Le lentilssmall, inexpensive and versatile pulses steal the show in the New Year's Eve dinners throughout Italy, bringing with it a deep-rooted tradition that promises good luck and prosperity. However, it is a pity to limit oneself to consuming them only during the Christmas period, considering that they are rich in many beneficial substances for the body. Lentils also lend themselves to numerous preparations and, in addition to the classic dishes - stewed or in soups together with pasta and rice - there is a recipe that wins every palate: the lentil meatballs with sauce. Soft and tasty, they are an alternative to traditional meatballs, particularly suitable for those on a vegetarian diet and also for children who may not be keen on eating pulses.

Lentil meatballs with sauce: some varieties of lentils in Italy

Also called 'the poor man's meat', lentils are the oldest legume, cultivated by man since 7000 BC. They come in all colours: yellow, black, red, green, orange and brown. Here are some of the lentils found in Italy:

  • Lentil of Castelluccio di Norcia: is the most famous lentil in Italy and is cultivated in the province of Perugia. It has very small, flattened and rounded seeds. It has a very fine skin and its colour varies from green to light brown.
  • Lentil of Onano dei Papi: is the perla of Tuscia Viterbese and is very old, in fact it was already cultivated in 1550 and is so called because it seems that Pope Pius IX, after the loss of temporal power, consoled himself with a plate of lentils. Round and very tasty, it has a light brown colour with shades ranging from dark lead to greenish. It has a very thin skin, almost non-existent, and a paste with a creamy consistency.
  • Rascino lentil: is cultivated in the province of Rieti on the border with Abruzzo and has a small, brown seed with a few speckles and reddish hues.
  • Ventotene lentil: high quality product with unique organoleptic properties is particularly resistant to cooking and is small (1 to 2.5 mm). The colour is light brown with light pink veins.
  • Lentil of Ustica: is the smallest on the peninsula, grows on the volcanic island of Ustica and has a dark colour and green streaks.
  • Lentil of Mormanno: grows in the Pollino National Park and more precisely on the Mormanno plateau. This Calabrian variety of small-seeded lentil has always been cultivated here. It is green, pink and beige in colour and is traditionally eaten to prepare tasty, hot soups.
  • Villalba Lentil: è cultivated in the province of Caltanissetta. It has a large seed with a diameter that can reach almost a centimetre. It is green in colour and has a higher level of iron and protein than other species.

Lentil meatballs with sauce: recipe

Preparation is extremely quick and easy, especially if you use pre-cooked lentils. To make them, simply add an egg, cheese, garlic, salt and breadcrumbs, blend everything together, make meatballs and cook them in a simple tomato sauce.


60 minutes

20 minutes


Frying pan


Ingredients for 14 meatballs

  • 100 g dried lentils or 300 g precooked lentils
  • 250 g tomato puree
  • 80 g breadcrumbs
  • 40 g onion
  • 2 tablespoons grated cheese
  • 1 egg
  • half a clove of garlic
  • extra virgin olive oil q.b.
  • fine salt to taste
  • black pepper to taste


  • 1 cutting board
  • 1 knife
  • 1 mixer
  • 1 non-stick frying pan
  • 2 tablespoons
  • 1 spatula

Pan-fried lentil meatballs: procedure

Step 1. Wash the lentils under running water, place them in a pot and cook them starting with cold water for 20 minutes.

Lentil meatballs with sauce recipes

Meanwhile, coarsely chop the onion, peel the garlic and cut it in half.

Step 2. Once cooked, drain the lentils and place them in the blender. Add the egg, breadcrumbs, grated cheese, a pinch of fine salt, a sprinkling of black pepper, the onion and half a clove of garlic.

Lentil meatballs with sauce recipes

Step 3. Operate it and create a homogeneous cream.

Lentil meatballs with sauce recipes

Step 4. Transfer the mixture into a bowl and place breadcrumbs on a plate.

Lentil meatballs with sauce recipes

Step 5. Wet your hands with water, take some of the dough and make meatballs of the desired size. Dip them in breadcrumbs and place them on a cutting board, well spaced out.

Lentil meatballs with sauce recipes

Step 6. In a large frying pan, add two turns of extra virgin olive oil and brown the meatballs for a few minutes.

Lentil meatballs with sauce recipes

Step 7. Cook them on all sides, turning them continuously with two spoons.

Lentil meatballs with sauce recipes

Step 8. Add the tomato puree, a pinch of salt, a glass of water and cover with a lid. Cook for 20 minutes on a low flame.

Lentil meatballs with sauce recipes

Step 9. After the time has elapsed, serve the meatballs piping hot accompanied by slices of bread, which will be essential and much appreciated for making the scarpetta!

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Chiara Bassi

Advice & Conservation

  • This recipe is perfect for getting even the youngest children to eat pulses: they won't be able to resist the goodness of meatballs!
  • Pre-cooked lentils can also be used, in which case simply rinse them well under water and put them directly into the blender.

  • In general, dried lentils triple their volume once cooked. Therefore, to obtain 300 g of cooked lentils, it is recommended to cook 100 g of dried lentils.
  • Instead of tomato puree, previously blended peeled tomatoes can be used.
  • If desired, a hot chilli pepper can be added to the sauce.
  • Aromatic herbs such as parsley or dried oregano can be added to the mixture.
  • The lentil meatballs with sauce can be stored in the refrigerator well covered with plastic wrap for a couple of days. Before bringing them to the table, they can be reheated either in a frying pan or in the microwave.

Which wine goes with lentil meatballs with sauce?

To generalise, when it comes to food and wine pairing, is always very complex, not least because the world of wine is so wide-ranging in itself that it is difficult to find unambiguous answers even within the same denomination, not to mention the variations between one winery and another and between one vintage and another. Nevertheless, one can identify some main threads to follow.

In the case of lentil meatballs with sauce, the mellowness and sweetness of the lentils and the aromaticity of the tomato should be taken into account. For this we recommend a rosé wine with an intense aroma and good structure such as a Cerasuolo d'Abruzzo DOC.

[Taken from the book "Sommelier: the illustrated manual" p. 495]

Chiara Bassi

Writer, sommelier & gastronome

Lentil meatballs with sauce: why they are good for you

Lentils are rich in nutrients such as fibre, carbohydrates, protein, iron and potassium. They can be eaten frequently and used not only as a substitute for meat, but also in place of bread precisely because they contain carbohydrates. Using different ingredients, many recipes can be created with lentils, but the most delicious and irresistible, which no one will be able to resist, are the soft lentil meatballs with sauce.

Lentil meatballs with sauce recipes

More recipes for main courses to try: