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Italian meatballs served with polenta

Posted by: The Chiappas | 08.08.13

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Believe it or not but in Italy, meatballs are not traditionally served with spaghetti – that was an American adaptation!  Meatballs (polpette) are made in many different ways but my nonno’s authentic recipe from our local area was to make them with sausage meat.  It was a poor man’s dinner so they used the cheapest cuts of meat they could find.  And what a delicious meal it is!

For the meatballs:

500g sausage meat

100g freshly grated Parmesan cheese

1 clove garlic, peeled and finely chopped

100g breadcrumbs

2 medium eggs, preferably free-range or organic

a small handful of chopped parsley

1 teaspoon ground fennel seeds

1 teaspoon fine salt

1⁄2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 tablespoon olive oil


For the polenta:

200g fast cooking polenta

Knob of butter

800mls of cold water

2 handfulls of grated parmesan cheese

Sea salt

For the Sauce:

2 red peppers, deseeded and roughly chopped
4 medium vine tomatoes, halved
1 whole garlic bulb, halved
1 red chilli, halved lengthways
A few sprigs of thyme
Sea salt

Preheat oven to 180C

In a roasting tray place all the veggies for your sauce, season with salt and pepper and drizzle with oil.  Roast for 15-20mins or until roasted and lovely and golden. Then add to a  mini blitzer, whiz up and taste, adding more seasoning if needed.

For the meatballs, put all the ingredients, apart from the oil, in a large bowl and mix together with your hands. Shape into walnut-sized balls.  Heat the oil in a frying pan over a medium heat and cook the meatballs for about 10 minutes, turning regularly until browned all over and cooked through.

Put polenta, butter and cold water into a pan, bring to boil, constantly whisking/stirring to ensure no lumps form. Turn down to simmer and keep  cooking for another minute, adding the parmesan and seasoning.  Or follow the instructions as directed on the packet.

To serve, place a few large spoons of polenta in a large serving bowl, add a few tablespoons of the sauce and top with your meatballs.  Drizzle with some extra virgin olive oil and parmesan shavings.


This recipe will be found in our book “Simply Italain, At Home with the Chiappa sisters” being published in 2014 by Penguin: Micheal Joseph.  To pre order a copy NOW click here.

33 thoughts on “Italian meatballs served with polenta

  1. Gill hill says:

    Loved the top ten Italian recipes, great!

  2. Ceris O'Neill says:

    Just cooked the meatballs and polenta for my boyfriend having watched the programme yesterday, he loved it! I used to live in Italy and I love discovering new recipes to add to my (limited) repertoire!

  3. Miriam says:

    I want to try do this recipy at home but i don’t understand why preheat oven at 180C if meatballs are not cooked in the oven but just fried in the frying pan..
    Am i misunderstanding the recipy?

  4. Hi Miriam, the oven needs to be heated to roast your peppers in the oven for the Sauce. Hope this now makes sense.

  5. Claire says:

    Loved the programme! Can you cook the meatballs in the oven rather than fry them?

  6. Emi Chiappa says:

    Yes of course although the cooking time wont be the same, i’d imagine they would take longer to cook in the oven.

  7. Richard says:

    If making a large batch of meatballs is it possible to freeze the meatballs and/or pepper sauce for a week or two instead of having to cook them all at the same time?

  8. Hi Richard, you can definitely freeze the meatballs and pepper sauce this is exactly what we do, as we tend to make everything on mass.

  9. Julie Aucott says:

    watched the program. Made today, really,really delicious and simple. Will do again

  10. Chris says:

    Loved the programme inspired to try all the recipes.

    Can the sauce for the meatballs be frozen as I will have a glut of home-grown tomatoes shortly?


  11. Chelsea Ford says:

    We made these meatballs and sauce the other day. They were very tasty and the fennel was a great accompaniment with the sausage meat! Thank you to the Chiappa sisters for sharing such great recipes!

  12. John Bretherton says:

    Hi, i could only find the ready made polenta at the supermaket. Do you still need to mix this with water ?

  13. Hi John, do you mean instant polenta? as if so yes you need to mix this with water, it will just cook very quickly. Not quite sure what you mean by ready made, is it still in grain form. Might be worth following the instructions on the packet. Hope this helps.

  14. Absolutely…you’ve now discovered what we do with our tonne of tomatoes we have at the end of the summer

  15. John Bretherton says:

    Hi Romina, no the polenta comes ready made not in grain form you can fry it in a little olive oil or boil the pack in water and it is ready to eat. The recipe was lovely by the way and i will defintely make it again soon.

  16. Christine Steenfeldt says:

    I saw the programme and am inspired to cook this dish for friends tomorrow. But, I’m always a bit wary of sausage meat quality- is it possible to substitute it with half steak mince and half pork mince?

  17. Mince should work fine, although sausages from your local butcher should be good quality too. Enjoy!

  18. Christine Steenfeldt says:

    Good point- I may well buy from our butcher! I loved the programme by the way!

  19. Lora says:

    @John non ready made polenta is sometimes in a specialist section next to other ‘foodie’ ingredients. The bag I have is by Merchant Gourmet and I got it in Morrisons. However I’ve just discovered that Morrisons and Tesco now do cheaper versions labelled as Cornmeal (polenta) in their world foods aisles. Hope that helps.

    Really looking forward to making this, especially seeing the comments.

  20. Elaine says:

    @John. I too had only ever found the ready made polenta but last week I too found it (labelled cornmeal) in the world foods aisle in Morrisons, brand is East End and only 49p!!

  21. Christine Steenfeldt says:

    Just wanted to say that I made this dish and it went down a storm with my guests. When I made the sauce, I didn’t think it looked enough so I made another batch- good job I did because they came back for seconds.It’s a great sauce which I intend using in other recipes because it’s so easy to make and delicious.I couldn’t get quick cooking polenta but I looked online for advice for cooking the sort I had-it took 90 minutes on a low heat! It’s the first time I’ve eaten it but I enjoyed it very much and will cook it again. Thanks for the recipe and for introducing me to new foods!

  22. Regina Ali says:

    Hi I loved the programme and was convinced that the polenta looked so yummy that I thought I would love it. I think it is something one has to get used to. I can understand why the Americans thought pasta would be better. No offence!
    I will try it again, perhaps there are different types of polenta out there with different textures. Mine tasted runny without depth.

  23. Hi Regina, Polenta is typically quite thick so perhaps give it another go and your idea of trying another brand could work as they all have different cooking instructions. It does need a good amount of parmesan cheese added (or salt) and we like to serve it with butter on the top as it’s quite bland without seasoning. Traditionally it was a peasants dish as it was cheap and filling…think of it as the Italian version of boilt or mashed potato. Hope this helps!

  24. Ray says:

    Tried making the sauce for lunch. I used the same ingredients, but deseeded and skinned the tomatoes first, then put peeled garlic on the halved tomatoes. It came out absolutely delicious. And much quicker than normal tomato sauce. But I think it is more like for 2-3 people.

  25. Cristiana says:

    Butter in polenta? Mmmmmhhh I’ve never tasted home-made polenta in this way, sorry, my grandma usually adds just salt to corn flour

  26. oooo trust us, give it a go, it’s like adding butter to your mash potato, definitely makes the dish creamier

  27. Cristiana says:

    Sure, butter would make it creamier and tastier, I’m just saying that, at least in North-East Italy that’s not the traditional recipe:)

  28. Judith Craig says:

    Love the meat balls and sauce. However I found the sauce too thick it was more a very thick puree – also I have tried to make polenta interesting etc but just cant get excited over it. Could I serve a plain risotto with this?

  29. you could always add a little stock to the sauce if you find it too thick, and as for your suggestion of a plain risotto, we’re all about doing whatever you fancy in the kitchen so feel free.. but polenta can be fun, have you thought about perhaps making polenta chips instead? x

  30. […] recipe a little, primarily to suit my portion preferences, but you can see their full recipe here. I always make a double batch of sauce & meatballs and stash half away in the freezer to have […]

  31. […] Here’s the recipe. […]

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