Italian Meatballs (Polpette)

Ground Beef

Ground Beef

by Cat, Sept 2007  (photo, right, from Wikimedia Commons)

Includes: 1. Italian Meatballs (Polpette)

See also: 1. Swedish/Danish Meatballs (Köttbullar/Frikadeller) with Sour Cream Sauce2. Mom’s Meatloaf3. Bolognese Tomato Sauce (with meat)4. Basic Meatless Tomato Sauces

Meatballs are common in most every culture, but perhaps the most well-known in the U.S. are  Italian style meatballs, typically served with a rich tomato sauce over pasta. The next best-known are Swedish Meatballs, served in a brown or sour cream sauce.

Wikipedia (4) has a great discussion about the different types of meatballs from different cultures.

Italian Meatballs (Polpette)

This recipe is adapted from Italian Meatballs recipes from NY Times (1) and BlogChef (2); and Anthony’s Spaghetti Sauce & Meatballs (3).

I had this all figured out, but not tested, when my computer unexpectedly shut down and I lost all the work I’d done, analyzing the source recipes and then combining the good ideas into one of my own. Now I have to recreate this. Fortunately, google remembered the three recipes I’d originally found for my sources…

In my experience, these meatballs are made using veal and pork or Italian sausage (sweet or hot). I like to use ground buffalo or venison instead of veal (because commercial veal is not raised ethically). Sometimes I substitute ground turkey instead of pork and add a bit of Italian sausage. If you opt not to use Italian sausage, increase the ground beef/buffalo/venison to 1 pound and add ground fennel seeds to mimic the flavor of Italian Sausage (and cayenne if you want the heat).

Many different herbs can be used; the most common are oregano and/or basil. I have a allergic problem when these two are used together, so I prefer to use just one or the other.

The meatballs can be browned in olive oil, or on a baking sheet in the oven. I prefer browning in oil. Or they can be cooked in pasta sauce for added flavor.

They can be made as tiny balls for soup, or golf-ball size.

Ingredients & Equipment:

  • ½ cup Italian breadcrumbs or 1/3 cup oatmeal
  • ½ cup milk
  • 2 – 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • ½ tsp Unrefined sea salt
  • 2 Tbsp finely chopped fresh Italian parsley
  • ¾ pound ground beef, buffalo or venison
  • ¼ pound ground veal or turkey
  • ¼ pound ground pork or turkey
  • ¼ pound Italian sausage
  • 1 slightly beaten egg
  • splash (1 – 2 Tbsp) red wine
  • ¼ cup grated Parmesan or Romano cheese
  • 1 tsp Unrefined sea salt (or to taste)
  • 1 tsp ground black pepper
  • 1 tsp dried  or 2 – 3 tsp fresh oregano
  • ½ tsp ground fennel seeds (if not using Italian sausage)
  • 2 small bowls
  • large bowl
  • baking sheet or large cast iron skillet


  1. Crush the breadcrumbs or measure oatmeal into a small bowl. Add milk and soak until moisture is absorbed. Or, as I prefer, soak oatmeal in covered bowl overnight at room temperature.
  2. Mince garlic, sprinkle ½ tsp salt over, let rest a few minutes, then crush with flat blade of knife until makes a paste.
  3. Finely chop parsley, as fine as you can get.
  4. Lightly beat egg, add soaked crumbs/oatmeal, wine, grated cheese, pressed garlic, herbs, salt, pepper and ground fennel seeds (if using); stir to combine evenly.
  5. Using fingers, combine meats in a bowl until roughly mixed.
  6. Add egg mixture to meat and work with fingers until well combined. If too soft to shape, refrigerate an hour or so. Then shape into balls.
  7. To cook: place balls on baking sheet and bake in 350 F oven for about 25 minutes. Or heat olive oil in skillet and brown balls in batches on all sides. Or simmer in pasta sauce for 40 minutes.


  1. NY Times Italian Meatballs recipe (
  2. Blog Chef Italian Meatballs recipe (
  3. Anthony’s Spaghetti Sauce & Meatballs (
  4. Wikipedia on meatballs (

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