The secret to bold, elegant food is a technique called layering flavor. When you layer flavor, you maximize the effect of a single ingredient, producing multiple distinct but complementary tastes. The result is a dish that boasts a short ingredient list and a lot of personality.
Here are two entry-level examples: using citrus zest and juice in a salad dressing; and cooking scallion whites into a rice pilaf and then garnishing the finished dish with scallion greens. It’s a lesson we rely on often, but particularly in our book “COOKish,” which limits recipes to just six ingredients.
A prime example is our take on rich and satisfying Spanish albóndigas, or tapas-style meatballs, which can be made in just under half an hour. Smoked paprika not only spices the meatballs, it also flavors the sauce and helps thicken it to a glaze-like consistency. We also add minced garlic and thyme to the ground beef along with the panko, as well as cook sliced garlic and thyme sprigs in the sauce.
Chopped green olives add a briny finish; look for firm, meaty green olives such as Castelvetrano. and serve the meatballs with plenty of warm, crusty bread.
Start to finish: 25 minutes
1 pound 90 percent lean ground beef
1 cup panko breadcrumbs
5 medium garlic cloves, 2 minced, 3 thinly sliced
2 tablespoons smoked paprika, divided
2 teaspoons minced fresh thyme, plus 3 thyme sprigs
Kosher salt and ground black pepper
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
½ cup pitted green olives, chopped
Mix together the beef, panko, minced garlic, 1 tablespoon paprika, minced thyme, 2 teaspoons salt and 1 teaspoon pepper; form into 16 meatballs. In a nonstick 12-inch skillet, heat the oil until shimmering. Add the meatballs and brown on the bottom. Add 2 tablespoons water, cover and cook until the exteriors are no longer pink. Uncover and cook, turning often, until the centers reach 160°F. Add ½ cup water, the sliced garlic, remaining 1 tablespoon paprika, thyme sprigs and olives. Cook, stirring, until the sauce lightly glazes the meatballs.
Optional garnish: Toasted sliced almonds