Sweet meatballs with almonds and cinnamon

Sweet Meatballs

Sweet Meatballs, The Sicily Cookbook by Cettina Vicenzino. Photography by Cettina Vicenzino.

The Sicily Cookbook

Join Sicilian cook, writer, and photographer Cettina Vicenzino as she shares more than 70 authentic and mouth-watering recipes from this unique Mediterranean island. While only a few miles from Italy, Sicily’s heritage is proudly distinct from that of the mainland, favouring dishes packed with spices, citrus fruits, cheeses, olives, tomatoes, eggplants, and seafood.

Embark on the enchanting culinary journey and experience the culinary delights of the Sicilian diet. Featuring three strands of Sicilian cooking—Cucina Povera (peasant food), Cibo di Strada (street food), and Cucina dei Monsù (sophisticated food)—alongside profiles on local chefs and food producers, The Sicily Cookbook invites you to discover the island’s culinary culture and let your summer cooking burst with Mediterranean sunshine.

The Sicily Cookbook: Authentic Recipes from a Mediterranean Island is available at Amazon.com and Indigo.ca.

Sweet meatballs with almonds and cinnamon (Polpette dolci)

Polpette are hugely popular in Sicily and made with all kinds of different ingredients, such as eggplants (see p.176), ricotta (see p.107), or simply with flavoured fresh breadcrumbs. These sweet polpettes are inspired by a recipe from Maria Grammatico in her book Bitter Almonds. She describes that, in the postwar years, polpette dolci were the favourite festive treat served to children at the San Carlo abbey. The nuns certainly bulked out the meat in their polpette with quite a lot of breadcrumbs; Maria halved the quantity in her recipe. The raisins used here would have been those that weren’t quite good enough for making dessert.

Serves 4 Prep 1 1/2 hrs, plus soaking time


For the sauce

2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil

1 large onion, finely chopped

1 large garlic clove, finely chopped

1 heaped tbsp tomato paste

1 1/2 lb (700 g) tomato sauce

1 cinnamon stick

sea salt and freshly ground

black pepper


For the meatballs

8 tbsp (70 g) blanched almonds

5 tsp (20 g) granulated sugar

1 cup (100 g) fresh breadcrumbs 

2/3 cup (140 ml) whole milk

1 lb 1 oz (480 g) ground beef

2 3/4 oz (80 g) pecorino cheese, finely grated

2 tbsp (30 g) raisins

2 tbsp plus 1 tsp (20 g) pine nuts, plus extra to serve

1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon

chili flakes

2 medium eggs

extra-virgin olive oil

oregano leaves, to serve



  1. To make the tomato sauce, heat the olive oil in a pan over medium heat and fry the onion with the garlic without letting them take on any colour. Stir in the tomato paste or strattù along with 12 /3 cups (400 ml) of hot water, bring to a boil, then simmer everything for 1 minute. Stir in the sauce and cinnamon stick, season with salt and pepper, and simmer for about 10 minutes. 
  2. Meanwhile, to make the meatballs, blend the almonds and sugar in a food processor or blender until the almonds are reduced to little chunks with just a bit of texture. Soak the breadcrumbs in the milk in a bowl for 20 minutes. Combine the almond mixture and breadcrumbs with the beef, cheese, raisins, pine nuts, and ground cinnamon in a bowl. Season with salt, pepper, and chilli flakes. Stir in the eggs one at a time. The mixture should not be too firm or too soft.
  3. Heat some olive oil in a frying pan over medium heat. Use your hands to form 16 meatballs from the mixture. Fry them in the hot oil until golden brown on all sides, then transfer the meatballs to the tomato sauce and simmer gently for another 20 minutes. If the sauce becomes too thick, add some boiling water.
  4. Take 4 deep plates and arrange 4 meatballs and some sauce on each. Scatter each with oregano leaves and pine nuts, grind over some black pepper, and serve drizzled with a dash of olive oil.

Recipe reprinted with permission from DK publishing.

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