Albondigas – Spanish meatballs
A wonderful thing about Spanish cuisine is its versatility; that and the fact that it’s just made for sharing. Make these little lovely meatballs ahead and you can serve them as part of a tapas spread, serve them in a roll like a meatball sub (perfect, says writer-son), or as a main course alongside a hefty portion of patatas bravas and a simple salad.
I’ve had these in many a tapas bar in Spain. I think the very best were in the old market in Malaga. After marvelling at the counters of fish, we failed to find a seat inside and sat on a street corner next to the roaring traffic. We tucked into meatballs in rich spicy tomato sauce, jamon, croquetas, olives and some great bread. Albondigas are warm with paprika and cumin; the texture is quite firm as you are supposed to be able to pick them up with a little fork without them disintegrating. They’re friendly little things to eat, perfect for enjoying with loved ones and a dry sherry or a Spanish beer.
This recipe makes quite a lot – 60 meatballs, although they are small. It’s worth making a large quantity as they freeze really well, so just pop half of them in the freezer before frying and you can bring them out in a month or so with most of the work done. The sauce can also be divided and frozen for later.
Makes 60 little meatballs – about 8 portions. Timings: 30 minutes for the sauce, 30 minutes for the meatballs, then 30 minutes in the oven. All can be done ahead and re-heated.
First, start the sauce, as it needs time to cook down and meld all the flavours. Gently fry the onion in vegetable oil until softened. Add the cumin seeds, oregano and the garlic and stir to cook. Add in the powdered spices and stir again. Tip in the tomatoes, passata and red wine. Cook gently over a low heat for about half an hour – test the seasoning and add salt and pepper as needed.
For the meatballs: combine all the ingredients in a big bowl and mix with your hands, work thoroughly to make sure it’s all mixed properly. Make small balls of the mixture – a bit smaller than a ping pong ball. Roll the balls in the seasoned flour and put them on a tray. At this stage you can freeze the ones you don’t want to use straight away – put them in the freezer on a tray until hard, then put them in a plastic bag and seal up.
Heat 1cm of oil in a frying pan and fry the meatballs until browned all over – they aren’t very big so it only takes about 5 minutes. Scoop them out and place on kitchen paper.
Now you have your cooked meatballs and your sauce – they can be kept for up to a day in the fridge before finally cooking.
Preheat your oven to 180°C. Combine the meatballs and sauce in an oven proof dish and place in the oven, covered, for about half an hour to warm right through.
If there are leftovers, unlikely, I know, but it sometimes happens, you can warm them up again in a pan with a little additional water. They go beautifully in a bread roll for a hot lunch, maybe with a little melted mozzarella in there as well to add that salty curdy backnote.
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