Small morsels bound together by a little starch and an egg go such a long way. Polpette are fun and easy to make, and equally fun and easy to eat.
Rolled in breadcrumbs and fried, baked, steamed, drowned in sauce––whatever the cooking method, polpette are sensational fridge-cleaners. In my family we eat meatballs at least once a week.
When I was living in Naples 18 years ago, my boyfriend at the time would have me over at his family's house for lunch quite often. The highlight of the week was on Tuesdays, the day his Nonna made meatballs. Her fried polpette will go down in history as some of the best I've ever eaten.
I can't feel like I'm truly in Venice until I bite into the meatballs served as cicchetti at Ca' d'Oro alla Vedova, a legendary bacaro in the Cannaregio neighborhood. The suspicion of minced garlic, the soft chewy interior revealed under the crisp, breaded crust is enough to make my mouth water at the thought...
In Rome, when not making my own, I embark in impossible-to-find parking in Borgo Pio just for the lemon veal polpettine served at Romolo alla Mole Adriana.
We're carnivores, so the meatballs I make at home use leftover bollito, or ground veal, some are made with fish even. Those who love beef tartare or carne cruda all'albese are served their raw chopped meat in the shape of a patty and variably dressed with taggiasca olives, capers, minced onion, mustard and so on.
Meatball madness doesn't stop at meat however, infact vegetarian polpette are just as popular in my household. Think winter broccoli croquettes, or a personal favorite, polpette di melanzane, eggplant vegetarian meatballs: a recipe published 8 years ago that's still one of my most popular posts to date.
In South Tyrol I learned how to make Knödel, the Alpine version of matzah balls, which––if you think about it––are "meatballs" made with bread. Similar bread-recycling is found in a typical Abruzzo peasant recipe called Pallotte cacio e ove, where instead of costly meat, bread and grated pecorino are bound together with beaten eggs. These are then braised slowly in a rich tomato sauce and served piping hot along with a glass (or five) of Montepulciano d'Abruzzo wine.
In the realm of bite-sized fried balls, I cannot forego mentioning the universe of arancini and supplì made with rice, or baccalà and potato croquettes and the famed olive ascolane, stuffed olives from Ascoli!
But polpette don't have to be exclusively savory.
Sweet dessert polpette are a sinful treat. One of my favorite ways of repurposing leftover panettone is shredding the crumb, wetting it with some milk and squeezing out the excess moisture before mixing the "dough" with an egg. I shape small bite-sized balls and place them on a greased cookie sheet. In the hot oven they go briefly to develop a golden crust, so no more than 5-7 minutes at 350°F. And it's suddenly Christmas all over again.