Monday, March 23, 2015

Spanish Meatballs

Spanish Meatballs
(Albondigas en Salsa con Picada de Almendras)

With the end of the month nearing, and with March Madness on TV around the clock (it seemed), I decided to go "all out" and cook a bunch of Spanish dishes yesterday for Tom and David to sample at dinnertime.

The kitchen was a wreck afterwards, but it was fun.  I felt like a mad scientist.  Envision bubbling pots everywhere and many experiments going on simultaneously.

I made Spanish meatballs with the almond sauce, a rice/chickpea dish in an earthenware pot, and a winter vegetable medley.  And a loaf of rustic no-knead bread.

The meatballs are really good.  I can see why they are so popular.

I used Claudia Roden's cookbook, The Food of Spain.  The information she conveys is excellent, but I am not sure that her recipe writing style or the layout of the book would be ranked as excellent.

There is an art to writing a good recipe --- and especially the layout of a book.  It drives me crazy when the pages don't flow well when you are cooking and you have to keep flipping the pages.  Reminds me of how hard it is to flip pages while playing a piano piece.  But I digress.

Back to the meatballs, and how unusual the almond sauce is but how good it is!

Here's what I wish I had known ahead of time:  the picada for the almond sauce can be made ahead of time.  So I separated it out as a separate step.  And put it first. And then elaborated on the steps, so that making them will be easier.

Spanish Meatballs
Albondigas en Salsa con Picada de Almendras
(adapted from The Food of Spain by Claudia Roden)

Serves 4 to 6

For the meatballs:
1 large egg
1 pound ground pork/veal mix
4 slices firm white sandwich bread (4 ounces), crusts removed, soaked in water, and squeezed dry
1/2 small onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, crushed to a paste
1 T. finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
salt and pepper
flour for dredging (optional)
Olive or sunflower oil for frying

For the almond sauce:
1 cup chicken stock
1 cup fruity dry white wine
A good pinch of saffron threads
grated zest of 1 lemon
salt and pepper
2 t. sugar

For the picada:
1 thin slice firm white sandwich bread, crust removed
1/4 cup blanched whole almonds (or slivered)
3 to 4 garlic cloves
3 T. olive oil
Make the picada:  In a small skillet, fry the bread, almonds and garlic cloves in the oil until golden brown.  Lift them out, let them cool a little, then grind to a paste in a mini-food processor (or you could use a mortar and pestle).  Set aside until you make the almond sauce.
Make the meatballs:  In a large bowl, lightly beat the egg, add the meat, the bread, the onions, garlic and parsley and salt and pepper.  Using your fingers, mix it all together until homogeneous---almost a paste, according to Claudia.  Still using your hands,  shape into balls the size of large walnuts  -- and, if desired,  roll in plenty of flour.  (I skipped the flour and they turned out fine.)

Fry the meatballs:  In a skillet, add plenty of oil (she says 1/2 inch but I used less) and heat until a small piece of bread sizzles.  (I used leftover crust to test how how the oil is.)   Add the meatballs, in batches, and fry briefly, turning to brown them all over, then lift them out and drain.   I like to use a non-stick wire rack with paper towels underneath.  They do not need to be cooked through as they will cook further in the sauce.
Make the sauce:  In a large skillet, add the stock and wine and bring to a boil.  Add the saffron, lemon zest, salt and pepper to taste, and then the sugar.  Stir the picada into the sauce.
Cook the meatballs in the sauce:  Add the meatballs, and simmer, covered, over very low heat, turning once, for about 20 minutes, until cooked through, adding a little water if necessary.
Turn them out into a serving dish or separate them into smaller dishes as tapas, and coat with the sauce.



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