Saturday, 28 June 2014

Albondigas - Tapas-Style Meatballs in a Tomato Sauce

Tapas and tapas-style dishes seem to be very popular at the moment. Tapas are snack-like dishes which are traditionally served in Spanish bars and restaurants. The word tapas is derived from the Spanish word tapar, which means to cover. Originally tapas were slices of bread or meat which were balanced on the rims of wine-glasses to prevent flies from landing in the wine or sherry in between sips. Invariably, over the course of an evening in a hot bar and as more wine was imbibed, the drinkers would nibble on these edible glass covers… and tapas were born.
Tapas are based on the idea of sharing; a selection of dishes is presented to or chosen by a group of diners and they all take small samples of each. This is similar to the dining approach used when eating Italian antipasto or Chinese dim sum and is one of the aspects of tapas that I love – food should be about conviviality, friendship and sharing and community.
At their simplest, tapas can consist of small bowls of olives, salted almonds or chorizo sausage, but as time has gone by a whole range of sophisticated and exotic tapas dishes have been developed. Some dishes are intended to be served cold, but many are also served hot or warm.

One of the most popular tapas dishes and one that anyone who has visited or holidayed in Spain will be familiar with is albondigas or meatballs served in a rich tomato sauce. It is really important that the tomato sauce is well flavoured and is given a chance to reduce and thicken a little. If you allow it to remain watery, it lacks the flavour punch that is required and you will wonder why you bothered. I like to add rosemary to the sauce and a little sherry vinegar as this accentuates the sweetness of the tomatoes and makes for a more rounded flavour on the palate. If liked, you can also include half a very finely chopped red chilli to add a little spicy heat. As usual, taste as you go along and adjust the seasoning as necessary. Have confidence in you cooking and trust in your own taste. I often look upon recipes as guides rather than formulae that have to be slavishly followed. Granted, with baking, which relies upon precise measurements and processes being followed, it is probably advisable to follow the recipe exactly, but with the type of cooking that this recipe for albondigas involves, you can be a little more adventurous.


500g minced beef
1 small onion, chopped very finely
1 garlic clove, chopped finely
1 handful of flat-leaf parsley finely chopped
100g fresh white breadcrumbs
1 egg, lightly beaten
Salt & freshly ground black pepper
2tblsp olive oil
2tblsp olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
3 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
1 carrot, finely chopped into small dice
1-2 sprigs of thyme
1 sprig of rosemary
250ml full-bodied red wine
1 tin of chopped tomatoes
1tblsp sherry vinegar
Salt & freshly ground black pepper


1. Preheat the oven to 200C/Fan Oven 180C/Gas Mark 6.
2. Put all the ingredients into a large mixing bowl, season with a little sea-salt and freshly ground black pepper and work together with your hands until well mixed together.
3. Using your hands, form little balls (about 4cms in diameter) out of the meat mixture. Place the formed meatballs in a roasting dish, drizzle over the olive oil and roast in the oven for 15 minutes.
4. Heat the oil in a medium-large sized saucepan over a moderate heat. Add the onion, garlic and carrot and fry gently, stirring occasionally until softened but not coloured (about 7 minutes).
5. Add the sprigs of thyme and rosemary and then add the glass of wine. Allow the wine to reduce by almost a half and then add the tin of chopped tomatoes. Allow this to bubble gently for about 10 minutes and then add the roasted meatballs and the sherry vinegar. Allow to bubble over a low heat for a further ten minutes and then spoon into a large serving bowl and serve.

Serves 4-6.

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