalco Rosso. If you want to feel like you are in Rome try to find a Cori Rosso or Cesanese del Piglio.