My recent lunch in Polpo reminded me of how much I love Italian meatballs, or Polpette as they are there.
Meatballs are standard fare around the world. In Germany they are fried and called frikadeller or klopse and in Denmark they are frikadelier. In Indonesia and the Philippines they are more usually served in a noodle soup or broth. In Portugal or Brazil they are almôndegas and cooked in a tomato sauce. I have my own recipe for these yummy little meatballs which seems to include elements from all the countries, although mine are more akin to the Italian inspired ones I had at Polpo that came with a rich tomato sauce, the perfect accompaniment to my mind.
Polpette are usually made with a mixture of beef and pork, bread soaked in milk and flavoured with a variety of ingredients such as onion, parsley, Romano cheese or garlic. They are commonly served as a second course with a salad, and not in the American style, with pasta. Having said this, serving them with pasta in Italy is not unheard of and I often do at home simply because the kids demand it!
I love them simply because they are hearty country fare. No fuss. No need for unneccessary adornment. But these succulent little balls are also versatile. They are perfect for lunch or supper; they make me think of raucous family dinners sat around a large table in the sun, but at the same time they comfortably hold their own as part of a restaurant menu. Even better, it is just as easy to make a vat full for a large hungry gathering as it is to make a small amount for two.
To serve six to eight with or without pasta.
For the polpette: 2 thick slices ciabatta, 8 tablespoons milk, 350g minced pork, 350g minced beef, a good handful of chopped parsley, a handful of chopped fresh oregano, 4 cloves garlic, 1 large egg beaten.
For the sauce: 2 tins of cherry tomatoes, 2 tablespoons of tomato or sun-dried tomato puree, 1 teaspoon sugar, 150ml of red wine, or water, 2 cloves garlic crushed. Chopped parsley and fresh oregano. Salt and pepper.
Tear the bread into small pieces into a bowl removing the crusts. Pour over milk and leave for about ten minutes or so to soften. Add the pork and beef, half the parsley and oregano and garlic, salt and pepper. Knead well with clean hands to work all the ingredients together. There shouldn’t be any big lumps of bread left. Add the egg to bind and continue working the mixture together. spoon out about a dessertspoonful of mixture and form into a golf ball size/shape.
Heat olive oil in a frying pan and fry the balls briskly until browned. Put to one side. Add all the ingredients for the sauce to the pan and bring to the boil squashing the cherry tomatoes into the sauce as you go. Once bubbling return the balls to the pan, turn the heat down low and cover. Simmer for about 30 minutes. Just before serving check the seasoning, then serve with a sharp lemony salad.