Ah the polpette (meatball) – nothing embodies Italian cuisine quite like it! Delicious, simple, and versatile, the polpette / meatball is a small ball made primarily of ground meat and other elements like bread, eggs, cheese, and seasoning. The polpette is so good it can be eaten completely by itself or with a sauce, but can also literally be added to almost any meal. How many other foods do you know of that can be added to pasta, pizza, and even a sub / sandwich? It can take on any flavor profile, and can even be made a multitude of ways – fried, in the oven, in a crock pot, etc.
While the origin of the meatball is still heavily disputed (some believe Persia or China), I think we can all agree that Italy heavily popularized it. Since we love all variations that meatballs come in, we decided to make a complete list of our favorite recipes including both Italian and Italian-inspired versions. Not only did we want to share our favorite meatball recipes, but we also wanted to share some of our favorite recipes that use meatballs in them.
1. Traditional Italian Polpette al Forno
For a straight-forward traditional version, we love this very easy and simple recipe. While you can use different meat ratios, this one recommends a 50/50 beef and pork mixture with a 80% lean vs 20% fat ratio. This meat mixture, coupled with a panade (starch soaked in liquid) of bread crumbs soaked in milk, provides this meatball with a perfect and moist texture. Plus, we love that this recipe is al forno (in the oven) to avoid the pan-frying mess altogether. They can be eaten alone or with a salad, or even tossed into a sauce of your choosing!
2. Polpette Neopaletana
For a perfect Neopalitan-style meatball in sauce, this is our favorite go-to recipe. It’s also a 50/50 beef and pork mix like the last recipe, but the bigger bread pieces for the panade make the meatballs bind together better. We also love that a little piece of mozzarella is placed in the middle of the meatball to give it added moisture and flavor. While this version does require pan frying, adding the simple tomato sauce more than makes up for it.
3. Grandma’s Italian Meatballs
If you’re looking for a meatball recipe where tradition meets food science, you’re going to want to check out this version. What started as a wife’s vow to her husband, has evolved into a lot of love and energy put into keeping this family recipe as close to the original as possible. Honestly the best recipes come from a place of love, and this recipe definitely shows that.
As mentioned, this recipe has a lot of food science research behind it which is why we love the texture and flavors so much. It recommends the following:
- Forgoing the panade step (soaking the bread crumbs in a liquid) since enough juices will come out of the meat and will get soaked up in the bread crumbs.
- Broiling the meatballs in the oven before simmering them in the tomato sauce. This initiates the Maillard reaction which basically yields an amazing flavor profile by browning the meat beforehand.
- Creating the right texture by perfecting the meat to bread ratio.
- Enhancing the meatball’s flavor by putting ingredients rich in glutamates (like tomatoes, onions, and garlic).
4. Polpette in Spicy al Sugo (Spicy Tomato Sauce)
Want your polpette al sugo (in sauce) with a little bit of a kick? We love this fiery rendition of the classic meatball, which uses veal and sweet Italian sausage for a really tasty flavor depth. Making these for someone who doesn’t like spicy? No worries! Since the heat comes from the crushed red pepper in the sauce, you can make 2 versions of the sauce if needed.
5. Rigatoni con Polpette and Arrabbiata Sauce
If you want a meatball dish that’s really spicy then you’re going to love this one made with arrabbiata sauce. If you don’t know what arrabbiata sauce is, we’re here to tell you that ‘arrabbiata’ means ‘angry’ in Italian (aka it’s really spicy). This sauce (made with crushed tomatoes, onions, garlic, hot sauce, and an entire cup of red wine) is so good, that you’ll wonder how you ever lived without it.
We also love that this recipe explains why we’re using the ingredients we’re using. More fat in the meat and the use of panko-style breadcrumbs means a juicier meatball. Dried oregano in the sauce since it doesn’t burn as well as other herbs. It also recommends Merlot as the best wine for this, and you can even swap out the wine for low-sodium broth if you prefer to go alcohol free.
Whether you love meatballs in your pasta, or meatballs by themselves, we hope you found a recipe that your entire family would love. Please share with us what you like in your meatballs, and which of these recipes was your favorite.
If you liked this polpette and meatball recipe round up, you’ll also probably like our best brodo recipes post.