Picture this: you’re in southern Italy, cooking the rustic food of the region for an entire week. You have fresh, homemade pasta with every meal. Crisp olive oil and the best late summer vegetables abound. You’re not vegetarian, but you’re also not a voracious carnivore. Good bread is your very best friend.
Given this scenario, what do you imagine your favorite meal is from the week in Puglia?
Is anyone guessing meatloaf? Il polpettone? Anyone?
I’ll admit, it’s not the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Italy. Particularly the heel of the boot of Italy, where you can easily travel between the Ionian Sea and the Adriatic Sea in the same afternoon.
And although the fish, the pasta, the mussels, the burrata, the chicory, and EVERYTHING else I ate in southern Italy were impossibly delicious, it was this meatloaf that stuck with me as the standout from my week long trip.
Polpettone – Italian Meatloaf
But guys, let me tell you about this meatloaf. The most important thing you need to know is that it was stuffed with smoked mozzarella cheese (la scarmorza) and spicy salami. So already this rockets it miles ahead of any other meatloaf I’ve eaten to date.
But then on top of that, it was perfectly moist and tender. And the outside had this deep, flavorful and crunchy crust that made you come back for bite after bite.
It wasn’t the first thing I tried to recreate when I came home from Italy, but it was there in the back of my mind just waiting for a special occasion.
I finally did make the polpettone from Italy for a New Years Eve dinner this year, and I was so happy that it was just as special and delicious as I’d remembered.
But the meatloaf is special – it takes a long time to bake and it’s meant to feed a crowd, not two people on a random Tuesday night.
So you take il polpettone and make it le polpette. Meatballs. Stuffed meatballs with smoky mozzarella and spicy salami to be exact.
Polpette – Italian Meatballs
The ingredients and technique for making these southern Italian stuffed meatballs are exactly the same as the larger format stuffed meatloaf. The struggle for me was translating my notes and my memory of cooking the meatloaf in Italy into a recipe that can be replicated with success at home.
For context, here are what my notes looked like for the day we made il polpettone during the cooking class:
Polpettone- meatloaf, for super light add extra milk and extra breadcrumbs
La Cicoria Repassata
Meatloaf – 2eggs per kilo of meat, 75 pork 25 beef, double ground,1 palmful of salt per kilo, milk about 30% of volume
Stuffed Meatballs – The Keys to Success
Once I played around with the ingredient measurements and ratios, it was time to actually get stuffing and rolling and baking. There are a few non-negotiables when making these stuffed meatballs. And they are:
- Use more breadcrumbs and milk than what feels comfortable – they give the meatballs their signature fluff and juiciness
- You have to use smoked mozzarella cheese. Regular mozzarella just doesn’t pack the same flavor punch to stand up to the spicy salami and savory meatballs
- Bake the meatballs on high heat to quickly cook them through THEN broil them to get that caramelized crust
Step by Step Video: How to Make Stuffed Meatballs
The thing that makes these stuffed meatballs better than any other meatballs are undoubtedly the spicy salami and smoked mozzarella in the middle. Once you get the hang of rolling and stuffing them, they’re made really quickly.
You can serve the stuffed meatballs however you’d like. Although it’s not actually very typically Italian, I can’t help but make pasta with red sauce for the savory meatballs to pair with.
These actually store very well in the refrigerator after they’ve been baked and reheat in the microwave easily. The stuffed mozzarella and spicy salami are always an unexpected surprise, and it never fails to bring me back to the life changing stuffed meatloaf in sweet southern Italy.
P.S. If you’d like to hear more about southern Italy, check out this post about my time at the Awaiting Table Cooking School. If you’d like to learn more about the school in general, the Awaiting Table website is a feast for both the eyes and mind.
Southern Italian Stuffed Meatballs
Polpette – Southern Italian Meatballs stuffed with smoked mozzarella and spicy salami are exactly the thing you didn’t know was missing in your at home Italian repertoire!
- 1 ½ lbs ground pork
- ½ lb ground beef
- 1 ¼ cups seasoned bread crumbs
- 2 large eggs
- 1 tbsp kosher salt
- ½ cup grated parmigianno regianno plus extra for garnish
- 2 cups 2% milk
- 4 oz smoked mozzarella
- 6 oz spicy salami calabrese?
Combine ground pork, ground beef, bread crumbs, eggs, salt, parmesan cheese, and milk in a large mixing bowl. Stir together with your hands until the mixture has just come together but all the eggs and breadcrumbs are evenly distributed all the way through
Take 2-3 tbsp of ground meat mixture and pat if flat into a patty form
Wrap half of a slice of spicy salami around a small piece of smoked mozzarella cheese and add it to the top of the ground meat
Take another 2-3 tbsp of ground meat and flatten it over the top of the salami and mozzarella and the other ground meat patty
Pinch the two ground meat patties together closing the salami and mozzarella into the meatball. Roll to seal completely and place onto a greased baking tray.
Repeat the remaining meat, salami and mozzarella. You’ll use around two greased baking sheets in total. Place both trays of meatballs in the refrigerator to chill for 15 min
While the stuffed meatballs chill, preheat the oven to 550. Do not turn the oven to broil yet.
Bake the meatballs at 550 for 10 minutes
Turn the oven to broil and broil the meatballs for an additional 5 minutes. The outsides should be browned and bubbly. A metal skewer inserted briefly to the center of one meatball should come out hot.
Add fresh parmesan and parsley to the top of the meatballs and serve with pasta