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IAN & SPAIN

WELCOME TO MY BLOG. I WILL BE WRITING ABOUT SPANISH FOOD AND DRINK AND IN PARTICULAR MY OBSESSION FOR OLIVE OIL, ONE OF SPAIN'S MAJOR ASSETS AND GREATLY MISUNDERSTOOD BY THE MAJORITY OF CONSUMERS WORLDWIDE. I WILL ENDEAVOR TO PROVIDE YOU WITH ALL THE INFORMATION YOU NEED TO ENJOY THE WORLD OF OLIVE OIL WITHOUT BEING TAKEN FOR A RIDE! HOPE YOU ENJOY IT AND PLEASE LEAVE YOUR COMMENTS!

Crusty Rice - Arroz con costra
08 November 2018

Arroz con Costra is yet another great Spanish rice dish that is relatively simple to make and tastes delicious. Claimed to be from the Southern-Alicante/Murcia region of Spain, this rice dish is a perfect example of how different cooking techniques are blended between regions.

 

 

Alicante is one of Spain's best regions for rice dishes, after Valencia where the ever-famous paella originated. However this dish is an unusual blend between a casserole and a paella, and when including an egg crust, it makes for a very unique but traditional dish.

The name of the dish, 'Arroz con costra' derives from this 'egg topping' - 'costra' means ‘crust’ in Spanish when used with food. This is because when the egg is baked on the top of the rice casserole, it turns into a tasty crust that compliments the meal exquisitely.

In this recipe, it is customary to include a typical Spanish sausage called 'butifarra blanca'. This is a white sausage and is typical of Murcia and the Valencian Community. The sausage is white as it is only made from pork meat. However, if you can't find Butifarra blanca you can replace it with a similar white sausage. 

Similarly, chicken is used in this recipe but many traditional versions of the dish use rabbit so you can choose whichever you prefer.

The largest dish of Crusty rice ever to be cooked ever was made using 1,500 eggs, 100 kilograms of rice and 120 kilograms of rabbit. The dish, which provided 1,500 servings, made it into the Guinness Book of World Records, helping immortalise the dish forever.

 

 

This is what you will need for 6 servings -  Crusty Rice with Spare Ribs and Chicken

Ingredients:

• ½ cup Olive oil

• ½ lb spare ribs, chopped

• 2 butifarras blancas, cut into 2cm thick slices (optional)

• ½ lb pork loin, cut into large cubes

• 6 chicken legs

• 1½ tsps salt

• 2 tomatoes, peeled and chopped 

• 4 cups chicken stock

• 1 tsp sweet paprika

• 2 cups Spanish round rice

• 6 eggs, beaten

 

Preparation:

• Preheat the oven to 230ºC (450ºF).

• Heat the olive oil over a medium-high heat in a large (around 30 centimetres in diameter), deep casserole dish. Add the spareribs, sausage slices, pork and chicken and cook, turning as necessary, for around 10 minutes or until the meat is nicely golden brown all over, turning to a slight crisp.

• Add the salt and the tomatoes to the pan and mix well.

• In a saucepan, bring the chicken stock to the boil and then turn down the heat, but keep it at a slight simmer. It needs to be hot when you add it to the rest of the dish.

• Add the paprika to the casserole dish containing the meat and tomato mixture and mix briskly to mix the flavour in. Then add the stock to the mixture and turn up the heat to high, bringing it all to the boil quickly

• Add the rice and stir the mixture to blend it with the rest of the ingredients, and make sure that it is evenly distributed throughout.

• Turn the heat down to medium-low and cook for 3 minutes without stirring.

Next, place the casserole dish in the oven and bake it for 10 minutes or until the rice has become soft and absorbed most of the stock. Pour the beaten eggs evenly over the surface of the rice and bake for a further 5 minutes or until the eggs forms a crust on the top of the dish.

• Remove from the oven and serve immediately.

Enjoy!

 



Like 0        Published at 15:14   Comments (4)


Truffles are in season
01 November 2018

 

European white truffles can sell for as much as €5000 a kg, making them and their fellow fungi the most expensive food in the world. One 1kg white truffle recently sold for more than €250,000. All of which has brought organised crime into the truffle trade, creating a black market and leading to theft of both truffles as well as the highly valued truffle-sniffing dogs. Add to that the influx of the inferior Chinese truffles passing off as their European cousins and you've got troubling truffle market. In Spain the black truffle of Teruel oscillates between €500 and €1000 kg and is considered one of the finest in the world. However if you are looking for a very special touch to your meal, this is it.

Truffles are hypogenous fungi. This class of fungi needs to join to the thinnest roots of certain superior plants such as holm oaks without which they are unable to live, a natural symbiosis.  The life of a truffle is linked to that of the symbiont tree it lives with. Truffles have a balloon-like shape, rough and irregular and variable in size and weight. Their aspect and size depend on the season: in spring you can hardly see them, in summer they are bigger in size and pale red in colour and by the end of the autumn they start to mature and get brown and black with reddish spots first and totally black by the end of the season.

Nowadays, over a hundred truffle species are known around the world, however, only a few of them are edible and appreciated. In the province of Teruel, there are two kinds of truffle which are harvested.

Firstly, the Tuber Melanosporum Vitt, which is commonly known as Winter black truffle or Black truffle of Teruel. The body of the black truffle normally has the size of a walnut or a tennis ball, rounded or irregular and lobed. The flesh of the black truffle is thick, compact and grey or violet coloured. It has very thin white veins, clearly marked and branched. They give off a characteristic smell, which is intense and pleasant, and their taste is unique, unmistakable and characteristic. The harvesting season of this truffle has just started and continues on until March. It is the black truffle variety, which is most valued in the market, due to its culinary value.

Secondly there is the Tuber Aestivum Vitt which is also known as Summer white truffle. It can be variable in size; from a walnut to a tennis ball. It also has round or irregular shape, as the black truffle, but sometimes with small concavities.

The main difference between Tuber Aestivum Vitt. and Tuber Melanosporum Vitt. is their inner part or flesh (gleba). The Tuber Aestivum Vitt also has a thick and fleshy gleba but it is white, yellow or ivory coloured. The smell and flavour of the summer truffle are also pleasant and characteristic, though less strong. This truffle has less culinary value and it is considered Tuber Melanosporum’s younger sister, so to speak and is harvested between May and August.

 

 

These two species must not be confused with other truffle substitutes that are also in the market and their culinary quality cannot be compared to cheaper species. You should check the label when you buy a truffle, as it should state the species and Latin name.

The Black truffle of Teruel is considered one of the best truffles in the world. The Mediterranean climate of Teruel, characterised for being extreme, moderately warm and dry, with cold winters owing to the altitude, promotes the growth of suitable vegetation. Although dry, Teruel receives the necessary rainfall that combined with the arid and chalky soil and the experience of the farmers, makes Teruel the Spanish province with the best conditions for producing high-quality truffles. 

    

The truffle of Teruel, which is a subterranean fungus, is harvested with the aid of dogs that have been previously trained for this hard job. They can be different kinds of pure breed or cross-breeds, such as a Pointer or a Labrador retriever. The dog must be young, affable and obedient, medium sized if possible and with hard hair to resist the low temperatures and the continuous rubbing up against the shrubs. Training a dog to find truffles is not an easy task and requires a lot of patience. The dog’s training begins with games: basically, you throw objects and then the dog has to find them and bring them back to you. Normally balls made up of clothes hiding a small portion of truffle inside are used. The animal also needs to be stimulated by eating small portions of truffle, so that it gets familiar with the smell of the valuable fungus.

Afterwards, the trainers will hide truffles under the soil several hours before the daily training session. This is done so that the smell of the truffle impregnates the soil and this way it resembles the real conditions of nature.
Every day, at the beginning of the training session, the dog is taken to the place where the truffle was hidden some hours before and then the animal is encouraged to search and scratch the land. When the dog finds the truffle it will be shown the fungus and allowed to smell it. Then, the dog is rewarded, which could be anything from a  piece of bread to very small bits of cheese, dry food or even a portion of its favourite treat. The dog needs to be stimulated with patting and games; however, it is never forced too much as it can get tired soon. Little by little, the smell of the truffle will become familiar to the dog and it will need 2 or 3 years of training and practise before it becomes a “professional seeker” of truffles. We all know that pigs were used in the past, but there was no way of training them not to eat their finds…so dogs were employed.

 

 

When a dog is searching out a truffle it goes around the producer trees with its nose stuck to the soil until it detects where the mature truffle is, then the dog scratches into the earth with its front legs until the order to stop is heard. The harvester extracts the truffle with the aid of special machetes; narrow machetes that are not pointed. He will dig carefully and unearth the truffle, covering again the hole with the same earth extracted before and after showing it to the dog he will give it a reward. The dog will not detect the truffle until it is sufficiently mature. Thus, it can pass over the truffle several times but never show any indication that the truffle is there.

As it is consumed in small amounts, its nutritional value is a secondary issue. However ,this is a low calorie food, with just 30 calories per 100gr, very digestive and many would say famous for its aphrodisiac powers…
The black truffle of Teruel turns any simple recipe into an exquisite delicacy, which is just unforgettable. This delicacy is treasured by the most demanding gurus of the national and international cuisine and by lovers of good gastronomic dishes. Its peculiar smell and taste, which has a strong personality, should not be mixed with other kinds of food that would mask its characteristics, for instance, garlic or vinegar.

If you use a black truffle to prepare a hot dish, it should be added at the end, as it does not require much cooking. This  truffle combines well with red meat, all kinds of game, pasta, rice, eggs and so on.
But I will share a very simple truffle sauce to accompany a rib-eye steak or an “entrecote de buey” in Spain.

 

You will need for four servings:

250ml of liquid cream
2 shallots
2 tsp. of butter
10gr of Teruel black truffle (finely grated)

   

 

 Simply dice up the shallots, melt the butter in a small frying pan and pop in them in, cook them for about 4-5 minutes and then add the cream. Then just add the finely grated truffle and stir the cream for a couple of minutes. Make sure you do this once the steaks are almost ready, the truffle doesn’t need much cooking time and it will continue to cook in the hot cream if you leave it standing for too long. Pour the sauce over the steak and serve with chips or steamed vegetables.


Enjoy.



Like 1        Published at 20:54   Comments (2)


It's a peach of a peach!
10 October 2018

I have always loved peaches, but they haven’t really been one of my favourite fruits while living in Spain. I think because most of the peaches I have tried in supermarkets lacked flavour and aroma. I remember as a child eating peaches that were full of flavour, far more than they do today. That was at least, until I tasted the Calanda Peaches.

There are peaches and then there are peaches. These are something special.

 

 

In order to guarantee their properties, the genuine Calanda peaches are pampered to an extent that seems almost silly. The producers use what is called a thinning technique to make sure the quality is supreme. This means removing 70% of the existing fruits on the tree in order to leave a distance of 20 cm between each fruit. This means the fruits are better nourished. This original cultivation technique offers us a more bulky and fleshy fruit.

To give you an idea, If you had in your hands is a real Calanda peach, its diameter would be a minimum of 73 mm.

These peaches with Calanda Peach Certificate of Origin (D.O.) have achieved a certain level of prestige in the fruit market, primarily because of its excellent flavour and sweetness and also due to their unusually large size.

Each peach carries a genuine black label, which guarantees a minimum sweetness of 12º Brix. This is the minimum quantity for peaches to give off their attractive odour. Something that is missing from almost all supermarket peaches these days.

What’s more the attention to detail is very important. Every peach of the D.O. Calanda is put in a bag one by one in the tree itself during the last 2 months of growth. Thanks to this step the peach ripens inside a protective bag guaranteeing its pureness, as it doesn’t make contact with any kind of phytosanitary product or external agents.

The cultivation area of “Calanda Peach” is mainly located in Lower Aragon region. This D.O. is located in the southeast of the Ebro river valley, between Teruel and Zaragoza provinces and it is made up of 45 towns.  The season for genuine D.O. Calanda peach covers from middle of September to the end of October, depending on the climate. Before this time, you must be wary as it is very unlikely that they will be authentic, always check for the black sticker. However we are at the beginning of October so you are in luck, this is the prime season to enjoy them!

 


The tradition of cultivating peaches across the Aragon region goes back hundreds of years. There are documents which reference the production of Calanda Peaches from the Middle Ages and in 1895, the botanist J. Pardo Sastrón gave a detailed description of the production process for this unique fruit. The increase in production didn’t develop until the fifties.

So if you fancy tasting a truly juicy, sweet and aromatic peach, don’t forget the Calanda peach the next time you pass by a fruit market.



Like 3        Published at 14:15   Comments (3)


Duck and Fig Pastries..Ufff...Incredible!
17 September 2018

Duck is one of my favourites and has always been the protagonist of some of the legendary dishes from countries such as France or China. However duck also has its place in Spanish cuisine, although it may not be one of the great protagonists. It is very popular in the region of  Murcia where it is cooked with mushrooms, garlic or onion sauce and is often included in Paellas in the southern part of Valencia.

However the recipe I want to share with you today is not traditionally Spanish by any means, but it was a Spaniard who showed me it and I just had to share it with you. One, because it is pretty simple and two because it’s just so incredibly tasty and it will make you into a star cook at any dinner party! This recipe can be a main course if you make large pastries or a starter if you prepare smaller pastries, either way you are assured to conquer both family and guests. 

 

Crispy Duck & Fig Pastries

Ingredients: 2 portions - starter - 4 small pastries

Duck Pastry:
1 duck confit (thigh)
4 sheets of Brick pastry
1/2 onion
1-tablespoon butter
1/2 cup orange juice
2 tablespoons sugar
Pepper, salt and rosemary

Fig sauce:
4 fresh figs
1 large glass Tawny Port
Salt and pepper

Plate dressing: 
Assorted lettuces
2 cherry tomatoes
2 figs
Oil and balsamic vinegar

 

 

Preparation:

Step 1:

Clean the fat of the duck confit and put in a baking dish with the orange juice and a couple of sprigs of fresh rosemary. Leave it in the oven at 180 ° C, skin side up for about 15 minutes or until the skin is brown and crispy. Remove and let it cool down. Save the juice, which has been released.

Step 2:

In a small saucepan we place 4 fresh figs (straight from the tree!), cut into small pieces, add the port, add salt and pepper to taste and let it simmer 15 minutes. Remove from the heat, blend it thoroughly and pass it through a medium grain sieve. Put to one side.

Step 3:

Cut the onion into thin strips and brown with a little butter in a pan when it turns transparent when we add 2 teaspoons of sugar, braise and add half a glass of water. Leave it for ten minutes at medium heat or until the liquid has evaporated. Place to one side.

Step 4:

Debone duck thigh, which should be cold, and shred the skin and flesh into four lots that make up the filling for the pastries. Place each pile on a sheet of brick (filo) pastry with a spoonful of caramelized onions and close it as you wish, I did triangles, more or less... Fry them in very hot oil, just enough time so that the pastry goes golden brown and crisp.  (Test the oil with a little bread before popping in the pastries; the bread should sizzle quickly) Let them stand for one minute on absorbent kitchen paper before serving.

Step 5:

To serve, place two duck pastries per dish with a little fig sauce. Add a selection of lettuce and a cherry tomato with a fig cut in half. Dress with a little dripping from the roasting tray a drizzle some balsamic vinegar over the lettuce. Serve warm with a bowl with remaining sauce.


Finally, open a good fruity Ribera del Duero crianza, and enjoy…



Like 2        Published at 18:37   Comments (1)


Paella too tricky? Try making Fideua...Paella with pasta
13 September 2018

Making paella can be a daunting challenge for many, getting the proportion of water to rice right so it doesn’t stick and go soggy, managing to get an intense flavour and so on, but for others it can be just an impossible task because they either don’t have a paella pan or can’t find the Valencian round rice if they live abroad and you can’t make a paella with any other rice and achieve a good result. So I figured I would write a post on an alternative recipe which is so easy and so good that you just can’t go wrong no matter how bad you are in the kitchen, if you put this on the table you will immediately become a star!
 
Fideuá is a very typical Valencian dish made with seafood and pasta, and pasta is much easier than rice! Traditionally it is cooked in a paella pan but you can do it perfectly well in a large non-stick frying pan without any problems at all and the technique I’m going to explain is absolutely fool proof and was shown to me by a chef in Cullera, Valencia, who whipped out dozens of Fideuá every lunch time and were always cooked to perfection. So how do we make it?
 
The key to this dish is in fact the stock, the secret is to make a good fish and seafood stock which is really simple. All supermarkets in Spain and the UK that have a fish counter sell mixed fish for fish stock (white fish) and fish bones such as hake or monk fish and small uncooked prawns are available everywhere so you shouldn’t have any difficulty finding the necessary ingredients for the stock. This type of fish is also very cheap. Here in Spain 1kg won’t cost you more than €4,50 and will make enough stock for two medium sized Fideuá so you can freeze the rest of the stock for another day.
 
Here are the ingredients you will need to make a cracking Fideuá for 4 adults:
 
Stock:
 
1kg of mixed white fish and fish bones for stock
400g of Small uncooked prawns
50g Fresh “flat” parsley with stems
2 cloves of garlic
0,2g of Natural toasted Saffron or a sprinkle of dried saffron powder
3 tbsp of Extra Virgin Olive Oil - Picual is ideal or Hojiblanca
1 large onion cut into quarters
Salt for seasoning. 
 
*If you are not up for making your own stock you can buy it ready made in all Spanish supermarkets and I recommend the stock made buy 'Aneto', but it actually works out cheaper and better to make it yourself.
 
Fideuá:
 
500g of Fideuá Pasta / Small thin elbow pasta (Fideua) or short thick noodles (Fideo Nº5). Personally I prefer the Fideo Nº5 but on this occasion the guests wantes the elbow Fideuá pasta  as shown below.
2 ripe tomatoes – peeled and grated with a cheese grater.
1 large onion finely diced
2tps of paprika powder
 
    
 
 
Uncooked Seafood:
 
4 large king size prawns 
8 medium sized scampi 
300g of small prawns 
200g of small squid
 
  
 
TIP: If you don’t like bits in your food remove the tentacles and the legs from the small prawns before cooking them otherwise you will be picking them out of your Fideuá while you eat, as they fall off when you cook them.
 
TIP: Cleaning the squid – slice the squid open lengthways and remove the cartilage back bone from inside, it comes away really easily and wash out the inside with cold water. Then chop up into pieces.
 
All together in Spain this won’t cost more than 12 euros, in the UK I’m not so sure, but it is not expensive seafood. Really you can add any shellfish to this dish such as mussels and more extravagant seafood if your budget permits such as carabineros/scarlet prawns.  But this is enough to make a fantastic and flavourful Fideuá. It really is a simple fool proof dish.
 
 
Making the Stock :
 
Fry the 300g of uncooked prawns (don’t remove anything from these prawns as they only contribute to the stock) in a deep source pan with the extra virgin olive oil until they are well cooked and the oil takes on a rich colour, be careful not to burn them, but squash the heads with a fork as you are cooking them, this will help release all the flavour, it sounds horrible but the taste is incredible. Now fill the pan with water and put in the rest of the ingredients, adding the wine once the stock is boiling and simmer for two and a half hours. Scoop off the foam that rises to the surface of the stock during the first half hour until no more appears, season with salt if necessary, and then once finished pass the stock through a fine sieve twice and put to one side. 
 
     
 
Preparing the Fideuá:
 
Add some olive oil to the paella pan or frying pan and fry all the seafood except the squid. Once browned, remove from the pan and put to one side. Add the diced onions and fry for a couple of minutes, add the grated tomato and fry for about 8-10 minutes until it starts to take a thicker consistency (the water has evaporated from the tomato), add the squid to the pan and cook for a few minutes, mix altogether and in the pan and make a small opening in the centre of the pan, there should be some olive oil in the middle, if not add a small dash of oil, let it heat up and pop in the paprika, move it very quickly with a spatula so it doesn’t stick for about 30 seconds then add a large soup ladle of hot stock and stir in, the stock must be very hot before adding it, so the paprika doesn’t burn.
 
   
  
 
 
Add the 500g of Fideuá pasta stir in and spread the pasta around the pan. Normally people would add all the stock to the pan and cross their figures the pasta doesn’t get over cooked. But this trick will deliver a perfect Fideuá every time. From this point onwards all you have to do is once the stock has almost evaporated, add another ladle or two of stock, move it all around with a large spoon and let it almost evaporate and then do it again. Keep doing this until the pasta is cooked and ready to eat. Add the stock little by little. When the pasta is almost cooked put the seafood back in and spread over the top of the pasta. Once the pasta is ready you want it to be left with hardly any stock, wet and moist, not liquid stock, don’t let it dry out completely though. When you remove it from the heat and let it sit for a couple minutes the final stock left over will reduce a little further and thicken as it cools slightly.
 
 
 
 
It is now ready to eat. Enjoy with a glass of white wine!


Like 3        Published at 22:40   Comments (3)


Back To Paradise
07 September 2018

Many of you who are not familiar with Spain will probably know Spain's Balearic Islands: Mallorca, Ibiza and Menorca all popular destinations for British tourists. But it wasn't until my wife took me to Formentera that I knew I had discovered heaven right on my doorstep. Before stepping onto the island I thought one would have to travel to the Caribbean or the South Pacific to get this experience. But no, here it was a stone's throw away. I was totally taken away by it and fell in love immediately.

The smallest of the Balearic islands, Formentera gave me the most relaxing summer I could ever dream of. Sheer bliss, fortunately, and after many years away, we returned this summer having longed for those white sandy beaches and turquoise waters for such a  long time, here we were again.

Known as the last Mediterranean paradise, Formentera has been able to combine tourism with environmental protection, which is it's secret.

There are no large hotel complexes there, in fact, accommodation is very scarce and most properties are booked from one year to the next by the regular tourists who frequent the island every summer. Funnily enough, these tend to be Italians and Germans, it would seem the British haven't caught onto this paradise yet. I will say, in general, it is not cheap. It is a small island and freshwater is a rare commodity on the island and pretty expensive so you can imagine how that affects the prices in restaurants and hotels without taking into consideration the logistical costs of delivering goods to the island. Many properties just offer salt water and you have to bring in your own freshwater for drinking and cooking from the supermarket.

If one is looking for an unspoiled land, seeking sun, sand and sea, relaxing moments away from the hustle and bustle of normal life, I couldn't think of a better place than Formentera. It is the ultimate antidote for stress. Never have I felt so relaxed or calm in my entire life. The island breathes calmness and peace, there are no nightclubs, very few bars, and you spend nearly all your time sunbathing, swimming, eating and sleeping. Apart from the sheer breathtaking beauty of the island, fact that there is pretty much nothing to do on the Island unless you're into water sports, makes it really easy to focus your days! You just find a divine spot and go into vegetable mode until you need feeding, and I can sure you, you are not missing out on anything! No sightseeing, No "oh we should've done that" or "What are we going to do tomorrow? As we are here we ought to do this….". No none of that, there is no thinking to be done at all, this isn't like going to Greek island where you should be visiting ruins now that you've made the trip, this is the only place I have found where your entire body relaxes, including your brain. Total switch off! Mental hibernation. Which is great from time to time.

The struggle of various generations of Islanders has made it possible to conserve an island whose beaches, transparent waters and climate make it a little jewel in the Mediterranean. It is virtually impossible to build a property there, you can only build on less than 10% of your property now, so you need a large plot of land to even build a small place and that is an even rarer commodity than water. The island's entire circumference is only 69 km's, but that 69km's of stunning beaches, coves and cliffs. There are only about 100 inhabitants for every km2, so it's just idyllic.

Formentera can only be reached by boat from Ibiza or Denia in the Summer, but this inaccessibility makes it a peaceful place where you can flee from stress and overcrowding; enjoying the island on a cycle ride, moped or swimming from its more than 20km of beaches of white sand and infinitely transparent turquoise water. The secret behind its crystalline sea and long beaches is the Posidonia Prairie that surrounds the island, a natural "treatment plant" that cleans and filters the water and makes it possible for sand to be deposited on the coast. It is a real underwater jungle, declared a World Heritage Site in 1999.

The tourist success of the island loved as much by residents as by visitors, is rooted in the fact that people still find something very different in Formentera. The difference is marked by its respect for nature, the survival of its own culture and the vision of achieving exclusivity through protecting the environment.

If there is something that makes Formentera different from other Mediterranean destinations, it is its beauty and the absence of buildings from most of its coast. The commitment of several decades to sustainable development has made it possible to enjoy heavenly beaches today, but with all the services and safety of a western destination. No funny flues or vaccines.

A strange, captivating geography, a gentle climate and Mediterranean vegetation combining dune areas with woods of pine and juniper-conifers that give the island its character.

Fortunately for me, my wife has relatives who are authentic Islanders, living and working on the island for over 60 years. I went there for the first time 20 years ago, and I will never forget my first visit to the island. I was instantly enchanted by its magic and the locals. My wife's Aunt has a typical "chringuito" on the beach front. It is totally the opposite of the classy restaurants you can find on the beach of Illetas, such as "Juan and Andrea". It is a make-shift hut out in the sticks and virtually on the seafront. An absolutely fantastic place that defines wild island living, where only the bare necessities are needed. A lazy relaxing restaurant-bar where you can calmly pass the day, eating, drinking, sleeping in a hammock under the pines, sunbathing and swimming. What more do you need?

 

Now I don't for one second want you to think I am plugging a family business here, as I am not. They are lucky enough not to need publicity. Not once in 60 years have they ever made a publicity pamphlet, done an advert, set up a website or even a promotion. To give you an idea, they haven't even bothered to put up a signpost to direct you to it and I can assure you unless someone told you about it you would never find it. It's way off on the beaten track, cross country, through woods and eventually it just appears through the pines, a simple place with an idyllic background. There are regulars who year in year out spend their entire summer there socialising and drinking and chatting the afternoons away. It was simply one of the most stressless moments I have ever lived. I was fortunate enough to discover "Rambo" there, as I affectionally call him, my wife's cousin! Who spends most of his time running around like a madman preparing giant paellas and dealing with the customers, if you look at the photos you'll see what I mean. Fantastic guy who is a spitting image of Stallone without an M-16 but with a killer spatula. However, his true ammunition is his homemade Hierbas Ibizencas, a local herbal liquor, which he makes and gives away every year to the season's customers. Mind blowing stuff, and extremely addictive. It is quite effortless to spend the evening in good company drinking away to the early hours of the morning under the stars and listening to the moonlit waves break on the beach. Heaven.

Now if you read my post on paellas you'll know my opinion on mixed paellas, but this is the Balearic Islands and here the "Mixta" is king. Never in my entire life have I ever seen anyone put so much meat and seafood into a paella. It was outrageous, kilos and kilos and kilos. His Mum is constantly trying to stop him using so many ingredients but even after twenty years of nagging no one can tell him otherwise when it comes to paellas and it seems to work, as the customers keep coming back, take a look at the photos and see how it's done in Formentera.

Anyway, for those of you who still don't know Formentera, I will not hesitate for one minute in saying it is a place you must visit at some point in your life. A truly unique experience.

 



Like 5        Published at 21:12   Comments (4)


What's with all the tomatoes?
05 September 2018

La Tomatina has just pased and it is one of the Spanish festivities that has still eluded me after so many years and I have it pretty much on my doorstep. Unfortunately this year was no different - I was on holiday again!

This festivity is relatively recent compared to other Spanish festivities and has become the second most popular festivity outside of Spanish borders and has even been replicated in major cities around the world. Such countries as China, India, Costa Rica, Colombia, United States, Chile and others all hold their annual tomato battle, so it's not the just the Spanish who are a bit crazy, this tomato fever is incredibly contagious. But just how did this unusual festivity come about? I can assure you it has nothing to do with harvests or religious rituals!

It all started on the last Wednesday of August in 1945 when some young people spent the time in the town square to attend the “Giants” and “Big-Heads” figures parade, a traditional festivity in the region. The young boys decided they wanted to take part in the parade with musicians, and the locals dressed up as giants. 
The exaggerated enthusiasm of these young boys caused one of them to be kicked out of the parade. The participant flew into a fit of rage and started to hit everything in his path and the crowd started to get angry. There was a market stall of vegetables nearby that fell victim to the event and people started to pelt each other with tomatoes until the local forces ended the vegetable battle.

The following year, the young people picked a fight by their own decision but this time brought the tomatoes from home. Although the police broke up the early tradition in the following years, the young boys had made history without being conscious of it. La Tomatina was banned in the early 50s, which was not a problem for the participants, even those that were arrested. But the people spoke out in defence of the Tomatina and the festivity was again allowed with more participants and a more frenetic atmosphere than ever.
The festivity was again cancelled till 1957 when, as a sign of protest, the “tomato burial” was held. It was a demonstration in which the residents carried a coffin with a huge tomato inside. A band that played funeral marches accompanied the parade and it was incredibly successful. La Tomatina Festival was finally allowed and became an official festivity. As a result of the report by Javier Basilio, broadcasted on Spanish Television Program Informe Semanal, the festivity started to become known in the rest of Spain and consequently the rest of the world, as it is probably one of the most insane festivities you will ever come across.

The actual festivity kicks off at around 10 AM on the last Wednesday of August with the first event of the Tomatina: The "Palo Jabón". This is basically a tall pole that has been smothered in grease. The goal is to climb to the top of the greased pole and recover a Spanish Leg of Ham which is hanging from the top. As this happens, the crowd work into a frenzy of singing and dancing while being showered with water by hoses. Once someone has managed to recover the ham from the pole, the start signal for the tomato fight is given by firing a large water shot in the air and trucks full of tomatoes make their entry. 

 

Several trucks empty 1000’s of kilos of tomatoes in the middle of the village Plaza. The tomatoes actually come from Extremadura, where they are much cheaper and are grown specifically for the festivity, being of inferior quality and taste. The tomatoes must be crushed before being thrown so as to reduce the risk of injury and participants are recommended to use of goggles and gloves. The estimated number of tomatoes used are around 150,000kg. After exactly one hour, the fight ends with the firing of the second shot, announcing the end. 

 

 

In a question of 60 minutes the whole town square is coloured red and rivers of tomato juice flow deep through the streets. Fire Trucks hose down the streets and participants use hoses that locals provide to remove the tomato paste from their bodies and their front doors!. It is popular for participants go to the pool of “los peñones” to wash off. After the cleaning, the village cobblestone streets are pristine clean due to the acidity of the tomato disinfecting and thoroughly cleaning the surfaces.

 



Like 1        Published at 14:12   Comments (3)


My Wine Recommendation No.8 - For under €10
27 August 2018

 Just this week I was given a local white. I have tried many local white wines and they are in fact very good and fairly well priced. I can't say as much of the reds, which seem to be going up in price year on year in the Valencian region, although they are good the price doesn't always reflect the quality. However this white was different to what I have tried to date, it was made with organic grapes, and it was really quite good! 

This wine comes from the inland region of the province of Valencia, which is home to the most important vineyards within this wine region. This is mainly due to the variety of its soils, its different orientations and altitudes between 600 and 900 meters above sea level. 

This habitat gives the vines ideal conditions for winemaking.
Quality wines are also achieved with the Merlot, the Tempranillo, the Chardonnay and the Sauvignon Blanc grape varieties.


The Vegalfaro Winery is located within the province of Valencia, in the region of La Plana de Requena-Utiel.
It boasts 60 hectares of vineyards, divided into three very different areas due to the quality of soil, the microclimate and the grape varieties. All the plots of land are certified with the seal of Organic Agriculture, as are the winery and winemaking facilities, making for a totally organic winery.

La Muela, one of their vineyards with 330 hectares of land, lies right next to the archaeological site of Las Pilillas, which was an Iberian winery dating back to the seventh century B.C. Their vines are being cultivated, as they have been for over 2000 years, alongside the cultivation of cereal, olives and almonds.

In 1999 Andrés Valiente decided to build Bodegas Vegalfaro to bottle his own wines along with his son Rodolfo, Technical Director of Bodegas Vegalfaro. Previously, his great-grandfather Leonardo made wine in his cellar (winery) and his grandfather, Joseph, was an Orujo distiller. Later, in February 2011, the winery received the qualification Pago, which is considered the highest ranking of a vineyard in Spain and from where wines with singular characteristics and qualities are obtained. This is a terroir reference comparable to those in other European countries: Chateau, Cru, Domaine and Clos in France, Castello in Italy and Quinta in Portugal.
 

Pesticides have never been used on their soil or vines so they like to refer to their soil as being 'alive'. It proliferates a micro-fauna which is very important for the decomposition of organic material and nutrient absorption by the vines while helping to control the appearance of any plagues.
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The winemaking process follows a strict quality control and parameters are managed internally to avoid waste discharges back into the environment.

Their white wine, Rebellia Blanco is made with Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc. It was created by the Enologist of the Year 2017 and offers great intensity with clean tropical fruity notes. Not surprisingly it won a Silver Medal at the International Organic Wine Award: Bioweinpreis.

If you want to try this wine it is available online at this addres for €6 :

https://www.vinopremier.com/vino-blanco-rebel-lia-ecologico.html

I am not sure which supermarkets stock it...but if you can get hold of it, I'm sure you'll love it!

 



Like 2        Published at 19:25   Comments (3)


Barbate Fusion
20 August 2018

The other day, while I was reading an article about Cadiz,Barbate and its red tuna industry, I must admit my mouth started to water thinking of a fantastic red tuna tartare I ate in Valencia. It was absolutely spectacular and not at all “fishy” in flavour. I am not a great fish eater and I am very picky with fish, I don’t like the strong characteristic “fishy” taste that some fish have when you can actually taste the sea in the meat, so it is something that tends to make me choose meat or seafood and stick to a very small selection of mild fish such as cod, tuna or swordfish which I find meatier and also more filling. However I do consider myself gastronomically adventurous and I will try everything several times over, but in different places, just in case I find a recipe that changes my mind on a certain product. And this dish did exactly that. I was never a fan of raw fish before and I am still not, really, every time I go to a Japanese Restaurant I end up ordering Beef Teriyaki, Seafood and maybe some prawn and avocado Maki just for the wasabi, which I just love. But when I tasted this red tuna tartar I was absolutely taken by it and another speciality dish was added to my list of favourites.

I thought I would share this very simple and very elegant recipe with you all, as it is a real stunner of a dish at any dinner party or just as a light lunch. It is so simple to make, so full of flavour and of course, uses olive oil. So, for this recipe as all ingredients are raw make sure you use a good quality extra virgin olive oil, it will make all the difference and one that is not bitter, such as an Arbequina or a Serrana de Espadán both have a very low pungency. The bitterness will overpower the dressing and the flavour of the avocado and the tuna. So taste the oil before you mix it in.
 

Ingredients (2 servings):
300 g of Red Tuna loin (or sushi-grade tuna)
120g of Avocado
20g of Shallots
20g of Chives
30g of Peeled Tomatoes
10g Sesame Seeds
Lime Zest

(If the tuna is ‘fresh’ from the market it is recommended to freeze it, just in case, for 48 hours to kill any parasites such as Anisakis)

All of these ingredients should be diced and the shallots should be very finely chopped. The chives should be chopped coarsely. Place all the ingredients together in a bowl, finely grate a small amount of lime peel over the ingredients and mix them up. I have never weighed the lime peel so I have no idea how much it is, I just do it by sight as if I was seasoning with salt. So it is just a little amount to give the flavour a little kick! Reserve a little of the sesame seeds and the chives to decorate the dish at the end. (You can mix the diced tuna, sesame seeds, tomato, chives and shallots and then layer the avocado separately if you prefer for presentation purposes.)
Now we need to make the marinade for we will need the following ingredients:


10ml Extra Virgin Olive Oil
20ml Soy Sauce
2ml   Sesame Oil
10ml Jerez ‘Sherry’ Vinegar (If possible from the variety Pedro Ximenez, it is sweeter)
2 Teaspoons Wholegrain Mustard or a 1 teaspoon of Wasabi. (This should be added according to taste preference, whichever you prefer. If you don’t like either, this ingredient can be removed and it will still be fantastic)
Pour all the ingredients into a bowl to make the marinade and whisk it all together.

 


Use a tablespoon to pour some of the marinade over the diced ingredients. Mix the marinade through the ingredients adding little by little until it is all well covered. Taste and season with salt if necessary. Let it stand to marinate for about half an hour and then serve. A great way of serving this dish is as a 'timbale'. If you have a ring mould great but if you don’t you can use a section cut out from a plastic water bottle to serve as a mould, I didn’t and this solution worked just fine!

Take the mould, fill it with the marinated mixture and pour a couple of teaspoons of the marinade over the mixture in the mould (if you are layering the avocado place the cubes at the bottom). Carefully remove the mould and sprinkle the remaining sesame seeds and chives over the top and Listo! Ready to eat! If you want slightly more sauce just pour a couple of spoons into the base of the bowl.

I hope you enjoy it, I certainly did!



Like 4        Published at 22:40   Comments (1)


Here, we call them tellinas...
13 August 2018

Tellinas or Coquinas, depending on where you live, are commonly known as beach wedge clams and very popular in Spain. They are a species of bivalve mollusc, similar to a clam only smaller, that can be found on the coasts of western Europe and north-western Africa. It usually inhabits the shallowest two meters of coastline and is commercially harvested for food. It is a suspension feeder, which means that it is a consumer feeding on suspended particles in seawater. The shell can be found in colours ranging from olive, through chestnut, to yellow-white and is normally up to an inch wide. In Spain they are harvested especially in the area of Cadiz and Huelva, but also in some cities along the Mediterranean coast such as Valencia, where we call them tellinas.

This shellfish is simple and quick to prepare and I am yet to find somebody that doesn’t like them, they are fun to eat and my wife refers to them as ‘pipas del mar’ (sunflower seeds from the sea) because they are so moreish like the ever popular ‘pipas’ en Spain. Once you start eating, it’s difficult to stop.  Fortunately they are very easy to prepare so they are ideal as a starter especially if you are going to have a heavy second course, such as paella. There are many ways to prepare ‘Tellinas’ but I prefer the simplest way with garlic and lemon.

You will need to calculate half a kilo for say 3-4 people. That should give you a decent starter. But if you do more I wouldn’t worry, they’ll be eaten!

 

Ingredients:

500 gr of fresh Tellinas - wedge clams - (frozen are terrible, so please don't use them)
5 cloves of garlic
1 sprig of fresh parsley
½ lemon
Extra virgin olive oil
Salt
Plenty of water
Dash of vinegar

 

 

To make sure they are clean and rid of any grit or sand, leave the Tellinas in a bowl of water with a little salt and a dash of vinegar. You will need to keep them in the water for at least 2 hours, changing the water every 30 minutes or so, this will remove any impurities. If you jump this stage or cut it short, you will end up chewing on sand rather than a succulent tasty mollusc and I can assure you its not very nice.

 

 

Peel and chop the garlic cloves and brown them in a pan with olive oil at medium heat. When the garlic begins to turn brown add the lemon, which should be chopped into small wedges, stir a few times and then add the tellinas and raise the heat to maximum and they will open as a result of heat. To help them open, stir them occasionally letting them knock against each other. This should take no more than two minutes, if they haven’t opened before that time, they won’t and should be discarded. Careful, they cook very quickly and hence dry out very quickly. The secret is in the timing. That is it. Sprinkle the chopped parsley into the pan, shake the pan a couple of times and serve immediately. One final piece of advice is to make sure that the tellinas have plenty of space in the pan to move around and open. Make sure your pan isn’t too small or do them in two batches. 

Enjoy!



Like 2        Published at 22:39   Comments (3)


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