Tasting Rome’s Polpette di Pollo (Chicken Meatballs)

Written by Katie Parla on May 23, 2016

WGN Chicago
A shot of last week’s segment on WGN Chicago

Under normal circumstances I wouldn’t get excited about polpette di pollo (chicken meatballs). Chicken balls, perhaps (not that those are easy to find these days, even at my offal-centric butcher), but I’m a veal or pork meatball kinda lady. But these polpette di pollo, inspired by the flavors of Rome’s Jewish cuisines are different. I emphasize the plural here–in addition to the native Roman Jewish cuisine, the city also has a rich Libyan tradition called the cucina tripolina.

Chicken meatballs made with lots of stale bread as filler were a staple of the city’s Jewish community during the Ghetto period and in the years following the liberation of the quarter in 1870. Now, the proportion of bread has shifted to favor meat and in this recipe from Tasting Rome, the ground chicken is enriched with spices and pistachios, inspiration drawn from the cucina tripolina. The meatballs are made with a white wine–based sauce instead of tomato, which allows the flavors of the dish to shine through.


Polpette di Pollo in Bianco | Chicken Meatballs in White Wine Sauce

Makes 30 to 35 polpette

3 slices day-old bread of any kind, crusts removed
1 cup chicken broth or water, warmed
1 3/4 pounds ground chicken (even better if you can grind in some skin!)
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 garlic clove, minced
1 teaspoon sea salt, plus more as needed
Freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
3 Tablespoons chopped pistachios
2 Tablespoons packed finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1/4 cup plus 2 Tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 medium shallots, minced
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 1/2 Tablespoons fresh lemon juice (from 1/2 lemon)

Soak the bread for a few minutes in warm chicken broth. When it has softened, squeeze out the excess liquid and place the bread in a large bowl. Add the ground chicken, eggs, garlic, salt, pepper to taste, cinnamon, nutmeg, pistachios, and half the parsley. Mix thoroughly by hand. Form the mixture into balls roughly the size of walnuts and set aside.

In a large frying pan or cast-iron skillet, heat the olive oil over medium heat. When the oil begins to shimmer, add the shallots and a pinch of salt and cook until soft, about 5 minutes.Meanwhile, lightly dust the meatballs all over with flour (a mesh strainer works well for this) and shake off any excess. Add them to the pan and brown all over. Add the wine, scraping up any browned bits from the sides and bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon or heatproof spatula. When the alcohol aroma dissipates, about a minute, add enough broth or water to cover the meatballs about halfway. Bring to a simmer, reduce the heat to low, and cook, covered, until a creamy sauce has formed, 10 to 15 minutes.

Season with lemon juice, garnish with the remaining parsley, and serve the meatballs warm or at room temperature with sauce spooned over.

Reprinted from Tasting Rome: Fresh Flavors and Forgotten Recipes from an Ancient City. Copyright © 2016 by Katie Parla and Kristina Gill. Published by Clarkson Potter/Publishers, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC.

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