Spinach and fennel polpettine (meatballs) in a crunchy polenta crust

crunchy baked polpettine an istant classic
crunchy baked polpettine, an istant classic

Having returned from a wonderful holiday, full of energy, ideas and an intense wish to neglect the existence of January, I want to start this year with a really new and extraordinary recipe. Something you never thought of. Something that will become even more trendy than cupcakes or mochi ice cream.
OK, I’ll stop here and disclose the truth: I hate food trends, I love normal food. I am not getting near mochi ice cream. It’s probably wonderful but I live in rural Umbria where the apex of exotic in our supermarket is Uncle Ben’s Mexican sauce. I am not getting near that either. As someone who has lived in Texas, I know it’s awful.

Faithful to my principles, I am offering you again a totally normal and definitely un-trendy recipe. One which my family loves even if there are hidden vegetables. We could easily have them once a week. They are great dipped in a spicy tomato sauce or with a few drops of green Tabasco. Or some real Mexican salsa if I could have some. That would not be trendy for you, but very much for us, dwellers of the Umbrian hills!

  • 500 gr (1 lb) spinach, washed, steamed and finely chopped
  • 300 gr(2/3 lb) ground meat of your choice, I use half pork and half beef
  • 2 garlic cloves, finely minced
  • 4 tablespoon grated Parmesan or Pecorino
  • 1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt, a pinch of black pepper
  • 4 tablespoon bread crumbs (or gluten-free equivalent)
  • 4 tablespoon coarse polenta flour
  • 1 egg

Preheat oven at 220°C (425 °F). Whisk the egg in a shallow bowl. Line a large oven tin with lightly oiled parchment paper. Sprinkle the polenta flour on a tray or large flat plate.
Mix the chopped spinach, ground meat, grated cheese, fennel, salt, pepper and bread crumbs. Meatballs will cook better and faster if you make them small and of the same size. Use a tablespoon to make equal portions, then roll each meatball with your hands into approx. 1.5 inch wide x 1/2 inch thick round shapes.
Now you need to work quickly: dip the meatballs in egg, then roll in the polenta flour, flatten slightly and distribute them on the lined oven tin. Bake 20 minutes turning once or twice until brown on both sides. Serve immediately with mashed potato or country-style bread.
To make a spicy sauce, follow one of my recipes for tomato sauce here or here and – when cooked – add as much fresh, chopped chili pepper as you like. Don’t cook the meatballs in sauce, just dip them one by one while eating to retain the nice crunchy feel of the crust. It’s more fun.
Makes 36 small meatballs.
PS. If like me you wish to forget that it’s January, watch this video which will transport you into my kitchen and in Umbria in a sunny spring day, with plenty of good food, wonderful wines and lots and lots of beauty. Enjoy!


  1. I also steer clear of trendy foods. Kale and Quinoa for example – I can’t wait until Kale turns back into a normal vegetable that we have been using sensibly for years.
    Lovely little video. Thanks . F

  2. I would love to be transported AWAY from January but don’t see a link to a video on your blog. Mille grazie! I can’t wait to try your polpettine recipe! Diana

  3. Thank you! Will make the meatballs and sauces! We had delicious sea bass served on sauté fennel and capers this week. I had never eaten or prepared fennel til cooking with you! Deb
    Sent from my iPad

  4. I’m trying your polpettine, with homemade salsa, as a side with guacamole for the Superbowl this evening. Nell’s out getting the polenta flour now.

  5. Letizia, tell me more about polenta flour. Is it just the usual polenta, or a polenta that is further ground?

    • ciao Amy, in the last few years it’s been easier to buy stone ground polenta which is obtained from mills which use old style machinery and tend to grind what they sell so the polenta flour has a better flavor. So it’s not ground finer, it’s just ground in a different way and not in large bulk. I have heard from several American guests that this is now available also in the US. In Richmond, at Nota Bene I have had the most beautiful polenta made with polenta flour obtained locally. By far the best polenta I have ever had!

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