The BEST polpette! Juicy inside and crispy outside, serve Italian meatballs with spaghetti and tomato sauce, roasted potatoes, salads and more!
Loaded with flavor, traditional Italian polpette are comfort food at its finest!
These Italian meatballs make the perfect weeknight meal for the whole family.
You can have them on the table in less than 30 minutes and they're guaranteed to please both kids and grown-ups.
The recipe is inspired by my mum’s delicious meatballs, and a few tricks my dear friend and U.S. Master Chef winner Luca Manfe’ taught me a few years ago when he gave me his mum’s precious meatball recipe.
You can serve them with pasta, or with potatoes and a salad, and use leftovers to fill up sandwiches for your lunchbox.
They also freeze beautifully, so you can make a big batch and store for a quick meal whenever you don't feel like cooking.
WHAT IS POLPETTE?
Polpette is the Italian word for meatballs, but it doesn't necessarily mean they're the same meatballs you'll find in the US or anywhere else.
Polpette are usually made with ground beef, aromatics such as parsley, garlic, or onion, breadcrumbs, milk, egg and lots of parmesan cheese.
These are the basic ingredients, but each family has its own version, as it often happens with traditional recipes.
Italian meatballs are not perfectly round, they're slightly flattened, and they're usually served as a main course.
Italians don't actually eat spaghetti with meatballs, and they often serve polpette plain with a salad on the side or smothered in tomato sauce.
PS: I'm Italian, and whilst I started making spaghetti and meatballs just recently (and I love it!), I can guarantee you pasta with meatballs is a thing in Sicily, we just find it unusual to use spaghetti shape!
ITALIAN MEATBALLS INGREDIENTS
For these Italian-style meatballs, you'll need the most simple ingredients.
Here's what you'll need:
- Ground beef: Lean beef mince or veal mince is the base for the meatballs. Substitute with chicken mince if you want to make chicken meatballs.
- Bread: a thick slice of chopped ciabatta bread or sourdough bread will make your meatballs soft and juicy. Remember to remove the crust.
- Milk: A little bit of milk will add moisture. You'll soak the bread for a few minutes then squeeze out the milk in excess. You can use dairy-free milk if needed.
- Parmesan: Parmigiano adds so much flavour, and makes meatballs soft and scrumptious. Grana Padano works well too.
- Breadcrumbs: Helps bind the meatball mixture. Use homemade Italian breadcrumbs, store-bought, or panko breadcrumbs.
- Parsley and thyme: All the best Italian meatballs include fresh parsley! Thyme adds an extra aromatic note, but you can skip it if you like.
- Garlic: It's optional, but a little finely chopped garlic works wonderfully here.
- Lemon: While this is an optional addition, lemon zest adds a citrusy note and makes the meatballs even tastier.
- Egg: It works as a binding agent, but you can substitute it with a small mashed potato if needed.
Masterchef Tip: For extra flavor, Masterchef Luca Manfe' suggests adding 2 tablespoons of sauteed minced onion and 2 tablespoons of white wine into the meatballs mixture.
HOW TO MAKE POLPETTE
These easy Italian meatballs are super easy to make!
From start to finish it will take just about 30 minutes. Here's the step-by-step recipe:
Scroll until the end of the post for the full printable recipe
STEP 1 - Prepare the ingredients.
Soak the bread in milk, then drain and squeeze out the excess milk, and place it in a large bowl. Add in the remaining ingredients.
STEP 2 - Mix the ingredients.
Mix all the ingredients gently but thoroughly, until well combined.
STEP 3 - Form the polpette.
Lightly oil your hands, and form 1-inch (2½-cm) meatballs (about 1 full tablespoon each). Place the meatballs on a baking tray covered with parchment paper. Then press each meatball gently with your hand to give it a more oval shape.
Masterchef Tip: When you form polpette, remember they are not super small, but they are not as big as hamburgers; they are not flat, but they are not round either!
STEP 4 - Cook the meatballs.
Heat the extra-virgin olive oil in a large frying pan.
Fold in the meatballs and cook them for about 3-4 minutes, flip them on the other side and cook them for a further 2-3 minutes.
Serve them straight away, or mix them with Italian tomato sauce and pasta.
HOW TO STORE MEATBALLS
- STORE: Refrigerate leftover meatballs in an airtight container for up to 3 days.
- REHEAT: Reheat leftover meatballs in the oven at 170C/350F for 5-10 minutes, or in the microwave for 1-2 minutes.
- FREEZE COOKED MEATBALLS: Place the cooked meatballs in a single layer on a baking sheet and freeze for 30 minutes. Transfer the frozen meatballs to an airtight freezer-safe container or ziplock bag. Freeze for up to 3 months. Thaw overnight in the refrigerator before reheating.
- FREEZE UNCOOKED MEATBALLS: Place the cooked meatballs in a single layer on a baking sheet and freeze for 30 minutes. Transfer the frozen meatballs to an airtight freezer-safe container or ziplock bag. Freeze for up to 3 months.
For a lighter alternative, instead of pan-frying them, you can bake the meatballs in the oven.
Place the prepared meatballs in a single layer over a baking sheet covered with parchment paper. Brush them with extra-virgin olive oil.
Preheat oven to 180C/360F.
Bake the polpette for 20-25 minutes, flipping them halfway through cooking time.
AIR FRYER POLPETTE
Good news! You can make air fryer meatballs in just about 10 minutes.
Preheat the air fryer to 200 C /400 F.
Place the meatballs on a single layer in the air fryer, and bake them for 5-6 minutes, flipping them halfway through cooking time.
WHAT TO SERVE WITH POLPETTE
- Pasta: Pasta with meatballs is the BEST. Toss them in tomato sauce and al dente pasta.
- Potatoes: Meatballs and potatoes go great together. Serve them with mashed potatoes, baked potatoes, or roasted potatoes.
- Sandwich: Make a meatball sandwich with two slices of ciabatta bread, mozzarella cheese, and a little marinara sauce.
- Salad: For a protein-packed meal, top your Tuscan panzanella salad or this quinoa salad with meatballs.
Traditionally, the meatballs are pan-fried which makes it quicker to prepare them and adds more flavor. If you want to make them lighter, or you're making a big batch, then it's easier to bake them.
Traditionally, we soak the bread in milk to soften it and add moisture to the meatball mixture. For dairy-free meatballs, you can use dairy-free milk.
DID YOU TRY THIS RECIPE?
Please let me know how you liked it! Leave a comment below and share a picture on Instagram with the hashtag #thepetitecook!
Looking at your pictures always makes me smile *and super hungry*!
Polpette - Italian Meatballs
- 2 thick slices of ciabatta bread, crust cut off
- ½ cup milk
- 1 large egg, beaten
- 1 cup breadcrumbs
- 2 tablespoon Parmesan cheese, grated
- 1 teaspoon garlic, minced
- 1 tablespoon fresh parsley, finely minced
- 1 teaspoon lemon zest
- 1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
- 10 oz ground beef
- Sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper
- 4 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
- Cut the bread into small cubes, and place them into a bowl with the milk. Allow the bread to sit for a few minutes, then drain it and squeeze out the excess milk with your hands, and place it in a large bowl.
- Add in the egg, breadcrumbs, Parmesan cheese, garlic, parsley, lemon zest, thyme and ground beef, and season generously with sea salt and black pepper. Mix to combine all the ingredients.
- Lightly oil your hands, take off a small piece of the mixture and gently roll it between your hands to form 1-inch (2½-cm) meatballs (about 1 full tablespoon each). Flatten each meatballs slightly with your hands.
- Arrange the meatballs on a baking tray covered with parchment paper.
- Heat the extra-virgin olive oil in a large frying pan over medium heat. Fold in the meatballs and leave them undisturbed until they are brown on one side. Shake the pan to loosen the meatballs, then turn each one with tongs to cook on the other side for 4-5 minutes.
- Remove the meatballs from the pan, and arrange them on a plate covered with paper towels to absorb the oil in excess. Transfer the meatballs to a large serving plate and serve, or mix them with tomato sauce and serve with pasta.
- breadcrumbs: substitute with gluten-free breadcrumbs for gluten-free chicken meatballs.
- milk: substitute with dairy-free milk for dairy-free chicken meatballs.
- Store: Refrigerate leftover meatballs in an airtight container for up to 3 days.
- Reheat: Reheat leftover meatballs in the oven at 170C/350F for 5-10 minutes, or in the microwave for 1-2 minutes.
- Freeze uncooked: Place the cooked meatballs in a single layer on a baking sheet and freeze for 30 minutes. Transfer the frozen meatballs to an airtight freezer-safe container or ziplock bag. Freeze for up to 3 months. Thaw overnight in the refrigerator before reheating.
- Freeze cooked: Place the cooked meatballs in a single layer on a baking sheet and freeze for 30 minutes. Transfer the frozen meatballs to an airtight freezer-safe container or ziplock bag. Freeze for up to 3 months.
The information shown is an estimate provided by an online nutrition calculator. It should not be considered a substitute for a professional nutritionist’s advice.
Nick S. says
I grew up with Polpettes, but what I had seems a little different that these. Ours were made with any kind of leftover meat, parsley, and Parmesan and we fried it in whatever. Once I used leftover barbecued pork rib meat and fried them up in bacon grease. OMG were those ever so freaking good :).
What kind of sauce goes well with these? I can't seem to figure that out but LOVE eating these meatballs!
Hi! You can definitely serve them without sauce with an accompanying salad and perhaps roasted potatoes or veggies. Otherwise, you can add them to classic tomato sauce (search tomato sauce on my blog) and serve with pasta 🙂
I ate polpette in Southern Italy /regio abruzzese/ made of chicken instead of red meat - the combo of chicken + parmesan cheese is perfect for a light dish in the summer heat!
The Petite Cook says
That sounds incredible 🙂 I'll have to try the chicken version soon :)!
The Petite Cook says
What a great idea! Thank you for sharing this tip, I'm so looking forward to try the chicken version as well, sounds delicious already 🙂
Swayampurna Mishra Singh says
chef mimi says
He was my favorite, too! You're so lucky!
The Petite Cook says
Such a nice guy, he really deserved it :)))
Валентина Добронравова says
все бы приготовила и поела, если бы знала английский язык!