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Smoky Spanish Albondigas Soup

This is a lighter Spanish version of spaghetti and meatballs. Manchego and smoked paprika add depth of flavor while saffron dresses up the tomatoey broth.

Serves 4people
oz ground veal
oz ground pork (preferably shoulder)
medium cloves garlic, 1 minced, 2 thinly sliced
tsp chopped fresh thyme; more for garnish
tsp plus 1/8 tsp. hot smoked paprika
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
oz manchego, finely grated
large egg, lightly beaten
cup panko
tbs olive oil
tsp saffron
cup lower-salt chicken broth
oz can crushed tomatoes
oz angel hair pasta, broken into thirds
tbs finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
Using your hands, gently mix the veal and pork with the minced garlic, 1 tsp. of the thyme, 1/4 tsp. of the paprika, 1 tsp. salt, and 1/2 tsp. black pepper in a large bowl. Add the manchego, egg, and panko, and gently mix until the meat absorbs the breadcrumbs.
To form the meatballs, set a small bowl of cold water nearby and, occasionally moistening your hands, gently roll 1-1/2 -oz. portions of the meat into balls; you should get about 20. Heat 1-1/2 Tbs. of the oil in a 5- to 6-quart heavy-duty pot over medium-high heat until shimmering hot. Add half of the meatballs, reduce the heat to medium, and cook, undisturbed, until browned on the bottom, 1 to 2 minutes. Flip and brown the other side, 1 to 2minutes more. Transfer to a paper-towel-lined plate, and repeat with the remaining meatballs.
Pour off all of the fat. Add the remaining 1/2 Tbs. oil and the sliced garlic to the pot. Return the pot to medium heat and cook until the garlic sizzles, about 1 minute. Add the remaining 1 tsp. thyme, 1/8 tsp. paprika, and the saffron; cook, stirring, for 15 seconds. Add the chicken broth and crushed tomatoes, and bring to a simmer. Return the meatballs to the pot, reduce the heat to medium low, cover, and simmer until the meatballs cook through (160°F), about 25 minutes. Season the broth with salt and pepper to taste.
Meanwhile, bring a medium pot of well-salted water to a boil. Add the pasta and cook, stirring, until tender, about 4 minutes. Drain well, return to the pot, and toss with 1/2 cup of the broth.
To serve, mound the pasta in shallow bowls. Top with the meatballs and broth, sprinkle with the parsley and remaining thyme, and serve.

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