Polpettine - Italian Housewife's Meatballs

"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."
photo by duonyte photo by duonyte
photo by duonyte
photo by WhatamIgonnaeatnext photo by WhatamIgonnaeatnext
photo by ForeverMama photo by ForeverMama
photo by twissis photo by twissis
photo by Karen Elizabeth photo by Karen Elizabeth
Ready In:




  • Chop garlic, celery leaves and potato.
  • 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.
  • Knead like bread dough and slowly add some milk to make a soft dough.
  • The meat dough should be smooth and homogenous.
  • Shape into 2 inch meatballs, flatten to about 1 1/2 inch thickness and fry in olive oil until golden brown.
  • 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.

Questions & Replies

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  1. WhatamIgonnaeatnext
    This was good. We had ours with spaghetti and red sauce. I think fettuccine would be great, also. I had everything I needed, except not quite the amount of celery leaves specified. I wish I would have made more. Thanks, Mia.
    • Review photo by WhatamIgonnaeatnext
  2. ForeverMama
    These are some tasty meatballs and they are now one of my favorite Italian meatballs! I used part ground beef and part ground pork, I also added additional sage, celery, a bit extra garlic and added some black pepper. They came out excellent and tender, just how I like them. Due to hubs request, added them to sauce, but loved them plain as the flavors are distinct. Excellent dish, Mia, and kudos to your dear aunt and to you for sharing! Made it for Players Favorites - 5 Star Gems.
    • Review photo by ForeverMama
  3. duonyte
    What a delicious meatball! You can really taste the lemon, and it is just lovely. I used ground turkey, as I seem to have several pounds of it in the freezer, and baked the meatballs rather than frying them, but stuck to the recipe otherwise. Turkey seems to be a bit softer and moister than other ground meats, and I did not need to add any milk to the mix. Very enjoyable!
  4. Artandkitchen
    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!
  5. twissis
    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. :-)



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