Mondeghili, known as polpette or meatballs outside of Milano, were described as “a kind of polpette made with ground beef, bread, eggs and similar ingredients” by Francesco Cherbini in his Milanese - Italian Dictionary (1839).
The name is originally derived from an Arabic word which later evolved into the Spanish albondiga. In fact, it was the Arabs that taught the Spanish to make a ball of minced meat and then fry it.
The recipe itself is rooted in the traditional peasant practice of letting nothing go to waste. It is a tasty way to use up leftover beef (boiled or roasted), which is minced and mixed with sausage, raw salami or mortadella (often from liver), eggs, milk-soaked bread, grana padano cheese, garlic and nutmeg.
This flavoursome mixture is rolled into large balls that are slightly squashed before being coated with breadcrumbs and fried in butter.
Mondeghili make an excellent second course that goes well with a light salad or potatoes and are sometimes served in a tomato sauce.
Ingredients – Serves 4
- 300 g minced meat
- An egg
- Crumb of one bread roll (approx. 30 g)
- One spoon of chopped parsley
- Grated zest of one lemon
- One teaspoon of salt
- Red butter
- Brown butter
You may choose whatever meat you prefer - fresh or leftover - beef, sausage, salami, mortadella, liver or pork.
Soak the roll in milk, squeeze it out or rub it through a sieve. Mix the meat with the bread, an egg – the white beaten into stiff peaks –, the lemon zest, salt and parsley. You may wish to add more flavour with garlic or onion, grated Parmesan cheese and a pinch of nutmeg.
Shape the mixture into balls no larger than a walnut, bread them and flatten them a little. Fry the meatballs in red butter and pour brown butter over them on the plate.
The use of clarified butter is a modern innovation, like that of cooking the mondeghili in tomato sauce.