Polpetta Recipe: Babbo Finzi’s Meatballs

You can never have enough Polpetta recipes.

By: Jerry Finzi, Grand Voyage Italy 


  • 2-1/5 pounds of ground beef (80% chuck is my preference)
  • 1-1/2 cups bread crumbs (if you have stale bread around, make your own)
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/4 cup cold water
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried, ground sage
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 2 tablespoons dried basil
  • 1 tablespoon dried oregano
  • 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes (ground in a spice grinder)


  1. Place the ground beef into a large mixing bowl and cut into smaller chunks with a square edged wooden spoon. Pour the water over the meat (this helps re-hydrate the meat).
  2. Sprinkle all the spices over the meat and mix well with your hands until incorporated.
  3. Next, break the two eggs directly into the meat mixture, and again, use your hands to mix well.
  4. Finally, add the bread crumbs and mix well with your hands until you no longer see any dry breadcrumbs anywhere in the mix.
  5. Lay out a large sheet of wax paper on a work counter next to your cooktop and start shaping the meatballs.
  6. Use about 1/3 cup of the mixture for each meatball. This should make about a 2-1/5″ ball. Hole the meat in your cupped hands and give 3 gentle squeezes, turning in between each squeeze. This will help prevent cracks/fractures in the balls. Next, roll the balls to a round shape with your two hands. Lay out the meat balls on the wax paper and repeat until all the mixture is shaped.
  7. When you’re done, place light olive oil into a 9-10″ saute pan to a depth of about 3/4″.
  8. Heat the oil for a minute or so on a medium flame (I use a gas cooktop), then turn the heat down a bit. The cooking should be low and slow for this so the meatballs cook through to the middle. Test a small crumb of meat in the pan. It should sizzle as soon as you put it in, but it should not be smoking.
  9. Using a pair of tongs, place about 7 meatballs in the pan leaving space around each one. If you crowd them, they won’t brown properly. Brown on one side, then gently turn to another side. It should take about 2 minutes or so per side to brown them. Brown as much as you can… a completely browned meatball won’t fall apart in the sauce.
  10. When done, gently lift out the meatballs and lay them to drain on a platter with 3 sheets of paper towels on it. After a few minutes, you can add them into a large stock pot of marinara or Sunday Gravy. (If you like, you can use a few for tonight’s dinner with pasta and a simple marinara, then freeze the rest to add to a sauce pot for another time.)

Note: I do recommend adding them to a large pot of marinara (or “gravy”, if you’re also adding other meats). They will flavor the sauce and add a real meaty flavor… that’s what chef’s call umami (a meatly, savory taste), and what my Mom just called good.


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