May 6, 2009

Polpette – Meatball recipe

We live in a time where nearly one third of the food the Western world purchases on a weekly basis, is discarded without ever nearing the plate. 

Mounds of costly industrially washed and packaged salad are thrown away by the ton. Loaves of bread harden to rocky, unyielding firmness, forgotten in brown paper bags. Not to mention the precious pesticide-free produce bought at organic farmer’s markets: chucked away, blemished and unused. Gallons of milk go sour on a global scale in bachelor refrigerators worldwide. 

The waste factor is disconcerting. When carelessly over-shopping for our meals, we are sometimes oblivious of the fact that there are countries where staple foods and water are luxury items.

Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio
Still Life with a Basket of Fruit, 1601

When I was living alone in my tiny studio apartment before my son was born, I used to recklessly buy fruit by the crate. Oranges, bananas, apples, grapes, plums, kiwi, papaya, mangoes and pineapples; I would gracefully assemble them in large colorful bowls, and watch them rot. In this age of waste and wicked dietary consumerism, wisdom and wallet prescribe we make an approach towards growing our own produce, forage what Nature provides locally and start recycling leftover foods.

Meatballs are the preeminent meat recycle. Whatever meat is left over can work for polpette, even fish! So yesterday’s roast, leftover beef stew, half a chicken, pork chops, veal cutlets…anything goes. I mince different kinds of meat together, cooked and/or raw, throwing in a few slices of salumi too, to add flavor. This recipe is calculated for an average leftover amount of meat equal to 400 gr (2 cups, or 14 oz). But you can obviously tweak the proportions to your own taste. 

400 g (14 oz) ground meat
1 slice of rustic bread, crust removed
1 glass of whole milk
2 eggs
50 g (1/4 cup) Parmigiano, grated
100 g (1/2 cup) mortadella
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 fresh basil leaves
Salt and pepper

Soak the bread in the milk. Mince the meats in the blender or a food chopper with the eggs, the Parmigiano, garlic, mortadella and the basil, seasoning with salt and freshly milled pepper to taste.

Wring the excess milk out of the bread and add it to the mixture. This is my favorite part: Ravel's Bolero is playing in the background as you transfer the meat mix into a large bowl and begin kneading with your hands, adding all the love and sensual feelings possibly imaginable. Blow kisses and smile as you do this, it adds character to your food. And it turns meatballs into an alluring seductive dish. Shape the polpette into billiard ball-size orbs and coat with breadcrumbs, and flatten them slightly into patties.

While sipping on a chilled glass of lager, heat a good amount of vegetable oil in a large pan and fry the meatballs for 5 minutes, constantly turning to avoid uneven cooking. Cool them on a paper towel and season with more salt if necessary.

Serve with sautéed peas, lavish amounts of mashed potatoes, crusty bread on the side, and wearing nothing but your apron and chef's hat.
Image ©

Buon Appetito!


  1. Si. si, sei ritornata alla cucina! Now we have you back for a little while, right? I so enjoy your recipes, a reminder of who I am deep in my blood. I have not combined raw and cooked meats, however.

    I've always been a thrifty shopper and an economical cook, making soup out of leftover vegetables, throwing nothing out, still remembering my childhood during the war, when hunger was our constant companion.

  2. Talk about ritzing up le polpette! Sounds absolutely delicious- I never even thought of using leftover meat..Todays 'had enough'- becomes tomorrow's delicacy:) Thanks!

  3. I used to waste quite a bit, although I tried to be careful...but now I am ever more frugal. I have a garden and a compost pile!

    Never thought of eating meatballs in the nude! LOL!

  4. great message (reduce waste) and what i am sure is a great recipe as well. and the serving suggestion...priceless.

  5. I love your recipes - I just wish I didn't end up dribbling all over my keyboard in such an unattractive way!

    And you're right about the waste. The one thing that always slays me is the tomato festival in Spain - when they simply throw tons and tons of tomatoes all over the place - I could think of so many starving children who'd be only too happy to have one tomato. Our world has some deeply whacky values.

  6. Ooh! I've never coated meatballs with bread crumb like that. I'm excited to try it... now that you've given me a craving for crunch-coated meatballs!

  7. I'm like Saretta nothing goes to waste. But I have a little mortadella sitting in the fridge that I was wondering how to use. Thanks for the tip!

  8. I hate waste too.
    Just love this recipe. I can taste thm your description is so wonderful.

  9. Dear friends, thank you all so much for your comments!

    Rosaria - My mother is the same. She can't tolearte waste fro the same WWII upbringing. It pains her to see food wasted.
    Ms Lucy - Given the right atmosphere, even meatballs can be quite a classy dinner!
    Saretta - Frugal living rocks! Brava.
    Brian - Thank you (blushing slightly)!
    Nicky - As far as whacky values, in Italy we have the equivalent of the Spanish Tomatilla in Ivrea's carnival fest, where hundred's of citizens hurl tons of oranges at each other for purely idiotic play/repressed violence reasons.
    Megan - Crunch factor quadruples the tastiness!
    Scintilla - Good for you! I'd love to be able to do that as well... It's not easy in the city.
    Siobhàn - try making them and let me know if the taste matches the fantasy...

  10. mmm... these look fabulous, and I always thought I didn't like meatballs!

    I love your recipe. Just like making music takes more than getting the right notes in the right order, a great meal is more than just following instructions: attitude is everything, and love most important of all.

  11. I think I've been a recycler from birth; have just always hated the thought of wasted food so have always been frugal in that department.

  12. Wonderful, Lola! Absolutely lovely, your meatballs and you!

  13. I try and try to use up the precious food items. I don't mind eating the same thing a couple times in a row. The "others" in my home are a little more fussy, the dog excluded.
    This sounds like something I would make. Thank you and glad you are back.
    And for gosh sakes put some clothes on girl, grease spatters.

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  15. Lola,
    the addition of cheese to meatballs and fishcakes makes all the difference to taste and texture...

    I just showed my Mum how to make a korma curry out of the left over chicken - it was a hit.

    Left over rice is also good in fish cakes instead of potato, plus grated cheese and a liberal splash of mayo to hold it all together - no egg necessary.

  16. Anno - My thoughts, exactly. Ciao and thanks for the lovely comments.

    Jane - Frugality is key at times like these. Good for you.

    Angela - Danke, meine Liebe.

    LoriE - Tee hee...

    Angela Recada - Thank yo so much for visiting my blog, you're welcome back at any time. Can I get you some wine?

    Delwyn - I'm very interested, do tell me more about korma curry...

  17. They look delicious. I will have to try them.

  18. So true, every bit of it. There are professional dumpster divers in north america. Professional in that they know where to go and when and buy nothing but eat well. What does that say of our waste?

    Those meatballs look delicious. I've been making lots of soups, too, to utilize leftovers.

  19. Lola, I like ! They sound tasty specially with the Mortadella!
    Grazie, Take Care :)

  20. I should not read your recipes when I'm hungry. Now I'm hungry and drooling.

    And thanks for the thoughts on needless waste. It's one of those things most people give little thought to, but I can remember from childhood when the nuns would remind us...."Think about those poor starving pagan babies."

    Didn't understand at the time the connection, but now I get how to be appreciative and respectful with bounty.

  21. yummy yum yum! I love this recipe, i will write it down so I can make it when we get back home.

    You are speaking my language now Lola, waste not want not. With such a big family, nothing goes to waste. I could probably write a book on stretching food dollars! But I will leave the cookbook writing to you, you are the excellent cook and writer, oh and photographer too! multi~talented one!
    heehee, apron only... ;)
    love to you and little e,

  22. Naughty, but oh so nice! The meatballs sound great, but like Rosaria,I wouldn't mix raw and cooked meats together. I am liking the sound of serving them in a apron, though,AND they are Hubs favourites. Wink,wink. xxxooo

  23. Lola,
    For an extra quick meal using leftovers:

    to use left over chicken make a sauce with a sauteed onion and garlic, pataks korma curry paste (or make your own blend of spices) and a tin of coconut milk then add shredded chicken and simmer on very low for 20 mins. (OR buy a jar of premade korma curry sauce - SHOCK HORROR - but tastes just as good)

  24. Theresa - Please report back when you do!

    Erin - Dumpster divers tell a sad yet darkly romantic tale of our present waste. Soups are my year-round Linus blanket.

    Patrizia - Glad you got through. Pagan babies...LOL

    Lori - I can't begin to imagine what it means to put dinner on a table for such a monumental family on a daily basis. My hat goes off to you, as per usual.

    Natsy - If the cooked meats are shredded properly, and the raw well blended in, the mixture is divine. You should give it a shot.

    Delwyn - No shock horror, babe. Home cooks are allowed shortcuts, it's the pros that are not allowed to cheat! Thanks for the great idea, I'm in the mood for curry now!

  25. The choices in America, in the grocery stores, can be staggering. Having been exposed to this my entire life I didn't think twice about it until we had friends over from Australia. Their first trip to the grocery store was overwhelming.

    Thanks for this recipe! I make fresh meat balls often and like the idea of using up the leftovers. Would you mince the meat in a food processor?

  26. Oops! I just read the technique. Thanks!