A classic Milanese aperitivo snack

Most Americans know meatballs via the Southern Italian tradition filtered through decades of appropriation that combines some permutation of ground meat covered in red sauce. But in Northern Italy, the meatball has an entirely different personality born of a peasant dish, or piatto povero, picked up from the sixteenth-century Spaniards that dominated Milan.



  • 1 pound veal or beef shank
  • 1 carrot, peeled, roughly chopped
  • 1 medium yellow onion, roughly chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, roughly chopped
  • 1/4 cup Grana Padano, finely grated
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 pinch nutmeg
  • 1 cup torn stale bread, soaked in 1/4 cup whole milk for 10 minutes
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 cup bread crumbs
  • olive oil

  1. Place the veal or beef shank in a large pot and cover with water.
  2. Bring the pot to a low boil over medium heat, then reduce the heat to low and simmer, skimming any fat that rises to the top.
  3. Add the carrot, onion, and garlic. Keep at a low simmer and cook until fork-tender, about 1 1/2 to 2 hours.
  4. Drain, reserving the broth for risotto or another dish.
  5. After the meat has cooled, shred by hand or with two forks, discarding any fat or bones.
  6. Add the shredded meat to a food processor with the cooked vegetables and pulse a few times to break up the mixture.
  7. In a medium bowl, combine the meat mixture with the cheese, 1 egg, the nutmeg, and the soaked bread. Season with salt and pepper.
  8. Roll the meat into balls slightly smaller than a golf ball.
  9. Whisk the remaining egg in a shallow dish. Place the bread crumbs in another shallow dish.
  10. Dip the meatballs into the whisked egg and coat in breadcrumbs.
  11. In a large fry pan over medium heat, warm the oil. In batches, fry the meatballs, turning to brown until golden on all sides.
  12. Place on a paper towel-lined plate to drain