Sipping from the Heel - Polpettini di Carne aka Mini Meatballs

Part 3 of the Puglia Online Culinary Tour: Polpette di Carne Recipe (Puglia's famous mini-meatballs — one of the most iconic dishes from Puglia.)

Polpettini, often called simply polpette, are a Pugliese specialty. The small meatballs, which are three-quarters of an inch in diameter, they are commonly found in three styles, 1) deep fried and eaten alone during the antipasto course or 2) served in tomato sauce over pasta during the primo course, and 3) cooked in tomato sauce and eaten alone during the secondo course. Moist inside and crunchy outside, the deep fried version are particularly addictive.

In her book Puglia, A Culinary Memoir, Maria Pignatelli Ferrante writes that polpette could make two meal courses in the time it takes to make one . The meatballs are cooked in tomato sauce, and the tomato sauce (sans polpette) is put over pasta to make the first course, or primo. For secondo, the meatballs are eaten with a little sauce. I was served polpette this way many times. The meatballs really give the sauce a full flavor. It's an easy way to make two courses, and I think it helps you to focus even more on the flavor of the ingredients. It also makes wine-pairing a breeze. I recommend a bottle of Negroamaro or Nero di Troia.


1 lbs ground beef, or pork, or a mixture of the two
2 garlic cloves
1/3 cup breadcrumbs
1 egg
1.5 tbsp milk
Oregano or parsley qb
Salt qb
Pepper qb


1. Lightly toast breadcrumbs then put them into a large bowl. Add milk and mix. Next, add the ground beef and egg, then mix. If mixture is too dry, add more milk until small meatballs are easy to form. Wet is fine as long as they don't fall apart.

2. Get a large pan. Roll the mixture into balls about 3/4 inch in diameter, then put them on the pan, using all of the meat.

3. For fried meatballs: Heat a saute or frying pan with about a quarter inch of oil (vegetable oil is cheapest and healthiest). To test oil, add a meatball, cook, and sample. Make adjustments if necessary (more salt, pepper, oregano, or milk), then deep fry all meatballs, turning so that all sides get nice and brown and crispy. 3-5 minutes. Serve in a bowl.

4. For cooking in tomato sauce: Heat tomato sauce in a pan until slightly boiling. Add meatballs and cook on a soft boil until fully cooked. 8-12 minutes. Serve over pasta or in two courses, as is the traditional Pugliese way.

There won't be any new Puglia recipes next week because I'm embarking on a 5-week culinary tour of Italy, Slovenia, and Croatia. If you'd like to follow along, I'll be writing a travelogue for, called Eating the Adriatic, and I'll be testing out my new travel-writing name, the Ravenous Traveler. Please follow along and send any questions or comments. If you want me to check something out in the small town of Rovinj, Croatia, there's a good chance I will!


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