Meatballs in Almond Sauce


It seams like every nation has their special recipe for meatballs—they're just such a simple, humble food that's easy to love, make, and eat. These tender balls made from ground meat, whether served with or without sauce, can be enjoyed in multiple ways—as a main dish with pasta, a sandwich for lunch, or an appetizer on toothpicks. They can be made from beef, veal, pork, turkey, or any combination of ground meats. Meatballs are just too versatile a dish not to include in your cooking repertoire.

Over the years I've had many different meatballs from my mother's homemade Hungarian meatballs to my Italian neighbor's famous recipe. I can't begin to narrow down my favorites or rank them in any order. All I know is I love them all, especially the ones with an exotic twist or ingredient like these Spanish-style meatballs, which feature a few unique ingredients that you won't see anywhere else.

For that Spanish flair, these meatballs are served in a piquant sauce that includes lemon zest, toasted almonds and bread, and saffron. The meatballs are pretty much your standard recipe made with pork, but it's the sauce that sets this dish apart. The Spanish call the sauce a picada. It includes a combination of almonds and bread, toasted in olive oil, then ground and added to simmering liquid—in this case stock and wine. It's a typical sauce of Catalan cuisine. You'll surely find it uniquely flavorful when you try it.

Meatballs in Almond Sauce

Recipe adapted from The Food of Spain by Claudia Roden.

for the meatballs:
1 pound ground pork, beef, or veal
4 slices dry bread, moistened with milk and excess squeezed out
1 large egg
1/2 small yellow onion, minced
1 garlic clove, minced
2 tablespoons finely chopped parsley, plus more for garnish
1 teaspoon paprika
fine sea salt
freshly ground black pepper
flour, for dusting
olive oil, for frying

for the sauce:
1 cup chicken stock
1 cup dry white wine
1 tablespoon lemon zest (about 1/2 lemon)
large pinch of saffron
fine sea salt
freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup olive oil
1 slice bread, diced
1/4 cup slivered almonds

In a large bowl, combine meat, bread, egg, onion, garlic and parsley. Season with paprika, salt, and pepper. Mix until combined. Form into about 25 meatballs the size of golf balls. Dust with flour.

Heat a shallow amount of oil in a large skillet set over medium-high heat. Fry meatballs in batches until brown all over. Remove to a tray lined with paper towels to drain excess oil.

Wipe out the skillet. Add chicken stock, wine, lemon zest, and crumble in saffron. Bring to a simmer. Season with salt and pepper. While sauce reduces, heat olive oil in a small frying pan. Toast bread and almonds until lightly browned. Add to a food processor and grind until a paste forms. Add almond mixture to simmering sauce and stir to combine. Add back meatballs and simmer, covered, for about 15 minutes. Transfer meatballs and sauce to a platter. Garnish with parsley and serve with crusty bread. Yield: 4 to 6 servings.