The Spanish Table

I have a funny story about meatballs. When Alfonso and I first moved in together we lived at his mom’s house. This meant a lot of meals together. Most of the time we took turns cooking Spanish dishes. However, one day, a friend of the family (who was Puerto Rican, but grew up in NYC and now lived in Seville, Spain) offered to bring over lunch (Spain’s most important meal of the day). He asked if we liked albóndigas –meatballs- and we all said yes, please!

In Spain meatballs in sauce is super popular. It is served either in a tomato sauce or a sauce made from the juices of the meat and veggies and they are usually made from ground beef. Most people either eat this dish alone or over rice. Certainly not over spaghetti noodles like I used too.

Anyway, our friend brings over a few tupperware dishes full of goodies around lunchtime and we start to serve everyone. I got my plate and started eating and began to notice that the Spanish people at the table had funny looks on their faces. Turns out that it was the fact that the meatballs had been served over spaghetti! I hadn’t really paid attention because I guess it seemed normal to me, but everyone else thought it was about as weird and odd tasting as syrup on pizza.

I said it was a funny story. Not hilarious.

Over the years between tasting different peoples’ versions of Spanish meatballs we made our own recipe. We added a couple of non-traditional ingredients, but the idea is the same. Meatballs good enough to eat alone and then mop up the sauce with nice, crusty bread.  No spaghetti required.

Close up meatballs with veggie sauce for mopping
Close up meatballs with veggie sauce for mopping

Apart from the meatballs, another staple and maybe even national dish (who agrees?) is the famous tortilla de patatas. Potato omelet, as it is translated to in English, does not even begin to describe the beauty that is tortilla de patatas. Made with only potatoes and eggs and every now and again a little onion, the thick, dense cake of soft potato held together by perfectly seasoned eggs has no rival in the Spanish kitchen. Serve it plain or with an aioli sauce and you will not be disappointed.

I hope I didn’t hype it up too much.

Sliced up tortilla de patatas
Sliced up tortilla de patatas

Spanish people like to cut the tortilla de patata in bite-size squares and stick each piece with a toothpick for party tapas and many even take one to the beach to munch on throughout the day. Believe me, I’ve had plenty of sandy tortilla de patata. Once you get the timing and the technique right (I’m still working on mine- the beautiful tortilla you see in the pictures is Alfonso’s doing), it is so easy and fast to make. The ingredients are super cheap and everyone always likes it- make it for your next party!

Get yourself a little piece of tortilla, a few albóndigas, a small mixed green salad with a simple vinaigrette and you have nice Spanish sampler and easy dinner for a few or a lot of people.

Check out a few pics of the process, then follow the recipes below and pretend you’re having a little lunch on the banks of the Guadalquivir!

Making the meatballs:

Raw meatballs all rolled out, waiting to be seared
Raw meatballs all rolled out, waiting to be seared
Searing the second batch of meatballs
Searing the second batch of meatballs
Seared meatballs waiting to be finished off the sauce
Seared meatballs waiting to be finished off in the sauce
Veggies cooking
Veggies cooking
Finished meatballs
Finished meatballs

Making the tortilla de patatas:

Chopping patatas
Chopping patatas
More choppage
More choppage
Flipping the tortilla
Flipping the tortilla


Lamb and Pork Albóndigas in Veggie Sauce

For the meatballs

2 T olive oil

2 T butter

1/2 lb. freshly ground lamb

1/2 lb. freshly ground pork

1/2 cup parmesan cheese

1/4 cup bread crumbs

1/2 cup onion, diced and sautéed

1 garlic clove, minced

1 egg

1 t salt

1/2 t pepper

1/2 t dry oregano

1/2 t dry thyme

For the sauce

1 T butter

1 large onion, diced

3 medium-sized carrots, diced

2 celery stalks, diced

2 garlic cloves, minced

1 can diced tomatoes

1 T flour

1 t salt

1/2 t pepper

1/2 t dried thyme

1.5 cups beef broth

1 dried bay leaf

To make the meatballs

Combine all the meatball ingredients except the butter and olive oil in a bowl. Clean hands are the best for this. Roll the mixture into Ping-Pong ball sized meatballs and set aside on a tray. Heat the butter and olive oil in a cast iron pan over medium heat. When the oil starts to slightly ripple, put about 1/3 of the meatballs in the pan and sear each side for about a 1 minute. Once the meatballs are seared, remove from the pan and set aside. Repeat for the other 2/3 of the raw meatballs. The meatballs will NOT be done- don’t worry!

To make the sauce

Drain all but 2 T of the oil from the meatballs from the cast iron pan. Add the butter. Over medium/medium-low heat add the onions and carrots. Let cook for about five minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the celery and cook for five more minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the garlic and stir constantly for 1 minute. Add the tomatoes and use the juice to deglaze the bottom of the pan. Get the good bits! Let the flavors combine for a few minutes and then add the flour, salt, pepper, and thyme and mix in. Let the flour and spices cook for 3 or 4 minutes and slowly add in the broth. Let the veggie and broth mixture simmer and reduce for about 10 minutes over medium-low heat or until the veggies are fork tender. Using an immersion blender, blend the sauce until it is the consistency that you prefer. You can blend it all the way and have a completely smooth sauce or you can leave most of it unblended to have more of a chunky veggie sauce. (If you do not have an immersion blender, remove the amount of sauce you wish to purée, blend in a regular blender, and return to the pan.) Lower the burner to low and add the bay leaf and meatballs to the sauce. Cover and simmer until cooked through- about 20 minutes. When done, remove the bay leaf.

Tortilla de Patatas

5 medium russet potatoes

GMO free canola oil, 2 fingers deep in a medium sized pan for frying

3 XL eggs

3 T whole milk

1.5 t salt

First, heat the oil to 350 degrees in a medium sized frying pan. While the oil is warming up, peel and slice the potatoes. We have found that the best cut for the tortilla de patatas is to cut the peeled potato in half, then in half again, and then slice each quarter into 1/4 to 1/2 inch slices. As you cut the potatoes up add them to a big bowl of ice water.

Beat the eggs, salt, and milk in a large bowl and set aside.

When the oil is ready, add the potatoes (in batches if need be) and fry until they are done through and tender, but BEFORE they begin to get crispy and golden on the outside. Crispy potatoes make for a weirdly textured tortilla de patatas. Drain the potatoes onto a paper towel and let cool.

When cool, add the potatoes to the egg mixture and mix without breaking up the potatoes too much. It is very important that the potatoes are cool. If not you will end up with scrambled eggs. Grease an 8 inch frying pan- you can use other sizes, but you will have to adjust the amounts of the ingredients. Honestly, we use a smaller pan because it is much easier to handle and flip when it is smaller.

Pour the mixture into the greased pan and smooth out. Cook the tortilla on one side over extremely low heat (like a 2.5 out of 10 on our stove) until it is golden (see pictures). You can check this with a rubber spatula by lifting up the edges while its cooking-about 10 minutes, but its important to check on it a lot. When it is golden, place a plate over the top of the pan and flip the tortilla over onto the plate. The done side should be facing up on the plate. Carefully slide the tortilla back into the greased pan (add a little more oil if it is really dry, but you don’t need much) and cook until golden on that side. If a potato or two falls out while flipping, no pasa nada!, just stuff them back under the done side when you slide it back into the pan. When the tortilla is done on both sides flip in back onto the plate and enjoy!

Tortilla de patatas is good hot, room temperature, or even cold! Portion into triangles for a heartier meal or into bite sized squares for a party.

Have a great weekend, everyone!