Saturday, October 22, 2011


Meatballs with almond-saffron sauce.

I was working on an article about Spanish food for a British magazine, with recipes for some of my favorite tapas. One I chose is a tapa bar classic—meatballs in a saffron-almond sauce. The editor asked if I had any photos, and I realized that I hadn’t made meatballs in a really long time and had no photos in my files.

Now I do. They were so delicious. This recipe reminds me of what I love about ordinary Spanish food—the subtle spicing, use of ground almonds and wine in a sauce. And the immediacy—I am gathering almonds from the trees on the edge of my property.

Tapa of meatballs.

Meatballs in Almond Sauce
Albóndigas en Salsa de Almendras

Most Spanish words that start with “al,” as in albóndigas and almendras, derive from the Arabic. The flavorings for these meatballs and sauce could be straight out of a 12th century Moorish cookbook. Many spices, such as the saffron, cloves and nutmeg in this recipe, as well as almonds were introduced into Spanish cooking by the Moors, Arabs who invaded Spain in 711 and ruled parts of the country for nearly eight centuries.

Make these meatballs with all pork, a combination of pork and beef, or ground chicken thighs. As a tapa, serve them with chunks of bread. Or turn meatballs into a main dish with rice or noodles alongside.

Makes 40 to 50 meatballs.

Fried almonds, garlic and bread.
For the meatballs:
¾ pound ground beef
¾ pound ground pork
2 slices stale bread, crusts removed
1 clove garlic, minced
¼ cup finely chopped onion
¼ cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
1 teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
2 eggs, beaten
¼ cup olive oil

Spices for meatball sauce.
For the sauce:
½ cup almonds, blanched and skinned
1 slice bread
3 tablespoons olive oil
10 peppercorns
½ teaspoon saffron threads
1 clove
½ teaspoon salt
2/3 cup white wine
1 cup chicken or meat broth
chopped parsley

Combine the ground beef and pork in a bowl. Soak the bread in water or milk to cover until soft. Squeeze it out and add to the meat with the garlic, onion, parsley, salt, nutmeg and egg. Knead well to make a smooth mixture.

Form into 1-inch balls. Roll them in flour and fry slowly in hot oil until browned on all sides. Remove and drain.

Heat 3 tablespoons of oil in a skillet and fry the almonds, bread and garlic in the oil until golden. Remove.

In a mortar, crush the peppercorns, saffron, clove and salt. In a food processor, grind together the toasted almonds, bread and garlic with the wine to make a smooth paste. Add the spices to this mixture.

Stir the almond mixture into the oil in the skillet and add the stock. Bring to a boil, then add the fried meatballs. Simmer the meatballs, stirring occasionally, for 15 minutes. Add additional liquid as needed.

Serve the meatballs garnished with chopped parsley.

Piquant Cocktail Meatballs
Pinchos de Albondiguillas

Here’s another meatball recipe, a versatile party dish. The meatballs are accented with piquant piquillo peppers and require no sauce. If you can’t find piquillos, use any roasted pimiento.

These meatballs are quickly fried. A light flouring prevents the meatballs from splattering when frying. However, if you are preparing them for a crowd, try baking them, unfloured, in a hot oven (450º for about 12 minutes).

Makes 60 bite-sized meatballs.

Spicy meatballs.
2 pounds ground pork
2 ½ teaspoons minced garlic
½ cup minced onion
½ cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
2 teaspoons salt
¼ teaspoon cayenne or hot pimentón
1 teaspoon sweet pimentón de la Vera (smoked paprika)
1 teaspoon sweet pimentón (paprika)
½ teaspoon cumin
¼ teaspoon dried thyme
½ teaspoon dried oregano
¼ teaspoon black pepper
grating of fresh nutmeg
1 tablespoon vinegar
flour for dredging, about ¼ cup
olive oil for frying, about ½ cup
10 piquillo peppers (from a 7.6-ounce jar), drained and patted dry

Place the pork in a bowl. Add the garlic, onion, and parsley.

In a small bowl combine the salt, cayenne, pimentón de la Vera, sweet pimentón, cumin, thyme, oregano, pepper, and nutmeg. Add the vinegar and stir to make a smooth paste. Dribble the spice mixture into the meat. Knead the meat with the hands to distribute the seasonings evenly.

Allow the meat to stand at room temperature for 1 hour or, covered and refrigerated, for up to 24 hours.

Form the mixture into 1-inch balls. Dredge the meatballs in flour, patting off excess.

Heat oil to cover the bottom of a large, heavy skillet. Fry the meatballs in two or three batches, turning to brown them on all sides, until browned and cooked through, about 5 minutes. Remove meatballs to drain on paper towels.

Cut each piquillo pepper into 6 strips. Fold a strip into thirds, spear it with a toothpick, and skewer a meatball. Place on a serving platter.

Serve meatballs hot or room temperature. If desired, meatballs can be prepared in advance and reheated in the oven.

1 comment:

  1. ¡¡ Riquisimas !! Muy conseguida ésta receta.
    Curiosamente es la más popular de "Mi cocina", las que más visita recibe; todo un clásico en nuestras cocinas.
    Saludos cordiales.