Make Ahead

Polpette di Vitello, Tonnato Style

August 12, 2010
4 Ratings
  • Serves 4-6
Author Notes

These are not your nonna’s meatballs, OK? I’m way more than bored with those. This recipe is based on the classic cold appetizer, vitello tonnato; veal in tuna sauce which traditionally would use veal scallops. I’ve simply pilfered and deconstructed and then reconstructed the whole idea. For this dish the meatballs are first poached (not fried), and the ingredients while not many, are of the best quality from the veal, to the oil packed anchovies, to the capers and the sage. —pierino

What You'll Need
  • 4 eggs (in total)
  • 1 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 120gm (or equivalent) can of top quality oil packed tuna
  • 3 really good oil packed anchovies (lest I be forced to remind you, pizza anchovies are diabolical and don’t belong in your kitchen unless you worship the devil)
  • White wine vinegar
  • 1/2 cup torn up bread, without crusts
  • Fresh garden sage
  • 2 shallots
  • 2 pounds lean ground veal (please do grind it yourself, please)
  • Sea salt and ground pepper (black, white or green)
  • 2 tablespoons salt packed capers
  1. Begin by making the tonnato sauce, it will make things easier if you do this first. In the bowl of a small food processor add two eggs---reserving two eggs for the polpette, and begin to process as if you were making mayonnaise (actually you are) by gradually drizzling in up to half or more of the olive oil with the motor running. When it’s mayonnaise stop and add the tuna and the anchovies and just a small splash of vinegar. Pulse it until smooth and creamy.
  2. Strain the sauce through a coarse sieve such as a tamis. Set aside in a large bowl.
  3. For the meat balls; tear up the bread and sprinkle with cold water and white vinegar just to soften it up.
  4. Chop the sage rather finely. There are tools for that; either a very sharp knife or even better a mezzaluna.
  5. Mince the shallots
  6. In a large bowl, one in which you can fit both of your hands, combine the meat, the eggs, shallots and the sage. Squeeze as much liquid as you can from the bread and work that into the meat mixture with your scrubbed hands. Sea salt here would be good. Ground pepper too.
  7. Get a pot of water boiling, add salt and reduce to a simmer. Meanwhile (the dreaded meanwhile), form veal mixture into small, very small meatballs. Like the size of a ping pong ball.
  8. Add just a splash of vinegar to the simmering water. Working just one or two at a time at the beginning add your meatballs to the poaching liquid. Keep the heat at a steady simmer. After about 15 minutes spoon one out and check for doneness. They must be cooked all of the way through. When they are done scoop out onto a sheet pan to rest for a minute or so.
  9. Now the capers. You’ve purchased really top notch salt packed capers, right? Okay, well allow those to soak in cold water. When you get ready to plate things up, carefully drain off the water using your hands or a strainer. The capers are there to finish the plate.
  10. Now, onto each appetizer plate ladle a little sauce, scatter a few capers and add your chilled meatballs. E voila!

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • pierino
  • dymnyno
  • drbabs
  • aargersi
  • Sagegreen
Standup commis flâneur, and food historian. Pierino's background is in Italian and Spanish cooking but of late he's focused on frozen desserts. He is now finishing his cookbook, MALAVIDA! Can it get worse? Yes, it can. Visit the Malavida Brass Knuckle cooking page at Facebook and your posts are welcome there.

14 Reviews

pierino August 13, 2010
I see that I repeated steps 8 and 9 in my rush to make deadline. Sorry about that.
pierino August 13, 2010
Ah! Well, you see, I sneak anchovies (good anchovies) into everything. Pierino loves to surprise people with singular flavors that they can't match up with anything. It's very easy to hide anchovies so that the anchovy "haters" don't even know that they are there. An Italian salsa verde would be a good example, and that's a parsley and olive oil based sauce. But the mouth bomb would be the anchovies disguised in there. Seriously, the people who say that they hate anchovies have only tasted the disgusting tinned stuff on pizzas. I mean, I hated them until I tasted the real thing.
dymnyno August 13, 2010
Pierino, I think that you and I must be the only people on this site who actually EAT anchovies!
aargersi August 13, 2010
I do! In stuff, not on their lonesome :-)
lastnightsdinner August 13, 2010
You can add me to that group :) Nice work, pierino. Love this spin on a classic.
SallyCan August 13, 2010
Do you all ever cook fresh anchovies? If so, how so?
dymnyno August 13, 2010
Anchovy lovers !! Yeah!
drbabs August 13, 2010 much sage did you use?
pierino August 13, 2010
Oh, how much? Just enough to your taste. But do try to keep the balance of flavors with the tuna sauce. I'm sorry I can't precisely quantify that.
aargersi August 13, 2010
These look fabulous and I must say your recipes are a lot of fun to read too!!
pierino August 13, 2010
Writing about food is fun, and thank you ma'am. This one I just squeeked in under the wire because I've been traveling. I grabbed the veal in transit, no time for a photo...The sauce idea I believe originated in Milano but I haven't been able to track it down yet.
dymnyno August 13, 2010
I think that both the Piedmontese and the Milanese claim the sauce; the piedmontese use homemade mayonnaise and the Milanese use cream. I love both versions!
Sagegreen August 13, 2010
Love the way your capers cap off this recipe.
SallyCan August 13, 2010
Good thing you're bored! These look great!