Polpette, Italian Meatballs

Polpette, Italian Meatballs

Everyone raves about this ‘polpette’ recipe, Italian for ‘meatballs’, that nonna Francesca has been making for over 50 years. She originally got this recipe from a maid that worked across the street from her husband’s tailor shop in her hometown of Pofi in Italy and has been making them the same way ever since. They are delicious in spaghetti sauce and make a perfect meatball sandwich! You can even simmer them with your favorite spaghetti sauce in a slow cooker when feeding a large crowd. 

 how to make Italian meatballs nonna styel

We met with nonna Francesca last weekend as she was preparing for another typical Italian tradition, Sunday dinner at nonna’s house! Buona Domenica, happy Sunday, is a common phrase you here amongst Italians. Their day of ‘rest’ is actually a day of gathering and eating with family. While nonna Francesca was preparing the meatballs, we took the opportunity to ask her and nonno Peppino some food questions about their first days in Canada. We wanted to know what they missed the most from their beloved homeland and without question it was the  extra virgin olive oil. Items they discovered that they had never heard of before were Jello and Ketchup and the non-Italian food they enjoy every once in a while is Chinese food.

As we start to record nonna’s recipe, you can see below the dilemma we faced. Typically nonnas do not measure most ingredients in a way you would be used to. Rather, it’s a ‘pugno di formaggio’ (a fistful of cheese), ‘na mannata di sale’ (a handful of salt), or one of my favorites – ‘mezzo uovo di olio’ (half an empty eggshell of oil)! We would love to hear about some of your nonna’s interesting measuring tools!

meatball recipe

This particular Sunday, everyone was a little extra giddy as the first granddaughter and first great granddaughter joined the festivities! A proud bisnonna (great-grandmother) doesn’t miss the chance to start teaching her recipes early on!

nonna making meatballs

In the background you can see the pot of sauce simmering away waiting for the lightly roasted meatballs to add the big finale of taste before it tops the family’s favorite pasta. Once added, the meatballs will cook for an hour, infusing all those flavours into the tomato sauce while remaining tender and juicy.

roated meatballs

The grandchildren waited patiently while we photographed the final product of nonna’s labour. Well, most of them! Thank you nonna Francesca for sharing your special recipe and home with us!

sunday dinner with nonna

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how to make Italian meatballs nonna styel

Polpette, Italian Meatballs


  • 1 pound ground veal
  • 1/2 pound ground pork
  • 1/2 pound ground beef
  • 2 ounces chopped parsley
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil + extra to coat hands
  • 2 tablespoons milk
  • 4 ounces bread crumbs
  • 3/4 cup parmesan cheese
  • 4 large eggs
  • 2 tablespoons salt
  • 1 teaspoon pepper
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • Extra olive oil for frying if using this method


  1. Combine beef, veal and pork and a large bowl
  2. Add the other ingredients and mix altogether using your bare hands for best results
  3. The mixture should be very moist but still hold its shape when rolled into meatballs
  4. Coat your hands with olive oil and shape into meatballs to desired size.
  5. At this point, you can either brown the meatballs in a frying pan or broil them in the oven which Nonna Francesca prefers to do.
  6. To broil them, place the meatballs on a broiler pan and broil until the outside is slightly browned on one side. Then turn them and broil the other side.
  7. If you choose to fry them, heat olive oil in a large skillet and fry meatballs in batches.
  8. When they are nicely browned, remove them from the heat and drain on a paper towel.
  9. Add the browned meatballs to your spaghetti sauce and simmer for 1 hour.


  • Using olive oil or water to wet your hands before shaping the meatballs makes for a smoother finish


  • Jean Kelly

    19.08.2015 at 00:57

    I made these meatballs last week, and they are delicious. I froze them and shared with my daughter. Her family really enjoyed them with a marinara sauce. Thanks. Now I need a really authentic Italian vegetable pasta sauce.!

    • Angela DeSalvo

      19.08.2015 at 16:07

      That’s great to hear Jean! Yes, they do freeze well. I like to make about 150 at a time so they’re readily available for a quick pasta and meatball dinner too – my kids favorite:) What is it about kids and meatballs eh?! Thanks for the comment and we’ll work on getting you a meat free sauce soon!

  • Susan Ellery

    23.09.2015 at 23:21

    Best Italian Meatballs I have ever made. I switched out the ground veal for lean ground beef and pretty much followed the recipe exactly. I am very pleased with the results. Thanks for a great recipe.

  • Ai - @aimadeitforyou

    02.03.2016 at 05:48

    Yum! They look so good! I can’t find veal in my local supermarket, would it affect the flavor if I substituted it with more beef or pork?

    • Angela DeSalvo

      04.03.2016 at 00:11

      It may affect the flavour slightly but it would be fine. I’m a lover of pork so I would add more pork:)

  • Susan Ellery

    09.07.2016 at 01:23

    Best Italian Meatball recipe ever! I doubt I will ever make a different recipe. Thank you for sharing this!

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