Day 303: Italian Bread Balls (Polpette di Pane)

If I had a signature dish it would definitely be my tomato and basil pasta, my version of Penne Arrabbiata. It’s the kind of dish I’d be happy to serve up to anyone, I’m confident enough that the flavours are right and it’s a super-easy supper that I cook week after week.

Tonight it’s getting a little enhancement in the way of polpette di pane – Italian bread and cheese balls – an alternative meat-free meatball.


  • 200g ciabatta breadcrumbs, slightly stale if possible
  • 150g vegetarian Parmesan, grated
  • Small bunch of parsley
  • 1 x garlic clove
  • 3 x eggs

For the sauce:

  • 12 x vine ripened tomatoes
  • 2 x garlic cloves, crushed
  • 1 x red chilli, finely sliced
  • Small bunch fresh basil, finely chopped 
  • Handful pitted black olives

To serve:

  • Pasta, I opted for spaghetti

First make the sauce: cut a cross on the bottom of each of the tomatoes and place in a large pan of boiling water. When the skins begin to loosen, remove the tomatoes from the water and drain on kitchen paper (save a cupful of the cooking water). Peel the skins and cut the flesh from them, discarding the core.

Cook slowly in olive oil, along with the chilli and garlic. Season well with salt and pepper and add a good splash of the cooking water. Leave to bubble gentle with the lid on as you prepare the bread balls.

Whizz the ciabatta up into breadcrumbs in a food processor with the garlic. Add the parsley and grated cheese and blend again until combined.

Add the eggs one at a time until the mixture forms a wet dough.

Break off a golf ball sized amount and roll into a ball. Repeat with the rest of the mixture.

Drop into the sauce for 15 minutes (three per person is plenty), then turn over and cook for a further 10 minutes while you prepare the pasta. 

Stir the olives and basil into the sauce, serve on top of the cooked spaghetti and garnish with extra basil. 


These simple polpette, typical Italian peasant food, create the most authentic tasting dish.

This yield made far too many bread balls so the rest are in the freezer for an emergency pasta meal that I can just add to passata. 

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