When I lived in Argentina, I had dinner with my host family almost every night. It was at these dinners that I really learned how to speak Spanish, really fell in love with my host family and really learned to love meat (after 5 years of vegetarianism!). Like most moms, my host mom Josefina had a repertoire of dishes that we enjoyed on a regular basis. All of her food was good, but one of my favorites was her albondigas y arroz—meatballs and rice.
While I do enjoy spaghetti and meatballs (and may have claimed that they saved my life in the past), meatballs and rice have a really special place in my heart because of those many dinners with Josefina and my host brother Juan. Josefina—in true busy-working-mom form—would prepare the meal in advance and then heat it back up right before serving. She would reheat/saute the rice in plenty of delicious Argentine butter, ladle on tomato sauce and top that with beef meatballs. The dish was so satisfying, so comforting, so simple … perfection that transcended language barriers. This is my adaptation of her recipe.
Albondigas y Arroz
For the tomato sauce
1 onion, diced
3 to 5 cloves of garlic, sliced
1 T olive oil
2-16 oz cans of whole tomatoes
1/4 cup sugar
2 t red wine vinegar
salt, pepper, chili flake (a sizable pinch of each)
I think that tomato sauce pairs best with the meatiness of the meatballs if it is sweet and just slightly spicy. The kick from the chilis is not very Argentine, but sure is delicious.
In a heavy bottomed saucepan, saute the onion in olive oil over low heat, until translucent. Add the garlic. Saute for another minute or two. Add the tomatoes, sugar, vinegar, salt, pepper and chili flake. Simmer uncovered for 20 – 30 minutes, until most of the liquid has evaporated. Taste for seasoning and adjust. Puree until smooth with a blender or food processor taking care to not splash yourself with the molten liquid.
You can make this sauce in advance. It can also be frozen. This recipe makes a lot of sauce and a lot of meatballs, the idea being you can freeze half and whip that out for a quick meal when you’re feel nostalgic for albondigas y arroz.
For the meatballs
3/4 pound ground beef
3/4 pound ground pork
1 large egg
1/2 cup breadcrumbs
salt, pepper, dried herbs of your choice
Preheat an oven to 400 degrees. In a medium bowl, combine beef, pork, egg, breadcrumbs, salt, pepper and herbs. Mix with your hands to combine. Shape into 1 inch diameter balls and place them about 1 inch apart on a baking sheet. Bake for 20 minutes, until firm to the touch. Don’t worry too much about the doneness of the meatballs; they will cook for another 10 – 15 minutes in the sauce as you reheat it.
Put on a pot of rice. I used long grain white rice—1 1/2 cups of water to 1 cup of rice. Bring the water and a little butter to a boil, add the rice, simmer for 20 minutes and then turn of the heat until ready to serve. If you make the rice in advance, fluff it with a fork and then saute in some butter over low heat until warm. Meanwhile, reheat the tomato sauce and meatballs over low heat until warmed through. To serve, pile on the rice and top with the meatballs and sauce.