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Italian Meatballs: How to Make the Perfect Polpette

Italian Meatballs: How to Make the Perfect Polpette

A guide to the original Italian meatballs: from ingredients to cooking techniques, learn how to make polpette as they do in Italy.

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From being the star of an animated movie - Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs – to a fine dining trend: meatballs are the new must in gastronomy, and Italians believe they own the original recipe. There are more and more restaurants that follow the trend - the latest one that opened in Milan, The Meatball Family, is owned by actor Diego Abatantuono - whereas La Polpetteria, in Catania, is a true institution when it comes to meatballs and has about 45 varieties. Many books celebrate meatballs and even the most renowned chefs put them on the menu.

It's official, meatballs are the new finger food at parties and informal dinners, the etiquette ban has been lifted off. It's not yet admitted at formal lunches (too easily associated with leftovers, and difficult to resist eating with your hands), but, the world has gone gaga over them, why? Meatballs have an Italian flair to them, they are creative, nothing goes to waste, are cheap and save time. Here is a look at meatballs.

Meatballs are made of a mix of eggs and finely chopped ingredients, shaped in different sizes and round: as small as a nut or like a mandarin. Don't mix it up with an hamburger: it's larger and has to be cooked like a bbq. Meatballs are more sophisticated and the fact that they are smaller makes it easier to cook the inside.

Looking at what's in them, there are three major meatball families: the ones with meat, the ones with fish, and vegetable ones. The "carnivore" fine dining and original ones are made with boiled meat or roasted, never raw. You should always cut the meat with a knife not to stress it, which is different than fish and vegetable, those can be put in a blender. Fish and vegetable meatballs should have less ingredients in order not to hide the primary flavors. Eggs help keep everything together, you might also consider adding cheese or grated bread for vegetable meatballs, softer milk-soaked bread with meat or a boiled potato to add softness.

Breadcrumbed means it was rolled over bread before cooking. You use grated bread of all sizes, tossed with aromatic herbs and spices. The thicker the breadrcrumbs the tastier and crunchier the meatball, just be careful to keep it soft on the inside. You can try experiments with new original recipes: organic hulled wheat and cumin; onion bread, olive bread, toasted flax seed oil, poppy seed, cornbread, ginger and so on.

You can stew it, bake it, steam it or fry it. For the first three options is better to roll the meatball in white flour, if not grated bread will do. The ultimate meatball remains the fried one. Oil is important: the temperature must be between 165° and 185°, extra-virgin olive oil is perfect up to 210°, peanut oil is even better because it doesn't interact much with the ingredients and evaporates at 190°. Meatballs, contrary to other fried foods, don't necessarily have to be eaten steaming hot: they are as good the next day at room temperature.

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