Mamma Rosa’s Polpettine

3:30 pm on 25 September 2015

Serves 6 (makes 12 skewers)

Don’t think of these simply as ‘meatballs’. Well flavoured with garlic and marjoram, threaded onto skewers, interspersed with crusts of toasted bread and melting globs of cheese, they’re rich and delicious and need little accompaniment. Follow them with something to cleanse the palate, such as a tomato salad.

The meatball mixture can also be used as a stuffing, or shaped into small balls and roasted in a shallow oven dish in a moderate oven until browned (about 15 minutes) and served with roasted meats – children love them.

  • 2 small red onions, peeled
  • half a baguette (French bread)
  • 250g Gruyere cheese, cut into 24 cubes
  • 600g minced veal (or pork and veal)
  • 50g (½ cup) freshly grated Parmesan
  • 50g (½ cup) fresh white breadcrumbs
  • 2 small free-range eggs, lightly beaten
  • 2 large cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
  • ½ tsp salt
  • freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 1 Tbsp finely chopped marjoram (or ½ Tbsp dried marjoram)
  • 12 fresh bay leaves
  • olive oil for frying


  • ½ cup plain flour
  • 3 large free-range eggs, lightly beaten with ¼ tsp salt
  • 1 cup dried white breadcrumbs (fine crumbs)

1 Cut the onions in half through the root, then cut each half onion through the root lengthwise again into three pieces. Slice the baguette into thick rounds and then into 24 chunks about the same size as the cheese cubes. Set aside with the onion.

2 Put the minced veal in a bowl and add parmesan, breadcrumbs, beaten eggs, garlic, salt, pepper and marjoram. Mix thoroughly. Shape into 24 oval meatballs, keeping hands moist with a little water to prevent sticking.

3 Skewer the ingredients onto 12 skewers in this order: meatball, cube of cheese, cube of bread, piece of onion, bay leaf folded in two, then meatball, cube of cheese and cube of bread. Choose skewers with a maximum length of 23cm or they won’t fit in a regular frying pan.

4 When all the polpettine are assembled, dust generously with flour then brush carefully with beaten egg and coat with dried breadcrumbs. Transfer to a plate.

5 The polpettine may be prepared several hours ahead up to this point (it’s definitely advisable to do this): cover and keep refrigerated. Note that there is less chance of the cheese melting and burning if it is well chilled.

6 When ready to cook, heat a 1cm depth of olive oil in a large frying pan over a medium-high heat and cook 3-4 polpettine at a time (you may need to add more oil between batches). When they are golden and cooked, transfer to a rack set over a baking dish and keep warm in a low oven; don’t cover them or they will loose crispness. (You may need to skim the oil with a small metal strainer between cooking batches of polpettine to remove any pieces of cheese which ooze out.) When all are done, transfer to a heated serving plate and serve hot.

From Afternoons with Jesse Mulligan

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