Emperor Polpettine


Sorry. I couldn’t get around the title. When my kids came home from school yesterday, and asked their customary question what’s for dinner, and I answered polpettine, they looked at each other wide-eyed, and almost simultaneously and smirkingly asked if we were having Emperor Palpatine for dinner. And thus began a long string of corny, nay ridiculous jokes that ended with more than one groan from the maternal kitchen gallery.

Where were we? Oh, right. Polpettine, as in, tiny meatballs. I saw Mario Batalli make these on Food Network about 8 or so years ago. They’ve been my go-to recipe for meatballs ever since. I prefer them small — a giant single meatball sitting atop a pile of pasta and sauce has never been very appealing to me. They are also the perfect recipe to double (or triple) and make large quantities at once — I mean, once your hands are dirtied up with raw beef and pork, you might as well sit there a while and do the work for more than one dinner. I make them up, lay them out on a lined baking sheet, and stick them in the freezer. Once frozen solid, I transfer them to ziplock bags, ready to dispense as many as I need to make a quick(ish) dinner.


These are classic Italian meatballs — I typically use a combination of beef & pork, but have used veal as well when I’ve had it. Very simply seasoned — primarily garlic — and tossed in a homemade marinara (my favorite recipe is below). Historically served atop a pile of pasta, these days I’m opting for strings of spaghetti squash (for obvious reasons) and am surprisingly enjoying the change.

So try them, and see if they don’t find a place in your dinner rotation (with or without a side of jokes about the ruler of the Galactic Empire).


Recipe: Polpettine (tiny meatballs)

: inspired by this recipe from Mario Batali
makes about 60 1 1/2″ meatballs


  • 1 pound ground beef (grassfed if possible)
  • 1 pound ground pork or veal
  • 2 large eggs
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced or sliced thin
  • 1/2 cup blanched almond flour (or all-purpose flour)
  • 3 Tbsp freshly grated parmesan (optional)
  • 1/2 tsp sea salt
  • 1/2 tsp ground black pepper
  • 2 quarts marinara sauce (recipe below)


  1. In a large bowl, combine beef, pork (or veal), eggs, garlic, flour, parmesan, and salt & pepper. Using your hands, mix quickly and thoroughly to combine and distribute seasoning.
  2. Roll into balls 1″ – 1 1/2″ in diameter, according to preference. (At this point, meatballs can be place in a single layer on a parchment-lined baking sheet and frozen for future use. Transfer to a freezer zip bag once frozen. When ready to use, thaw completely before proceeding with recipe.)
  3. In a large skillet, heat 1/4 cup oil or rendered pork fat over medium heat until shimmering. Add meatballs in a single layer. Cook without disturbing for about 3 minutes, or until browned on the bottom. Gently turn meatballs, continuing to cook, until brown on all sides.
  4. Pour marinara sauce over meatballs, and allow to simmer gently for 10-15 minutes to allow flavors to meld.

Number of servings (yield): 6


Recipe: Marinara Sauce

: makes 2 quarts sauce


  • 1 large yellow onion, chopped
  • 1 stalk celery, finely chopped
  • 1 carrot, finely chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 2 (28-oz) cans diced or crushed tomatoes
  • dried bay leaf
  • sea salt and freshly-ground black pepper


  1. In a large saute pan or dutch oven set over medium heat, saute onions, celery, and carrot until soft — about 5-8 minutes (do not brown). Add garlic, and saute until fragrant, about a minute.
  2. Add tomatoes and bay leaf to pan, and bring to a simmer.
  3. Simmer gently for 45 minutes (don’t rush this!).
  4. Using a hand-held stick blender, puree the sauce in the pot. Alternatively transfer to a blender or food processor and puree.
  5. Season to taste with salt & pepper.

Copyright © Katy Carter, 2011.


This post was linked up to Simple Lives Thursday, via GNOWFGLINS.




12 thoughts on “Emperor Polpettine

  1. So happy about these recipes, Katy. This has been my favorite meal since I was little. I’ve always preferred smaller meatballs as well. I’m looking forward to freezing a bunch of batches of these. Thanks.

  2. Mmmm, meatballs.

    I’ve never precooked them, though. I loooooove the smooth texture they get from cooking IN the marinara, at a slow simmer for a few hours.

    1. Wow, Marcy, I didn’t even know you could do that ; )
      So, you just put raw meatballs into the sauce and let it simmer? I will try that with my next batch!

  3. Hey Katie, today I have no humor to include. It’s Thursday and the husband gets to eat out in a fancy restaurant tonight courtesy of ole Uncle Stan whilst the kids and I will be muddling through at home. But, I do have a question – I have two kids who cannot eat eggs, and I love meatballs. Yet, I feel kind of stumped in figuring out something egg-like to keep them together. Any suggestions? I will admit that I have not googled it. I will also admit, I really appreciate the Star Wars allusion.

    1. So I vaguely remembered using flax seeds as a binding agent from back when I cooked egg-free for the boy. I found these instructions that would likely work for binding meatloaf and meatballs:

      For each egg to be replaced, blend in a blender/food processor 1 tablespoon flax seed with 3 tablespoons water until the mixture is thick and creamy.

      I’m so familiar with the husband getting to eat at fancy restaurants — even all over the US — sans little ol’ momma me. Maybe we can do group therapy sometime? Via skype?

      1. maybe an old coffee grinder would work for the flax too — grind the seeds first, then whisk them into the water in a separate bowl.

      2. Thanks for the suggestion. I have a blender and a food processor, but a coffee grinder sounds like the easiest one to use. 🙂 And I’m all about the easy way.

        You should watch this video: http://yhoo.it/rxAqqT
        This guy cracks me up!

      3. OH, I’m all about the support group. At least I had already planned on making some easy soup for tonight. Otherwise, we’d all hang outside the restaurant window all Dickens’ style.

  4. Gonnie made her meatballs about the same size as this. Until I was grown, I never knew spaghetti was served with large meatballs or browned ground beef. I like to add a little mild sausage to meatballs these days. Do you remember ever eating spaghetti at Gonnies?

  5. Almond flour! Now why didn’t I think of that?!
    I will hopefully actually try these out! I’ve missed meatballs recently.

    I couldn’t agree more about the single meatball thing. I like the idea of tiny ones!

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