Albóndigas…..aka Spanish Meatballs in Tomato Sauce

We’d just visited an olive oil factory just outside Baeza in southern Spain and it was lunchtime… well at least it was our lunchtime.

We spotted what looked like a very genuine, simple, roadside restaurant and thought we’d give it a go.

It was 1.30 and completely empty but we were used to Spanish hours, and we were hungry. The restaurant was still closed by the bar was open so we ordered a cool, blonde beer from the barrel and picked at the inevitable olives that came with it.

Gradually the bar filled up with a couple of white overalled painters, one of whom sported a superb Dali-esque beard; two Rolls Royce diesel engineers; one very fat brickie; a team of road workers in luminous waistcoats; and a couple of businessmen neatly dressed to various degrees of formality.

The restaurant, whose tables were also neatly dressed in white paper cloths, opened and we sauntered in.

The lunch menu presented three courses, each with a choice of three items. For €10 we each had: another beer; a very substantial mixed salad…tuna, sweetcorn, tomatoes provided with plenty of local olive oil with which to anoint it; albóndigas in tomato sauce with chips; a pud – crème caramel; and a coffee to finish. We couldn’t imagine how they stayed solvent, but their easy informal popularity must have had something to do with it.

And the food. That was excellent. I’ve tried to find a really authentic recipe for Spanish meatballs, and this one comes out of my Spanish bible, Simone and Inés Ortega’s 1080 Recipes, although I have kept the meatballs separate from the sauce until serving. You can make the sauce ahead of time and freeze. The meatballs will also freeze.

The restaurant was the Restaurante Castillo Torres: Carretera Úbeda-Jaén, km. 18, 23529 Puente del Obispo, Jaén, Tel:953 76 50 73, email: .


Serve these with Wonderful Wedge Potatoes (even better than the chips we had); and a bright Primavera salad.


Recipe for albóndigas…..aka Spanish meatballs in tomato sauce

Serves 6


  • 750g/1 lb 10 oz minced beef (or veal, or a mix of beef and pork)
  • A few sprigs of flatleaf parsley
  • 2 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed with 1 tsp salt
  • 2 eggs
  • 6 tbsps fresh white breadcrumbs (NB, not Panko)
  • 5 tbps dry Vermouth
  • Urfa pepper flakes, or freshly ground black pepper
  • 60g/½ cup plain flour
  • 720ml/3 cups of sunflower oil
  • 6 tbsps/80 ml/⅓ cup olive oil
  • 3 ripe tomatoes
  • 1 medium onion
  • A few threads of saffon
  • 2 tbsp tomato paste
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 720ml/3 cups chicken stock


  1. Begin to heat the sunflower oil in a large frying pan.
  2. In a large mixing bowl put the mince, garlic, breadcrumbs, a pinch of Urfa pepper flakes (or ordinary black pepper) and vermouth. Add the eggs and beat in well. Snip over the parsley, including the stalks. Mix and stir well.
  3. Shape the mixture into small balls, rolling them between the palms of your hands.
  4. Put the flour onto a plate, and roll the balls in the flour to lightly coat.
  5. Turn the heat up under the oil, and fry the balls in batches until golden. Take them out, using a slotted spoon and drain on kitchen paper – keep warm.
  6. Now make the sauce. Peel and chop the onion and fry gently in a saucepan in olive oil.
  7. Core and chop the tomatoes and add to the onion after it’s been frying for at least five minutes and is beginning to cook through. Gently cook for another five minutes.
  8. Stir in the stock, and continue to cook to reduce a little (20 minutes or so). At this stage you can put the sauce in the blender if you are feeling posh…. Or you can leave it. Crush the saffron in a little water, and add that.
  9. Serve the meatballs together with the sauce.


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