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Iris' Tuscan Meatballs

Polpettine alla Iris

SERVES 8 TO 10 as a second course or 24 as part of an antipasto.

When Iris made her delicate olive-sized polpettine, and served them as an antipasto, I felt honored because in an Italian home you would not be served them unless you were considered family. Meatballs are for many of us a symbol of comfort food, and a part of true casalinga or home cooking.

They originated as a holdover from the days when there was little refrigeration, making it necessary to use up leftover meat trimmings, or boiled meats that had been used to make broth. So polpette (meatballs) were born and vary in their ingredients from place to place. One thing is certain, you will never have a dish of spaghetti in Italy served with meatballs since they are traditionally a second course served apart from the pasta course.

The following is my adaptation of Iris' recipe. To make the job simple, everything can be prepared using a food processor; as Iris cautions, the secret to the tender texture is to grind everything very fine.


3/4 pound cooked roast beef

1/4 pound (4 slices) mortadella with black peppercorns or pistachio nuts

1/4 cup parsley leaves

1/4 cup dried porcini mushrooms soaked in 1/2 cup warm water

1 tablespoon unsalted butter

2 large eggs, lightly beaten

1/4 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1/2 teaspoon salt

Grinding coarse black pepper

1/2 cup prepared besciamella sauce

Flour for coating meatballs

Filippo Berio Extra Virgin Olive Oil for frying


Grind the roast beef, mortadella, and parsley in a food processor until it is very fine. Transfer the mixture to a large bowl.

Drain the water from the porcini, pat them dry and chop them coarsely. Melt the butter in a small sauté pan and cook the porcini for 2 or 3 minutes and then add them to the meat. Stir in the eggs, cheese, nutmeg, salt, pepper, and the besciamella sauce. Mix all the ingredients until well combined.

Use about 1/4 cup of the meat mixture to form each meatball. Place them on a baking sheet. Or make smaller meatballs as desired.

Place some flour on a plate. Lightly roll each meatball in the flour; shake off the excess and place them on a platter. Cover and refrigerate them for at least 1 hour.

Heat 3 cups of the oil in a deep fryer or heavy duty pot and when the oil registers 375 F, it is ready for frying. Fry the meatballs a few at a time in the oil until they are golden brown. Remove them with a slotted spoon to a paper-towel-lined try to drain.

Serve the meatballs warm on a bed of arugola leaves.

Note: Iris used olive oil to fry the meatballs but sunflower oil works well too and gives a slightly lighter taste.

The meatballs will cook faster if you use a small size skillet.

This recipe is from CIAO ITALIA IN TUSCANY by Mary Ann Esposito, published by St. Martin's Press in 2003.


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