Did you know that the iconic Italian plate of spaghetti and meatballs dish isn’t actually true to Italian tradition? In Italy, meatballs, known as polpette, are served a bit differently. Read on.
The Italian Meatball
In Italy, there is nothing humdrum or mundane about meatballs. In many culinary traditions—from North Africa to the Middle East and Asia—ground or crushed meat in the shape of balls or patties often yield the most exotic, unique and delicious tastes. So, when Italians make beef or veal meatballs, you can be sure some special ingredients are added to elevate them from “ordinary” status. Some of these additions include garlic, parsley, eggs, cheese, cured meats and béchamel sauce. Though the Italians’ fondness for polpette can’t rival the Americans’ love for hamburgers, it is certain that meatballs and their many variations must be included among the favorite recipes of Italian cuisine.
The classic Italian meatball is made with ground beef or veal. They can be fried, steamed or baked in the oven with a drizzle of olive oil. Although meatballs cooked in tomato sauce and served with pasta is likely what most Americans first imagine when they think of them, this meatball preparation is virtually nonexistent in Italy. In most regions, meatballs are just fried and eaten as is—enjoyed as a snack or served as a second course without any sauce.
Italian meatballs are often quite elaborate all on their own. Often, ingredients are added right to the raw ground meat to create a number of meatball variations (finely chopped mortadella or salame, a cube of fontina cheese, béchamel sauce, to name a few). To complete the meal, meatballs are sometimes served with a greens salad, lightly sautéed vegetables or even French fries, patatine fritte in Italian. The fries are more of a kid thing, but we get it.
The Classic Meatball & Beyond
What’s your favorite meatball?
Sure, we all love the classic Italian-American meatball, the one served atop a twirl of pasta and sprinkled with Parmigiano-Reggiano, but have you gotten creative with your homemade meatball recipes? There are so many ways to enjoy meatballs—from our Meatball Pizza to our Italian Meatball Sub with Sweet-and-Tangy Peppers. These meatball recipes are going to change the way you think about meatballs forever. We promise!
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