meatless meatballs

Polpette…The Meatless Meatball

This one will be short, but sweet…ok, maybe a little savory too. I want to share a family recipe with you. I am not sure if, legally (meaning my grandparents would allow it), I am free to share this scrumptious recipe, but I thought I should share the wealth and pay it forward. This is for those who do not eat meat, but would love a good meatball every once in a while. This will surprise and delight as a meatball with no meat. The secret substitute is simply…bread crumbs.

The story goes that my grandfather, Michael Nicholas Bechina, was a vegetarian at one point in his life and my grandmother needed to devise a clever version of the traditional meatball to fill her husband with spaghetti and meatballs. So, after many iterations, the pappetti was born. Ironically, the word pappe in Italian, means baby food, so perhaps, this was her way of telling her macho Sicilian husband that eating a meatless meatball was equivalent to eating like a bambino (baby). All things said, once you make this recipe and try her meatless meatballs, I do not think you will care what you call them.

Polpette Recipe* (Meatless Meatballs) – sauce should be made prior to the polpette, so you can simply drop the meatballs into the sauce once cooked


1 large can tomato puree

2 small cans tomato paste

6 cups water

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon dried basil

1 teaspoon sugar

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper

1/2 teaspoon garlic powder

1 large teaspoon extra virgin olive oil

3 heaping tablespoons grated parmesan

1 teaspoon dried parsley

1/2 bag of frozen peas

Once you have added your tomato puree, paste and water, turn your pot to a medium heat. Reduce heat to medium/low, once you start a slow boil.


1 cup bread crumbs

1 cup grated parmesan

4 eggs

1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

1/2 teaspoon garlic powder

1/2 teaspoon dried basil

1 teaspoon dried parsley

1/2 teaspoon dried onion flakes

Form round meatballs with your hands and then flatten your meatball to where it resembles a burger. This makes the pappetti easier to fry. In a frying pan, heat 1-2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil and cook your pappettis over medium/high heat until browned on both sides. They do not need to be cooked through, as they will continue to cook in the sauce.

Cook four eggs (or more if you like) over hard and well done and drop them into your sauce. Yes, you read that correctly, drop the fried egg into the sauce. I know it sounds a little odd, but it is truly a unique and delicious flavor.

Ideally, leave your polpette, eggs and sauce to simmer for a few hours on low heat, but if you don’t have that time, it is best to make everything a day ahead.

My favorite version is served with angel hair (capellini) pasta, cooked el dente (3-4 minutes or 1-2 minutes for fresh capellini). Top with fresh basil and freshly grated parmesan cheese.

*Feel free to substitute fresh ingredients 

Buon Appetito!

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