Polpetti Al Forno

Stunningly simple meatballs baked with a rich southern Italian tomato sauce and topped off with a creamy, cheesy layer of deliciousness.

Foodoppi Aisling Larkin Polpetti al forno


These Polpetti Al Forno are a stunningly simple but indulgent family style Italian favourite of mine.

I have travelled to Italy a number of times and always learn some new culinary gems while I am there.

This polpetti al forno is my twist on a classic Southern meatball recipe but baked almost like a lasagne but without the pasta. I created it a number of years ago while I had my children’s cookery school at the Cliff at Lyons in Kildare and let me tell you the kids adored it. Thats why I have decided to share it here.

I will give you some of my wonderful secrets to the best polpetti ( baby meatballs ) in the world and show you how to cook like a real Italian.

Although this recipe is a little more indulgent than normal there are a couple of core Foodoppi principles at its heart:

  • Cook from scratch  – like your granny and the Italian Nonna’s  –  that way you know exactly what goes into it for your family.
  • Wholemeal bread to get in a little extra fibre anywhere possible
  • Sneaky veg –  a lovely sweet summery courgette to get in some extra veg where possible.
  • Family style cooking  –  by serving and eating together in this family “help yourself” style it really helps children be a little more adventurous and try new foods as they are in control.

Now to the recipe

Secrets of a perfect meatball !

  1. Use a combination of two meats –  beef and pork –  the flavour payoff and texture is incredible. Traditionally it would be veal or a combo of veal and one or the other but lets face it who is going searching for veal on a Tuesday ?
  2. Soak the bread in milk –  best tip ever !!! this keeps the meatballs incredibly moist and soft.
  3. Add parmesan for natural umami  –  that delicious deep rich savoury flavour ( means less added salt int eh recipe)
  4. Use 1 herb only dried oregano – fresh herbs stay “too big” and obvious for little ones so dried herbs are more intense, you use less and they can’t really be detected but add a great authentic Italian background flavour.
  5. Saute  / brown them off for a little caramelisation and an extra oomph of umami flavour.

Keep on reading for the full recipe, I hope your family love my polpetti as much as mine and if you do make them be sure to share a pic on social media and tag us.

With fun and deliciousness,

Aisling Larkin

What You'll Need


250g / 500g minced beef ( singled / double batch)

250g / 500g minced pork ( singled / double batch)

1 tsp garlic powder

1 tsp onion powder 

1/2 tsp oregano 

1 courgette ( skin on, grated and all water squeezed out ) 

2 slices wholemeal bread

75ml milk

50g grated parmesan 


2 tbsp oil


Tomato Sauce

1 tin chopped tomatoes

1 jar passata 

1/2 tsp oregano

1 tsp brown sugar 

1 onion

2 cloves garlic 

20 g parmesan 


Bechamel Sauce 

50g butter  / margarine

50g white flour

500 mls milk 

120g mozzarella/cheddar grated 







100g polenta & 1L water and 1 tsp salt / 1/2 Chicken stock cube 

20g butter

20g parmesan 


2 saucepans

wooden spoon


weighing scales

ovenproof pot /saucepan

oven gloves


How to Do It


  1. 1Preheat the oven. Soak the bread in the milk. Grate the parmesan. Grate the courgette and squeeze out all the water.
  2. 2Combine the meat, soaked bread, parmesan, onion and garlic powder and courgette in a large bowl. With clean wet hands roll into 24 small meatballs.
  3. 3Heat the oil in a large oven proof saucepan and cook the meatballs in small batches .
    Remove from the pan and set aside.

Tomato Sauce

  1. 1To make the tomato sauce fry the ingredients for the sauce and simmer for 20mins.
    While the tomato sauce is simmering make the béchamel sauce.

Classic White Sauce

  1. 1To make the béchamel - melt the butter in a small saucepan, stir in the flour and cook out for 1 minute. Gradually add in the milk and stir in until it get gradually gets thick.
    Stir in the cheese and the seasoning.

Al Forno

  1. 1Into the oven proof saucepan with the cooked tomato sauce pop back in the meatballs, spoon over the creamy béchamel sauce and sprinkle with some mozzarella.
    Bake for 20 / 30mins.
    Serve with creamy polenta, crusty bread or pasta.

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