In Umbria, small meatballs are often served simply, floating in a bowl of hot chicken broth. This is a fine custom, in my opinion: it makes the soup more special and substantial, and the broth enhances the carefully homemade meatballs. The diminutive pork-and- veal polpetti in this recipe incorporate small amounts of plump raisins, pine nuts, and orange zest—delicate flavors that might be overwhelmed by bold pasta sauce but stand out in a spoonful of light, clear broth. You can either fry or poach the meatballs (the fried have more flavor; the poached are healthier), but either way they are delicious.
- For the Meatballs
- 1⅓ pounds ground pork
- ⅔ pound ground veal
- 2 large eggs, beaten with a pinch of salt
- ½ cup fine dry bread crumbs
- ½ cup freshly grated Grana Padano
- Zest of 1 medium orange (about 2 teaspoons)
- 1 tablespoon pine nuts, toasted and chopped
- 2 tablespoons golden raisins, softened in hot water, drained, and chopped
- ½ teaspoon kosher salt
- All-purpose flour for dredging, about 2 cups or as needed
- ½ cup vegetable oil, or as needed, for frying meatballs
- For Serving
- 3 to 4 quarts Chicken Stock (see here)
- Freshly grated Grana Padano
You will need 2 trays or baking sheets, and wax paper or parchment; a heavy nonstick skillet, 12-inch diameter or larger, for frying the meatballs, or a large pot for poaching them; a 6-or 8-quart soup pot.
Crumble the ground pork and veal into a large bowl, breaking up any clumps with your fingers, and toss to mix them. Pour the beaten eggs over the meat, and scatter on top the bread crumbs, grated cheese, orange zest, chopped pine nuts and raisins, and salt. Fold and toss and squeeze the meat through your fingers to distribute all the ingredients evenly.
Scoop up a small amount of the meat mix—about a heaping teaspoon—and roll it in your palms to form a 1-inch ball (the size of a large grape). Set it on a tray lined with wax paper or parchment, and form the rest of the mixture into meatballs—you should have sixty or more. Now either fry or poach the meatballs, before final heating in stock for serving.
To fry the meatballs: Spread a good layer of flour on a large plate or tray. Pour a thin layer of vegetable oil in the skillet, and heat it slowly.
Dredge a batch of the meatballs in flour—twenty or thirty, depending on the size of your skillet. Roll each in the flour until coated, and set them all on a tray. Heat up the oil in the skillet over medium-high heat, and drop in the floured meatballs. Fry them for about 5 minutes, turning and moving them occasionally, until browned on all sides. Remove them to a tray or platter lined with paper towels. Repeat with the remaining meatballs, and brown them the same way. Between batches, remove browned bits from the skillet and add more oil as needed.
Alternatively, to poach the meatballs: Fill a big pot with 3 quarts of lightly salted water, bring it to a boil, and drop in half the meatballs. Cover the pot, and return the water to a boil quickly. Adjust the heat to keep the water simmering gently, and poach the meatballs, uncovered, about 5 minutes, until cooked through.
Lift them out with a spider or strainer, let drain briefly, and set them in a bowl in a warm spot. Poach the rest of the meatballs the same way, then discard the poaching water.
To serve: Heat the broth in the soup pot until simmering. Gently drop in the fried or poached meatballs, and slowly bring the soup back to the simmer, so the meatballs heat all the way through.
Fill warm soup bowls with broth and meatballs—six or more in each bowl—and serve while very hot, with plenty of freshly grated cheese at the table for sprinkling over the top.