In the United States, we have this idea that Italian meatballs are best piled on top of a huge mound of spaghetti noodles. Remember the song, spaghetti with meatballs, all covered with cheese? Well, the only way I’ve come across polpette en Italia is on their own, usually in a simple, tart pomodoro sauce. I’ve eaten polpette everywhere from Bologna to Brindisi, and while there are subtle differences in each region’s traditional recipe, not once have I seen a menu offering spaghetti con polpette.

Perhaps they serve spaghetti with meatballs somewhere in the country (and if you know where, please feel free to chime in), but according to my friend’s mom Angela, an incredible home cook in the Puglia region, meatballs are generally served on their own in the second piatti (second course), while pasta is served separately for the primi piatti course, or first course.

These days I’m in Firenze, or Florence, so the recipe I’m going to share with you is uniquely fiorentino. This dish comes from the kind woman who runs the hotel I’m staying at, who, when it came up in conversation that I was writing this post, was all too excited to share a bit of her family’s culinary history with the rest of the world. Her only condition was that I not mention her name and that I should inform you all that American meatballs are missing the necessary addition of cured pork, and that on all of her trips to the states, she had to stop ordering meatballs because they were too bland for her. So, there you go. More bacon!

Recipe: Polpettone alla Toscano (Tuscan Meatballs Recipe)

Summary: This meatball recipe comes to you straight from Florence, Italy, highlighting the best of Tuscan cooking.

Italian Meatballs Recipe
By Stephanie Stiavetti

Prep time: 30 min
Cook time: 40 min
Total time: 1 hour 10 min
Yield: makes 8 meatballs, enough to feed 2 people as an entree

Ingredients

  • 1/4 cup breadcrumbs
  • 1/2 cup milk, at room temperature
  • 1 pound ground beef
  • 1/4 pound prosciutto, chopped fine
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup freshly chopped parsley
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese (get the good stuff — trust me!)
  • 1 cup white flour
  • 4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 3 tablespoon grated carrot
  • 1/4 cup finely minced onion
  • 1/4 cup white wine
  • 2 cups tomato sauce
  • Parmesan cheese for garnish

Instructions

  1. Soak the breadcrumbs in milk for five minutes. Strains and squeeze to remove excess milk, then loosen crumbed and spread over a plate.
  2. In a large bowl, mix together with the beef, prosciutto, egg, parsley and Parmesan cheese. Mix well with your hands.
  3. Moisten your hands with a little water and form the meat into 8 meatballs of the same size. Be sure to pack them well and not leave any openings, otherwise the meatballs will fall apart while cooking. Place the flour into a small bowl and roll the meatballs lightly in the flour until evenly coated.
  4. In a large sauté pan with a lid, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Gently brown meatballs all over, allowing a nice, savory crust to form. Turn the heat to low.
  5. To the pan add the carrot and onion. Cook gently just until the vegetables start to brown, then pour in white wine and tomato sauce. Allow to cook, uncovered, for 5 minutes, nudging occasionally with a spatula to keep them from sticking to the bottom of the pan. Gently turn meatballs over, cover the pan, and finish cooking until they are cooked through, about 7 more minutes, again nudging to prevent sticking. If you like, you can remove the meatballs from the pan and continue cooking the sauce, uncovered, until it thickens.
  6. Allow meatballs to rest for 5 minutes before serving. Serve meatballs hot, covered with tomato sauce and garnished with parmesan cheese. Also, feel free to serve these bad boys on a sandwich with a little provolone, which is most definitely Italian!

Culinary Tradition: Italian

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