Tapas-inspired, Spanish Meatballs in Saffron Tomato Sauce is a riff on traditional Spanish meatballs, Albondigas. Draped in a ripe, roasted saffron tomato sauce It’s smokey and rich with just a hint of bitterness, a dash of heat and a big blast of Spanish olive flavour.
When nature gives you tomatoes – COOK. I love this time of year, the kids heading back to school, the warm days and cool nights that tomatoes LOVE. Those few lingering weeks before the leaves begin to fall and autumn officially arrives.
Too hot to boil a sauce on the stove, it’s the perfect opportunity to take advantage of passive cooking and roast up a beautiful tomato sauce.
There must be at least a dozen ways to make a great, fresh tomato sauce. This is one of my favourite, fast sauces. No blanching, no boiling, just olive oil, garlic, salt, and pepper to start our Saffron Tomato Sauce. Then blitz it with your blender, season, and simmer for 30 minutes for amazing results. Less labour. More flavour.
Olives Are My Jam
Sometimes I create recipes around what’s in season, and other times I create recipes around what’s in my fridge. This Spanish Meatballs in Saffron Tomato Sauce recipe came into being because… I had A LOT OF OLIVES. Like, A LOT of olives.
I once read that in ancient Rome olives were synonymous with wealth. Now I can’t be without them.
Maybe I forgot I had olives the last time I raided the local olive bar. Maybe I forgot I had big, juicy green olives and salty black olives, and my personal favorite, chewy sundried olives!
In this recipe, I’m using ALL the olives; Spanish, Greek, and Italian. I’m going for equal opportunity olives here! If you want to stick with one origin or colour, sure. Make it your own kind of delicious!
Pro Tips for Amazing Meatballs
Meatballs can be a bit of a pain in the butt, to be honest. Sometimes they can be dry and spongy. Making them all the same size is a pain. The meat sticks to your hands. They splatter all over the stovetop. How about we fix all that with some tips from the professional kitchen?!
Grate Your Onion: It’s fast, it’s easy, and it turns your onion into a slurry, with pungent onion juices witch add more moisture to your meatballs. Plus this way the onion pieces are nice and fine.
Use Breadcrumbs & An Egg: A good meatball is only as good as your recipe. Breadcrumbs and eggs help to bind the meat so your meatballs don’t fall apart. The breadcrumbs and serves to soak up juices to keep your meatballs moist.
Mix Your Meatballs Lightly, By Hand: Once you’ve folded in the seasoning, mix your meatballs by hand, for about a minute. Overmixing makes them spongy and tough. Mix lightly for tender results.
Use A Potion Scoop: Portion scoops are the BOMB. I use them for everything, from muffins to meatballs. It helps keep size consistent, which means that all your meatballs cook evenly, as the same time and it’s fast and easy.
A Little Olive Oil On Your Hands: Before you roll your meatballs rub a little olive oil on your hands to keep the meat from sticking.
Bake For Less Mess: Use that oven folks! If you’ve been following along on Food Gypsy you’ll know that I’m a huge proponent of passive cooking. Line a baking sheet with parchment (or use a Silpat if you have one) and pop those babies in the oven. No splatter, no turning, and to taking up space on the stove.
Not many Spaniards make Albondigas with pork and turkey. Trust me on this. I was going for lighter, leaner protein. Ground pork gives white meats just the right amount of fat, so I often combine it with ground chicken or turkey for flavour and consistency when I’m making meatballs or burgers.
Can you make these Spanish Meatballs in Saffron Tomato Sauce with ground beef or sausage? Yes, That would be a Spanish approved substitution and closer to the traditional recipe, often found bubbling on the back counter of Tapas bars, ready to feed peckish patrons
Make note:if you change up to beef or chorizo, beware of shrinkage. (Stop your giggling.)
Pair with a good Tempranillo, a loaf of bread and call it dinner. Olé!
Spanish Meatballs in Saffron Tomato Sauce is a riff on traditional Spanish Tapas. Draped in a ripe, roasted tomato sauce this recipe takes advantage of late summer tomatoes for a meatball stew that’s smokey and rich with a hint of bitterness, a dash of heat and a big blast of Spanish olive flavour. Perfect comfort food for cool nights and big gatherings… let there be wine!
1/2lb ground pork
1/2lb ground turkey breast
1/2cup grated Manchego or parmesan cheese
1/4cup grated yellow onion
1/2cup finely chopped green (Spanish) olives
4 cloves minced garlic
1 large egg
1 teaspoon oregano
2 teaspoons smoked paprika
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
Saffron Tomato Sauce:
8 – 12 Roma tomatoes, halved or quartered
1 – 2 yellow onions, quartered
1 – 2 whole heads of garlic
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1cup beef broth
1 teaspoon saffron
1 bay leaf
kosher salt, to taste
salt & pepper, to taste
1 – 2cups olives, whole
Preheat your oven to 375⁰f (190⁰c) Rough chop tomatoes and onions into quarters (or halves, depending on size). Cut top off of whole garlic bulb to reveal the cloves. Arrange tomatoes, onions, and garlic in a shallow roasting pan. Drizzle with a good slick of olive oil, season with salt and pepper to taste then roast at 375⁰f (190⁰c) for about 40 minutes or until everything is well colored and tender. Remove from oven and cool.
While your tomatoes are roasting, mix your meatballs. Grate your onions into a small bowl. Chop olives fine and reserve. Add ground turkey and pork to a large bowl, then add breadcrumbs, garlic, grated onions, chopped olives, grate cheese right into the mix, then add oregano, smoked paprika, a splash of olive oil, salt, pepper, and egg. Fold with a wooden spoon to combine then mix LIGHTLY by hand.
Prepare a baking sheet with parchment or Silpat. Portion meatballs using a portion scoop or spoon and place them, evenly spaced, on your baking sheet. Shape meatballs by hand gently rolling them between your palms.
By now your tomatoes (etc) should be ready and well roasted, remove them from the oven to cool.
Replace roasted tomatoes with your tray of Spanish meatballs. Roast meatballs at 375⁰f (190⁰c) for 30 – 40 minutes depending on size.
While the meatballs cook, we finish our sauce. In a small bowl add saffron and about a tablespoon of water, allow to steep. Pour or scoop roasted tomatoes and onions into a large saucepot. Squeeze roasted garlic blubs to remove the juicy garlic cloves. Add beef broth and blend with an immersion blender until MOSTLY smooth. It’s a rustic sauce, it’s okay if it’s a bit chunky. Add steeped saffron (with liquid), chili flakes, and bay leaves and simmer over low heat for 20 – 30 minutes.
Remove meatballs from the oven and cool slightly. Add olives to your sauce and stir, over low heat. Now add meatballs and allow them to reheat before serving. And… EAT… with crispy bread.
Use a portion scoop for size and constancy.
Coat your hands with olive oil to avoid the ground meat sticking to your hands.
Never overwork, or use a mixer. Nobody likes tough, spongy meatballs.
Cooking in her home kitchen just outside Ottawa, Canada; Cori Horton is a food photographer and recipe blogger. A Cordon Bleu-trained Chef, Cori spent five years as the owner of Nova Scotia's Dragonfly Inn and has been sharing all things delicious - right here - since 2010.