Polpette al Sugo – Italian Meatballs

I wish I had a magic realism story to tell you about Meatballs and life in the Sardinian countryside, but actually they are all about just-realism. Polpette, AKA meatballs, are probably one of the most common dishes throughout Italy: a dish that speaks about daily life, time spent in the kitchen with your nonna or mamma, crumbling dry bread with your hands. Also, meatballs are probably one of the first recipes one learns to cook, because it’s fun. I can tell you a story of dirty hands, trying to reproduce a perfect sphere of meat, and the only magic here is that my mother never fried the balls before putting them in the tomato sauce, but they never – well, almost never – broke.

250g minced pork meat (optional)
250g minced beef meat (or double the quantity if you only use beef)
1 clove of garlic
1 small bunch of parsley, finely chopped
3 eggs
1 slice of bread left out to dry, of which you’ll remove the crust and crumble the rest
1 pinch of saffron (optional)
700g tomato passata (I made it with fresh tomatoes but you can get this from the stores)
Extra virgin olive oil
Herbs for the tomato sauce (I used oregano and more chopped parsley to serve)

Step 1 – Beat the eggs into a bowl, then add the finely chopped parsley, salt and saffron if you decided to use it. Saffron is one of the common ingredients in Sardinia, and often is added in dishes where you would not expect it. In this dish, I don’t find it necessary, but I followed my mamma’s ingredients, so be it.

Step 2 – Add the minced meat to the bowl and start mixing with the help of a fork, or if you don’t mind, your hands.

Step 3 – Add the breadcrumbs little by little so you can stop when you reach the right consistency. It should be a workable mixture, not too soft, not too tough. And remember that bread is there only to add softness to the meatballs, so there should be enough throughout the mixture, without overdoing it. If you notice that your mixture is too tough, you can soften it by adding a dash of milk – it works!

Step 4 – Once the mixture is ready, cover it in olive oil and let it rest in the refrigerator for at least half an hour.

Step 5 – Prepare a flat sheet where you can place your meatballs, it’s time to have fun! Fill up a mug with water and keep it next to you. Wet your hand and pick up a small portion of meat and start forming a sphere by making circular movements with your two hands. Repeat this, wetting your hands whenever necessary, until you have gone through all the meat. Don’t worry if it looks like you made a lot, the idea is that leftovers tomorrow will be even more delicious than today’s dish!

Step 6 – Place a wide saucepan on the stove at medium heat. Add some extra virgin olive oil and when the oil is warm, start frying the meatballs just until their surface is nice and golden.

Step 7 – Add your tomato passata. Add salt, pepper, your herbs and let it reach boiling point. Then turn the heat down to minimum and let it cook until nice and reduced. It might take less than an hour if you are using a passata from the grocery store. I used fresh tomatoes, which carry a lot more water, so I kept mine in the stove for 1.5/2 hours.

Step 8 – Serve warm, with freshly chopped parsley sprinkled all over, accompanied by your favourite salad or cooked vegetables. Yes, Italians don’t really eat meatballs with spaghetti, apart from some regional exceptions, but that’s another story…


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