Polpette: the Italian dish that conquers the world

Polpette are one of those dishes that accompany the life of an Italian from childhood to adulthood. In fact, many Italians would say that it was their grandmother who created the recipe for polpette. Depending on the city and the region, there are different kind of meatballs. You can find meatballs for every taste!

They are a very tasty second course, really easy to make, especially because is used the ground meat for the note. It must be said, in fact, that the term “polpetta” probably derives from the term pulpa, that means meat without bone in Latin. Others, however, think that the etymology of the term comes from the French word paupiere. This word means eyelid, because of the movement of the hands used to produce them seems exactly what the eyelid does to protect the eyes.

But are polpette completely an Italian recipe? Let’s find out together.

Polpette: a bit of history

According to the most reliable theories the polpette were born in Persia with the name of kofta, meatballs typical of the Middle East. Whose derivation probably comes from the Persian word koofteh which means “pounded meat”. It is known, however, also that the polpette were prepared in ancient Rome. The great Roman chef Apicius called them esicia omentata although they do not correspond exactly to our idea of ​​meatballs. They were made with myrtle berries and garum mixed with red wine and wrapped in red wine and omentum (the pig net).

Until the fourteenth century in recipe books there is no trace of the word meatball. They appear only in the fifteenth century in the Libro de Arte Coquinaria by Maestro Martino, cook of the chamberlain Patriarch of Aquileia. Although the term is similar (purpetta), the dish does not correspond once again to our idea of ​​polpette. It was in fact mostly a subspecies of roast on a spit. However, it represents the first recipe dedicated to meatballs in the history of Italian culinary literature.

Subsequently we find the recipe for meatballs in the well-known manual by Pellegrino Artusi La scienza in cucina e l’Arte di mangiar bene (Science in the kitchen and the Art of eating well) from 1881. He himself declares that it is such a simple dish to make that even a ciuco (a donkey) could do it. It also emphasizes how they are a dish also created for recycling leftover meat. As is usual for every poor dish, even meatballs have evolved, becoming a real dish without having to recycle anything.

Today, in fact, preference is given to decidedly richer raw materials such as fresh ground beef, Parmesan, ham. We have already said how each country has its own recipe and sauce for meatballs. In Spain we can find albondigas; in Netherlands you can find bitterballen.

The polpette, in short, are the perfect dish that unites people, cultures and tastes, declining the recipe in numerous variations.

Let’s see below our all-Italian and extremely traditional recipe: polpette in pizzaiola style.

Polpette: the recipe



400 grams of beef or veal

1     egg

40   grams of Parmesan cheese

40   grams of breadcrumbs

4     slices of pancarré or 2 entire slices of bread soaked for 5 minutes in water or milk




Tomato sauce in “Pizzaiola” style

250 ml of tomato sauce

250 ml of water 

1 garlic


3 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil


Preparing time 10 min

Cooking time 40 min

Serves 4



First of all, put all the ingredients in a bowl and start moving them all together, forming a homogeneous and slightly sticky mixture. Then create the balls with the mixture, making a circular motion and place them on a plane.

Then we go on to the sauce.

Cook the garlic with extra virgin olive oil and add tomato sauce. Use the same quantity of tomato and water (e.g. if you use 1 bottle of water you will use 1 bottle of tomato sauce) then add salt and oregano.

Put meatballs in the sauce and continue cooking for 40/50 minutes, add some water if you reduce the sauce too much.

Enjoy your polpette in pizzaiola style!

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. All fields are required.