Polpettine - Italian Housewife's Meatballs

Total Time
Prep 10 mins
Cook 30 mins

Zia Tea, my Italian aunt, used to make meat balls when she had left over meat which did mot make another meal for the family. She stuffed it in her meat grinder, ground it and then added raw ground meat. She was not wealthy in terms of money, so she had plenty of fruit, veggies and herbs from her wildly growing garden, but could not afford to buy lots of meat and especially no costly cuts of meat. My mother, studying in Rome during the late 1950s and early 1960s, used to spend her holidays with zia Tea, whose husband worked as a fisher, and they were quite poor but shared everything they had with my mother. The meat they occasionally had was cheap horses' meat and the fish mostly salted codd which lay around in the kitchen cupboard. When I was a child, zia Tea and her husband run a pet store and had some more money, but not much. No more horse meat and salted codd, but some inexpensive beef or pork cuts, thinly sliced turkey or sometimes one of the rabbits from the pet store. Stocking up the left over meat which she ground for polpettine, she used whatever was on sale at the local butcher's, so it was never exactly the same polpettine. But they were the best I ever had in my life! You can use every kind of ground meat you like and adapt the amount of garlic to your taste. She didn't use a lot so that the lemony flavor and the sage and celery were not overwhelmed.

Ingredients Nutrition


  1. Chop garlic, celery leaves and potato.
  2. In a mixing bowl combine ground meat, bread crumbs, grated lemon peel, salt, chopped garlic, sage and celery leaves, potato, two tablespoons olive oil and the egg.
  3. Knead like bread dough and slowly add some milk to make a soft dough.
  4. The meat dough should be smooth and homogenous.
  5. Shape into 2 inch meatballs, flatten to about 1 1/2 inch thickness and fry in olive oil until golden brown.
  6. My aunt served them with a salad of cooked green beans and potatoes, seasoned with nothing but salt, pepper and savory and drizzled with olive oil.
Most Helpful

Hi Mia, you can tell your haut that her meatballs are great. We enjoyed them really a lot with some different sauces.<br/>New and tasty the combiantions of lemon zest and celery. <br/>I only change the way to cook them: I did it in the oven!<br/>Thanks a al lot for this recipe!

awalde September 22, 2014

Made as written for The Quest 2014 while visiting Italy. They were an easy-fix and very tasty. Like another reviewer, the use of potato & celery leaves was new to me, but it all worked well together. My DH likes meatballs w/a crisp to them, so he got his crunch & I served them w/a salad & spaghetti. I do think they would work well as a stand-alone entrée & even nestled in a meatball submarine sandwich. Nice recipe that we both enjoyed, Agent Mia. :-)

twissis August 19, 2014

My oh my, Mia, delicious meatballs!!! loved the subtle tastes of celery, sage and lemon, and the potato was really a new twist for me!! easy to make, in fact I spread these on 2 lightly oiled baking sheets and baked them, turned out perfectly. Thank you, Mia, glad I tried this recipe, your fellow International Agent of QUEST, visiting Italy :)

Karen Elizabeth August 19, 2014