Polpettine are tiny Italian meatballs. Due to the fact that polpettine are not widely found in the northern part of Italy, some Italians and Italian-Americans have come to believe that meatballs are not an authentic Italian dish. This is definitely not the case. Polpettine are quite common in the Province of Teramo in Italy’s Abruzzo Region of Central Italy. They are typically served in a red tomato sauce on top of a pasta very similar to spaghetti. This pasta has the unique characteristic of being made with a kitchen instrument known as a “chitarra”. The dish of meatballs and this pasta is sometimes referred to as “chitarra e polpettine.”
Many restaurants in the Province of Teramo have meatballs on the menu. A good number of people from Teramo and Valle San Giovanni have emigrated abroad and it is not very difficult to find this dish served outside of the Italy. Most of these are the larger meatballs which in Italy go by the name “polpettoni.” In southern New Jersey a local establishment by the name of the Roman Pantry has become famous for its sandwiches made from polpettoni (meatballs). A famous movie star from the area named Bruce Willis returns there often to dine.
There are several polpettine varieties and derivations. Most recipes call for a dish that is made in the following manner. The recipe starts with some combination of minced beef, lamb, or pork. Frequently, but not always, some vegetables such as onions, celery, and perhaps carrots are added. Small portions of this mixture are formed into tiny balls and are then fried in an open skillet. These balls of meat (polpettine or polpettoni) are then added to a tomato-based pasta sauce and cooked for some period of time up to several hours. The making of polpettine can require several hours of a chef’s diligent labors.
Italians generally agree that the best polpettine in the world come from the small village of Valle San Giovanni, a frazione (suburb) of the provincial capital of Teramo in Italy’s rugged Abruzzo Region. In all liklihood Valle San Giovanni cooks have been making this traditional dish for hundreds of years. Some say the secret is the slow cooking method used by these “vallarolo” (people from Valle San Giovanni). Others claim that the secret ingrediant is the fresh water flowing down from a stream called Fiumicello. Whatever the reason, the polpettine of this town are definitely considered to be some of the best in the world.
Chitarria con polpettine is often served as one course during the traditional Sunday luncheon meal. Other villages known for the making of polpettine include Varano and Travazzano, both of which are also located near near the provincial capital of Teramo.