Let’s establish one thing. Meatballs are not hard to make. Seriously, they are dead easy. Even if you end up adding only salt and pepper, you’re still getting heck of a lot of flavour out of those balls.
See what I did there 🙂
If there’s one thing I’ve discovered with food from around the world is this: people love molding ground meat into shapes, balls in particular. From shakshuka in the middle east to the swedish variety, civilization has been forming clumps of ground meat into balls, frying them up, and serving them with delicious sauces for centuries! Go us! Next to the Roman aqueducts, alchemy, and the smartphone, meatballs are a standout invention.
For my very first recipe, I wanted to share these scrumptious Spanish tapas-style meatballs. I was first introduced to tapas when bumming around Europe and ended up in Madrid. With funds quickly running out, I started to buy groceries from the local market and bringing them back to the hostel I was staying at. That’s where I met Silvia. She worked at the hostel and we bonded over our mutual crush-husband, Ryan Gosling.
In between cyber stalking Ryan Gosling, Silvia and I would also cook a lot together. I showed her how to make chicken korma and she introduced me to these meatball tapas, or Albóndigas en Salsa as some call it in Spain. Literal translation: balls of meaty goodness soaked in the nectar from the gods!! Ok, that’s not really what it means but you get the point.
The below recipe is a mix of what I remember from Silvia’s instructions and this one from Saveur. Over the years, I’ve also experimented with different types of meat (using mixtures of lamb, turkey, chicken, or all beef) but found that the equal parts ground pork and ground beef yield the juiciest balls (teehee!). The amount of herbs and garlic may seem excessive, but trust me they are absolutely necessary. I’m sorry but you just cannot scrimp on the garlic or flake out on the herbs in this recipe. Also, if you’re able to stretch the budget a bit and get ethically-sourced or organic meat then great. Does it make any difference to the taste? Not it in the slightest (in my opinion) but if you’re so inclined then go for it.
Prep time: 20 minutes | Cook time: 50-60 minutes | Serves 5-6 hungry people
For the meatballs:
1 1⁄2 lbs. coarsely ground beef
1 1⁄2 lbs. coarsely ground pork
1 cup panko breadcrumbs
1⁄4 cup flat-leaf parsley
4 eggs, lightly beaten
5 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1/2 of a small yellow onion
salt (to taste, about 2 tsp) and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup flour
For the sauce:
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 large yellow onion, chopped
1 medium carrot, diced
1 dried bay leaf
3 tbsp. flour
1 can of crushed tomato (796 ml or 28 fl oz)
1 tbsp tomato paste
2 cups beef broth
1 1⁄2 cups full-bodied red wine (it doesn’t have to be pricey – even boxed red wine is fine to use)
1 1/2 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp smoked paprika
1/4 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
1. In a food processor, chop up the parsley, garlic, and onion until they’re minced. Mix together the beef, pork, panko, eggs, parsley mixture, flour, and salt and pepper in a large bowl. Don’t be afraid to get in there and use your hands to mix all the ingredients together. Don’t overwork the meat, just mix until everything is well combined.
2. Using wet hands, form meat mixture into 28 even-size meatballs and transfer to a sheet pan lined with cling film.
3. You’ll need a large skillet too cook all those meatballs! Heat half the oil on the pan over medium-high heat. Brown half the meatballs in the skillet, turning them every 3-4 minutes so all sides are nice and brown (should be 10–12 minutes in total). Transfer meatballs to a plate. Repeat with remaining oil and meatballs.
*Pro tip: leave the oil and caramelized bits in the skillet! They’re going to add that extra savoury goodness to the sauce.
4. While the skillet is still hot, add garlic, onions, and bay leaf and cook over medium heat until softened, 8-10 minutes (you may need to add a touch more oil depending on how much is left from cooking the meatballs). Add the flour to the onion-carrot mixture; cook for 2 minutes. Whisk in the broth and wine, raise heat to medium-high, and bring to a boil while whisking constantly. Stir in the tomato paste, crushed tomato, sugar and smoked paprika.
5. Once the sauce is bubbling on medium-high for 2 minutes, reduce the heat to medium-low; simmer until thickened, 15-17 minutes. Remove the skillet from heat and discard the bay leaf.
6. Pour the sauce into a 2 quart sauce pan or a big wok. Add the meatballs to the sauce and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Same as before, once the sauce starts bubbling, reduce the heat to medium-low; simmer until thickened and meatballs are cooked, 16–18 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste
Serve hot! And if you’re feeling fancy, get a delicious bottle of Spanish red wine to accompany the tapas. Do not – for the love of Dionysus – pair box wine with this dish! Boxed wines are great for cooking but not for sipping. Look out for my post on cheap but good wines that will come out soon.