sicilian meatballs

Sicilian sweet and sour meatballs (recipe)

Celebrate Meatball Day on 9 March with these exquisite Sicilian meatballs in a rich sweet and sour sauce.

Meatballs, known in Italian as polpette, are as Italian as pizza and pasta. In fact, outside Italy they are often combined with both. Spaghetti with meatballs is a very popular Italian-American dish. Who can forget the Lady and the Tramp enjoying a large bowl of them and Tramp nudging the last meatball over to Lady with his nose in Disney’s film?

Real Italian polpette

In Italy, meatballs are not usually—never say never because someone will pop up and tell me their nonna serves them like this—served with pasta. They belong either to the antipasto (appetizer) or secondo (main course) part of the meal. In Venice, polpette are often available as cicchetti, the famous small-plate bar food.

sicilian meatballs
Sicilian meatballs in sweet and sour sauce.

Puppetti in agrodolce

This recipe for sweet and sour meatballs (puppetti in Sicilian dialect) comes from Sicily. It is full of the exotic flavours the island inherited from the arabic occupation from 827–1091. This version is quite simple but you could make it even more exotic by adding raisins and pine nuts, interestingly features of Venetian and Sicilian cooking, both cities being influenced by the East.


The recipe calls for caciocavallo cheese. This is a mature, white cheese with a distinctive double ball form, and is found all over Sicily. It is very ancient and is thought to derive from ancient Greek cheese. It’s interesting that similar cheeses with similar names are found all over the balkans and southern Italy, backing up this theory. If you can’t find caciocavallo where you are, you can use provolone, which is similar, or even parmigiano.

sicilian meatballs ID 107378114 © Fabrizio Conte |
Caciocavallo cheese.

Fried or baked?

The meatballs in this recipe are deep-fried at a low temperature and do not absorb much of the oil. This is how they are always cooked in Italy. However, if you want to, you could cook them in the oven at 180°C (355°F) for about twenty minutes. The consistency of the meatball will be different however and the texture not so smooth.

sicilian meatballs
Meatballs ready to fry.

Serving suggestion

I serve this dish as a secondo with a contorno (side dish) of roast potatoes. This is written into the recipe but you could substitute something else for the potatoes or even just leave them out. So, get ready and enjoy Meatball Day with these puppetti! Buon appetito!

sicilian meatballs
Buon appetito!

Polpette in agrodolce

This recipe for Sicilian sweet and sour meatballs (puppetti in agrodolce) is delicious any time of the year. But why not try them on Meatball Day (9 March)? Print This
Serves: 4 Prep Time: Cooking Time:
Rating: 5.0/5
( 1 voted )


  • 50g (1 1/2 ounces) peeled almonds

  • 200g (7 ounces) minced beef

  • 200g (7 ounces) minced pork

  • 7g (1 1/2 teaspoons) salt

  • 80g (3 ounces) caciocavallo cheese, grated

  • 2 large eggs

  • 15g (1 tablespoon) flat-leaf parsley, chopped

  • 50g (3 1/2 tablespoons) fine breadcrumbs

  • 750ml (3 cups) peanut oil for frying

  • 4 large floury potatoes

  • salt

  • extra virgin olive oil

  • 1 white onion, finely chopped

  • 1 clove garlic

  • 400g (14 ounces) tinned chopped tomatoes

  • 60g (4 tablespoons) sugar

  • 100ml (1/2 cup) white wine vinegar

  • 200ml (1 cup) water


1. Heat the oven to 200°C (390°F).

2. Place the almonds on a baking tray and put them in the oven for about 4 minutes until slightly browned. Remove and allow to cool completely. Then chop them finely.

3. Place the beef, pork, salt, eggs, cheese, parsley, and breadcrumbs in a bowl. Mix together with a wooden spoon until the mixture is amalgamated. It should be thick enough to mould into meatballs. If not, add a few more breadcrumbs.

4. Divide the mixture into twenty equal portions (these will weigh about 35g (1 1/5 ounces) each) and mould them into meatballs.

5. Put the oil in a high-sided saucepan so that it’s about 4cm (1 1/2 inches) deep. Place it over a gentle heat until a few small bubbles begin to rise.

6. Fry the meatballs in small batches of about 5 for 6 minutes each. Remove them with a slotted spoon and place on paper towels to dry. Leave them to cool until they can be handled.

7. Peel and cut the potatoes into pieces about 2 1/2 cm (1 inch) long. Put them in a metal baking tray, salt, and douse them lightly with extra virgin olive oil. Place them in the oven for about 30 mins, shaking them occasionally, until roasted.

8. Take a large saucepan with lid. Place two tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil in the bottom and heat gently. Then fry the onion and garlic clove gently until the onion has softened.

9. Add the meatballs, tomatoes, sugar, wine vinegar, and water. Bring to the boil, then turn the heat right down and simmer for about 30 minutes. Remove the garlic clove and discard.

10. Place the meatballs and sauce in a large serving dish and sprinkle with the almonds and more chopped parsley. Serve with the potatoes.

5 thoughts on “Sicilian sweet and sour meatballs (recipe)”

  1. Bought all the ingredients and looking forward to making this. Do you think it would be acceptable to serve with polenta? I’m assuming 70 oz of pork should read 7 oz.

    1. Luca Marchiori

      Excellent. You could serve it with polenta. For me tbat would be a bit strange as it’s mixing northern and southern cuisines but it would probably be lovely. Thanks for spotting the typo, yes, it’s 7oz. I’ve updated it. Let me know how it goes and buon appetito!

  2. These were fabulous! Perfect with polenta. Doubled the recipe so it took a long time to fry them all; next time I will try baking.

    We don’t worry about strange north-south pairings—we are a “mixed” family! My husband’s grandparents are from Calabria and Germany; mine are from Veneto, Abruzzi and Lazio.

    Thanks for your blog. I enjoy learning about authentic Italian cooking, especially Venetian.

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