Rapini, Polenta e Polpette

Lamb and Veal Meatballs, Polenta and Sautéed Rapini

Sounds elegant.  Yes.  Everything sounds elegant in Italian.  However, this dish is pure peasant food.  This simple yet complex style of cooking transforms the cheap into the sublime.  Think tacos or shrimp and grits, for example. 

This dish is really just meatballs, grits (polenta’s step sibling) and a leafy green vegetable. However, a few tweaks have put a new spin on the peasant food approach.

When Americans think of lamb and veal, we think of fine dining instead of a potential Tuesday dinner.  The butcher reserves the legs and chops for the high rollers. 

The less choice parts go through the meat grinder.  Same quality meat, just more budget friendly.

Meatballs before cooking.

As a result, lamb and veal meatballs. 

An additional twist to the rustic concept is the cooking liquid for the polenta.  Since polenta is ground corn, cooking them in a corn broth really amps up the corn flavor.

Finally, the rapini completes the dish.  Also known as broccoli rabe, the vegetable has a pleasant bitterness which counters the corn’s natural sweetness.  The dish may have peasant origins but the twists refine the meal.

Check out the video to see how the dish comes together. 

Serves 4

Meatball ingredients.

Lamb and Veal Meatballs

½ pound ground lamb

½ pound ground veal

1/3 cup bread crumbs, soaked in ¼ cup milk

1 egg yolk

½ teaspoon ground cumin

¼ teaspoon smoked paprika

¼ cup chopped Italian parsley

Salt and pepper to taste

1 tablespoon olive oil


1 shallot, chopped

2 cups chicken stock

5 thyme sprigs

Method:  In a large mixing bowl, use your fingertips to thoroughly mix all of the ingredients.  (Using your fingertips prevents overmixing and tough meatballs.)  Occasionally fold the bottom to the top to ensure complete mixing. 

Using your hands, form the mixture into the desired sized meatballs.  (I prefer smaller meatballs so I weigh the first meatball to 1 ounce and then eyeball it from there.)  These measurements will yield a little more than twenty.

Refrigerate the meatballs for a few hours to allow the meat to set and the flavors to meld. 

Pre-heat the oven to 375 degrees.

Heat the olive oil in an ovenproof skillet over medium high heat.  Add the meatballs and brown for 1 minute.  Use tongs to flip the meatballs and brown for another minute.  Place the skillet in the oven and cook for 10 minutes.

Remove the skillet from the oven, place the meatballs on a platter and keep warm.

To make the sauce:  Pour off the excess oil from the pan and heat the pan over medium high heat. Add the shallot and sauté for 1 minute.  Add the chicken stock and scrape up the bits of meat that have stuck to the pan.  Allow the sauce to reduce by half.

Strain the sauce into a small saucepot and reduce to the desired consistency. 

Assembly:  Pour the sauce into small bowl or gravy boat.  Arrange the meatballs on a bed parsley sprigs. 

Sautéed rapini ingredients.

Sautéed Rapini

1 bunch rapini

2 teaspoons olive oil

1 shallot, chopped

¼ cup julienned dried apricots

Salt and pepper

Method:  Snap off the bottom stems of each rapini stalk (similar to preparing asparagus).  Chop the rapini in 2 to 3 inch pieces.  Blanch the rapini in boiling salted water for 3 minutes and shock in an ice bath.  Squeeze out the excess water and refrigerate.  The rapini can be prepared a day in advance. 

Just before serving, heat the olive oil a medium sauté pan over medium high heat.  Add the shallots and sauté for 1 minute.  Add the rapini and dried apricots and sauté until the rapini is heated through.

Place in a serving bowl and keep warm.   

Polenta ingredients.


4 servings polenta or grits, according to the package

Sweet Corn Broth (recipe follows)

Method: Cook the polenta or grits according to the package directions, substituting Sweet Corn Broth for water.  Remove to a bowl and keep warm.

Sweet Corn Broth

5 ears sweet corn, kernels removed

Salt and pepper

Method:  Cover the corn kernels with cold water by 2 inches or so.  Bring to a boil and simmer for 1 hour.  Strain and reduce to 2 cups.  Season with salt and pepper. 

What’s your favorite, simple dinner for a Tuesday night? Share your go-to food in the comments section. We’d love to hear your story. Thanks for reading!

Rating: 1 out of 5.

4 thoughts on “Rapini, Polenta e Polpette

  1. I really enjoyed your commentary on the food items that comprise this dish. I was raised by my Italian grandmother who was an intuitive artist in the kitchen. Food is delightful, and with the recent quarantine I have had the occasion to prepare and to cook food much more than in the past. I am enjoying the experience, though my wife is the real pro. Anyway, I enjoy how your engaging perspective can bring a bit of the abnormal out of the normal.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks, Michael. I appreciate your comments and glad to hear that you’re enjoying time in the kitchen. I’m sure you’re making your grandmother proud and you and your wife will team up swimmingly in the kitchen. Thanks for reading!

      Liked by 2 people

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