2 slices good quality white bread, crusts removed
1/3 cup whole milk or buttermilk
1/3 to ½ cup Manchego cheese, grated finely, OR Romano, OR Parmesan
1/2 cup shaved and finely minced jamon de Serrano, OR prosciutto, OR pancetta
3 Tb minced onion
3 Tb minced parsley
1 clove garlic, minced or crushed
¼ tsp salt, or more, to taste
½ tsp freshly ground black pepper
¼ tsp paprika (use Spanish paprika, if you have some)
½ lb ground beef (preferably from the chuck)
½ lb ground pork
Optional – flour for coating
Oil for frying
4 Tb extra virgin olive oil, divided
1 cup finely diced onion (you can use the ¾ onion left over from making the meatballs)
1/4 cup shaved and finely chopped jamon de Serrano, OR prosciutto, OR pancetta
4 cloves garlic, minced
¼ tsp red chile flakes
½ tsp sweet paprika (Spanish, if possible)
1/3 cup dry red wine
1-1/2 to 2 cups canned whole tomatoes, pureed with their juice (about ½ large can)
¼ tsp salt, or more, to taste
½ cup minced parsley
2 cups chicken broth or water, as needed
To make the meatballs:
Tear the bread up into little pieces and place in a large bowl. Add the milk or buttermilk and let soak for 5 minutes. Use a fork to mash this mixture into a paste. It must be in a paste – this is very important, otherwise you end up with chunks of bread in your meatballs. Another option is to grind in a food processor after soaking.
All of the ingredients (other than the ground meat) should be very finely minced or even pureed. This helps enormously with the texture and flavor of the meatballs. place the jamon (or prosciutto), the onions, the parsley, and crushed garlic in the food processor.
Once everything is very finely minced, add it all to the meat in the bowl. Add all the remaining ingredients (except the flour and oil) and mix well by hand, working the mixture until it is as smooth and evenly-blended as possible. Take a teaspoon of the mixture and fry it for a minute on each side to cook through, and then taste this little fried piece to see if you have enough salt. Add more salt to the mixture, if necessary, and remix.
Once seasoning is corrected, form the mixture into 1-inch round balls, placing them on a parchment-lined tray as you go. You will have approximately 2 dozen meatballs. Place the tray of meatballs in the fridge for at least 30 minutes, and up to eight hours, to firm them up.
Meanwhile, make the sauce:
Heat 2 Tb of the olive oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add onion and saute for several minutes, until onion is translucent. Add minced jamon or prosciutto, and saute two minutes more. Add garlic, chile, and paprika, sautéing about 30 seconds, until fragrant. Add the wine, stir well, and bring to a boil. Add the tomatoes and salt and simmer the sauce for 5 to 10 minutes, until the flavours are blended. Set aside until ready to use.
To cook the meatballs:
Albondigas can either be baked in the oven or pan fried. Bake in the oven for 20 minutes at 350F or for pan frying, heat a cast iron pan with 1/2 inch of oil in it until the oil is at 350 F. Lightly coat the meatballs in a thin dusting of flour, pan fry them a minute on each side, until light brown.
Place the meatballs in the tomato sauce. Return the tomato sauce to the heat. Add enough chicken broth or water to the sauce to loosen the consistency enough to help the meatballs cook (one cup of broth should be enough to start with). Simmer the meatballs in the tomato sauce for at least 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, so they cook through and the sauce and the meatballs share some flavors back and forth. Add a bit of chicken broth or water to the pan, as needed, if the sauce looks too dry.
Just before you are ready to serve the meatballs, stir in the ½ cup minced parsley and the remaining 2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil into the sauce. Serve immediately, either on a platter with toothpicks in each albondigas for tapas, or in a big serving dish with warm crusty bread to mop up the sauce if this is for a meal.