Polpette di melanzana (eggplant balls)

Recipe #1 in my new vegitalian series

The word polpetta (plural polpette) is usually translated into English as ‘meatball’. This is a really bad translation because meat is only one of many ingredients Italians use to make polpette. In Rome, for example, there is a restaurant called Polpetta which serves them made from a variety of ingredients, many of them vegetarian. In fact their menu is topped by the hashtag #tuttoèpolpettabile (#youcanmakepolpettefromanything).

This recipe for aubergine (eggplant) polpette is based on a traditional one from Puglia, the far south-eastern peninsula of Italy and one of my favourite regions both for food, climate, and architecture. The traditional recipe features parmigiano reggiano cheese which is not, strictly speaking, vegetarian but which can be substituted with any hard, vegetarian cheese. In Italy you can now buy artisanal parmigiano-style cheese made with non-animal rennet.

polpette di melanzana
Before frying

The trick with these polpette is to fry them as gently as possible. In this way, they will absorb very little oil and will have a moist not greasy consistency. You can serve them on their own, as nibbles, with dips, or heated up in the oven in a tomato sauce, which is the traditional way of serving them.

Buon appetito!

Polpette di melanzana

The first recipe in my new vegitalian series: polpette di melanzane—eggplant balls—a tasty snack, starter, or main from Puglia. Print This
Serves: Makes 24
Rating: 4.5/5
( 2 voted )


  • 3 aubergines / eggplants

  • 30 grams (1 ounce) parmigiano reggiano cheese, grated (or vegetarian equivalent)

  • 20 capers

  • 1 large egg

  • 350 grams (12 ounces) breadcrumbs

  • salt

  • pepper

  • flour

  • oil for frying


  1. Peel and cut the aubergines / eggplants into large chunks. 
  2. Put the aubergines / eggplants into a large pan with 4 litres (4 quarts) of water and 4 teaspoons of salt. 
  3. Bring to the boil and simmer the aubergine / eggplant for about 10 minutes.
  4. Drain the aubergine / eggplant and allow to cool completely. 
  5. Squeeze the cold aubergine / eggplant between sheets of kitchen towel to remove any excess water. 
  6. Put the aubergine / eggplant into a food processor with the grated cheese and capers. Blend until smooth and then season with salt and pepper. 
  7. Add the egg and half the breadcrumbs and blend. 
  8. Add the rest of the breadcrumbs, little by little, until the mixture will come together to form balls. The exact amount will depend on the size of your aubergines / eggplants and your egg.  
  9. Rub some flour on your hands, then take a tablespoon of the mixture and roll it into a ball between the palm of your hands. 
  10. Continue until there is no mixture left. These ingredients should make 24 equal sized polpette
  11. Put enough oil in a pan to completely cover the polpette. Heat it until it is the correct temperature for deep frying (this will depend on the type of oil used). 
  12. Gently fry the polpette in small batches, until they are lightly golden, about 6 minutes. 
  13. Drain the balls on kitchen towels. 
  14. Serve either with dips, or heated in the oven in a simple tomato sauce. 

15 thoughts on “Polpette di melanzana (eggplant balls)”

  1. if you’re not counting the cheese as vegetarian, then the egg isn’t either. but lactose-ovo-vegetarian is definitely a thing. thanks for posting the recipes!

    1. Luca Marchiori

      Thanks! I’m glad you like them 🙂 I don’t count the cheese as vegetarian not because of the lactose but because of the animal rennet. ‘Vegetarian’ cheese is made with natural coagulants, such as lemon juice. Some Italian cheese is traditionally vegetarian in this sense, such as ricotta. I’ll be posting a thing about vegetarian cheese in the future.

  2. So glad to see you back. I haven’t received your blog in a long time, though you might have been sending it. Fingers crossed that it will continue to come! I love it!

  3. These polpette di melanzane sound yummy. I made something similar recently, only the melanzana was grilled. Yours sound easier! I will definitely make them again. Buona Pasqua, Cristina

    1. Luca Marchiori

      Grilled would have slightly different flavour, perhaps stronger. I will try that next time. I hope you had a great Pasqua. Mine was a bit different this year as you might imagine 🙂

  4. A friend’s mother made these in a meatball cook-off I went to last year (soon to be a blog for Mother’s Day). Anyway, I thought they were her invention, but now I’ve learned there is a tradition behind vegetarian “meatless meatballs” in Italy. Grazie mille! Will try these with the eggplants from my garden this summer.

    1. Luca Marchiori

      I don’t think there is really anything new under the sun! I’d love to see that blog post. Glad you enjoyed the post.

  5. Pingback: Italian Meatballs: A Tribute to our Italian Mothers | Learn Travel Italian Blog

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