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How To Make Polpette Dei preti – Priest’s Meatballs

Italian Meatball Dinner

Meatloaf like Nonna’s sauce is as varied as there are Nonnas or more correctly Nonni and every Nonna makes the favorite.  This recipe comes from my mother’s mother by way of my aunt, my mother’s sister. My mother really didn’t like to cook, much less experiment.  My aunt, however, inherited her talent from her mother who we called Nonna Giovanna.  She owned a pensione/restaurant in North Branch, NJ a little town outside of Somerville where I spent my summers. As much as I loved the excitement of New York City, for me there was nothing more glorious that summers on the farm with the animals. 


  • CARROTS AND CELERY – diced or other root vegetables that you use for soup
  • 1 LB MIXED GROUND MEAT – your favorite
  • 1 TB BUTTER – clarified
  • 1 ONION
  • 1 EGG – lightly beaten
  • 2/3 GRATED PARMESAN CHEESE – freshly grated
  • 4 – 5 CUPS WHOLE MILK – very hot
  • 1 BAY LEAF
  • SALT & PEPPER – to taste
  • PINCH OF NUTMEG – optional


Now the original recipe that has been handed down to be calls for the meatloaf to be wrapped in “caul” before it is cooked. My aunt or my grandmother might have been able to find “caul” but never, have I ever been able to find a butcher who is familiar with this food item or could even tell me about it.  

What I’ve read about caul is that it is a piece of membrane.  Not very appetizing to me, so I wrap the meatloaf in a thin layer of cheese cloth. It serves the purpose. However, when removing the cheesecloth, you have to be very careful not to tear the meat, so I wet it a little as I unwrap slowly. 

  1. Finely dice the prosciutto, mortadella, onion and coarsely chop the root vegetables you have chosen. 
  2. Combine the ground meat with the prosciutto, mortadella, egg, breadcrumbs and grated cheese.  Season with salt and pepper lightly as the cheese and the prosciutto are themselves a little salty. 
  3. Form the meat into a loaf.  Spread out the cheesecloth which you have soaked and squeezed dry and place the meatloaf in it.  Wrap the cheesecloth securely around the meatloaf just tight enough to make it secure. 
  4. Heat the clarified butter in a Dutch oven and carefully brown the meatloaf slightly on all sides.  Remove the meatloaf from the pot to a separate dish and cover to keep warm.  Place all the chopped and diced vegetables into the pot and brown slightly in the meatloaf drippings. 
  5. Return the meatloaf to the pot and pour 1 cup of the hot milk over it.  Mash the garlic and add it to the milk in the pot along with the bay leaf.  Bring slowly to a boil and then cover and simmer on low heat for about an hour during which time you will gradually add the remaining milk. 
  6. Place the finished meatloaf on a warmed platter.  Taste the sauce and season with salt and pepper and optionally a pinch of nutmeg and a small pat of butter and stir into the hot milk until all combined. 
  7. Carefully remove the cheesecloth, slice the meatloaf and serve the hot sauce on the side.  

Note: Now for the name!  I have always heard it called Polpette dei Preti with Preti in Italian meaning priests.  I have also seen meatball recipes with Preti as part of the name but I have never been able to find out how or why this combination came about.  Probably a very spicy story best left untold. 

Buon Mangiata!

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