I came across an Italian style recipe for meatballs with cannellini beans and Cavolo Nero last week, which had me looking at similar Spanish recipes …and of course there were lots of them for Albóndigas con Alubias Blancas! So, having the inspiration, I made up my own meatballs and sauce, using Tuscan Kale, which is one of my favourite winter greens.
Cavolo Nero (black cabbage) is an Italian Kale, particulalry popular in Tuscan cooking. It has a bitter savoury taste that goes well with rich soups and stews. Cavolo Nero is relatively cheap and available at most farmer’s markets and supermarkets.
Las Albóndigas (serves 3 or 4):
500g of beef chuck, brisket or shoulder (minced)
250g of pork belly (minced)
1/2 a large onion
6 cloves garlic
a handful of fresh coriander (chopped) or parsley if you prefer
1/2 teaspoon Pimentón de la Vera picante
1/2 teaspoon Pimentón de la Vera dulce
1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds (ground)
1/2 teaspoon of ground mixed herbs (rosemary, sage and thyme)
a splash of milk
3 dessertspoons diced stale sourdough bread
2 dessertspoons flour
sea salt cracked black pepper (to taste)
extra virgin olive oil for frying
save a teaspoon of coriander/parsley (chopped) for serving
Ideally mince the meat yourself, though I have noticed that supermarkets sell a mixture of beef and pork with all the work done for you. I recommend making your own meatballs – they taste fantastic with herbs and spices, making shop bought ones seem very bland indeed! Put the meat through the mincer twice along with the onion, garlic and bread (soak the bread in a little milk 10 minutes beforehand). If you don’t have a mincer, put the onion, garlic and bread into a food processor or liquidiser and mix it into shop bought mince, by hand.
Warm half a teaspoon of cumin (which revitalises the original taste and aroma), then grind it up with rosemary, sage and thyme, a pinch of coarse sea salt and a few black peppercorns using a mortar and pestle.
Chop a handful of coriander or parsley if you prefer. Combine the herbs with the mince mixture.
Make a well in the combined meat and add a raw egg, along with the pimentón. Sprinkle on a generous amount of sea salt and cracked black pepper, but do so with caution – once it’s in, it can’t come out!
Get your hands dirty again and you should end up with a large ball like the above.
Pinch off a small nugget and fry it in hot olive oil. This way you can get the seasoning right before making the albóndigas. You may have to do this 2 or 3 times to get the perfect amount of salt and pepper, but it’s worth it!
Put 2 dessertspoons of plain flour into a bowl, then roll the meatballs in the palm of your hand. Drop the albóndigas into the flour to cover. When done, chill the meatballs in the fridge for 30 minutes or more. This firms them up and holds them together when frying.
1 large onion (chopped)
6 cloves garlic (finely chopped)
1 large carrot (chopped)
1 stick celery (chopped)
1 sweet red pepper (chopped)
1 sweet green pepper (chopped)
250g dried navy beans (haricot blanc)
100g cavolo nero sliced
2 squirts of anchovy paste
a large squirt tomato purée
a pinch thyme
a dessertspoon fresh coriander or parsley (chopped)
a piece of cheese rind (optional)
1 glass of red wine
1/2 pint home made beef stock
a splash of sherry vinegar
2 bay leaves
sea salt cracked black pepper (to taste)
extra virgin olive oil
In the meantime, soak the beans for 1 hour in boiling water, then cook for 8 minutes in a pressure cooker (or soak overnight). 250g dried beans should double in size, so if using tinned, a large can (probably about 400g) should be sufficient.
Sofreír (gently poach) the chopped onion in lots of olive oil. Keep the heat low and stir often. The onion should become soft and sticky without going brown.
Stir in the garlic and grate on the tomatoes, cut in half and grate the wet side. You will be left with a circle of skin, which can be disposed of, or used in stock. Allow to thicken for 10 minutes or so.
Squirt in the tomato purée and anchovy paste before adding the chopped tomato and carrot.
Next, stir in the chopped peppers. If you have cheese rind, leftover from parmesan, stilton, etc. it makes a great savoury optional addition to soups and stews. Chop it up and put it in now. Be sure not to use waxed cheese rind that comes on cheeses like manchego and gouda! I used leftover rind from Christmas Cropwell Bishop. Cheese rind will keep for several months in the fridge or freezer.
The liquids go in now – wine, stock vinegar, along with the bay leaves and thyme.
Stir in the beans and some chopped coriander. Season to taste. Put a lid on the casserole and remove to a preheated oven, at about 120º C.
Next, brown the meatballs in hot olive oil. Do this in batches or they will stick together and poach without becoming a nice golden colour.
When all the albóndigas have been scorched, submerge them gently into the swamp – they should just about fit! Deglaze the fryingpan with some red wine. Scrape up any burnt bits and add the lot to the casserole – I did it twice! Put the lid back on and return the casserole to the oven for 30 minutes.
Slice the caviolo nero crossways – discard the tough stem at the bottom (the last 2 or 3 cm). Cover the top of the casserole with the greens.
Put the lid back on and return to the oven for 10 minutes, or until the caviolo nero has wilted and is tender.
Stir the softened black cabbage into the sauce. Check the seasoning, add a splash of sherry vinegar (if nessary) and sprinkle on a little more corriander before dishing up. Serve with a green salad, crusty bread and a glass or two of Cojón de Gato, a Merlot from Aragón.
Que rica receta MD! Me gusta mucho hacer albóndigas en casa y si, prefiero hacerlas yo para poder condimentarlas bien (no me fío de las que vienen hechas 😜).
Me la guardo para hacerla antes de que acabe el invierno.
¡Gracias Giovanna, me encantan las buenas albóndigas! Espero que disfrutes la receta.
Seguro que si! 😙
It looks so beautiful, I know it tastes divine. I’ll relish it in my dreams.
Thanks Judith – they should be good dreams 😉
Fantastic combination of flavors! And love anything with beans and Tuscan kale. I agree with you 100% — grinding your own meat is better by far!
Thanks David – cavolo nero beats regular greens hands down!
Freshly ground meat is SO MUCH TASTIER don’t you think? Better than ground and frozen.
And Russian kale is one of my all time favorites! It grows so fast!! And rich and dark.
I think I might pass this recipe onto John!
Thanks Cecilia – you are right and the flavourless supermarket meatballs contain an anticaking agent – what ever that is? It’s good to see where the mince comes from!
So the meatballs don’t stick together? Gross.
I can’t imagine why anyone would buy unflavoured meatballs in the first place!
Certainly beyond my comprehension
I would just go veges
I don’t think I could do that!
I can see plenty of wood pigeon on the lawn 😉
In old times in NZ they would feed the native pigeons ( really big birds) grain and berries until they were too fat to move very fast then climb the trees and grab them in the night.
Like finishing beef!
ROFL – brilliant!
Sounds divine, MD! By funny coincidence I was just thinking it’s been a while since I’ve made meatballs. I was going to go for Swedish ones but this looks like a winner. And I happen to have some pre-cooked beans in the fridge as well.
By the way, cavolo nero is the only kind of kale I can stomach..
Thanks Frank – I’m sure you enjoy propper meatballs as much as I do, so I think you’ll like these! There’s a special savoury umami thing about cavolo nero that other kale and cabbages don’t have.