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I have been spending lots of time with my mother since she has been unwell. One of the things I have most enjoyed doing is cooking for her. After so many years of her making amazing Italian food for me, it is now my turn to give back. Yesterday I made meatballs, using her recipe. Not that it is written down anywhere – but it is the one that comes to her without really thinking too hard.


She recited the ingredients to me as she sat down in the kitchen and watched me preparing. After a few minutes, she could not help herself and asked me to get her apron. Then she started helping out whilst sitting at the kitchen table. She minced the garlic and I added it to the beef. She chopped the parsley and then asked me for the bowl of ingredients. Next she insisted on mixing everything in the bowl, using her hands, telling me by feel, whether the mixture needed more dry or wet ingredients. She has always been such an instinctive cook – no one taught her – she has always seemed to know what to do to make a dish work. And at 85, she is still able to do it!


Meatballs (polpette in Italian) are a family favorite and so easy to make. When I make these at home, I substitute the bread for the gluten free variety so my daughter can eat them. Mamma’s recipe for meatballs is delicious – the addition of nutmeg and parmigiano make them so tasty. They are simple, comforting, warming and taste just like home. They are perfect served with pasta, mashed potato or even just with crusty bread, to mop up the rich tomato sauce. Buon appetito!

Mamma’s polpette
(Makes about 18 medium sized meatballs)
500g minced beef
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 eggs, lightly beaten
2/3 cup parmigiano cheese, grated
Parsley, half bunch, leaves picked and chopped
Fresh white bread, one slice, crust removed, crumbed and soaked in some milk for 5 minutes
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon chilli flakes
Breadcrumbs (1-2 tablespoons, as much as needed, depending on the size of the eggs)
1 onion, finely diced
1/2 glass white wine
1 tin peeled tomatoes
1 cup tomato passata
Olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
Parsley leaves to garnish

Place all the ingredients for the meatballs in a large owl and mix with your hands until well incorporated. The mixture should easily form balls when rolled. You can make the meatballs any size you like. Once they are rolled, dip them briefly in a small bowl of water. This helps them stick together, then set aside.


Chop the onion finely and cook over low-medium heat in a large frypan in some olive oil until translucent (will take about ten minutes). Place the meatballs one at a time in the frypan, and cook about 4 minutes on one side then turn them over and cook for a few more minutes until they are nicely browned all over. Turn up the heat to medium-high and add the wine. Cook for a few minutes until the wine has evaporated. Reduce the heat to low and add the tinned tomatoes and the passata. Cover the own with a lid and cook for at least 30 minutes on low heat, checking several times to make sure the meatballs are not sticking to the bottom of the pan. Add salt and pepper to taste.


Serve with pasta, mashed potatoes or eat it as I did, with bread to mop up the sauce. Garnish with freshly chopped parsley leaves if you like.


  • albert says:

    “She has always been such an instinctive cook …”

    My mum was the same, I can’t remember a calibrated measure or scale in mum’s kitchen. Everything was measured out in whatever vessels were available – spoons, cups or glasses, the rest came from instinct.

    I recall her teaching my wife Janet how to make “polpette in tecia” (and a bit of Veneto dielect) when we first married. Janet asked mum how she could tell if the mixture was too dry. Mum replied that it didn’t matter because you could add more dry or wet ingredients. When Janet asked her how much to add, mum replied “eh..fin che basta”.

    Oh, and your mum’s recipe? Identical to my mum’s.


  • Gianna says:

    When ever I watched mom cooking and asked what quantities were needed for any recipe she always replied, a bit of dis and a bit of dat, which wasn’t really much help! But after years of watching I too now tend to cook in the same way. I have altered her recipe for meatballs slightly in that I now add to mince beef, pork mince and a few fennel seeds & chilli flakes. My son loves them, however, my daughter prefers nonna’s recipe. Whenever I make one of nonna’s recipes I am thinking of her.


  • ambradambra says:

    And of course IMHO nothing beats a meatball sambo!

  • Sophie33 says:

    I made this tasty meatballs recipe & loved it too!!!!! It was superb. MMMM!

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