Polpettine al Limone (Lemon Scented Meatballs)

picture of finish dish at table

The island of Capri, located in the Tyrrhenian Sea and off the coast of Naples, Italy, is one of the most beautiful spots in the world. Home to mermaid legends and the famous Blue Grotto, Capri’s delicious local cuisine relies on the waters surrounding it and on the amazing local garden produce, especially lemons.

The local variety of lemons are long and at least double the size of common USA lemons, and have a thick and wrinkled skin. Especially famous for making Limoncello, these lemons are used in all manner of cooking and drinks. Even the extra large lemon leaves are used to wrap and grill food imparting a hint of lemon flavor.

lemon meatballs cooking on the stove

Between my sister and me, we’ve racked up quite a few stories and recipes from Capri including the Vacation with the Dead and Bay Leaf “Limoncello”.

On a trip to Capri, while eating dinner in a garden house and garden tended by a friend’s father, I remember eating these meatballs bathed in a delicious lemony sauce. Back in America, I recreated this dish and often make them at home.

On a recent Los Angeles-escape vacation to my sister’s home in New Hope, PA, we cooked up a batch of these meatballs. It’s the perfect summertime dish and can be paired with a simple salad. Unlike traditional meatballs that are simmered in tomato sauce for a long time, these are quickly cooked in a hot pan or can be grilled as well.

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Polpettine al Limone (Lemon Scented Meatballs)

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5 from 2 reviews


  • 1 pound ground veal (can substitute pork or beef or combination of all three)
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 garlic clove, finely chopped
  • 4 lemons, zested and juiced
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1/4 bunch fresh flat-leaf Italian parsley, finely chopped to yield 1/4 cup, plus extra for garnish
  • 4 slices white bread (use stale bread if you have it), crust removed and soaked in 2/3 cup milk, then squeezed in your hands
  • 1 teaspoon Kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper
  • All-purpose flour, for dredging
  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil


  1. In a large mixing bowl, combine the veal, egg, garlic, lemon zest, Parmigiano, parsley, bread chunks, and salt and pepper stirring with a wooden spoon or your hands until just combined.
  2. In a small frying pan, heat a teaspoon olive oil and fry a small portion of the meatball mix until cooked through. Taste and adjust with salt and pepper, according to your taste.
  3. Prepare a sheet pan with a sheet of parchment or wax paper. Using your hands, mold the meat mixture into small meatballs, polpettine, about the size of golf balls and place on the pan. Refrigerate for 1 hour to firm up the meatballs.
  4. In a 14-inch saute pan, heat the oil over medium heat until hot but not smoking. 
  5. Place the flour in a shallow bowl and dredge each meatball through the flour, shaking off any excess flour. Add the meatballs to the hot pan, and cook over a gentle heat, turning occasionally, until cooked through and golden brown on all sides, about 10-15 minutes.
  6. Pour the lemon juice over the meatballs when they are cooked, making sure that each meatball absorbs some of the juice and lemon flavor. Garnish with parsley and serve immediately.


Cook’s Note: I like making a little test meatball to be sure they are seasoned correctly. In a small frying pan, heat a teaspoon of olive oil and fry a small portion of the meatball mix until cooked through. Taste and adjust the salt and pepper, according to your taste.

Join the Conversation

  1. Love anything LEMON!

    Going to try this one.

    Thank you, Joe.

    1. Joe Author says:

      Wonderful!! Let us know how it turns out! Joe

  2. Contesa Farrar says:

    I made this and It Was a ParTa in your mouth !!! HUGE HIT & UNIQUE

    1. Thank you!!! Lemon really does make everything taste better!

  3. Andrei Lozzi says:

    rating 5
    from Andrei (Italian not Russian)
    My gorgeous granddaughter (but half German) has ordered that I prepare this for her.
    I cannot disobey, but I will make two lots, one will stay with us !

    1. Wonderful!! Let us know how it turns out! Joe

  4. whoa….

    Made this. Cut the number of lemons in half and do NOT soak the meatballs in the juice. Instead, put it aside and let people DRIZZLE the the juice on the meatballs.

    1. We’re glad you like this. Good suggestions for the recipe. Lemon juice does make everything taste better! Thanks. Joe

  5. I so want to make these, do you know if I cook them in an air fryer vs frying on stovetop if they would turn out the same? Thanks so much

    1. Joe Author says:

      Hi. This is an interesting question. I have not tried this in an air fryer but here’s my guess. Make the meatballs as written but skip the step to coat them in flour. Spray the meatballs all over with olive oil spray and cook in an air-fryer. These might drip fat so use a pan to catch grease if needed. When done (use a meat thermometer if you like – done at 165F), put in the lemon juice to soak up the flavor.

      I hope this works for you! Thanks. Joe

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