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Sunday, 27 February 2011

RECIPE: Polpette Napolitano (Neapolitan Meatballs)

I do love a good meatball. My local Italian deli does sell them but they are hard and made with beef and I have lost all love for them, entirely and so a few years ago I started perfecting my own recipe and (by Joe!) I have finally produced a recipe to be proud of. Italians are fiercely protective of their recipes and authenticity is valued greatly among them. Whilst I respect this completely and try my best to stick to it as much as possible, I do often feel a little gentle tweaking here and there can improve things somewhat. So my meatball recipe has just one extra added ingredient and that is rosemary; not exactly a complete fabrication on the original recipe but certainly it is my own addition. These little beauties are hugely popular with all and sundry, a great way to feed and please everyone (see pic of my friends gorgeous twin boys gorgeing themselves contently on them)

This sauce is slow cooked and made over the course of the day, so it is a perfect dish for a weekend or made the night before.

Polpette Napolitano (Neapolitan Meatballs)

300g minced beef
300g minced pork
6 fat garlic gloves (they mellow as you cook it), thinly sliced
3 teaspoons of dried rosemary
A large handful of crusty white bread (stale bread works great but no toast bread)
A little full fat milk to moisten the bread
2 medium sized eggs
2 x 400g tins of chopped tomatoes (go the best quality ones)
8-10 ripe (over-ripe is even better!) vine tomatoes, halved and cored
2 teaspoons of sugar
1 cup of water
Good quality olive oil
Maldon sea salt
Black pepper
Parmesan **optional**

In a large cooking pot over a gentle heat (really low on gas) pour in enough oil to generously coat the bottom of the pan (about 1/2 inch) and add in your rosemary and garlic and allow the flavours to 'infuse' the oil. This means they should not be sizzling, bubbling or colouring in any way. If they are browning, remove from heat immediately, turn the temperature down even further and after 10 minutes return to the heat to finish infusing. I like to infuse the oil for at least 20 minutes before turning up the heat to medium.

Once the heat has been increased, place the fresh tomatoes cut side down into the pan and allow them to cook through for about 20 minutes making sure you stir them and break them down to prevent the garlic burning. Then add your two tins of chopped tomatoes and stir the contents of the pan well. Add the sugar, water and also about a tablespoon of crumbled Maldon sea salt and stir once again before covering with a lid, turning down the temperature slightly and allowing to simmer on a gentle heat for a few hours (3 is great). 'Gentle' is the key to success here as a high heat will mean the liquid will evaporate and sauce will start to burn. Turn off the heat after 3 hours, this is integral as when the sauce is allowed to cool, this is when the flavours truly meld and intensify.

Now for the meaballs, using a large mixing bowl, add in the beef and pork mince, eggs, another tablespoon of crumbled Maldon sea salt and some pepper. In a little bowl on the side pour some milk over your bread and allow it to absorb the milk, softening the dough through to the middle then squeeze the bread a little to get rid of some of the moisture and add the bread to the meat mixture. The using clean hands, get stuck into the mixture really kneading the meat and mixing all the ingredients evenly and well pushing the meat through your fingers until everything is evenly incorporated. Once this is done, make little meatballs the approximate size of a 10 pence piece (or a 'quarter' for my American friends). Making them this size means they don't need to be pre-cooked and can just be tossed into the sauce 20 minutes before you are ready to eat them. Refrigerate the meatballs until you need to use them... they can also be frozen at this stage if desired and are very versatile.

About 30 minutes before you want to serve dinner, reheat the tomato sauce to a medium-high heat (medium if using gas) allowing the sauce to bubble gently. Then add your meatballs into the sauce and cook for 20 minutes (or more if desired) ensuring you have a suitable accompaniment to serve with them. I like to serve a good quality spaghetti with my meatballs, but rice, roasted new potatoes or even a good hunk of rustic bread are also fantastic with them. Add a generous grating of Parmesan, if desired and then sit down and enjoy! Adults love it, kids love it and there is never an unhappy belly is the house. Buon appetito!


  1. Your recipe for the meatballs is very similar to my Dad's....(he was Neapolitan)! He used to sometimes put cheese in the middle of the meatballs, or sometimes pinenuts and sultanas for a more Sicilian feel :-)

  2. Gina! So glad to hear that. My ex was Napolitano and that's who taught me. Minus the rosemary and with cheese in the middle is the authentic Napolitan recipe (and yes with pine nuts and raisins too) Love it!