DIY Disney: 2010 Epcot Food and Wine Festival Polpetini, Italy Pavilion

About twice a month, our resident Chef BigFatPanda puts together his amazing step-by-step, photo-filled posts where he and Chef Mickey show you their adventures in the kitchen cooking up Disney goodies! Today, Chef Big Fat Panda’s DIY Disney Recipes column brings us a savory, original recipe from this year’s Epcot Food and Wine Festival! Take it away, Chef!

Hey everyone! I’ve got something very good in store for you this time.

In my home — in my neighborhood — my family is semi-famous when it comes to Meatballs. In fact, a popular restaurant located in The Villages, FL, recently adopted our meatball recipe and now serves “Mama Maria’s Meatballs”. Maria is my cousin and took full credit, but that’s a whole other story :-)

Polpetini Ingredients

So, as this is The Disney Food Blog, I am not able to just say: here is my family’s recipe. We gotta stick to the whole Disney recipe thing. But guess what? The recipe used for the Epcot Food & Wine Festival Italy booth‘s Polpetini (meatballs) this year is almost identical to our real Italian recipe with few alterations.

Below is the recipe for Polpetini Di Vitello (Veal) or, in my case, Polpetini Di Manzo, as I substituted beef for the veal. Let’s begin, shall we? (I think of Pee Wee Herman when I write this — ever see Pee Wee’s Big Adventure?)

As usual, the recipe’s instructions will be bolded for easy reference should you wish to print this out and skip my commentary. I try to make life easier for those who wish to ignore me :)

You will need:
1 Cup (1 inch) bread cubes made from day old, crustless bread
¾ cup Milk
1 pound ground veal (or beef, turkey, pork etc.)
½ cup grated Parmesan cheese
2 eggs
1 tablespoon of fresh Chopped Parsley
1 clove of Garlic, minced
½ tsp coarse salt (any salt will do)
¼ tsp freshly ground pepper (again, any pepper will do)

It is worth repeating “Do not fear the ingredients.” Any salt would be acceptable in place of “coarse salt,” and a little crust on your bread won’t be the end of the world if that’s what you have.

1. Soak bread in milk in a small bowl until softened (about 10 min).

This looked a little odd, but I did it. In my family recipe, we would use bread crumbs and water but this seemed interesting. I had a delicious baguette from Publix that did not have a large doughy center. Yes, some crust got into mine, but it was actually good after being soaked and softened.

Bread Soaking in Milk

2. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F

3. Combine meat, parmesan cheese, eggs, parsley, garlic, salt & pepper in a large bowl.
Squeeze the milk from the bread until bread is damp but not soaking wet, and add it to the meat mixture.

Yes, it was gross milking the bread. It was! Squeezing milk from soggy bread just felt wrong, but I knew it would come out great in the recipe, so I did it and added it in. If you try this, I want to know your reaction. ;-)

Combining Ingredients

4. Using your hands, mix thoroughly. Shape into 24 (1 inch) meatballs. Transfer to a baking sheet or mini muffin pan. (actually, any baking pan will do)

Now, if you want a delicious result, you can’t be afraid to get your hands dirty. Get in there and fold and mix and smoosh. Yes, I said smoosh and I’ll say it again. Smoosh it up. You want everything to get into and around everything else. If not, you’ll have Joe loving his meat-a-balls while Mary is not-a-likin’ hers-a so much. Capeesh? :)

Smooshed Ingredients

So, I started off making 1 inch meatballs. I think this size is great for children and also great to put into soups. Did you ever have Progresso Chickarina soup with the really small meatballs? Something like that.

Meatballs in Pan

About halfway into my meatball making, I felt eyes over my shoulder. I felt the threat of impending doom. My cats wanted some of this in a bad way. I think it was the smell of the cheese and of course, raw meat. I sped things up by experimenting with some larger meatballs.

Polly Eyes the Meatballs

I think “Polly” had her eye on one intently! For those that might wonder, yes, I did give the cats some and they loved it! This could be a good OR bad sign. :) (Editor’s Note: Let’s see who can create the best “LOL Cats” caption in the comments!)

5. Bake for 20 minutes. Transfer cooked meatballs to a serving bowl.

Cook’s Notes: Uncooked meatball mixture can be refrigerated overnight. You can substitute ground beef, pork, or even turkey for the veal.

Baked Polpetini

The only real differences in this recipe to my family’s is the use of the “milk bread,” which we would substitute with bread crumbs and water; and the inclusion of more cheese (likely Pecorino Romano) and more Parsley. Also we would fry them up in Olive oil rather than bake them.

I have to tell you, I don’t think I will fry again. These meatballs browned SO NICELY in the oven, it surprised me. I expected gray ugly meatballs to emerge. I think I cooked mine for 25 minutes because my meat was very cold. I cooked the larger ones for 35 minutes. I did have some fat residue at the bottom of each meatball that was easily wiped away to make them appear more appetizing.

Chef Mickey and Polpetini

The flavor profile was fantastic. You could use these in so many ways. As a matter of fact, I had planned on showing many different serving suggestion photos. My plan was to show a picture of the meatballs with some sauce and then in a sandwich etc, but they were so good by themselves, I just let them shine on their own.

If you have never made meatballs, let this be the recipe you try first. If you have made meatballs and have had less than stellar results, try this version. This really is a great recipe and one Epcot should be very proud of. It’s simple and authentic!

Until next time, thank you so much for allowing me into your kitchen and keep wishing upon those stars. Please share any comments with me below as I love the feedback. Big Big Hugs!

Chef BigFatPanda

Thanks again, John! Remember, all, you can watch for Chef BigFatPanda’s column posts right here! Who knows what he’ll make for us next time!


  1. Dana (aka DragynAlly) says

    Polly: I see my Dinner but where is yours?

    Looks yummy! Now I’m hungry. I always wondered about bread and milk soaking. I’m really weird about touching strange textures.

  2. Mykelogan says

    Recipe looks fantastic. Now as for the cats…

    Polly to other cat: Keep your eyes peeled for the big guy, I have almost gotten all of the meatballs out of this ingenious trap!

  3. Alan says

    Chef – Great recipe – both the Disney version and your family’s. I am surprised you may switch to not frying them in the future. I think they would get a nicer crunchy crust when you at least brown them in olive oil. Perhaps starting them in oil and finishing in the oven would be a great compromise. Your caveat on substituting ingredients is correct, but there is a reason experienced chefs use fresh pepper and coarse salt. Polly is thinking ” Where is that hidden Mickey (a mouse) ?

  4. says

    Matt – Thank you!

    Myke – too funny!

    Alan – I could not believe and did not expect (from experience) the fry effect that did take place in the oven. I agree about the salt & pepper and used coarse. I just don’t want people to abandon the recipe if they don’t have those items. I feel it’s still better to cook than not :)

    Brenda – lol

  5. says

    Nice recipe.

    Just one thing I have to say about the salt comment– In my Grandmother’s world the salt would end it. I ALWAYS have to listen to her stories about how her mother drowned everything in salt.

    Overall, a great recipe! The one suggestion I have for people trying to make meatballs (REAL meatballs not the frozen packaged stuff) is to try and make them all the same general size so they cook at the same rate. When I first made meatballs, most of mine were on the larger side so they either fell apart while trying to be put in the pan or they didn’t cook quickly enough as the others did. In the ones that I usually make we usually sneak some vegetables like celery in it.

    My cat caption is: Is that a Cheeseburger… for me?

  6. says

    I agree Josh, about the size.
    You have to be careful about adding vegetables that release more moisture. That may be the reason for them falling apart. This recipe had no meatballs falling apart at all…FYI

  7. Tina C says

    Gonna try this recipe this weekend! Sounds very tasty and easy. No problems with smooshing! LOL

    Polly says – “What do you mean, I have to wait for it to be cooked? I want it NOW!”

  8. says

    These look great. My family and i were there the other day and I couldn’t decide between the meatballs and the ravioli. The ravioli won out, but we have passes… so we will get to the Meatballs soon..

  9. says

    Tina C – Let me know what u thought please & love Polly caption

    Allison – that would be her voice :)

    Stephanie – I really did LOL

    Sarah – :)

    Mikki – The ravioli was fantastic I thought… Agree?

  10. says

    That looks so good. Everything you make I say I’m going to try, but I really mean it with these meatballs.

    Love that cats, too.

  11. Nikolee says

    Ooo.. meatballs are awesome! Sadly, I don’t live in FL rather in CA where the meatballs are ok… I will definitely be using this recipe in the potluck i have next week. Now I need a midnight snack.

    Polly: Foolish Meatballs! You looked into my eyes! Your path now leads to the Linings of my Intestines! Meow~

    Does that work?

  12. JoAnn says

    I have heard stories about my great grandmother soaking bread in milk when making meatballs. I tried the Polpentini at the F & W festival last year. I wasn’t that impressed with them. I was disappointed that I didn’t care for them. I love meatballs and was really looking forward to having them there.

  13. Lorraine Pollachek says

    I’m a little surprised to read that you’re Italian, that you cook and that you are apparently unfamiliar with or turned off by making a panade. A panade is a very common ingredient in meatballs and meatloaves and is simply bread soaked in milk. I know many people have texture issues. If handling the soaked bread bothers you there are things you can do. (1) Milk the bread wearing gloves. (2) Milk the bread using a silicon spatula. (3) If you have too much milk or your recipe calls for removing the bread from the milk, you can also do this using a silicon spatula. I hope one of these helps or suggests to you another solution that works for you. Good luck to you.

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