Elisabeth's Albondigas con Piñones en Salsa
Albondigas – the name means hazelnuts in Arabic – are yet another legacy of the Moorish presence in Andalucia. They’re the first thing an Andaluz child learns to make – or were, in the days before they came ready-made from the butcher. Ideal accompaniments include some smoked hot paprika, olives stuffed with red pepper and organic Gomeoliva extra virgin olive oil.
The proportion of meat to breadcrumbs depends on your purse, so vary it as you please. Vegetarians might like to know that ‘blind’ meatballs are meatless but include grated cheese. Spanish butchers are accustomed to making up the mix to customers’ specifications and will push the meat through the mincer twice to ensure a smooth mix. As for the pinenuts, they’re food for free if you’re in the right place at the right time on the Mediterranean littoral: all you need is patience and a couple of heavy rocks to crack the shells, which is easier said than done!
Serves 6-8 as a tapa; 3-4 as a main dish
About 750g plum tomatoes (tinned or fresh)
2-3 tablespoons olive oil
1 large Spanish onion, finely chopped
1 level tablespoon smoked pimenton (mild or hot)
1 generous glass red wine
Short stick cinnamon
1 tablespoon pitted green olives, sliced
About 350g minced pork and/or lamb
1 medium egg, forked to blend
About 4 tablespoons of fresh breadcrumbs
1-2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 tablespoon chopped parsley
1 teaspoon cumin-seed
1 teaspoon ground coriander-seed
1/2 teaspoon roughly-ground peppercorns
1/2 teaspoon salt
Flour for dusting
Olive oil for shallow-frying
Prepare the sauce ingredients first. Skin the tomatoes and chop roughly if fresh. Heat the oil in a smallish saucepan, add the chopped onion, salt lightly and fry very gently until soft and golden – don’t let them brown. Sprinkle in the pimenton and add the tomatoes, wine, bayleaf, cinnamon and diced olives. Bubble up for a moment to evaporate the alcohol, turn down the heat, and leave to simmer and reduce while you prepare the meatballs.
Work all the meatball ingredients together thoroughly with your hands – to avoid sticking, have a bowl of warm water ready to rinse your fingers. If the mixture’s too wet, add more breadcrumbs. Form the mixture into marble-sized balls and dust through seasoned flour. Heat a tablespoon of the oil in a roomy frying pan and slip in the meatballs. Fry them gently, turning carefully to brown all sides, until firm and lightly browned.
Taste the sauce and adjust the seasoning – you may need to add a little sugar to counteract the acidity of the wine – and pour it over the meatballs. Lid loosely and leave to bubble gently until the meatballs are tender for about 15-20 minutes, adding a splash of boiling water if it looks like drying out.
Serve as a tapa with chunks of crusty bread or crisp lettuce leaves for mopping up the sauce. To serve as a main course, accompany with plain white rice – arroz en blanco, or (particularly delicious) with a heap of fat chips twice-fried in olive oil. Red wine to accompany, naturally.