Chicken & Lemon Polpettine

I LOVE POLPETTINE. These old-world Italian meatballs (which we should never confuse with American meatballs) are flavored with Parmesan cheese, fragrant herbs, and a big burst of lemon. Their deliciously-crispy crust is something to sing about, too. One bite and I was hooked.

Note #1. Traditionally, polpettine (“poll-pay-TEE-nay”) is made with ground beef or pork. I make mine with ground chicken, because it picks up the fantastic herb-and-lemon flavoring so well. Ground chicken also cooks faster than pork or beef, because it’s practically fat-free.

Obviously, low-fat dishes are important to me.

Note #2. My research indicates that polpettine are never served with pasta or tomato sauce. Not in Italy, anyway. They are served all on their own, with a side of lettuce greens or cannellini beans. (Update! See comment #13 from Victor J. Yepello.)

Note #3. Let’s make these balls of bliss!

To start, drop one pound of ground chicken (available in most supermarkets) in a big blue bowl.

Add 1 1/4 cups of fresh breadcrumbs from high-quality bread. The highest-quality bread I know is homemade Pain de Mie. But Pepperidge Farm sandwich bread is terrific, too.  Just grind the bread in a blender or a food processor.

No gluten for you? Speaking from experience, gluten-free tapioca bread (ground into crumbs) works perfectly well in this recipe.

Now grab a lemon…

And grate its gorgeous zest into the chicken mixture.

I’m using my handy-dandy micro-zester in the photo above.

I hope you’re impressed.

Cut the lemon in half, and then squeeze each half into the chicken mixture.

Tip: If you don’t wish to dig out your juicing-gadget, just do what I do, and squeeze the lemon halves through a clean tea-towel. The towel will keep seeds from falling into the works.

Then add each of the following to the chicken:

A teaspoon of kosher salt…

A handful of fresh, chopped parsley leaves (use the flat-leaved variety – it has more flavor)…

A generous teaspoon of dried thyme leaves (triple this amount for fresh, chopped leaves)…

And two heaping tablespoons of grated Parmesan cheese.

Did someone say “Cheese?”

Thoroughly mix the ingredients together, and then form them into a ball.

Ahead of time note: If you are not going to cook right away, just cover the chicken with plastic wrap and refrigerate for up to 24 hours.

To give the balls a beautiful crust, first pour a little flour (or a gluten-free substitute — I’ve used Bob’s Red Mill baking mix with good results) onto a pie plate or a baking sheet.

Then pull off heaping tablespoon-size clumps of chicken, and form them into little balls.

Flatten each ball slightly (for faster cooking), and set them atop the flour. Flip to coat the other side. Aim for a thin, rather than thick, coating of flour.

Then heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil and 3 tablespoons of unsalted butter in a large skillet.

Working in batches (I fried 9-10 at a time), fry the segments until they color appetizingly —  4-5 minutes per side.

To serve, grab your prettiest platter…

And spread it with salad greens…

Or, even better — with warm cannellini beans, seasoned with a little salt and pepper.

Arrange the chicken morsels atop the greens or beans, and bring to table.

And then revel in the applause you are bound to hear.

Folks, Chicken and Lemon Polpettine makes a marvelous, and rather unusual meal…

That no foodie can resist.

And are you thinking what I’m thinking? Besides a delicious dinner dish, polpettine would make a fine cocktail appetizer, too.

Here’s the copy-and-paste version of the above magnificence:

Chicken & Lemon Polpettine
Kevin Lee Jacobs/A Garden for the House
Ingredients for 18-20 1-inch diameter meatballs
1 lb ground chicken
1 1/4 cups fresh breadcrumbs (crumbs from GF tapioca bread will work, too)
Juice and zest of one lemon
1 teaspoon (more or less to taste) kosher salt
1/4 cup (or slightly more) fresh, finely-chopped flat-leaved parsley
1 generous teaspoon dried thyme leaves (triple the amount for fresh, chopped leaves)
2 generous tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
A small amount of flour (or a gluten-free substitute — Bob’s Red Mill baking mix will work)

For frying:
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 tablespoons unsalted butter

In a large bowl, thoroughly mix all of the ingredients (minus the olive oil and butter) together. (Ahead of time note: The chicken mixture may be covered and refrigerated for up to 24 hours.)

When you are ready to cook, pour the flour onto a baking sheet or pie plate. Form tablespoon-size clumps of chicken into smallish balls, flatten them slightly, and then lightly coat them in the flour.

Heat olive oil and butter in a large skillet. Fry the segments until golden brown — 4-5 minutes (or slightly longer) on each side.

Serve immediately.

Note: Traditionally, polpettine is not served with pasta or tomato sauce. It makes an exquisite entree all by itself, accompanied with salad greens or cannellini beans.

Promise me you’ll try this Chicken & Lemon Polpettine some day. It’s quick to prep, fast to cook, and absolutely delicious to eat.

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Pain de Mie (French Sandwich Bread)
Chive Pesto
Almond Biscotti


  1. Rosiland Ball says:

    Just wanted to know if you heat the cannellini beans?

  2. Robert Meehan says:

    Here’s another that I’ll try soon!! Looks like they’ll go down well as I watch my beloved Giants football games. At least SOMETHING good will be happening. 🙂

  3. Hi Rosiland Ball – Yes, heat the cannelli beans. I’ll note this in the article above.

    Robert Meehan – Well, you can always drown your sorrows in Polpettine!

  4. Ann Manning says:

    Looks wonderful, and all I need is the ground chicken. What white wine pairs up with this delish creation.?

  5. Lucy Siracuse says:

    Kevin I notice you did not have an egg or two in the ingredient list. Do the polpetinni hold together well and firm?

  6. Hi Ann – Two white wine pairings: Sancerre (gorgeous and mellow, from the Loire Valley) and any decent, fruity Sauvignon blanc. For red (should anyone wonder) I can heartily recommend Morgan 2009 Crus du Beaujolais.

    Hi Lucy – Believe it or not, eggs are not necessary. These lemon lovelies are tender inside, crispy outside, and firm enough to eat out of hand!

  7. I just KNEW you were popping that last one pictured
    in your mouth! Yum!

  8. Kay Wheeler says:

    another one I have to try asap…. looks delicious!

  9. Kay Wheeler says:

    another one I have to try asap…. looks delicious! my grandkids would love these too

  10. myrtle miller says:

    I’m thinking Lily’s chances of losing weight are non existent. For supper I had my version of spinach soup and salmon on the side with two tortillas thrown in for good measure and because the soup was extra extra lite because I refused to throw away any of the stock and I was too lazy to freeze some and make the soup thicker. I remedied that by adding extra cheese. The end result will be improved concentration due to the folic acid in the spinach that’s my hope. I bet cilantro instead of parsley would be good too.

  11. I am suspicious of ground chicken (I only like chicken and turkey that “look” like they are chicken and turkey), but this sounds so good. Might try a little of each meat. Black beans with it sound good too. Thanks!

  12. I Promise! I will make them soon.
    For Annie B. If you’re suspicious of ground chicken, buy boneless, skinless chicken breast and grind your own, or ask your local butcher to do it for you. That’s what I do.

  13. I have to offer another opinion on serving polpettine and tomato sauce. I can produce recipes from Naples and Calabria that use tomato sauce. (I can also produce parents from those two provinces)

    Some cook them for a short time and some for 1-2 hours but as an Italian, I can assure you we cook meatballs in tomato sauces of all kinds.

  14. Linda DeVona says:

    Since I don’t have ground chicken on hand, I may see how it works with ground beef… Sounds good, anyway…I like the tip about coating the meatballs in a fine layer of flour, too.

  15. kathy passie says:

    I plan to try these using ground pork, not sausage, but pork roast.
    If I use chicken it will be organic after reading all the recent info on chicken and
    the processing now being used.
    Sounds yummie to me!

  16. Penster47 says:

    Wonder if Basil would work instead of Parsley, forgive me, but I do not like the flavor of Parsley.

  17. Mmmmm, those look so good. I have tons of parsley in my garden still. And, I like Penster47’s idea of trying basil – might to have to try that (still have ton of basil left too). Come to think of it, I have a ton of rosemary. I bet almost any combination might be with trying. Your butternut squash soup is still my all time favorite! I shared your website with a friend who loved it when I made it for her. One last thing… I LOVE the Beagle photo bomb in the blue bowl pic!

  18. Kevin,
    Thanks for the recipe. As I had all the ingredients on hand, I made them for dinner tonight. Delicious!

  19. Just had to tell you,made them tonight for dinner with ground beef and they were wonderful. If anyone is tired of hamburgers … must try this recipe……it is forever in my recipe box.
    Thank you.

  20. Think I’ll give this a shot with the pound of ground pork I picked up at the Asian market the other day. I’ll probably use some fresh lemon thyme in place of the thyme and lemon zest, since I haven’t any fresh lemons available in my fridge at the moment, and I don’t feel like going to the market again this week.

  21. Thanks for another winner recipe Kevin. I had all ingredients on hand except the ground chicken, so I substituted ground turkey instead. I followed your recipe and used Milton bread for breadcrumbs. Then I served them with Seeds of Change brown rice and quinoi and simmered that with the canneloni beans in chicken broth. This truly is a delicious recipe and as you suggested, I took a bow at the dinner table.
    You are my hero!

  22. Kevin, thanks for this tasty recipe. I put them together yesterday (easy) and cooked them this morning in time to take to our regular Sunday Steeler Breakfast. Makes a great appetizer and a good side dish with eggs. Everyone liked the lemon taste in them. Will make again.

  23. badger gardener says:

    Pam, You must make these every Sunday now since the Steelers finally won. They may be the good luck charm that brought victory! I may live in WI now, but I still have a Black and Gold heart : )
    I made these too and everyone loved them. I’m always happy when I can find something new for my picky eaters at home.

  24. Michelle Snow says:

    For GF I used Rice Chex pounded into crumbs instead of the breadcrumbs. They were wonderful with a white wine reduction sauce, like grown up chicken nuggets. 🙂 Very smooth and decadent. Next time, and there will definitely be a next time for this recipe, I will add a little freshly ground black pepper to give a little kick to the lemon zest. Thanks for the recipe!

  25. Brenda Green says:

    I have cooked these several times now and experimented a little I add less breadcrumbs and use a big lemon , also some ground black pepper. I like them with butter beans and salad . Thanks you so much for sharing this recipe . I also use organic chicken mince

  26. A friend suggested I try ground flax seed instead of bread crumbs in my meatloaf, and it’s wonderful. Do you think that would work as well in these?

  27. We made these a week or so ago- SO good, Kevin! Will definitely add them to the regular rotation here 🙂

  28. Cheryl Walker says:

    Terrific! A small meatball without tomato sauce! I served them on a bed of Parmesan noodles, topped with lightly sautéed fresh spinach, the polpettine, topped with a little fresh coarse grated Parmesan cheese. I was looking forward to making them, and they lived up to the expectation! Passed the acid test of the husband as well! Brightened Tuesday night dinner, thanks!

  29. Pretty! This has been an incredibly wonderful article. Many thanks for providing
    these details.

  30. Will definitely be trying these in the very near future

  31. Kevin, I have to leave out the parmesan cheese. Do you think I should substitute an egg or do you think they’ll hold together without any substitute?

    They sound delicious!

  32. Claire Morrison says:

    I will have to try this. Sounds wonderful

  33. Jill Johnson says:

    When is your cookbook coming out? I want it!

  34. Another poultry goodie is lean ground turkey, parmesan, Italian breadcrumbs, beaten egg, a T of tempura sauce or low salt teriyaki, and skip the salt. I sometimes add 1 minced scallion or 1/2 tsp minced garlic, or maybe a tiny bit of minced fresh ginger. Measurements similar to your recipe- I just wing it (pun intended). Add-subtract- substitute ingredients to your taste. Tempura sauce can be hard to find, and I’m sure other Oriental sauces would work well if not too salty. In a pinch I’ve substituted light ginger soy salad dressing. Form into 1″ balls and refrigerate for 20 minutes.
    I sometimes glaze them lightly with more tempura sauce and bake them at 375 degrees. Broil or use convection briefly if desired for crispness. To test for flavor before cooking I nuke one or more and sample- a perk of being the chef. They freeze well for about a month- maybe longer but I haven’t tried. Just nuke a few and add a salad for dinner.

    I’ll try your recipe soon- It’s making me hungry just reading it. Stay warm over this wicked blizzard week.

  35. suzi fox says:

    Im moving in…..move over Lilly!

  36. Wow!
    I made this tonight.. My family LOVED it!
    Thank you!

  37. Diane H Hinkle says:

    Looks to be delicious…………..will try. Just need to know if Lily got one (or two) and what her opinion was?

  38. Elizabeth says:

    Kevin, have I mentioned that the way you write your recipes always cracks me up? To start, drop one pound of ground chicken in a big blue bowl…

  39. This dish is another one that I have on my list. I’m making it this Wed. Very excited-serving with lemon fizzy tom collins and simple syrup, long cold glasses and crushed ice.

  40. Hi Kevin,

    These look so yummy that I may try them for a work pot-luck. These seem like they would be a tasty little treat and a fantastic way to use ground veal from my freezer. Can they be prepared ahead of time and reheated in the oven? Do you think they will remain “crispy”?

  41. Can’t wait to try these, I might have to have a party!

  42. Looks good Kevin. I would like you to teach me about that cast iron skillet. I do not seem to have luck with mine and either burn on it or cants get it clean. Maybe an upcoming article?

  43. Kevin i love your recipes. As an Italian from Rome with parents from the south and the North, i thought I’d clarify the polpettine and tomato sauce issue. First, Italian cooking is decidedly regional. Polenta in vicenza is served completely differently than polenta in Rome. My experience is that polpettine are most often cooked in tomato sauce. It’s simply that they are not part of the sauce used in the pasta. Rather, the sauce is used in the pasta and the polpette are served after, as the meat dish, along with the salad. 😉

  44. Karen D. says:

    These meatballs are quick and delicious. I’ve added them to my “go to” recipes! Thanks, Kevin!

  45. I love all of your recipes and I forward them to all my friends – keep cooking Kevin


  46. Loved these so much! But I know you meant to tablespoons of Parmesan… Not to teaspoons. There seems to be a discrepancy between the printable recipe and your excellent photo explanation. Fortunately, I am very visual and so I went with the photos, not with the recipe. I also just want to say you…and Lily rock!

  47. Hi Sandi K. – Yes, 2 tablespoons Parmesan cheese. Copy-and-paste version is corrected now. Glad you liked the polpettine!

  48. Thanks, Kevin, for the response. And, um, next time, I won’t use the Voice feature to write my note to you… Of course, I meant 2, not to…too many times! 🙂

    Leftovers for lunch today with salad.

    Can’t wait to make them again…and neither can my husband!

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