The Best Meatballs Ever! (Italian Polpette Recipe)

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The Best Meatballs Ever! (Italian Polpette Recipe)– are my nonna’s famous recipe. Made with simple ingredients and stewed in a delicious tomato sauce- these are melt in your mouth tender and flavorful.

Serve with Creamy Polenta and a simple salad.

cooked meatballs in a round serving platter with serving utensils and basil on the side. Close up of the meatballs in the sauce.
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The BEST Meatballs

Why I Love this Traditional Italian Meatball Recipe…

These succulent Italian meatballs are a comforting dish that brings everyone to the table! These nutritious homemade meatballs are the perfect meal to make on a Sunday afternoon and freeze for weeks! Let your children take part in the recipe by having them roll the meatballs in their tiny hands.

This is another tried and true simple, flavorful, and mouthwatering recipe from my Nonna. I’ve sat at many kitchen tables and rolled these meatballs with her countless times. The smell of onion frying in olive oil, fresh tomatoes, basil, beef, and parsley brings me back to all those tables and conversations. You will love this recipe!

white Italian style bowl with the prepared meatballs in sauce with parmigiano cheese on top and fresh basil leaves.

Homemade Meatball Ingredients

You only need a few pantry staples and fresh ingredients for these authentic Italian meatballs.

ingredients for Polpette (Traditional Italian Meatballs)

Meatball Ingredients

  • Ground beef
  • Stale bread
  • Milk
  • Parmigiano Reggiano
  • Egg
  • Parsley
  • Bread crumbs
  • Salt and black pepper to taste

How To Make The Best Meatballs (step-by-step photo instrcutions)

Making homemade meatballs is satisfying and rewarding. See the recipe card for the complete list of measuments and instructions.

How to make Polpette (Traditional Italian Meatballs) Instructions: mix old bread, egg, and milk in a bowl.
How to make Polpette (Traditional Italian Meatballs) Instructions: mix bread mixture until soft.

Soak the bread in the milk in a small bowl, and set aside. In a medium bowl, combine the bread with the remaining ingredients and gently mix.

How to make Polpette (Traditional Italian Meatballs) Instructions: add meats, cheese, salt, pepper, and parsley.
How to make Polpette (Traditional Italian Meatballs) Instructions: mix the meat mixture until combined.

Creat a uniform mixture with the meat and filling ingredients.

How to make Polpette (Traditional Italian Meatballs) Instructions: shape the meatballs.
How to make Polpette (Traditional Italian Meatballs) Instructions: all meatballs ready to cook.

Gently form into small balls. I like to use a spoon or fork to scoop and then roll in the meat mixture in the palm of my hand- just like nonna Laura taught me!

How to make Polpette (Traditional Italian Meatballs) Instructions: add the crushed tomatoes and cook with the onion in pan.
How to make Polpette (Traditional Italian Meatballs) Instructions: add the meatballs to the sauce and let cook.

Make your tomato sauce and let the meatballs gently simmer in the sauce until perfectly tender.

cooked meatballs in pan with sauce and basil on top.

From my cucina to your table- enjoy our traditional meatball (polpette) recipe for years to come! It will be the most popular dish from Italian cuisine in your household!

cooked meatballs in a round serving platter with serving utensils and basil on the side. Close up of the meatballs in the sauce.

Meatball Variations

Switching up the traditional recipe with a few creative variations that still embrace the essence of rustic, high-quality Italian cuisine:

  • Turkey or Chicken Meatballs- Swap the classic beef or pork with ground turkey or chicken for a lighter version. Add fresh herbs like parsley and basil to boost the flavor. These are fantastic when paired with a light tomato or even a creamy pesto sauce.
  • Ricotta Meatballs– Incorporate ricotta cheese into your meatball mixture. The ricotta makes the them incredibly moist and tender. Combine with Parmesan for a lovely depth of flavor and serve with a classic marinara sauce.
  • Spicy Arrabbiata Meatballs– Add a kick by including chopped chili peppers or red pepper flakes into the mix. Serve them in a spicy arrabbiata sauce for those who love a bit of heat.
white Italian style bowl with the prepared meatballs in sauce with parmigiano cheese on top and fresh basil leaves.

Tip for Soft and Tender Meatballs

Soak the bread for soft meatballs. Bread soaked in milk will puff up when cooked, creating little air pockets that soften the mixture.They are melt-in-your-mouth tender!

white Italian style bowl with the prepared meatballs in sauce with parmigiano cheese on top and fresh basil leaves. Fork holding up meatballs.

Storage and Freezing

Refrigerating:

Cool: Let the the dish cool to room temperature. Store: Place in an airtight container and refrigerate for up to 3-4 days.

Freezing:

Cool: Allow the dish cool completely. Portion: Divide into meal-sized portions if desired. Package: Use freezer-safe containers or bags, removing as much air as possible. Label: Mark with the date; freeze for up to 3 months. Thaw & Reheat: Thaw in the fridge overnight and reheat gently on the stove.

white Italian style bowl with the prepared meatballs in sauce with parmigiano cheese on top and fresh basil leaves. Tender meatballs cut in half to show tender interior.

FAQs

What is the beat meat to use?

This recipe (and also the way my nonna made them) is with one pound of 80-85% lean ground beef. Add half-ground beef, half-ground pork, or even Italian sausage with the casing removed if you like. Try this recipe that uses Italian sausage- Italian Sausage Meatballs Recipe (In Sauce).

Can you cook raw meatballs in tomato sauce?

YES! This recipe does exactly that. It saves you time in baking them first and dirtying more pans. The raw meatballs will cook in tomato sauce and come out tender and scrumptious. The juices will flavor the tomato sauce, and the tomato sauce will flavor the meatballs. This is the traditional way we do it in Italy!  

Can You Make This Recipe Gluten Free?

You can make a gluten-free version by adding a slice of gluten-free bread of your choice. Instead of the breadcrumbs, you can use a gluten-free variety! 

Can these meatballs be fried or baked?

Yes, you can cook the meatballs any way you like. I highly suggest cooking them in the sauce because the flavor is outstanding!

Can I omit milk in this recipe?

Yes, you can skip the milk. But, you still need some sort of liquid to help bind the meatballs together. Water or broth are easy substitutes.

My favorite part about all my Nonna’s recipes is the simplicity and authenticity of the fresh ingredients. It’s about highlighting the natural flavors of the food, and this recipe exemplifies just that. Read more about my nonna and her meatballs.

How to Serve Meatballs

You can toss the meatballs with spaghetti or any pasta of your choice, or you can enjoy with delcious bread!

More Italian Recipes

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cover photo.

Best Meatball Recipe EVER (Polpette)

5 Stars 4 Stars 3 Stars 2 Stars 1 Star

5 from 25 reviews

These nutritious homemade meatballs are the perfect meal to make on a Sunday afternoon and freeze for weeks to come! This is another tried and true simple, flavorful and mouthwatering recipe from my Nonna.

  • Total Time: 55 minutes
  • Yield: 4-6 1x

Ingredients

Units Scale

Polpette (meatballs)

  • 1 pound of 80-85% lean ground beef
  • 2 slices of stale bread
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1/2 cup parmigiano reggiano, finely grated
  • 1 egg
  • 3 tablespoons fresh minced parsley
  • Optional: 1 tablespoon fresh minced garlic
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Breadcrumbs (for rolling the meatballs by hand)
  • Extra parmigiano for serving

Sugo (sauce)

  • 1 large can (28 oz) good quality crushed tomatoes
  • 1/2 an onion, diced
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 5 fresh basil leaves, whole

Instructions

Make Sugo: 

Make Polpette: 

Cook your favorite pasta or gnocchi, as directed by the package, to serve with meatballs. You can also eat without the pasta and serve it on yummy bread. Try with Easy Polenta Recipe. Generously top with parmigiano and serve hot!

Notes

Make Meatballs Ahead of Time

I always make a double batch of the meatballs and freeze them for a busy weeknight.

To freeze meatballs: Place them on a baking sheet in one layer so they aren’t touching, and place them in the freezer. Once frozen, transfer to a freezer-safe container with a tight lid. Freeze for up to 2 months. Add frozen meatballs to the broth when ready to use and simmer until warm. You can also add them to homemade tomato sauce.

  • Author: Elena
  • Prep Time: 15 minutes
  • Cook Time: 40 minutes
  • Category: Savory
  • Cuisine: Italian

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About Elena

My dream is to share delicious wholesome recipes that you will share around the table with all your loved ones. The memories surrounded by food are the heart and soul of CucinaByElena.

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64 Comments

  1. Excellent recipe. My mom’s from Italy varied just a bit. She would use all your ingredients – plus added a bit of ground pork and a small amount of powdered garlic. Fried in olive oil. Yum. I have all her recipes from Italy!






  2. all your recipes are so helpful.
    I can cook, but always happy to expand my knowledge and I love your Italian vibe all over, the respect for ingredient’s natural flavors. The way you tell the story of your recipes and how you take me to your family for that moment
    ty for all of them , I am sharing them once more with my almost adult children






  3. I made a double batch of these for my daughter & her family while she was away & I babysitting. I left them in the fridge for them. A couple days later she raved about them! Said everybody loved them & asked if I had tweaked my usual recipe somehow. These were easy, tender & delicious, as was the sauce. I’ll definitely make them again.






    1. That is so nice of you to do that and I am sure she appreciated it so much! I am happy everyone loved the recipe!

  4. These were incredible! I’ve been on a kick of trying different meatball recipes and there were by far the best and probably the easiest of the ones I’ve made. My whole family said it was the best meatballs they’ve had!






  5. These are the most amazing meatballs. Easy, delicious and are little balls of heaven in a bite. I have even made these with turkey and they are just incredible. Made these in a mini version to add to my chicken soup. OMG! I come from a family of wonderful Italian cooks so I am a hard sell. These are top notch! Thanks for sharing, Elena.






  6. What’s a good substitute to use if I don’t have any stale bread? I only have sandwich bread (but it’s not stale).






      1. I made them before I saw your reply – I used 1/2 cup panko breadcrumbs instead and they were so good! I’ll have to try bread next time.