Venetian Meat and Potato Balls, Bacaro-Style

Le Polpettine dei Bacari

Preparation info

  • Difficulty

    Medium

  • Approximately Fifty

    1 inch

    Meatballs

Appears in

The meatballs made by Venice’s bacari—the city’s wine bars—are delightfully soft because they contain a large proportion of mashed potatoes. Bacari make them early in the morning and serve them throughout the day at room temperature. Some people ask for them to be warmed up in the microwave, but they are quite good cold, although they never taste better than when they are hot. The traditional version calls for a ground mixture of three meats—beef, veal, and pork—in equal parts, but I find the all-beef variation I have adopted here to be more succulent.

Ingredients

  • ½ pound boiling potatoes
  • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil plus oil for frying
  • 1 teaspoon chopped garlic
  • ½ teaspoon chopped rosemary
  • 1 pound ground beef chuck
  • Salt
  • Black pepper ground fresh
  • ½ cup whole milk
  • 3 thin slices firm white bread, trimmed of their crust
  • 2 tablespoons chopped Italian flat-leaf parsley
  • 2 eggs
  • ½ cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
  • 1 cup fine, dry, unflavored bread crumbs, spread on a plate

A wire draining rack

Method

  1. Wash the potatoes, put them into a pot of cold water with their skins on, and bring to a steady but gentle boil.
  2. Into a 10-inch skillet put 3 tablespoons of vegetable oil, ½ teaspoon chopped garlic, and ½ teaspoon chopped rosemary, and turn on the heat to medium high. Cook, stirring frequently, until the garlic’s scent begins to rise. Before the garlic can become lightly colored, add the meat, breaking up and spreading the mass with a wooden spoon.
  3. Add salt and pepper; turn the meat over from time to time with a wooden spoon, cooking it until it is evenly browned throughout.
  4. Pour the contents of the skillet into a colander or strainer set over a small bowl to let all the fat drain away. When there is no more fat draining, turn the contents of the colander over into a clean, medium-size bowl.
  5. Put the milk into a small bowl and add the sliced bread, letting it steep to absorb as much milk as possible.
  6. As soon as the potatoes are tender, drain, peel them while they are hot, and mash them through a food mill or potato ricer into the bowl with the meat. Lift the milk-soaked bread with a slotted spoon or spatula, leaving the excess milk behind in the bowl. Add the bread to the meat together with the remaining ½ teaspoon of chopped garlic, the parsley, 1 egg, and the grated Parmesan. Combine all ingredients into a homogeneous mixture.
  7. Break the remaining egg into a small bowl or deep saucer, add 2 tablespoons of water, and beat it lightly.
  8. Make 1-inch balls out of the meat mixture, taking care not to squeeze tightly. Dip the balls first into the beaten egg, lifting them one at a time to let excess egg flow back into the dish, then turn them in the bread crumbs. Place them on a platter, where they can stay for even an hour before you begin to fry them.
  9. Put enough vegetable oil in a 12-inch skillet to come at least ½ inch up the sides of the pan. Turn the heat on to high; it is hot enough when a bit of meat dropped in sizzles immediately. Put in as many meatballs as will fit loosely in one layer. Cook them, turning them as they become browned on one side, until they are evenly browned all over. Transfer them, using a slotted spoon or spatula, to a wire draining rack set over a tray or paper towels. If you do not have a wire rack, use a platter thickly lined with paper towels. Proceed thus in batches until all the meatballs are done. Serve immediately from a warm platter if you like them piping hot, or let them cool to room temperature.

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