Polpette di Pesce al Pomodoro . . . Fish “Meatballs” in Tomato Sauce

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

A quick update to the previous post: The Old Witches Magic Nut Cake; bake at 350 degrees for 1¼ hour, or until done after a tester comes out clean.

This is not the first time I have been the beneficiary of my neighbor’s generosity when he shares of his catch of the day. I am always presented with pristine fish filets (reference the blog post Cooking in a Pouch, June 12, 2016), and this time was no different. He gave me filets of Tautog or blackfish, a species of fish I had never worked with before. Tautog can be found along the Atlantic coastal region from South Carolina up to Nova Scotia. It is a good fish to work with, because of its nice white, non-oily flesh and a delicate flavor. Looking to make another batch of fish meatballs, after recently preparing some using marlin trim pieces I had in the freezer, I thought why not give the tautog a try, although almost any white fish would work for this dish. Other examples are; baccala, black cod, fluke, grouper, and swordfish, to note a few.

The polpette in this recipe are good, unfussy comfort food, the kind of dish you want to prepare often. With a few minor differences, the preparation is no different than making meatballs with beef, pork, or veal (reference the blog post Meatballs, December 11, 2015).

Bread is a key ingredient in making fish meatballs, similar to how it is used in the actual meatball recipe, by expanding the overall volume and adding texture to the sauce. Additionally, mashing in a small boiled potato or two, or folding in a whipped egg white can also expand the volume or lighten the texture of the finished meatball.

More often than not, these fish meatballs are either fried or pan sautéed to brown them before serving. They are commonly served with a dipping sauce, an aioli for example, accompanied by a salad, or served in a tomato sauce. My preference is to both poach the polpette in the sauce and then serve them with the sauce ladled over, which is how they are featured in the recipe that follows.


Polpette di Pesce al Pomodoro


Ingredients (serves 2 to 4)
1 28 oz can plum tomatoes
3 large garlic cloves, peeled and halved
2 to 3 fennel stalks, halved
3 to 4 anchovy filets
Olive oil
Salt, pepper, red chili flakes to taste

Either crush the tomatoes by hand, which will yield a rough chunky sauce base with some seeds, pulp, and skin, or process the tomatoes using a food mill, which will yield a smooth silky tomato base without the fiber or seeds. Set the tomato base aside.

In a large saucepan with a lid, heat 4 or 5 tablespoons of olive oil over medium high heat. When the oil is hot but not smoking, add the garlic and the fennel stalks and sauté until the garlic gives off its fragrance but does not brown.

Add the anchovy filets, stirring so that they dissolve and disperse into the oil and sprinkle approximately ½ teaspoon of the red chili flakes around, or more if you prefer a spicier sauce.

Pour the prepared tomatoes into the pan and sprinkle with the salt and pepper to season. Lower the heat to a simmer and cover the pan, slowly cooking the sauce until the garlic is very soft. Remove the pan from the heat, discard the fennel stalks, and crush the garlic cloves with a fork then stirring the mash to disperse it within the sauce.

Set the finished sauce aside to be used to poach the polpette and serve the dish.


Fish “Meatballs”

Ingredients (makes 15 to 20 meatballs)
1½ pounds skinless fish filets, (Tautog used in this recipe)
1 cup fine bread crumbs
2 small Yukon Gold potatoes, (optional)
1 large egg
1 large garlic clove, finely minced
Zest from 1 lemon, finely minced (use microplane)
Herb mix, finely minced celery leaf, mint, parsley
Salt and pepper

Fish filets

If using, slice the potatoes in half without peeling, and gently boil until very soft tested with a fork. Drain and cool.

Cut the fish filets up into half-inch-size pieces and place in the work bowl of a food processor.

Cut to process

Pulse several times until the pieces begin to break down and combine into a thick textured mixture, not a smooth paste. Using a rubber spatula, turn out the fish into a large work bowl and if using, place the cooled potatoes in the food processor and run to yield a smoother mash than the fish. Using the spatula, add the potato mash to the fish.

Again, using the rubber spatula, fold the bread crumbs, egg, garlic, zest, and minced herbs into the fish mixture. Sprinkle salt and pepper over and continue to fold the ingredients together until completely combined.

Before forming the mixture into balls, take a teaspoonful and gently sauté on both sides until firm; taste to determine if the seasoning is correct. Adjust as needed.

Cover a sheet pan with either wax or parchment paper. In a baking dish or another work bowl pour in a cup of bread crumbs. Using your hands, take a generous tablespoon size amount of the fish mixture and form a ball just a little larger than golf or ping pong ball size. Roll the formed ball around in the reserved bread crumbs, shake off the excess and place the ball on the sheet pan. Repeat forming the balls until all the fish mixture is used. Set the sheet pan in the refrigerator for 30 minutes to an hour for the polpette to firm up.


At this point the polpette are ready to poach in the sauce or freeze for later use. Set aside the amount you want to cook and place the remainder on a smaller sheet pan or on a platter directly into the freezer overnight. Once frozen, they can be placed in freezer bags for use in future meals by simply thawing in the refrigerator before cooking.

Gently reheat the sauce until it is simmering. Place the polpette in the simmering sauce, turning once or twice for 12 to 15 minutes until cooked through. If the sauce reduces and appears to thicken, add a little water to losen. To serve place 3 to 4 fish meatballs per person in shallow bowls, ladling some of the sauce around and over. Finish the dish with a sprinkle of fresh minced parsley or a mixture of minced herbs of your choice. Another approach is to serve the polpette over pasta.


So the next time you are considering cooking something with fish polpette de pesce al pomodoro, with or without the pasta, is an easy, economical, and tasty way to go. Let me know which fish variety you try in your recipe.

Eat well. Be well.


Food is one way of staying connected to the people who surround us.













Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *