Polpette and Spaghetti Aglio Olio

When I went to Italy a couple of years ago, one of the things I did not get to eat were polpette, or Tuscan meatballs. Which was too bad because I love meatballs. I’ve made a few versions over the years (plus some cake balls that look like meatballs)  and the latest one is this Polpette with Prosciutto and Mushrooms.

I decided to pair it with a garlicky, lemony pasta and made Spaghetti Aglio Olio (my go-to way of preparing pasta) with a breadcrumb gremolata. The beefy flavors of the meatballs paired so well with the bright and salty pasta, but I can imagine pairing the meatballs with something else, maybe polenta, mashed potatoes (or cauliflower), in a meatball parm sandwich, or even plain, with some crusty bread.

I followers a recipe from La Morra, which is one of the restaurants participating in Taste of the Nation, the country’s largest culinary benefit supporting the effort to end childhood hunger in America.  The original recipe was for 8-10 people so I adjusted measurements and just made half. I still ended up with two dozen meatballs, which could still serve 6 people generously.

There are a few things that differentiates this recipe from other meatball variations I’ve made in the past:

One, it requires thick-cut and chopped prosciutto. At first I thought it needed pancetta, since some meatball recipes include bacon – and pancetta is very similar – but it was really prosciutto in the recipe. I always associate prosciutto with paper-thin slices so it was a novelty ordering it from the deli as thick-cut. (FYI popping a cube of thick prosciutto in my mouth did not taste as good as savoring a delicate, thin slice…)

Two, the recipe incorporates bread chunks soaked in milk – not dry breadbrumbs as I often use.

And three, it needs dried porcini mushrooms, which I’m sure would lend an earthy flavor to the meatballs, but I didn’t have any so I used cooked baby bella mushrooms instead. I did have white wine though, and that definitely added some nice flavor when I baked the meatballs.

Last year I made gnocchi from Davio’s, another restaurant participant in Taste of the Nation. And this year it is Tuscan meatballs. So I guess aside from just being a huge culinary event, Taste of the Nation is also helping me expand my Italian food repertoire.

Yes, my dessert truffles look like meatballs, and my meatballs look like pastries at first glance. Or am I the only one thinking beignets?

For the spaghetti, I was inspired by a Food52 recipe for spaghetti aglio olio with gremolata breadcrumbs. I typically make aglio olio with anchovies because I love the salty, nutty flavor it brings after it melts into the oil, but the pasta can be made without anchovies too. I made a few more tweaks to both recipes and these are the ones I ended up using:

Yield: 2 dozen meatballs

Polpette (Tuscan Meatballs) and Spaghetti Aglio Olio with Gremolata Breadcrumbs



1 lb ground beef
2 slices thick multi-grain bread (cut in large cubes)
1 cup skim milk
1/2 cup grated Parmigiano
2 eggs
1 cup cooked and chopped baby bella mushrooms
1/4 lb prosciutto (thickly sliced and diced)
½ cup white wine
1/4 cup flour
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper


3/4 lbs whole wheat spaghetti
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
6 cloves garlic, minced
4 flat anchovy fillets
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
2 tablespoons parsley, chopped
2 tablespoons lemon zest
1/3 cup whole wheat breadcrumbs
juice of 1/2 lemon
salt and pepper to taste


  1. Make the meatballs.
  2. Preheat over to 400 degree F.
  3. Soak bread in milk until it is fully absorbed.
  4. Saute chopped mushrooms in 1 tablespoon olive oil and set aside.
  5. Mix all other ingredients and then add mushrooms and bread.  Mix well.  Roll onto desired size ball (I ended up with 2-3 inch meatballs).  Roll each meatball lightly in flour, and shake off the extra flour.  Sear in a pan with the remaining olive oil on all sides until light brown.
  6. Transfer meatballs to a baking dish and add wine until it is half up the side of the meatball.  Put in oven and bake at 400 degrees, until cooked through.  Approximately 15 minutes.
  7. Make the pasta.
  8. Cook spaghetti according to package directions.
  9. Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add anchovies, about a fifth of the chopped garlic (just eyeball it and reserve about a clove's worth for the gremolata), and red pepper flakes. Break up the anchovies anchovies with a wooden spoon until they melt into the oil and garlic mixture. Add cooked pasta to pa, squeeze fresh lemon juice over it, and toss.
  10. Make gremolata breadcrumbs: Heat up a small skillet over medium heat and add one tablespoon olive oil. Add the remaining garlic and let it soften and lightly brown. Add the lemon zest and parsley, and then the bread crumbs and mix well. Lower burner to medium-low and let the bread crumb mixture toast lightly.
  11. Add about 3/4 of the bread crumb mixture to the pasta in the pan and mix well.Once the pasta mixture is in a serving dish, sprinkle the remaining bread crumbs over top, then top with meatballs.

polpette recipe adapted from Josh Ziskin of La Morra

spaghetti recipe adapted from Food 52's Broccoli Aglio Olio

For those of you who are interested in attending Taste of the Nation in Boston this Thursday, April 19th, Share Our Strength has one more promo that runs until tomorrow, Marathon Monday: you can get 26.2% off all tickets with the promo code RUN2012. If you are coming, let me know and I will see you there!

Do you have a go-to meatball recipe? Links welcome!


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