Polpettine al Sugo (Meatballs in Tomato Sauce)

Today, I veered towards a more familiar recipe for lunch.  Polpettine al sugo or meatballs in tomato sauce is a classic Italian main dish.  There are various ways to prepare it, like everything else anyway.  The one I am using comes from my mother-in-law who got it from her mom and probably got it from her mom too and the chain goes on.  So this recipe has been floating around the family's dinner table for decades.  Now that it's on my dinner table, it's a relief to see that both kids love it enough to have repeats for the next meal too.  That seals my hope that they will keep this recipe for the continuation of the chain.

I always accompany this with sauteed green peas, like how my husband's mother does.  It is a perfect partnership really.  Normally, I cook my green peas with some pancetta but when I use it as a side dish for the meatballs, I hold the pancetta because there is too much meat clashing. The protagonist has to be the meatballs.

I had always been curious about spaghetti with meatballs because I never encountered it here, the supposed origin of this popular pasta dish.   I asked my husband about it, his family, our friends and whoever was listening.  No one claimed its authenticity as Italian.  It was strange for such a nationalistic population so this prodded me to investigate a little bit more.  A little bit of googling led me to the answer I was looking for.  It was popularized by Walt Disney's cartoons from the 1950's, The Lady & The Trump.  The recipe was supposedly invented by some Italian immigrants in New York in the early 1920's.  For that it is very popular in the U.S. and rare in Italy. 

It was a sacrifice to cook this in the hot kitchen today.  I had a little craving for it and I wanted to surprise my five-year old.  I know that when he sees it, he would whoop for joy.  With the heat dragging us all down, this house is in dire need of a bit of enthusiasm.

There is an intense heat taking over the country.  The weather forecast said that today is the last day of the heat wave.  How I wish so.  I haven't been out of the house ever since it started.  And unlucky us, it started right on the day we arrived from the mountains.  So it was unbearable to breathe this hot and humid air permeating the house after the cool & dry air in the Dolomites.  For now, our most valuable possessions are the air conditioners.  When I had to get some sage leaves outside, I ran like crazy.  It was like an oven out there.  I'm glad the day is over. 

Polpettine al Sugo (Meatballs in Tomato Sauce)

Serves 4
  • 4 slices of regular bread for toasts, sides taken away
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1/4 kilo ground pork
  • 1/4 kilo ground veal or beef
  • 1-1/2 onions, minced
  • 1/2 cup parmigiano reggiano
  • 1 egg 
  • salt
  • pepper  
  • flour 
  • 425 grams (1 can) diced tomatoes (or any kind will do too)
  • 1/2 cup white wine
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • sage
  • 500 grams frozen green peas (or fresh)
  1. In a bowl, soak the bread in milk and leave for a few minutes.
  2. In another bowl, mix the following:  ground pork, ground veal or beef, egg, soaked bread, parmigiano reggiano, 1/3 of the onion, salt & pepper.  Work with your hands until the mixture becomes compact.
  3. Make some small balls and roll them on a plate of flour.  Shake off the excess flour.
  4. Over medium heat, in a saucepan with extra virgin olive oil, fry the meatballs until they become brownish. Set them aside on a plate.
  5. With the next step, you have the option to use a new saucepan or use the same saucepan where you fried the meatballs.  I always use the same saucepan but I take away the excess oil & bits of burned meat.  You will just have to be extra careful because it is very hot.  I wipe the pan with kitchen paper towels.
  6. Pour new extra virgin olive oil in the saucepan.  Over medium heat, sautè the other 1/3 of the onion.  When it changes color, add the meatballs.  Cook for about 5 minutes then add the white wine.  Let it evaporate.   
  7. Add the canned tomato sauce.  Cook for at least half an hour.  Add the chopped sage about 10 minutes before turning off the fire.  Season with salt & pepper.
  8. While waiting for the meatballs to cook, prepare the green peas. 
  9. Over medium heat, in a saucepan, sautè the remaining 1/3 of the onion in extra virgin olive oil.  When it changes color, add the green peas.  Cook for about 15 minutes.  Season with salt & pepper.
  10. Serve together.