Polpettine Meatballs in Tomato Sauce

Sugo di Polpettine alla Teramana is a classic sauce from the Abbruzzo region of Italy. Traditionally the sauce of tiny meatballs is served over home made chittara pasta.

I thought I would try to make the meatballs and sauce in the traditional way but to use it in variety of other dishes. These delicious tiny meatballs in a rich tomato sauce are perfect for any pasta dish and lasgne and even on gnocchi. In fact they are small and tasty enough to even use as a filling  in sourdough rolls for a quick lunch or as a topping for a pizza.

The meatballs are about the size of a small marble but keep their integrity well during frying and and later cooking. Once simmered in the flavourful sauce they absorb even more flavour and become tender without breaking down.

Making the polpettine in the tomato sauce ahead of time gives them time to rest and brings out the flavours. The time spent on making the richest tomato sauce will repay with a real burst of flavour for all your pasta dishes. The preparation is well worth the effort.

Today I have used the sauce with home made gnocchi. You can find the recipe on a previous post here: https://granthamgarden.org/2017/03/06/potato-gnocchi/

I hope to share some other dishes that use the sauce in the coming weeks.

Polpettine Meatballs in Tomato Sauce:



IMG_20160605_125709-Tomato sauce ingredients

  • 2 tins chopped tomatoes
  • 2 Tblsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 small knob of butter
  • large onion chopped
  • 2 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 Tblsp  tomato paste
  • 1/4 cup of good white wine
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 medium whole carrot, cut into pieces (to add some sweetness and balance any acidity in the tomatoes)
  • 1 small piece of celery, whole
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped parsley
  • 2 sprigs of rosemary, finely chopped
  • 3 large basil leaves, roughly torn
  • 1 Tblsp chicken or vegetable stock powder
  • 1 large bay leaf
  • Italian Herbs seasoning
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper and a little sugar to correct acidity if required


  • 500g lean minced beef
  • 100g finely grated Parmigiano Reggiano
  • 1 egg
  • small sprinkle of freshly ground whole nutmeg
  • salt and freshly ground pepper
  • Vegetable oil for frying the meatballs



  1. In a large heavy based saucepan that has a lid, heat the oil and the knob of butter on a medium-low heat
  2. When the butter stops foaming add the chopped onion and cook gently till translucent, for about 10 minutes. Add a tiny bit of water if it appears to be catching. The idea is to caramelise the onions wellIMG_20190629_103929-Onions frying
  3. Then add the minced garlic, stir through and cook for a minute
  4. Stir through the tomato paste and cook for another minute
  5. Add the wine and cook for 5 minutes or until it has been absorbed
  6. Add the chopped tomatoes, rinsing the can of all the tomato with the water
  7. Stir through the stock powder
  8. Add the chopped parsley, torn basil, finely chopped rosemary, bay leaf and stir through to combine well.
  9. Add the carrot pieces and the piece of celery to the sauce
  10. Dust with a sprinkling of Italian herbs
  11. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper and stir the sauce well
  12. Cover, lower the heat to the lowest setting and simmer for about 1 hour checking from time to time, adding a little water if the sauce seems to dry out.
  13. The sauce will be ready when it is reduced and thickened
  14. Using the back of a wooden spoon crush the carrot and celery pieces till they are combined
  15. Check the seasoning and acidity of the sauce and amend with a little sugar or salt if  needed and set aside
  16. While the sauce is cooking, prepare the meatballs


  1. Place the minced beef into a large bowl
  2. Sprinkle with 1 teaspoon of salt, freshly ground black pepper and a whisper of grated nutmeg
  3. Add the grated Parmesan and the whole egg
  4. Combine all the ingredients by spending time kneading it all well to make sure that all the elements are well combined.
  5. Set the meat covered with cling film into the fridge for 20 minutes
  6. Prepare some trays with baking paper
  7. When chilled remove the meat and set about forming the meat balls
  8. The size should be about 1cm ball.
  9. Form a small roll in the palm of the hand pressing it to firm the meat. This will provide quite a few marble sized meatballs.IMG_20200626_151815-Polpettine-forming
  10. Pinch off  centimetre pieces and roll them into small balls and place them on prepared trayIMG_20200626_155120-Polpettine2
  11. You should have about 100 tiny meatballs when finishedIMG_20200626_155113-Polpettine small
  12. Place the trays, covered with cling wrap in the fridge for 10 minutes
  13. Use a wide frypan and a good depth of vegetable oil, enough to cover the meatballs.
  14. Add the knob of butter and heat over a medium high heat till the butter foams and when it stops it is ready for frying.
  15. Fry batches of meatballs, tossing them the frypan to brown all sides of the meatballs. They will only take a minute or two so work quickly and don’t over cook them.IMG_20200626_173318-Polpettine frying
  16. As they become well coloured on all sides remove the meatballs with a slotted spoon to a plate covered with kitchen paper
  17. When all the meatballs are browned and drained of the oil add them to the prepared sauceIMG_20200626_180513-Polpettine in sauce
  18. Set the frypan over the lowest heat setting possible. Add a little water and simmer the meatballs gently for a futher 30 minute on the lowest heat
  19. It is important to keep an eye on them to make sure that the sauce does not burn. Add a little water as required. IMG_20200626_205737-Polpettine in sauce finished
  20. Cool and refrigerate overnight for the best flavour and use in with any pasta shape of your choice, even the tagliatelle shape that is like the traditional chittara pasta. The sauce is also wonderful used to make an interesting lasagna.

I have used my sugo di polpettine alla Teramana in a non traditional way on gnocchi. It it was so nice to find the tender little bites of meat in the tasty sauce and they didn’t overwhelm the overall texture of the gnocchi. IMG_20200702_121618-Gnocchi with polpettine sauce


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