Polpette – Italian Meatballs

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.

polpette aka italian meatballs.
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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:

polpette ingredients: bread, breadcrumbs, milk, parmesan, ground beef, garlic, lemon, parsley, egg, thyme.
  • 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.
  • ParmesanParmigiano adds so much flavour, and makes meatballs soft and scrumptious. Grana Padano works well too.
  • 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

collage of four images showing the four steps of the 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.

spaghetti with meatballs

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.

BAKED POLPETTE

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

RECIPE FAQs

Is better to fry or bake Italian 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.

Why do you put milk in meatballs?

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*!

📖 RECIPE

polpette aka italian meatballs.

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The BEST polpette! Juicy inside and crispy outside, serve Italian meatballs with spaghetti and tomato sauce, roasted potatoes, salads and more!

Prep Time10 mins

Cook Time10 mins

Total Time20 mins

Course: Main Course

Cuisine: Italian

Serving: 4

Calories: 456kcal

Ingredients

  • 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

Instructions

  • 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.

Notes

Ingredients substitution:

  • breadcrumbs: substitute with gluten-free breadcrumbs for gluten-free chicken meatballs.
  • milk: substitute with dairy-free milk for dairy-free chicken meatballs.

Storage tips:

  • 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 uncookedPlace 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.


 

Nutrition

Calories: 456kcal | Carbohydrates: 22g | Protein: 19g | Fat: 32g | Saturated Fat: 9g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 3g | Monounsaturated Fat: 18g | Trans Fat: 1g | Cholesterol: 97mg | Sodium: 313mg | Potassium: 320mg | Fiber: 1g | Sugar: 3g | Vitamin A: 237IU | Vitamin C: 3mg | Calcium: 141mg | Iron: 3mg

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.

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