Somehow this week I have chosen a selection of tapas from The Book of Tapas by Simone and Inés Ortega that reads eerily similar to cocktail party menu from Better Homes and Gardens circa 1967: a variation on deviled eggs, ham croquettes, and now these Albóndigas, better known in these parts as meatballs. Of course, all of the recipes that we've featured this week are distinctly Spanish and taste nothing like the dated recipes that their names alone might bring to mind.
These little meatballs, fried and braised in a saffron-scented tomato sauce are a tapas bar staple. They're much lighter both in texture and flavor than their Italian-American counterparts, but the basic preparation is very similar. The meatballs are made from a mix of ground beef, breadcrumbs, egg, garlic, parsley, and white wine. Unlike the meatballs that I usually make at home, these are coated in flour and deep fried. The combination of the flour coating and the full deep fry (as opposed to a shallow fry) give them crunchy coating that keeps them from drying out.
Straight out of the fryer the meatballs taste wonderful, but finishing them in a fresh tomato sauce enlivened with a pinch of saffron takes them from tasty, but not particularly thrilling, into the realm of exotic. Slow cooked tomatoes and onions are puréed and then left to simmer with the meatballs and saffron so the flavors infuse—the tomatoes and onions into the meatballs, and the beefy flavors into the tomato sauce. The finished albóndigas are permeated with tomato and remarkably light and juicy. And just like yesterday's vegetable tortilla this is a dish that doesn't necessarily need to be served piping hot, warm, or even room temperature for the flavors to really come through.
Win The Book of Tapas
As always with our Cook the Book feature, we have five (5) copies of The Book of Tapas to give away this week.
- 4 1/4 cups (1 lb 2 oz) ground beef
- 1 sprig parsley, chopped
- 1 clove garlic, very finely chopped
- 1 egg, lightly beaten
- 4 tablespoons bread crumbs
- 3 tablespoons white wine
- Generous 1/4 cup all-purpose (plain) flour
- Generous 2 cups sunflower oil
- For the sauce:
- 4 tablespoons olive oil
- 3 1/2 ounces onions, chopped
- 2 ripe tomatoes, chopped
- 1 small pinch saffron threads
Put the beef, parsley, garlic, egg, bread crumbs, wine and a pinch of salt into a bowl and mix well. Shape the mixture into small balls, rolling them between the palms of your hands. Lightly coat the meatballs in the flour.
Heat the oil in a skillet or frying pan. Add the meatballs, in batches, and cook over medium heat, turning frequently, until golden brown all over. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the meatballs to a pan, arranging them in a single layer.
To make the sauce, heat the oil in another skillet. Add the onion and cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, for about 5 minutes. Add the tomato and cook, stirring occasionally and breaking it up with the side of the spoon, for 6 - 8 minutes. Stir in generous 2 cups water and season with salt and pepper. Bring the sauce to a boil, let cool slightly, then pass it through a food mill or process in a food processor. Pour the sauce over the meatballs. Crush the saffron threads in a mortar, then stir in generous 1/3 cup water and pour the mixture into the pan. Simmer the meatballs in the sauce for 15 - 20 minutes, then serve.
Note: You can also make the meatballs with ground veal or a mixture of ground beef and pork. Simmer veal meatballs for 10 minutes only.