Spaghetti with meatballs. The quintessential Italian dish. Except for the fact that it isn’t Italian; it’s American. We all fondly remember the scene in Disney’s Lady and the Tramp in which the characters share a bowl of spaghetti and a bashful kiss as they fall in love. How could we not fall for the dish they were eating?

Why mention this? Well, spaghetti with meatballs was my inspiration for this dish, but I preferred to eat the meatballs with polenta rather than pasta. I also began to tinker with the meatballs so that I could serve them to different groups of family and friends. There is absolutely nothing wrong with classic beef meatballs in tomato sauce, but I had something more Sicilian in mind when I set to work. These polpettine also work really well if made with minced turkey instead of tuna.

  • For the polpettine (makes about 20):
  • 250 g fresh tuna (tuna steak or trimmings)
  • 2 anchovy fillets
  • ½ small onion, peeled and coarsely chopped
  • 1 small egg, beaten
  • ½ teaspoon of fennel seeds
  • A good pinch each of dried thyme, sage, rosemary and chilli flakes
  • ½ tablespoon each of finely chopped flat leaf parsley and fresh mint
  • ½ tablespoon of finely chopped salted capers (rinsed of salt)
  • Finely grated zest of ¼ of an unwaxed lemon
  • 15 g Parmesan cheese, finely grated
  • 20 g breadcrumbs, plus a little extra if necessary
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • For the sauce:
  • 1 small onion, peeled and finely diced
  • 1 stick of celery, finely diced
  • 1 small carrot, peeled and finely diced
  • 1 small fennel bulb, finely diced
  • 1 large clove of garlic, peeled and finely chopped
  • 4 anchovy fillets, finely chopped
  • 125 ml dry white wine
  • 500 g passata
  • Finely grated zest of ½ an unwaxed lemon
  • 1 tablespoon of tomato purée
  • 1 teaspoon of sugar
  • ½ teaspoon each of dried dill, fennel seeds and chilli flakes
  • 1 small pinch of ground cinnamon
  • ¼ teaspoon of freshly ground black pepper
  • Salt to taste
  • For the polenta:
  • 250 g quick-cook polenta
  • Salt to taste
  • 20g butter
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil

To make the polpettine

  • Mince the tuna, anchovies and onion into a bowl.
  • Add the beaten egg along with all the other ingredients and mix well.
  • If the mixture seems too stiff add a little water; if it’s too wet, add breadcrumbs.
  • Refrigerate the mixture while you cook the sauce.

To make the sauce

  • In a saucepan, fry the chopped vegetables in olive oil until they soften, then add the garlic and anchovies. Fry for a minute longer.
  • Add the wine, passata and the rest of the ingredients and simmer for 25 minutes until it begins to thicken.
  • Roll the polpettine mix into balls about the size of a walnut.
  • Carefully add the polpettine to the sauce while the polenta is cooking. Simmer gently for about 7 – 10 minutes, or until cooked. Don’t stir the pan too  much or you’ll break up the polpettine.
  • Cook the polenta as per the instructions on the packet and check the seasoning.
  • Stir in the butter and olive oil to give it a lovely sheen.
  • Spoon some of the polenta onto each plate and top with the polpettine and sauce.


Italians never serve Parmesan with fish. Instead, fry 50g of breadcrumbs in olive oil until golden, season with salt (add chopped herbs and a little lemon zest if you wish), and sprinkle over your dish. Crunchy and tasty!

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