Italian Meatball Recipe (Polpette al forno)

A good meatball is tender, never tough. The key to making a tender meatball is to use an appropriate amount of breadcrumbs. You can use beef, pork, or veal for your meatballs, but again, if you do not use enough bread, they will be tough. Grandma Rose used to make a meatball solely out of bread, and called them breadballs. Oh My God were they heavenly! Hopefully I can track that recipe down and put it here for you. In the meantime, you will have to make due with these meatballs. I think you will like them. For those who have asked, yes this is indeed a very authentic recipe (with maybe the exception of the pre-seasoned progresso breadcrumbs, but you can use plain or homemade and add your own parsley and garlic if you are waxing nostalgic).  Typical italian ricette for polpette al forno call for 500 grams of carne and about 100-200 grams of pane grattugiato and 100 grams of latte.

Ingredients

1 pound of ground meat
3/4 cup of Progresso Italian style breadcrumbs
1 egg
3/4 cup of milk
1/2 cup grated Romano cheese (or Parmesan or Asiago…use your favorite)
1 teaspoon of salt
fresh ground black pepper

Technique

Before you do anything add the milk to the breadcrumbs in a small bowl and stir them up.   Set aside for a few minutes and allow the bread to completely soak up the milk.  Do NOT skip this step, it is essential.

Next, add the bread/milk mixture, one egg, salt, pepper, and cheese to the ground meat.  Mix it very well by hand.  You will hear some people say that over mixing will make a tough meatball.  I find just the opposite to be true.  The less mixed a meatball, the tougher it tends to be.  The secret lies in using enough bread to soften the meat.  If you use about 3/4 cup of bread per 1lb of meat, you can mix all you want…you will get a tender meatball.

After the meat is well mixed, I roll them into golf-ball sized meatballs. (I am not a fan of giant meatballs, and usually go smaller.  When I make gnocchi, I actually make my meatballs  about marble size so you can get a bite of gnocchi with meatball at the same time). I place the meatballs on a cookie sheet sprayed with non-stick cooking spray.

I cover them with foil and bake them for 45 minutes on 350 degree in the oven.  After 45 minutes, I cook them uncovered (remove the foil) for another ten minutes to firm the outside up a little and get some browning on the meatballs in general.

A big bowl of macaroni, meatballs, and homemade sausage

A big bowl of macaroni, meatballs, and homemade sausage

A few thoughts and tips here.

If you keep your hands wet, the meatball meat will not stick to your hands.  It will be very easy and clean to roll them.

Despite what everyone would have you believe, frying meatballs is time consuming, messy, and completely unnecessary.  I get better results in the oven and less work and far less cleanup.

This recipe can be doubled or tripled, or whatever to accommodate your needs.


16 thoughts on “Italian Meatball Recipe (Polpette al forno)

  1. I know and admire your Mom and Dad (Jackie and Chuck). I see them every week in my store in Trinidad. Jackie shared this website with me and I am working my way through the recipes. Today, I made your meatballs and they were the most tender and delicious I have ever tasted!

  2. I know and admire your mom and dad (Jackie and Chuck); I see them every week at my store in Trinidad, CO. I made your meatballs today and I have to say they are the most tender and delicious meatballs I have ever tasted! I used lowfat milk and very low fat beef and they were superb. I am thinking of adding some finely diced shallots the next time. What do you think?

    • I think you can add any spices or type of meat that you like. Sometimes I will add onion, especially grilled onion. If I have fresh parsley in the garden, I like to add some as well. The famous quote in every italian recipe is “quanto basta” or use as much as you need. Have fun! Tell my dad you want to eat bagna cauda. That is a real treat!

      • Thanks, Doug. I will definitely do that! We are planning a get together soon. Btw, I am making this recipe for the second time today, just adding two tsp of dried Italian seasoning blend.

  3. I’ve seen other recipes that call for cooking the raw meatballs in the sauce. Can this be done with these meatballs, and will it make the sauce more flavorable? Thanks!

    • You can try it and I am sure it would work, but you will have to skim grease off the top of your sauce. My thoughts here though…the Maillard’s reaction (the reaction that gives meat that nice brown coating) adds flavor and depth. Those browned bits are a big flavor boost to a sauces. It is why I roast a bone if I am going to toss it into my sauce (or soup). I brown my meat well before I add to the sauce.

    • Jim,

      I usually try to use a leaner grade of meat (at least 85%). Since 95% of the time my meatballs wind up in the red sauce, I prefer the leaner grind. Too fatty of meat will cause a grease slick to rise on top of your sauce and you will have to skim it with a spoon. I can remember my mom and grandma having to do this since the luxury of 85% or leaner meat did not come along until later. You can certainly mix your meats and add pork, veal, etc. Usually I use beef but from time to time I will make a double batch with a pound of hot sausage.

  4. I have a batch in the oven now. I omitted the salt, i figured there was enough in the cheese. They’ve only been in the oven 15 minutes and my mouth is already watering. Thanks for sharing

  5. I had my doubts as the mixture is very wet and sticky but the meatballs were in fact very moist and delicious. Next time I will skip the salt as they is plenty in the cheese. Oh, yeah, and I added lots of crushed garlic. Thanks for posting!

  6. You are correct about the bread crumbs making the meet balls nice and light. We tried you recipefor the meetballs and these are AWESOME, great job and thank you.

  7. These meatballs are sooo good and easy to make. This is definitely my new meatball recipe, plan on making them again!

Ciao!