Sunday, November 05, 2006

Spanish Tapas Meatballs -- Abóndigas

Maria Rosario, my nephew’s mother-in-law in Valéncia, on the Mediterranean coast of Spain, makes delicious meatballs with ground pork enriched with a little chopped fresh chicken liver. Her albóndigas typically show up in the magnificent saffron-seasoned paella for which she is famous, along with shrimp, clams, and special culinary snails from the family’s orange groves.

But in some ways the meatballs seem even better served on their own, accompanied only by wedges of lemon and a cold crisp white wine to sip with them, like at a tapas bar. It is in these small bars, with outdoor tables in the long, languorous summer evenings at the Spanish coast, where you find the dazzling array of “tapas”, those elegant delicacies that are meant to go with drinks and conversation.

While I got Maria Rosario to describe how she made her albóndigas, she had no actual recipe. I approximated what I had tasted at her table, and was liberal with the Moorish-influenced seasonings that set some Spanish dishes delightfully apart from other European cooking. I also switched to chicken rather than pork, and dropped the chicken liver, which is extra work to buy and chop and does not add, in my view, to the delight.

Since I am presenting these as a tapa, let me suggest a wine too. Something white and cold with some acidity and fresh fruitiness would be my choice, like a Sauvignon Blanc (from New Zealand in particular) or a Spanish white Rioja. A dry rosé from France or Spain would also work. I find Pinot Grigio, an Italian white appetizer wine that had a spurt of popularity a few years ago, generally pretty insipid and do not recommend it for the meatballs.

Spanish Tapas Meatballs (Albóndigas) Maria Rosario/Tim

1 pound ground chicken or pork*, OR finely chop boneless skinned chicken breast in a food processor or with a chef’s knife on a cutting board
2 tablespoons olive oil if using chicken rather than pork
1/4 cup dry unseasoned breadcrumbs
3 tablespoons finely minced parsley
2 tablespoons finely minced onion
2 teaspoons lemon juice
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
Large pinch nutmeg
1 egg
Flour for dusting the meatballs
Olive oil or half olive and half canola or peanut oil for frying
Minced parsley for garnish
Lemons for garnish

Combine all ingredients except the flour, oil for frying, and garnishes. Mix by hand or a wooden spoon to combine well.

Sprinkle some flour on a cookie sheet. With moistened hands, roll the meat mixture into 1-inch or smaller balls and place them on the floured pan. Sprinkle with a little more flour and then roll the balls again to lightly coat them with flour.

Heat 1/8 inch of oil in a large non-stick frying pan to medium high. Fry the meatballs, half at a time, rolling them frequently, but gently, to lightly brown them on all sides. Drain them on paper towel. The fried meatballs may be made ahead, if desired, and refrigerated (in a plastic bag) until ready to serve. Reheat them briefly in a 350-degree oven.

Serve warm on a platter, and dust them with minced parsley. Accompany with chunks of lemon for diners to squeeze on the meatballs.

* For Maria Rosario’s Valencia-style meatballs, use ground pork and add two finely chopped fresh chicken livers as the meat, and increase the salt by 1/8 teaspoon.

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