Pin It Polpette in English means meatball. I chose the title in Italian because to me the word meatball has the connotation of checked red and white tablecloths, Chef Boyardee and a restaurant that was all the rave in the sixties called Mamma Leone's. If you remember the name, you run the chance of dating yourself. Anyway, its just my way of elevating this dish to the place it deserves.
I have been singing the praises of lemon basil for a long time and tonight was the crowning glory for this herb. Usually I use it as a secondary ingredient in pasta because of its subtle flavor but tonight, I decided to make it the main event and added a fair share, not only to the meatballs, but also to the sauce. The result was ethereal. The more I use this herb, the more I like it. If you haven't done so already, plant some in your garden, you still have time. You can find it in most nurseries...I found mine at Home Depot.
Most of the time, polpette, or meatballs, are served with the tomato sauce you use to accompany spaghetti and other types of hearty pasta recipes. Tonight, I broke all the rules and the results were extraordinary. I cut back on the garlic in the sauce, added some onion, which I never do, and even added some red wine. The new recipe was a very different, subtle and elegant polpette in a red wine sauce.
Preparation time: 15 minutes
Cooking time: 35 minutes
3 cups day-old bread, cut into 1-inch cubes
1 1/4 pounds ground beef
2 eggs, beaten
3 cloves garlic, minced
3/4 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
1/2 Cup Lemon Basil* finely chopped
1/4 cup pine nuts
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 Cup bread crumbs
4 cloves garlic
1/4 C finely chopped onions
1 Cup of Pomi Chopped Tomatoes
1/4 C finely chopped Lemon Basil*
1/4 Cup red wine
Red pepper Flakes
Salt & Pepper to taste
In a shallow bowl, soak the bread cubes in enough water to cover. Remove the bread cubes and squeeze by hand to wring excess moisture.In a large bowl, combine the bread, beef, eggs, garlic, Parmesan, lemon basil, pine nuts, salt and pepper and mix by hand to incorporate bread into meat. With wet hands, form the mixture into 12 to 15 meatballs, each of a size somewhere between a tennis ball and a golf ball. Roll in the bread crumbs. In a large, heavy-bottomed skillet, heat the oil until almost smoking. Add the meatballs, working in batches if necessary to avoid overcrowding the pan, and cook until deep golden brown on all sides, about 10 minutes.
Take meat balls out and keep about 2 TB of the leftover oil. Add another 3 cloves of mashed garlic, and the onions. Cook for 5 minutes. Add the Pomi tomatoes, the lemon basil, salt & pepper and the red pepper flakes. Put the meatballs back in and cook covered for 15 minutes. Add 1/4 cup red wine and continue cooking for another 5 minutes. If the sauce is too thick and you are cooking spaghettini to go with it, add 1/2 cup of the pasta water to thin and cook another 5 minutes. Let it rest for at least 5 minutes. Serve with spaghetinni and sprinkle Parmeggiano Reggiano on top.
*If you can't find lemon basil, substitute regular fresh basil and grated lemon peel. For 1/2 cup basil add 1 TB grated lemon peel. As to the lemon basil in the sauce, just add regular fresh basil. Try to get lemon basil, it's what makes this dish!