Polpette al Sugo (Meatballs in Tomato Sauce)


Polpette al sugo is a favourite from way back, a frugal way of feeding the family.  They were always prepared and cooked in sugo (tomato sauce) for Sunday family meals.  During winter, a few freshly homemade sausages would also be added to the sauce for that extra flavour.  The sauce would be served on home made ferretti or tagliatelle, as 'il primo piatto' (first course), and le polpette eaten for secondo with a green salad on the side.  We always made sure that a few would be left for the following days school lunches.

Everyone has a favourite meatball recipe, whether handed down from their nonna or mamma; or discovered in someone's cookbook that they continue to make and swear by.  Mamma likes to add cooked potato to the mix, rendering them moist.  Some like to add ricotta, while I have added grated carrot to these and have done so since my girls were little.  It was a sneaky way of hiding a vegetable they weren't very keen on.

Most would agree that they make a great Sunday meal to be shared with family, and any leftovers are always great in a panino for lunches the next day.  Sometime, I divide the mixture and also make tiny meatballs for another meal, and cook them in brodo (chicken soup). 

Polpette al Sugo (Meatballs in Tomato Sauce)

This recipe serves 6


  • 500 g each of minced beef, pork & veal
  • 160 g fresh white breadcrumb
  • 150 g grated parmesan cheese
  • 2 medium grated carrots
  • 1 garlic clove, finely chopped
  • 3 tbsp. chopped flat leaf parley
  • 3 medium size eggs
  • Salt & pepper to taste
  • 185 ml  olive oil 
  • 1 onion finely chopped
  • 2 x 400g tin chopped tomatoes
  • 2 bay leaves

In a large bowl mix together using your hands the 3 meats, breadcrumbs, parmesan cheese, garlic, carrot, parsley and salt and pepper.  Add the 3 lightly beaten eggs and continue mixing using your hands. The mixture should come together without falling apart.  If it feels too dry, add another egg.  If the mixture is too wet add more breadcrumbs. 

Start rolling the mixture into balls firmly so that they keep their shape and the size you make them is up to you. 

Heat 4 tablespoons of the olive oil in a saucepan that is large enough to hold all the meatballs and sauce.  Fry the onions until soft, then add the tomatoes and cook over a low heat, stirring occasionally.

In a non-stick frying pan, heat the rest of the oil and start browning the meatballs. Don't over crowed them.  Brown them on all sides until golden and lift them out into the pan of tomato sauce. Repeat the process with the rest of the meatballs until all browned.

When you have added all the meatballs into the tomato sauce, add the bay leaves, season and cover to simmer for 1 hour.  Stir occasionally.

Serve them hot on their own with some crusty Italian bread to mop up the sauce.



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