Little meat patties

Little meat patties

Polpettine di carne

Helen Cathcart

These are classic cicchetti; they are sold in most of the bacari in Venice and vary from place to place. Our favourites are made by the grandmother at the tiny Osteria alla Scuela restaurant in the Castello district of Venice. She makes them every day and her secret is to include a little cooked potato, which makes them soft and moist to eat rather than dry and hard. In ancient books there are all sorts of recipes for polpette (large meatballs) and polpettine (little meatballs) di carne, which have been made for centuries with flavourings such as candied fruits, rum, rosewater and spices. Serve them as they are or toss them together with homemade tomato sauce and spaghetti.

For the polpettine


Quantity Ingredient
300g potatoes
500g lean minced beef
50g onions, very finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg, finely grated
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon, (optional)
freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons parsley, finely chopped
1 small garlic clove, finely chopped
50g parmesan, finely grated
1/2 lemon, finely zested

To coat the polpette

Quantity Ingredient
4 tablespoons ‘00’ or plain flour
1 large egg, beaten
60g dry breadcrumbs
sunflower oil, for deep-frying


  1. Boil the potatoes in their skins and when tender drain. Spear them with a fork and peel off the skin with a knife. Now mash them in a large bowl. Add the rest of the polpette ingredients and use your hands to mix everything together until well blended. Take a piece of the mixture and roll it into a walnut-size ball then flatten it into a patty shape, and then fry this in a little oil until cooked. Taste and adjust the seasoning as necessary; this way you won’t you wont make and fry all your polpette and then realise you haven’t added enough salt! When you are happy with the flavour make up the rest of the patties. Each one should weigh around 30 g.
  2. Heat the oil in a deep-fat fryer or a high-sided frying pan until it is around 175°C or hot enough to make a small piece of bread sizzle as soon as it enters the fat. Prepare the flour, egg and breadcrumbs in three separate bowls. Dip each patty first into the flour and tap off the excess, then into the egg and finally the breadcrumbs gently pressing them in. If you run out of egg, add a dash of milk to the bowl. Gently put the patties into the hot oil in batches so the fryer isn’t over-crowded and fry for around 5 minutes until dark golden brown and cooked through. Drain on kitchen paper towels and cut one open to check it is cooked through to the middle. Eat as soon as they are cool enough to touch.
  3. The patties can be reheated in a warm oven if you want to make them in advance. They also freeze well.
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