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The Meatball of Venice

polpette umidoIf Antonio had eaten his Polpette in Umido like a good boy, he would never have signed away his life to Shylock. Unfortunately, that’s a lesson the “Merchant of Venice” did not learn at all. No small thanks to Shakespeare, who we’re sure missed out on a great dish in this romantic city. Good thing wise Portia was there to save his life. We’re sure she went home and got the cook to whip up a sizable dish of the most juicy meatballs to make up for the terrible day Antonio had. If we were presiding over the case we would have advised the entire court adjourn till everyone had their lunch. Preferably with a nice glass of Chianti. 


Serves 8                                     Total Time: 45 Minutes [18 minutes preparation; 27 minutes cooking]


The Meatballs                                                                                                    The Umido Sauce
1⅓ pounds ground pork                                                                                  1 clove garlic, sliced                       ⅔ pound ground veal                                                                                       ⅓ cup olive oil
2 large eggs, beaten with a pinch of salt                                                    1 can plum tomatoes
½ to 1 cup stale crusty bread                                                                          12 ounces passata*
½ cup Parmigiano-Reggiano
Zest of 1 orange, finely grated
1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
½ cup milk
1 bunch of parsley, minced
1 cup all-purpose flour
Canola oil
Salt (to taste)


1. Remove the crust from the bread and tear into small pieces by hand. If the bread is too hard, warm up about 1/2 cup of milk in a small saucepan over medium-low heat for 5 minutes. This milk will be discarded, so try to use as little of it as possible. Put the pieces of bread into the warmed milk and leave for a minute or so to soak up the milk. Then when the bread is suitably soft again, squeeze the bread to get rid of the excess milk. Discard the spent milk. BT Tip: Dry fine bread crumbs though not as fun can be substituted for the bread.

2. Crumble the ground pork and veal into a large bowl, then use your fingers to break up any clumps and mix the meat thoroughly. Pour the beaten eggs over the meat, add the chopped parsley, grated cheese, orange zest, freshly grated nutmeg and salt. Fold, then squeeze the meat through your fingers to distribute all the ingredients evenly. Add the bread last a little bit at a time, until you reach a good balance between the proportions of meat and bread. Mix well by hand. Shape the meat mixture into 1-inch diameter meatballs. Set the prepared meatballs aside on a plate.

3. To prepare the sauce, sauté 1 clove of sliced garlic in the 1/3 cup of olive oil in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the can of plum tomatoes and let the sauce cook down for about 5 minutes. Lower the heat to medium, add the passata (tomato purée) and simmer the sauce for another 15 minutes.

4. While the sauce is cooking, preheat canola oil (enough to create a 1-in thick layer of oil at the bottom of the pan) in another medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Pour the flour into a mixing bowl and add the meatballs a few at a time, coating each meatball with flour. Shake off the excess flour and fry in the olive oil. Fry the meatballs over medium-high heat in small batches, for 5-7 minutes per batch, or until the meatballs turn a dark brown color. Use two spoons to turn them over midway through cooking them to avoid puncturing the meatball and letting the cooking oil penetrate the meat. Remove the cooked meatballs and set them on paper towels to remove any excess oiliness.

Serve the meatballs with the sauce.

* BT Tip: Passata is a tick tomato purée. If you do not have the real thing, you can make a reasonable substitute. Use the best quality tomatoes you can find, drain them and sieve or purée in a food processor.

To discover more Venetian recipes, check out our Journal issue: Into The Blue.

6 replies »

  1. Reblogged this on Smorgasbord – Variety is the spice of life and commented:
    Since I am getting rid of the aforementioned extra few pounds that I gained delightfully in previous months, I have been drawn to cooking programmes including Masterchef….. and recipes – this one would I am sure taste delicious and will be put on hold in my 101 list of things to do in a few weeks time. Don’t get me wrong I have no problem with my body image but my right knee feels a lot happier when I am at least making the effort……Lovely blog and well worth following

  2. thank you – this is one I am definitely going to try – even our metro Sainsbury’s sells passata now!

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