In these flavorful little meatballs the slight heat of Serrano gets lifted by the acidic tang of lemon zest and tempered by the herbaceous kick of oregano. Polpettine are small versions of polpettone, Italian meatloaf filled with savory stuffing. Due to their size, polettine cannot be stuffed, but the ground meat is spiked with spices and aromatics.
These bright and slightly spicy polpettine are the grilled appetizer for a backyard party, but you will also delight guests with these grilled meat treats at an indoor fall or winter cocktail party. Other options are to serve five polpettine together as an entrée or smashed into a meatball sandwich.
Ground chicken thigh meat will retain more moisture than ground breast meat. While I prefer the delicate flavor of ground chicken with this recipe, ground pork or turkey thigh meat will pair well with the lemon zest, Serrano, and oregano.
Serve the polettine with fresh Meyer lemon aioli (recipe below). If you don’t like anchovy, you can simply leave out the ¼ teaspoon of anchovy paste.
1 pound ground chicken thighs
1 tablespoon lemon zest, finely chopped
1½-2 teaspoons Serrano pepper (or a similar hot red pepper), finely chopped
1 tablespoon fresh oregano, chopped
¼ cup red onion, small diced
1 egg yolk
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
If serving as an appetizer: 18 wooden skewers
1. Slowly cook the diced red onion in 1 tablespoon of olive oil and a pinch of salt. When it is cooked through, set aside to cool.
2. Place the oregano, lemon zest, finely chopped Serrano, ground black pepper, salt, and cooled red onion in a stainless steel bowl.
3. Add the pound of ground chicken thigh meat and 1 egg yolk*. Mix the ingredients together so that they are evenly distributed.
4. Use a stainless steel tablespoon to measure out the meat for the balls. Each ball should be roughly one overflowing tablespoon.
5. Form the balls by hand, and place them on an oiled sheet tray. If they feel too loose, place them in the freezer for 20-30 minutes to set.
6. Rub an oiled rag over the grill grates.
7. Cook the Polpettine for about 7-8 minutes total, rolling them around on the grill so that they cook evenly.
8. When they are just cooked through, remove the polpettine and, if you are serving them as an appetizer, place each on the end of wooden skewer and serve with the aioli of your choice.
*If the meat is very moist (the meat varies in moisture), avoid the yolk—it most likely will not be necessary. You can place one polpettine on a pan and place it in the oven to see if it holds together without the egg yolk. If it does hold together, you are good to go, if it does not, then use the yolk.
Meyer Lemon Aioli
1 egg yolk
2 tablespoons Meyer lemon juice
1 medium garlic clove, minced
¾ cup extra virgin olive oil
salt, to taste
crack of black pepper
Optional, but recommended: ¼ teaspoon anchovy paste
1. Place the egg yolk, Meyer lemon juice, minced garlic clove, crack of black pepper, and a pinch of salt in a food processor.
2. Briefly blend the ingredients until they form an emulsion, then slowly drizzle in the extra virgin olive oil with the processor on. Start by adding the oil drop by drop as the processor blade turns. Once 40% of the oil is emulsified, you can speed up the rate at which you add the oil, but don’t go too fast or the mixture will break.
3. When all of the oil is emulsified, check the mixture for salt and acidity. Add salt as necessary. If you need more acidity, just add another splash of the lemon juice.
4. If you are up for it, add the anchovy paste and mix it into the aioli.
5. Serve with the polpettine. You can prepare the sauce a day ahead of time—if you do prepare it ahead of time, store it in the refrigerator and take it out about 40 minutes before serving to bring it up to room temperature.