Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Polpette al latte - veal meatballs (made with rolled oats) in milk sauce

We spent the week end with good friends in the country. We grilled, ate, drank and the kids all had the best time. We even got creative with what the local supermaket had to offer and made these. We were dreading the drive back in heavy traffic and pouring rain on Sunday evening, but it was actually fine. And although the kids didn't fall into a deep sleep as we had hoped, it turned out to be quite entertaining.
Snap shots from the back seat
Son (3 yrs): " Jesus died before me".
Daughter (7 yrs): "That's obvious ".  (Uh, yeah! That was a couple of thousand years ago).
                           "You aren't dead yet". (um, ooookaaaay...)
S: "Is there meat inside of us?"
D: " What is your team?"
S (with great enthusiasm): "Goal!!!"*
D: "No!! What team do you support?!"
S: "..."
S: " What is a team?"
* He calls soccer or anything soccer related "goal". As in: "I played goal today in pre K". Or "Can you get me my goal ball?". Or "I want to wear my goal shoes" or "Are these goal pants Mommy?" referring to sneakers and sweat pants.
D: " Moooommy, can you put songs on? I want the Rumple Stiltskin CD"
S: "Nooo! I want Bruce Stiltskin".
No, we don't have the Shrek soundtrack in the car. That would be Robbie Williams and Bruce Springsteen. As said by my Italian children.
Turning Tables was blasting on the speaker.
S (wagging his finger at Adele): "Non si grida - screaming is a no-no!"

This next one is from yesterday during story time on the couch, not Sunday in the car, but I couldn't resist.

S: "Mommy, this isn't The Three Little Pigs... look! One, three, four, five, six, eight.

Totally unrelated to the post (except for the fact that my family managed to eat the whole panful of meatballs in one sitting), I know the idea of cooking meat in milk might sound bizzarre at first, and very unkosher, but it is actually quite common here in Italy. Arrosto al latte (pot roast cooked in milk) is quite typical. It helps keep the meat tender but is has a more neutral flavor than say stock or wine. With the added bonus of a rich yet subtle gravy to serve the meat with.

I am on one of those need-to-empty-out-my-freezer kind of kicks lately and defrosted some ground veal to make meatballs. The flavor of veal is not as strong as beef or pork, and I did not want the ingredients to overpower the end result. I wanted a delicate meatball, a lighter version of a cold-weather favorite. Not boring, mind you, but something that would not leave us feeling too heavy or parched as meatballs often do.

So I opted for spring onions instead of onions or shallots; I used rolled oats (the instant kind) instead of bread crumbs  and finished cooking the meatballs with milk.
The result was a light and pillowy. Moist on the inside, browned on the ouside, I served these warm with the reduced, almost caramelized milky sauce. 
You can use breadcrumbs instead of rolled oats, I just happened to be out of them. But I will say, I loved the slightly spongy (but in a good way) texture the oats gave the meatballs. If you are starting from stale bread, you could directly soak that in in milk, squeeze out the excess and mix it into the meat.

600gr/21 oz. ground veal
2 spring onions
approx. 1 cup instant rolled oats
2 eggs
approx. 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
approx. 2 cups milk (semi skimmed or full fat)
olive oil
Chop the spring onions (white and green parts) and sauté in pan over low heat with a little olive oil until they start caramelizing. Take off heat and let cool.
Mix together the meat, eggs, rolled oats, Parmesan cheese and spring onions. Add salt and pepper. You may need more or less oats or cheese than indicated (eggs vary in size and the meat can be more or less fatty). Keep the mixture quite soft and damp so the meatballs don't turn out too dry once you cook them. Mine tend to get bigger as I go along, because I get impatient.
Start rolling the ground meat mixture into small balls, making sure they are all about the same size.
Using the same pan you used for the spring onions, heat with some more olive oil and fry the meatballs on pretty high heat, until they form a dark golden crust on both sides.
Add enough milk to cover the meat balls half way, lower the flame and cook them on low heat for about 15-20 minutes with a lid on, making sure you turn them a few times. Don't worry if the milk foams up, it should. When they are ready, remove the meatballs to a serving platter and then reduce the milk sauce, making sure to scrape up any caramelized meat bits stuck to the bottom of the pan. Pour over the meatballs and serve immediately.



  1. I thought I knew just about every combination and permutation as far as meat balls were concerned: well I have learned a lot here and will try soonest! I have used matzo meal instead of bread crumbs but not rolled oats and I do want to try cooking the balls in milk :) Why not: the Swedes for instance are fond of a leg of lamb cooked in milky coffee and that tastes brilliant :) !

    1. Hi Eha! My mother lived in Sweden for several years yet I was never lucky enough to taste that leg of lamb and have never heard of it either. I am intrigued.

    2. I think it is in my old Time-Life Scandinavian Cookbook from about 1970s: I'll try find it over the weekend! It is a 'braise' slowcook recipe, but the taste does permeate the meat and the sauce left over is delicious. [Oh, I'm an Estonian-born Aussie, but one of my grandmothers was Swedish; small world!!

    3. I would love to hear more, it sounds really good. I love lamb, and fall-apart slow cooked lamb sounds even better!

    4. I'm probably stupid but cannot find your email on the blog! You have mine: and I do not 'use' emails other than correspond with the sender if it is called for :) ! Looking for the recipe tomorrow morning! Made this for a friend and myself last night, loved it and shall share: hopefully you won't mind!

  2. Love all that great dialogue from your kids. Roman is super into soccer this year too. (When we're not getting rained-out!)
    These look and sound great. I am a big fan of meatballs so I definitely want to try a different approach. Did you put the oats in a food processor to break them up a bit first or just use them whole?

    1. Hi Nicole, I didn't put the oats in a food processor because I used the instant kind (Quaker).
      I think the boys get the obsession for soccer in school... F likes soccer but it is not really a conversation topic in the house with myself or our daughter.

  3. Jamie Oliver's Chicken cooked in milk recipe is one of my all time favourites - such a gorgeous way to keep meat tender. I love your little man's attitude - what a spunk!

  4. I wish I had written down some of the treasures of my kids, especially the mixed language things. And I don't ever remember cooking meat in milk in Italy but I love how these meatballs sound and look. And I bet that making the veal this way makes them super moist and I think I would prefer these to beef any day.

    1. The most typical dish is arrosto al latte, I have never really seen meatballs cooked this way. But it works!

  5. What lovely conversations. I love the one about how he hasn't yet died and the music requests in the car - aren't you lucky they don't request the Wiggles - we used to have to listen to the Wiggles every car trip xx

    1. Yes, we stopped that after listening to nursery rhymes for hours with our first. We make an exception for The Sound of Music, but our son actually loves music, especially "grown up" music.

  6. I love the look of this recipe! And those snippets of conversation are hilarious-I particularly loved the one where they asked if there was meat inside of us :P

  7. Ma che buone! I also have to empty the fridge as I am coming home for a bit, but nothing delicious in my fridge :( . BTW will give you a call if when I am in or around Milan.

  8. Love the conversation between your children. We have some funny conversation between 7 and 5 year olds too. :) Hmm the meatballs look fantastic! My kids love homemade meatballs.

  9. I love the idea of the oats. Inspired stuff. x


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