Polpettini are meatballs! Che buono! And while Americans will tell you that "spaghetti and meatballs" are as inseparable as peanut butter and jelly, the way meatballs are served in Italy is a different story. When eating in "La Bella Italia," traditional meatballs are made of a blend of carne tritate (chopped beef, pork, or veal) and are a stand-alone food offered in the secondo portion of a meal, or "second course," where fish and meat follow the primi or "pasta course."
In that spirit, we offer you lentil and mushroom plant-based "meatballs" that capture the comfort, hearty flavor and abbondanza of the ones found on the Italian table. Sure, you can dunk these "meatballs" in a rich tomato sauce and serve them with pasta for a classic Italian American Sunday supper, or, if you prefer, set them atop a hearty grain, such as brown rice or farro. But we like to do as the Italians do and enjoy them alongside a favorite contorno (side dish) such as braised escarole, studded with slivers of garlic! The touch of chickpea flour keeps these beauties soft and tender.
3 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for frying
1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 cup finely chopped mushrooms, such as button, cremini, or shiitake
1 cup cooked green lentils
2 tablespoons chickpea flour
½ cup plain Panko breadcrumbs
2 ounces parsley leaves, and tender stems finely chopped
½ teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Theresa Gambacorta is a writer and cookbook co-author. Her writing has appeared in such titles as La Cucina Italiana, Spin Magazine, Men's Fitness, Muscle and Fitness, and Centennial's special interest publications. She is the co-author of chef Joey Campanaro's Big Love Cooking (Chronicle, 2020), chef Nasim Alikhani's Sofreh (Knopf, 2023), and the forthcoming vegan cookbook, Eat What Elephants Eat by activist Dominick Thompson (Simon Element, 2024).