Meatballs! How many ways are there to make them? What are the ingredients: which the meats to be used? Do you add breadcrumbs? Do you use stale bread soaked in milk? (My mother recalls how that was something she had a tough time when my grandmother, her mother-in-law, showed her that trick.) How about adding things like mustard or ketchup or Worcestershire Sauce? How about using something other than red meats?
For most Italian Americans the meat in meatballs is usually ground beef to which sometimes may be added some ground pork or veal or both. Such were the essentials of the meatballs for Sunday gravy.
But do all meatballs need to be made from pig or cow? Do they need to be finished in a red sauce? How about meatballs made from chicken? Among any Italian American I know there would be no such thing. But in Italy it seems that they are not so uncommon. Here’s how I found them.
In the refrigerator I had some chicken breasts and a container of ricotta. What, I wondered might I do with these two ingredients. My first thought was simply to spread the ricotta out on the chicken breasts cover them in a slice of ham and roll them up: much like a “cordon bleu," or "involtini."
But I realized that the ricotta would not hold very well and would probably spill out. So, my next thought was to look online. Google did not reveal too much. Then I went to Google Italy (google.it) and simply entered “pollo, ricotta, prosciutto,” (chicken, ricotta, ham.) The results flowed out one after the other including videos.
Nearly all of them suggested recipes called variations on “polpettine di pollo.” Now if you go to translate the word “polpettini” you will get “meatballs.” The thing is, in Italy it seems that while the “polpettine” may be a round ball, that is not always the case. They can also be somewhat cigar shaped. Then too, if you continue your online search you will come across “polpettone,” which means something more like “meatloaf.” (the Italian word ending “ –ine” suggests something small, the ending “-one” something big.
The Italian dictionary notes that the word “polpettone” refers to any “chopped meat… mixed with various ingredients …. In the shape of a large, long cylinder. (carne tritata (raram. di pesce), impastata con ingredienti varî, ,……. forma di un grosso cilindro allungato.)
Serve with peperonata or side of your choice