Polpetta Con Riso (Italian-style Porcupines)

Polpetta Con Riso - us Aussies would simply refer to this dish as 'Porcupines' - but as I have given this family classic a distinctive Italian twist, I thought it more apt to give it an Italian name also.  Besides, it makes them sound so much more fancier!

Whichever way you refer to this dish, one thing remains the same - it's delicious!  Hopefully your family will enjoy it as much as mine do.

Buon appetito!

500 grams beef mince (good quality, lean heart-smart)
1/2 cup Basmati Rice
1 large clove garlic, crushed
Finely grated zest of a large lemon
6 large fresh basil leaves, finely sliced
Handful fresh Italian flat leaf parsley (leaves only), finely chopped
Teaspoon ground Paprika
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
*Sea salt flakes, approximately 2 to 3 tablespoons (so long as you use salt flakes - reduce quantity if using table salt or ground salt)

Good lug of extra virgin olive oil
1 large brown onion, halved then finely sliced
1 large clove garlic, crushed
1 tin of crushed tomatoes (I use Mutti Polpa finely chopped tomatoes)
720g jar tomato passata (I use Mutti Passata tomato puree with basil)
1/2 cup red wine
A full tin of water (use the empty crushed tomato tin to measure)
6 large fresh basil leaves, left whole
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Sea salt flakes, to taste


In a large bowl, add the rice, grated lemon zest, crushed garlic clove, chopped fresh herbs, teaspoon of ground paprika, sea salt flakes and a good grind of black pepper.

Add the beef mince, and using your hands, thoroughly mix together all the ingredients, mashing them in well to ensure they are completely combined into the mince.

Grab yourself a large dinner plate.  Using a teaspoon, take a spoonful of the mince mixture and roll it into a small meatball (the size of a walnut).  Set aside on the plate.

Continue until you have used up all the mince mixture.

Cover the plate of meatballs in cling wrap and place in the fridge to cool while you prepare the sauce.

Set aside a large, heavy based shallow saucepan.

Add a good lug of extra virgin olive oil to the pan, and turn on the hot plate to moderate-high heat.

Trim away the ends of the brown onion, cut it in half, peel away the skin and discard.  Lay the onion on a chopping board, cut side down, and finely slice it from the side (not the end).  Don't ask me why, I just like it this way better - half moons are only suitable for salads in my opinion :)

Add the onion to the pan, and crush the clove of garlic over it.

Add the sea salt flakes and sauté the onions and garlic for a couple of minutes, until soft and translucent.

Add the tin of crushed tomatoes, bottle of passata and fresh basil leaves, and allow to cook for a few minutes.

Add the red wine.

Fill the empty tin from the crushed tomatoes and pour into the sauce.

Season the sauce with freshly ground pepper and taste it to check for seasoning.  Add more salt if required.

Bring the sauce to a rolling simmer, then reduce to low heat.

Take the meatballs out of the fridge and carefully add them to the sauce, in a single layer around the pan, ensuring they are covered in sauce and are not sitting on top of each other.

Place a lid on the pan and allow to cook over low heat for 20 minutes.

Turn off the heat and allow the meatballs to rest in the sauce.

Serve the meatballs on a bed of mashed potatoes, or with steamed green veggies and a nice crusty loaf of bread.

Makes approximately 35 meatballs.


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