Like many traditional Italian delicacies this recipe probably first appeared as an inventive way to use up all your leftover odds and ends. Italy of the past was an agricultural society and it was not wise to waste anything you had in the pantry.
The word ‘polpette’ is the Italian word for ‘meatballs’ and these come in various shapes, sizes and flavours depending on where you are and who you talk to. Even the famous IKEA meatballs are called Polpette round these parts. The wonderful thing about polpette is that everyone has their own recipe and their own way of shaping them so be as inventive as you like. There are some fantastic English language recipes out there such as this modern twist from Jamie Oliver or this little number from Epicurious or this super tasty vegetarian recipe from goodfood.co.uk
But we, my friends, are heading straight to Abruzzo for some ‘Pallotte Cacio e Uova’. Made of bread, eggs and cheese, this is a classic Abruzzese dish that frequents daily menus all over the region. They can generally be found as part of the antipasti or as an option for your secondi piatti, either way they are a must if you see them on the menu. The word ‘pallotte’ if you are wondering, is the Abruzzese dialect equivalent of the word ‘polpette’.
One thing to keep in mind with polpette is that they are not the healthiest food in the world but they are extremely moreish. So caveat emptor! Buyer beware – once you start you won’t want to stop.
Ingredients – makes 12 small balls
- 1 large egg
- 100g of grated parmesan cheese
- 2 slices of stale bread, soaked in milk or water
- 1 clove minced garlic
- Small bunch parsley finely chopped (optional)
- Emergency breadcrumbs or crumbled up bread – only use if mixture is too wet.
- Oil for frying – olive oil over a low heat or seed oil
For the Sauce:
- 1 onion
- 500ml jar of passata or tin of chopped tomatoes.
- Soak your bread slices (max 5 mins and squeeze to get the excess liquid out).
- Crumble your bread into breadcrumbs.
- Combine the egg, bread, cheese, garlic, parsley in a bowl and mix well – with a spoon or with your hands.
- Put the mixture in the fridge to rest for 5 mins or so.
- Whilst your mixture is resting, chop up your onion and put in a sauce pan with a generous lashing of olive oil. Gently fry the onion until soft and golden – the slower the better.
- Add the passata to the onion and simmer on a really low heat. Leave that to gently cook itself whilst you get on with the fun bit.
- Get the mixture out of the fridge – check the consistency, it needs to be wet enough to make balls and for those balls to stay together. If it’s too wet, add a spoonful (or two) of emergency breadcrumbs. If it’s too dry add another egg.
- Take a saucepan and pour the frying oil into it (deep frying all the way!) turn it on to a medium heat. If you’re frying in olive oil, you will need a low heat otherwise the oil burns.
- Whilst the oil is heating, turn your mixture into balls – you can have them as big or as small as you like. They don’t even have to be ball shaped but abit of uniformity will help them cook evenly. We went a fancy and made torpedoes – two spoons and a flick of the wrist!
- Start adding your polpette to the frying oil – you can cook them in multiples but make sure you leave them enough space to expand – the egg and cheese in the mixture do this when they are cooked.
- Once the balls are looking expanded and golden brown remove from the frying oil with a sieve and leave them to rest on some kitchen towel while you cook the next batch. Keep going with the batches until all your balls have been cooked.
- Add the balls to your sauce which has been gently simmering. Give the mixture a stir and bring to the boil for around 1-2 mins. The polpette soak up a bit of the tomato sauce and it tastes fantastic.
- If you’ve got too many balls for your sauce don’t worry! They are amazing as a snack the next day.
For more amazing Italian food recipes I really love Memorie Di Angelina (Memories of Angelina) classic recipes from the kitchen of a true Italian Nonna.