Polpettone alla bolognese

It is time for me to introduce you to my very favorite cookbook author: Biba Caggiano.

Way before the Food Network existed, I used to set my alarm clock every Saturday morning so I would not miss my two favorite shows: the Bugs Bunny and Tweety Show and Biba’s Italian Kitchen. Week after week, Biba would not only put recipes together, but she would teach viewers how to cook, and mostly, how to love Italian food. With her strong Italian accent, she was and still is a great inspiration for my day-to-day cooking.

I was lucky enough to eat in her Sacramento restaurant many years ago and there is no need to explain that I fully understand why her restaurant was named the best restaurant in Sacramento by the Sacramento Bee Food and Wine Editor and voted “Best of the Best” by Sacramento Magazine readers for the past several years.

I first made this polpettone (from polpette, meatball and -one, big) alla Bolognese back in 1995 when the series cookbook came out and it has been a staple at our house since. This is the kind of recipe I don’t want to mess with as it is perfect as it is. The only thing I changed is that I cook the onions a bit longer because I like them more caramelized. It is the combination of the lemon zest and the onions that makes this dish, so make sure you follow the recipe carefully and do not omit any ingredient. There are variations on a polpettone alla Bolognese using prosciutto and mortadella instead of pancetta. This version is by far the best one. I hope you will enjoy it as much as we do.

Polpettone alla Bolognese

900 g lean ground beef
2 cups loosely packed pieces of white bread without crusts soaked in 2 cups of milk for 5 minutes
1/4 pound sliced pancetta, finely diced
2 large eggs, slightly beaten
zest of one lemon, grated
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
3 tbsp fresh italian parsley, finely chopped
salt and freshly cracked black pepper
2 cups plain dry bread crumbs spread over a sheet of aluminum foil
6 tbsp olive oil, divided
1 tbsp unsalted butter
2 large yellow onions, peeled and thinly sliced


1. Preheat the oven to 350 F.
2. Squeeze the bread between your hands to form a soft pulp and discard the milk. Put the bread in a large bowl along with the beef, pancetta, eggs, lemon zest, cheese, parsley, salt and pepper and mix well with your hands. Form a small ball and cook it over medium heat. Taste and adjust seasonings. There is nothing worse than an under seasoned meatloaf.
3. Take the meat and form it into a large rectangular log and coat it with the bread crumbs.
4. Heat 1/4 cup of the oil in a large heavy bottom pan over medium heat. Cook the polpettone for two or three minutes on one side then flip it over and cook for another two or three minutes, until golden and crispy.
5. Transfer to the oven and cook, uncovered for about one hour, basting it with the pan juices every fifteen minutes or so if you want.
6. In a large skillet over medium-low heat, cook the onions in the remaining oil and butter, stirring once in a while until they are well caramelized. This will take approximately 45 minutes.
7. When the meatloaf is cooked, take it out of the oven, put the onions all around it and let it rest for 10 minutes before serving. Serve family style with parmesan mashed potatoes.

9 replies »

  1. I think I first made this recipe at around 1999 . Then she was in the Learning Channel or the Cooking Channel, can’t remember which. I always come back to it. I am away from Biba’s book so I look it up here.


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