Polpette della Nonna (the very humble meatballs)


How many of you recall that famous scene from Disney’s “Lady and the Tramp”,when, as they fall in love by the suave notes of “Bella notte” being played on the mandolin, the dogs share a strand of spaghetto and Tramp nudges the last meatball over to Lady, as his promise of love and devotion? Everytime I cook spaghetti with meatballs I can’t stop myself from feeling utterly romantic, even if the dish itself is the most humble and unpretentious and even though Richard would rather set his own hair on fire than hand over the last meatball….Many and varied are the recipes for polpette. Pretty much every Mamma and Nonna in Italy will tell you they hold the best one, and so I have to go with my Mamma’s and Nonna’s and pay tribute to their moist mixture of mince and other loveliness.

Ingredients for 4 people

2 slices of stale bread, crust removed, cut into chunks

1 cup of milk

1 lb (450 gr) of premium beef mince

1 egg

1 handful of chopped up parsley leaves

1/4 teaspoon of grated nutmeg

1/3 cup of grated parmesan cheese

2 teaspoon of salt

1 teaspoon of ground white pepper

1 brown onion, chopped up

1 garlic clove bashed with the back of a knife

3 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil

1/2 cup of red wine

2 tins of tomatoes

1 cup of water

salt to taste

spaghetti  or crusty bread to serve

How to

1. Soak the bread in milk for about 10 minutes.

2. In a bowl, mix together the  beef mince with 1  egg, salt and pepper, chopped parsley, the tip of a s teaspoon of grated nutmeg and  grated Parmigiano (or Grana Padano) . Use a spoon if you feel squeamish about touching raw meat, but in my opinion hands are your best kitchen tools.

3. Squeeze the milk out of the bread ,add to the meat mix and amalgamate.

4. Using the palms of your hand, roll the polpette the size of small manadarins and set aside in the fridge to firm up for 15 minutes.

5. In the meantime, pan fry the chopped onion and garlic in a little olive oil until the onion is soft and translucent.

6. Add your meatballs and brown them on both sides, then add 1/2 cup of red wine. Let the alcohol evaporate, then add 1 bay leaf, two tins of tomatoes and water. Bring to the boil, then turn the heat to low and simmer with the lid on for at least 2 hours, stirring occasionally. Adjust with salt and pepper.
Serve with crusty bread or mix through spaghetti, cooked to a perfect al dente!

Silvia’s Cucina is on Facebook , Twitter and Pinterest

21 Comments Add yours

  1. leah says:

    YUM YUM Sylvi – love the blog, love this recipe. Where do you shop for your pasta and canned tomatoes etc? Nowhere great up our way so am interested to know your tricks of the Italian kitchen. We tend to visit Haberfield. xx lcb

    1. Hi Leah!
      Haberfield is a great place as is Five Dock. There’s a great Italian deli there called Peter’s. it feels like being back home in there.
      Near where I live there’s a great grocer called Forest Way Fresh http://www.forestwayfresh.com/. There I find De Cecco pasta and Mutti Tin tomatoes as well as good 00 flours and other Italian products.
      I hope this helps!

      1. Andrea Butler says:

        I love Haberfield when we visit Sydney, did a Gourmet Food tour there a couple of years ago with Maeve O’Mara ( was given to me as a gift from a dear friend), and ever since there I love going to the deli, local shops and just need to go back again! But tell me, is the cheese store still there? It was the best ricotta I had ever tasted! Oh, love love love meatballs, something I used to make all the time because I loved the preparation, something comforting about soaking bread in milk and rolling meatballs by hand. Thank you for this blog, know what I will be doing for dinner tonight!

      2. Thanks Andrea,
        I really appreciate your comment! I hope you are keeping warm in this chillie weather!

  2. John Murgo says:

    Looks Good, it must be Sauce, Not Gravy

  3. Yum! I am not a big fan of spaghetti, but spaghetti WITH MEATBALLS gets me everytime. And makes me start singing, “on top of spaghetti, all covered with cheese, I lost my poor meatballs, on account of a sneeze…” 😉

    1. I really should learn that song!

  4. My whole family loves spaghetti and meatballs and your recipe sounds fantastic!! I have never made meatballs with bread soaked in milk, is that the secret to really moist meatballs?

    1. Hi Lisa! Yes, the milk-soaked bread will turn your meatballs into a heavenly, soft morsel!

  5. Sally says:

    Hi Silvia

    Here am I telling you with total honesty that these meatballs have become a family favourite which satisfies boys aged 11, 15 and 41 plus one woman of 40. Your family legacy is valued and appreciated wholeheartedly.

    Thank you for sharing. Everyone responds with huge enthusiasm when it is announced we are having your meatballs.


    1. Thanks Sally! It makes me very happy!

  6. Love this Silvia! Thank you for sharing…I adore family recipes, and I’ll be using this one! xo Ally

  7. steph says:

    incredible. prepared in 20 mins and tasgted just sublime. steph xx

    1. Thanks Steph!When can you cook them for me for lunch?xx

      1. steph says:

        anytime after Oct 30th!!! let me know when you will be in town

  8. Corri says:

    Am making them now for tonights dinner. Wish me luck! Although I have to confess to adding a little cream to the sauce as I’m craving something really rich. Hope it pans out.

    1. I’m sure they will be super tasty!

  9. Steve says:

    Hey Silvia,

    I make my meatballs in a very similar fashion, except I tend to use a 50/50 beef and pork mixture. Have you ever tried mixing the two types of ground meats together? Is that a faux pas?



    1. Oh, that would be delicious!Sometimes I use a combination of veal and pork mince.

  10. Adri says:

    Oh, but I absolutely remember that scene! It was darling. This recipe sounds fab! Complimenti, as always!

    1. Grazie Adri! I’m curious to know your secret recipe!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s