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!

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21 thoughts on “Polpette della Nonna (the very humble meatballs)

  1. 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

    • 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!

      • 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. 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.


  3. 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.

  4. 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?



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