Layer flavors for tastier Spanish meatballs

The secret to bold and stylish cooking is a technique called flavor layering. When you layer flavor, you maximize the effect of a single ingredient, producing several distinct yet complementary tastes. The result is a dish that has a short ingredient list and lots of personality.

Here are two entry-level examples: using citrus zest and juice in a salad dressing; and cook the green onion whites in a rice pilaf, then garnish the finished dish with green onion greens. It’s a lesson we draw on often, but particularly so in our “COOKish” book, which limits recipes to just six ingredients.

A prime example is our version of rich and satisfying Spanish albóndigas, or tapas-style meatballs, which can be made in just under half an hour. The smoked paprika not only spices up the meatballs, but it also flavors the sauce and helps thicken it to give it a glaze-like consistency. We also add minced garlic and thyme to the ground beef with the panko, and minced garlic and thyme sprigs in the sauce.

Chopped green olives add a briny finish; look for firm, fleshy green olives such as Castelvetrano. And serve the meatballs with plenty of warm, crispy bread.

Spanish Meatballs

Start to finish: 25 minutes

Servings: 4

1 pound 90% lean ground beef

⅔ cup panko breadcrumbs

5 medium garlic cloves, 2 minced, 3 thinly sliced

2 tablespoons smoked paprika, divided

2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme, plus 3 sprigs of thyme

Kosher salt and ground black pepper

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

½ cup pitted green olives, chopped

Combine beef, panko, minced garlic, 1 tbsp paprika, minced thyme, 2 tsp salt and 1 tsp pepper; form 16 meatballs. In a 12-inch non-stick skillet, heat oil until simmering. Add the meatballs and brown on the bottom. Add 2 tablespoons of water, cover and cook until the outside is no longer pink. Uncover and cook, turning often, until center reaches 160°F. Add ½ cup water, minced garlic, remaining 1 tbsp paprika, thyme sprigs and olives. Cook, stirring, until the sauce slightly glazes the meatballs.

Optional garnish: Toasted slivered almonds

EDITOR’S NOTE: For more recipes, visit Christopher Kimball’s Milk Street at

Michael M. Tomlin