The visitors, beginning life under new boss Jerzy Brzeczek after an underwhelming group-stage exit at the World Cup, went in front five minutes before half-time through Piotr Zielinski.
Chelsea midfielder Jorginho misplaced a pass and was dispossessed in the build-up to that goal but unfurled his skip-step penalty routine to fine effect.
It salvaged a fitful Italy display as Roberto Mancini continues to plot his recovery from one of the football's grand nations failing to reach Russia 2018.
Aiming to cement his claims to Italy's number one spot after Mancini again opted to overlook the veteran Gianluigi Buffon, Gianluigi Donnarumma made sharp stops down to his left that denied Zielinski and Grzegorz Krychowiak inside the opening half hour.
A poorly taken short goal-kick from Lukasz Fabianski presented Italy with a clear 37th-minute opening but Federico Bernardeschi arrowed his shot wide.
Mancini would rue that moment of wastefulness as Jorginho was clumsily dispossessed and his old Napoli team-mate Zielinski benefited – volleying home Robert Lewandowski's cross at the back post.
Lewandowski could not re-adjust to convert Jakub Blaszczykowski's cross early in the second half, in which half-time substitute Giacomo Bonaventura provided a bright point for Italy.
The Milan midfielder was thwarted by Fabianski at close quarters before sending a drive whistling just wide.
It was another substitute, Federico Chiesa, who won the spot-kick for the equaliser.
Blaszczykowski appeared to get a decent chunk of the ball but, given he was already booked and slid in from behind, the Wolfsburg winger was perhaps fortunate to watch Jorginho's conversion from on the field.
What it means: Long road ahead for Mancini
Bright touches from Lorenzo Insigne and Federico Bernadeschi before half-time did little to disguise the fact Mancini has a serious job on his hands. The number of empty seats at the Renato Dall'Ara also spoke of a fallen national team in need of reconciliation with its public.
Pat on the back: Zielinski brings Napoli form to international stage
Playing behind Lewandowski, who led the line in expert fashion, everything Zielinski did was bright and purposeful. The 24-year-old appears a superstar in the making and took his goal with aplomb.
10 - Mario #Balotelli made only 10 touches in the first half vs Poland, no Azzurri's player made less touches in the first 45 minutes of play. Missing. #ItalyPoland pic.twitter.com/Q2rtdRNBUt — OptaPaolo (@OptaPaolo) September 7, 2018
Boot up the backside: Not-so-super Mario
The Mario Balotelli-Mancini soap opera thankfully has distance to run yet, but this was a performance that smacked of a lack of pre-season and game time from the Italy number nine following self-inflicted confusion over his future at Nice.
The Azzurri travel to take on European Champions Portugal in the second Nations League encounter on Monday, while Poland host a Republic of Ireland side smarting from their thrashing at the hands of Wales.