polpette al limone (lemon flavoured meatballs)

Posted by on Nov 7, 2011 in main meal recipes | 4 comments

polpette al limone (lemon flavoured meatballs)

You might look at this picture, and think “where are the meatballs”? They’re there. I promise. More like little mini flat burgers just peeping out from between 2 thin courgette slices. The original recipe involves cooking the meat sandwiched between two glossy lemon leaves, leaving it infused with a delicate fresh taste of citrus. The lovely family who showed me exactly how to make this dish live in the fertile foothills of Mount Etna. They just pop out of their back door to gather the lemon leaves from their own trees.  Something I definitely can’t recreate at home, unless you’d like me to try it with some rather unappetising yellow leaves from my fig tree, or a brown curled up fern? Thought not.

After several attempts I found that thin slices of courgette sprinkled with lemon zest are the best alternative. It really works, even if it’s a bit less attractive. The meat inside is still lemony and very soft. It’s easy for small people to chew, a great way to introduce new flavours, and it also makes an original lunch or supper for the whole family. 

“But my kids don’t like courgette” might be your next thought. Don’t worry, it’s mainly there to hold the lemon flavour and to help recreate the fun of discovering the meatball hiding between two leaves. My daughter calls these ‘hide and seek meatballs’. She likes uncovering the meat, and then of course neatly discarding the courgette on the side of the plate. Of course, bravo to you if your children do snaffle up courgettes with gusto. You won’t need to cook extra vegetables like I do!

Preparation time : 20 minutes

Cooking time: 5 minutes 


Makes about 16 meatballs

Serves 1 adult and 2 children. Adjust quantities if needed. 



The original recipe using lemon leaves

200g minced veal, beef or pork

1 egg

20g grated Parmesan

20g breadcrumbs

grated zest of 1 unwaxed lemon 

1tbsp chopped parsley

salt and pepper

2 or 3  chunky courgettes 



1. In a bowl combine the mince, breadcrumbs, egg, Parmesan, parsley and seasoning. I like to mix this using my hands instead of a spoon.

Meatballs ready for their top layer of courgettes

2. Next slice the courgettes into segments about 8cm long and 2-3 mm thick, depending on your knife skills. You’ll need about 32 pieces in all, but don’t hold me to that. Lay half of the pieces out on a chopping board and sprinkle them with half the grated lemon zest.

3. Then take little dollops of the meatball mixture and press down onto your zested courgette pieces. The patties should be flattened so they are about  0.5 cm thick. That way it cooks nice and quickly in the pan. 

4. Finally sprinkle the remaining lemon zest onto your remaining courgette pieces and place on top of the meat. Zesty side down of course. 

5. Heat a little olive oil in a frying pan or skillet over medium to high heat. Then place your meatball sandwiches into the the pan. You will have to do this in a couple of batches. Cook  for 2 minutes or so each side. Delicious served alongside a jacket potato or croquettes and green vegetables. 




  1. how lovely, I like the idea of the delicate lemon flavouring. Lemon leaves sound amazing but your method sounds a good adaptation for our less sunny climes. I will have to try out on my toddler as she is not a courgette fan despite multiple attempts.

    • So pleased you like this recipe. I’ve had to work hard to turn a meal using local Sicilian ingredients into something anyone can make. The key for me was not to compromise on the soft texture and lemony flavour of the meat. Let me know if your toddler likes it, although don’t expect courgette miracles!

  2. Oh what a fabulous one – my favourite blog coming up trumps again! We’ll be recreating with mutton I’m afraid as pork/veal impossible to get hold of here – how very exciting.

    • Thank you so much for your lovely comment. You must let me know how it goes with mutton/lamb. Then I can amend the ingredients list to include it. I might have a go with turkey mince too to see if that works. x

Leave a Comment