What’s Cooking Wednesday: Purpette – Polpette – Meatballs

Meatballs/Polpette/Purpette on FlickrI have been blogging for over two years and I haven’t posted my grandmother’s meatball recipe? What’s that about?

It could be because we really don’t eat them very often here. As you may or may not have heard, even though it’s probably the most popular menu item in Italian restaurants abroad, Italians in Italy really don’t do the whole “spaghetti and meatballs” thing–and if they do, the meatball is huge and served as a second dish after the pasta. Usually.

I say usually because in my house, I make the meatballs much smaller, like my grandmother taught me, and we (yes, including P) eat them right alongside the pasta–just like I love them. But only if they’re homemade.

When I was in the States, you see, I never, ever ordered meatballs in an Italian restaurant because I knew I wouldn’t like them; fellow diners would get them, I’d try a bite, and nope. Never like my grandmother’s.

If you’ve never made meatballs (polpette in Italian; purpette in Calabrese), trust me–they really *are* worth your time, and they don’t actually take too much effort to make, especially once you’re past the stage of measuring anything, which I’ve been for many years. I used to be the meatball mixer and roller with my grandmother on Saturday nights after church, and some things just stick with you, you know?

I’ll never forget how cold my hands would get while digging into the mixture. My grandmother used to run warm water over them when I’d complain too much, but then I was right back to work.

So below is my grandmother’s recipe for this week’s What’s Cooking Wednesday. Measurements are extremely approximate, but they are the ones she gave me way back when, and now they are yours.

Mangia mangia!

Meatballs – Polpette – Purpette

Meatballs/Polpette/Purpette on Flickr

  • 1/2 lb ground veal
  • 1/2 lb ground pork
  • 1/4 cup breadcrumbs
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tablespoon parsley
  • 2 teaspoons onion powder or 1 onion very finely chopped
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder or 1 large clove of garlic very finely chopped
  • 2 tablespoons grated Pecorino Romano cheese
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • olive oil (for frying)

1. Put all the ingredients in a large bowl and combine until the mixture sticks together.

2. Roll into golf-ball sized balls.

3. Fry in hot oil, turning with a wooden spoon until all sides are browned.

4. Add to sauce of your choice and let simmer for at least fifteen minutes to be sure the meat inside is cooked.

Meatballs/Polpette/Purpette on Flickr

Buon appetito!

30 Beans of Wisdom to “What’s Cooking Wednesday: Purpette – Polpette – Meatballs”
  1. Gil

    Sounds familiar. Growing up my grandparents and parents always served the meat from the sauce after the macaroni. This probably went on until sometimes in the late 60’s or early 70’s when the family started to get infiltrated with non Italians and then if there were only meatballs and/or sausage in the sauce they started getting served with the macaroni. Funny thing about meatballs in my family, half Sicilian and half Neapolitan, is that the two grandmothers made the meatballs quite differently. One made them similar to yours and the other added raisins and pine nuts to the meat. My Neapolitan grandmother died in the 50’s when we were all very young. After that my mom and her mother usually made both kinds of meatballs and rolled the plain ones differently than the good ones. Therefore, you had a choice or either round or oval depending to whether or not you wanted the ones with the raisins and pine nuts! Never easy for the old timers!

    Very clever…I’ve never had raisins and pinenuts in meatballs…hmmm….

  2. I’ve always loved making and eating meatballs! It is also perfect to put in the lunch box. Our favorite meatball sauce is sweet and sour (using Balsamic vinegar) and tomato sauce. My daughter loves them so much, she brags about her meatballs to her wide-eyed kindergarten classmates!

    Grace @ Sandier Pastures’s last blog post..WW – The beautiful belly dancer

    Hah! That’s awesome Grace 🙂

  3. 01.07.2009

    Favourite of ours too. My Calabrian grandmother’s secret was to add mashed boiled aubergine to the mix to make the meatballs even softer. I’ve taken it further and to stretch the mix, dip stale bread in the aubergine liquid to soften it and mix that in too.
    Sauce tastes wonderful afterwards.

    Scintilla’s last blog post..Peace and Joy

    Mmm I love eggplant 🙂

  4. 01.07.2009

    We all love meatballs and spaghetti..I make mine similar to yours…except I cook mine in the oven, and then when nearly ready I put them in the tomato sauce to finish off!

    anne’s last blog post..Christmas Present to my hubby……

    Yup great in the oven too!

  5. 01.07.2009

    My mom’s recipe is also very similar to yours. The only big difference is that she used pork and beef. She also made small meatballs. I could never eat those big ones. Those photos look sooo good! Even though I don’t eat veal and pork anymore, I would definitely take a taste one of your meatballs.

    girasoli’s last blog post..albero della cuccagna – part of the festival of Sant’ Erasmo

    Hee hee…now *that’s* a compliment!

  6. I love meatballs too. I’ve noticed here the meatballs are bigger and like you said never served with the pasta but as a second.

    Like you I’m crazy picky about my meatballs. Either I make them myself or get them from my favorite butchers. Then I grill them. Yum.

    nyc/caribbean ragazza’s last blog post..Under The (chilly) Tuscan Sun

    I’ve been meaning to get some from the butcher’s here just to try…I’m pretty sure I’d like *those* 🙂

  7. Scicchi

    I agree with girasoli, the photos instantly make my stomach growl 🙂 Probably one of the first things that I learned to make just by “eyeballing” the ingredients.

    There are some Sunday dinners that I would be afraid to actually know how many meatballs I’ve actually eaten. After dinner when everyone is sitting around at the table, I continue to just snag them right out of the bowl until I’m ready to pop. Even the next day, if any of the meatballs survived, I eat them cold right from the fridge. So good! 🙂

    I’m *horrible* with a bowl of meatballs on the table. I seriously can’t stop–and yes, I’ll eat them cold too. Sometimes I think they’re even better the next day cold 😉

  8. 01.07.2009

    Wow the meat balls looks so yumm.
    Wish i had them for my lunch now.

    I have to admit that looking at the photos now close to dinnertime, I’m happy that I have some leftover….

  9. 01.07.2009

    Going to try Nonna’s meatballs this weekend – I have to stop this working nonsense so I can get back to cooking the way god, in her wisdom, intended me to.

    Willym’s last blog post..Mercoledi Musicale

    Now you’re on the right path, Willym 😉

  10. 01.07.2009

    These look delicious, Michelle. Like Scintilla, I also add breadcrumbs, but her idea of adding aubergine is going to be a “must” next time.

    casalba’s last blog post..Buon Natale

    I’ve made eggplant (meatless) balls and love them…can’t imagine why they wouldn’t be awesome rolled into one 🙂

  11. joanne at frutto della passione

    We never had our meatballs with the pasta, always after as the secondo, but then I was the first generation born in Canada and a lot of the traditions from Italy were still very strong at our house (I still can’t have salad before my meal 😉 !)
    My son loves them, especially if they are made by HIS grandmother, funny enough, I only like the ones MY grandmother used to make – Do you sense a pattern?

    joanne at frutto della passione’s last blog post..Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night

    Well I hope you’re gearing up for the day when you’re a nonna….

  12. 01.07.2009

    oh, I am so in agreement with you on homemade meatballs being the only way to go. Thanks for sharing your recipe.

    themommykelly’s last blog post..Merry Christmas To All!

    I don’t know what goes so wrong in restaurant or store-bought ones…I mean in restaurants, many of them still make them, right? Boh.

  13. 01.07.2009

    Oh yes! This I am definitely going to try! Funny, we were in a little “Italian” trattoria the other day and they had spaghetti and meatballs on the menu – it’s the first time I’ve seen it here – and I thought, nah, somehow I just don’t think these are going to taste right. But now, armed with your recipe, yay yay yay!

    Absolute Vanilla’s last blog post..The Guinea Fowl Chronicles: Here we go – AGAIN!!!

    I’m glad you waited for some homemade meatballs…I hope you enjoy 🙂

  14. 01.07.2009

    Looks lovely, and very similar to the meatballs I grew up eating (made by my mother and aunt who grew up in the Italian part of Switzerland).

    City Girl’s last blog post..What’s Cooking Wednesday – Fresh Figs with Mascarpone and Warm Spiced Honey

    The Italian part of Switzerland is kind of amazing to me…just this little pocket of the only other people who speak Italian in the world. Love it!

  15. maryann

    I think you just did your grandma proud 🙂

    maryann’s last blog post..Cartellate

    Aw, thanks Maryann. I don’t know that she ever imagined her recipe would reach people worldwide 🙂

  16. 01.07.2009

    Bonne année ma belle 🙂 Hope you had a great holiday. Loveing your recipe – it is on the to do list

    Erika’s last blog post..ROASTED WINTER CABBAGE with LAUREL BUTTER

    Hope you like them Erika!

  17. 01.07.2009

    My mother’s “purpette” are legendary too Michelle (to us anyway!) I’m with you, would never order them in a restaurant here in the states… knowing they would be a disappointment. Yours look delicious! thanks for sharing.

    joe@italyville’s last blog post..Buon Anno!

    Hee hee…there’s just something about the familiarity of what we grew up with, isn’t there? I hope you’ll share a recipe….

  18. 01.07.2009

    I know what you mean about not ordering meatballs in a restaurant! I don’t know why, but every few years I’ll give in and will order a meatball sub (which I love when my sister or I make it) and after one bite, I’m asking myself “why did I order this-it’s terrible! To me a good meatball is truly comfort food. Yours look delicious!

    Mmmm, I’m having a meatball sub tonight…but from *my* meatballs. Yes, comfort food at its finest 🙂

  19. 01.07.2009

    Thanks for this recipe, Michelle. It’s so easy to mess up a good meatball!

    I started posting some recipes on my site, as a kind of kick in the pants for myself to get back to my healthy eating habits. So far, so good… (but it’s only been a week!) 🙂

    Happy Wednesday.


    shibori girl’s last blog post..What’s Cooking Sunday

    Good for you, Kim! One day at a time 🙂

  20. Lisa

    Ah yes, purpette! Comfort food. May I add a few suggestions.
    * Make sure the meat is finely ground, especially if making tiny meatballs for the Italian wedding soup.
    * Use seasoned breadcrumbs, but if unseasoned ones are used then add salt, pepper, and oregano, & yes parsley too, to the mix.
    * Add the egg last to bind all the ingredients.
    * Rather than frying, you can brown the meatballs in a 400ºF oven on a cookie sheet.

    Thanks for the suggestions, Lisa! My grandmother did bake hers sometimes as well, but I have to say I had been specifically advised against the seasoned breadcrumbs. I’ve had meatballs with them in that are quite lovely, of course, but it was just an old school thing, I think 😉

  21. 01.07.2009

    Oh yum! I love meatballs! And yours sound delish! Will have to try your granny’s recipe. Thanks for sharing!

    saretta’s last blog post..SS16bis

    Hope you enjoy Saretta 🙂

  22. 01.07.2009

    That’s because we get so caught up in our own little world and our own food, not to mention all the great food we see on everyone else’s blog, we just run out of time! But grandma’s meatballs look so succulent!

    make sure to have something “green” on the side to give you that balance! 🙂

    Thanks for the shout out and link! woo hoo!

    hugz bella.

    Bren’s last blog post..1 Yr. Anniversary of Blogging! Give Away Extended!

    Can’t wait to see who wins 🙂

  23. 01.07.2009

    I’m with you…I’ve never eaten a meatball in the states anywhere but at home. In our famliy the meat (meatballs, sausage, chicken thighs, pork ribs and beef ribs) always came out after the pasta and right before the salad. Your recipe is similar to mine but we use beef, pork and veal. It’s funny how many different wayt there are to make something as simple as a meatball.

    The Food Hunter’s last blog post..A Blog Award…

    I’ve often seen “meatball mix” in supermarkets in the US with beef, pork, and veal…you’re not alone 😉

  24. 01.08.2009

    I think meatballs are the one of the things I miss most since giving up beef. yours look lovely

    Andy Bailey’s last blog post..I finally made it back to the gym – video blog post

    Oh I’d definitely miss meatballs. I’ll enjoy some for you Andy 🙂

  25. a.

    Like someone else before me here said, we make two kinds of meatballs. Actually, the story in my family is that nobody really likes the ones with raisins because my grandmother thought raisins looked like bugs and got weirded out, but sometimes my dad will make them like that.

    Anyway, before I was a vegetarian, I would help my dad and mom (can you believe that? An Italian husband and wife who cook together??) make meatballs, only we put milk in as well as an egg. We also don’t put any onion or garlic powder, but real chopped garlic instead. A bit of parsley, breadcrumb (and sometimes not even breadcrumb, just stale bread), and traditionally we use beef. But we switch it up, sometimes pork, sometimes veal, sometimes even turkey which is YUMMY.

    I too have never had spaghetti and meatballs, but I have had meatballs in a sauce with sausage and braciole as a main course.

    a.’s last blog post..HAPPY NEW YEAR!!!

    Hee hee…P and I cook together all the time…new generations! I actually like them with finely chopped onion and/or garlic but P doesn’t. Boo.

  26. JT

    Mamam Pauline’s meatballs were the best…and I can hear her now. “John Thomas, where are you going? “Have some more. “Don’t worry, I made more than enough, because I knew you were coming over…so enjoy them. “Tomorrow, your Mother can make you those Polish meatballs, but the only place you can get these are right here, Honey…so just stay put until you’ve had enough!” 🙂 I am off to the supermarket right now to give the recipe a shot! Thanks! JT

    Hah, I didn’t know about the Polish meatballs, but I remember that she always made *a ton* of meatballs and braciole, those flat ones that are baked after frying. I didn’t do any of those this time, but I’ll have to take a photo one of these days because I learned that it’s something *very* local to here.

  27. 01.11.2009

    Well I just tried Nonna’s pulpetti and they are wonderful. Adding that to the weekend standard menus… mille grazie…

    Willym’s last blog post..Anticipation – Verdi Requiem

    Oh I’m so happy to hear you liked them Willym! Thanks for coming back to let me know 🙂

  28. Joseph Chiaravalloti

    The meatball recipe looks about right for my grandmother’s purpette, but she didn’t have dried onion and garlic to work with and I can’t see adding anything dehydrated to the pure flavors of the meatball ingredients. Veal is required. Beef optional. Some of the pork should be hot Italian sausage with lots of fennel. If you don’t have sausage, add a bit of seed pepper and fennel to the pork. And, of course, flat Italian parsley and good bread crumbs.

    I have tried browning the meatballs before putting them in the sauce and find that a non-stick chef’s pan does the best job of getting them browned evenly because you can toss them to get to all sides. I have also tried putting the meatballs in the sauce without browning, and it works well too. The sauce has to be simmering well to set the egg and keep the meatballs from falling apart. I like a long slow simmer — up to two hours, because the sauce continues to improve.

    When making a big batch of meatballs, I freeze some so I can make up fresh sauce with meatballs later on. Eight meatballs will make a nice batch of “gravy” for two or three people, so I try to make 24. I batch for today, two batches to cheer me up on a cold or rainy day.

    Finally, don’t forget to flatten some into ovals and fry them in a little olive oil. They are a real treat!

    Thanks for your tips, Joseph! Now I’m hungry….

  29. 01.15.2011

    I know what you mean! I rarely go to Italian restaurants (in the states) because I am usually disappointed. Pizza – now that’s different. And restaurants in Italy – another story altogether!!

    I remember my Mom using veal and pork on special occasions to make her meatballs. Since my husband can’t eat beef, I now make them with ground turkey. Not the same, but a good substitute if you season them right.

    I’m definitely a fan of turkey as a substitute in many things…underrated meat as far as I’m concerned!

  30. marie concetta

    very interesting. I never heard of veal and pork combo including the raisins and pine nuts. Thanks for sharing. Easy to see how pork and veal would be used in So. Italy, but I have always had beef for meatballs. Both sides of my family, Calabrese and Barese used beef. Seems like all of the recipes I’ve ever seen use beef also. I have added pork and/or hot sausages to flavor my sauce, though.

    BTW, your photo is so mouth watering great that I am going to have to make some sauce before the week is up!

    The veal and pork common is pretty much standard here in this area of Calabria; they’ll even sell them packaged in grocery stores like that. The raisins and pine nuts are more a Sicilian thing though 🙂



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