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My Wine Recommendation Nº 6 - For under €10
16 May 2017


Here I have a new wine for you that I discovered recently. Quite a pleasent surprise actually. The wine comes from Bodega Classica Hacienda Lopez de Haro, which is a classic producer of traditional wines in Rioja, spanning a variety of wines representative of the region. But today I'm recommending a red, a 'Reserva 100% tempranillo', which is probably no surprise as its one of my favourite varieties here in Spain. 

This reserva comes from the region of the Rioja Sonsierra, which is in the heart of the area covered by the DOCa Rioja, inside the Rioja Alta. As its name suggests, “Sonsierra” is at the foot of a mountain range on the south side of the Toloño Mountains, which is part of a larger mountain range called Sierra de Cantabria. The mountains on the north and the River Ebro on the south make it one of the most favourable areas to make wine.

The microclimate, together with its special geographical features, makes it a perfect place for vineyards. On the one hand, the level of humidity is adequate with more rainfall in winter than any other season of the year, which is perfect for vines. Mostly moderate and some strong winds flow along the River Ebro from the southeast (solano in Spanish) or the northeast (cierzo) as well as fresh air come down the Toloño mountain range. These wind flows are key for maintaining a health vine.

The area’s orography is very uneven with a series of valleys that drop from the mountain range to the river, providing the land with many slopes and terraces of limestone-clay soils that have good drainage and therefore yielding the best Tempranillo grapes. These exceptional conditions for growing vines have generated a wine-producing tradition that is still alive in the entire area and has combined perfectly with the modern times.

'Bodega Classica Lopez de Haro' has been designed and built strategically on top of a hill so it can benefit from a natural climate control, as it is mostly built underground, and even the vats have been chosen with different sizes to make wine from different plots of land and with large mouths to imitate the traditional winemaking method of “lagos abiertos”, where whole grapes are deposited in open vats and carbonic maceration takes place. The bodega has around 5,000 barrels in stock, mainly in French oak.

This wine is a medium-high depth wine andruby red in colour. It is powerful on the nose with aromas of ripe fruit accompanied by complex spicy and balsamic notes. It is very balanced on the palate, with ripe and sweet tannins, providing the wine with a long aftertaste. It is a very elegant Rioja classic and highly recommendable for the price of €8,90. I found it in the Corte Ingles but it is also available online. 




Like 2        Published at 12:03   Comments (2)

Spanish Fish Dishes - Tuna Steak with Onion
10 May 2017


I am not a great fish eater to be honest, it’s not really something I enjoy much so I don’t tend to cook it very often but tuna is an exception and  I can’t get enough of it!  Whether it is raw or cooked, doesn't bother me, I love it both ways. 

“Atun Encebollado” (Tuna with an onion reduction) is one of those recipes that can get you out of trouble on any occasion and saved me when I had to prepare a sudden dinner not so long ago. It is a quick fish recipe that we can enjoy either hot or cold and it is ever so easy to prepare. It is a really classic dish in Andalucía and especially in Barbate (the province of Cadiz). If you happen to pass through Barbate you must pay a visit to El Campero, one of the best restaurants in the area and one of the reasons I fell in love with “fresh tuna” many years ago. Never having been a fish eater, my tuna experience up to then was limited entirely to tinned tuna, believe it or not. If you like tinned tuna you will love fresh tuna, so you must give this recipe a go.


Tuna & Onion ingredients for 4 people:

4 thick tuna steaks (cut into rectangular blocks)
3 Onions
2 garlic cloves
Extra virgin olive oil
150 ml of white wine
100 ml fish stock
2 tsp. Paprika de Vera
1 Bay leaf
1 tsp. Oregano
1 tbsp  Sherry Vinegar.

Steps to take:

1. Peel and cut into thin slices the onions and garlic.
2. Add 6 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil to a saucepan.

3. Quickly seal the tuna steaks in the frying pan, just so they go white on the outside, don’t cook them. Remove straight away and put to one side.

4. Now add the onion and garlic and let them simmer on a low heat, stirring occasionally for about ten minutes.

5. When the onion is whitish and very soft, add the paprika de Vera and stir in quickly.

6. Almost immediately add the fish broth and then the wine and finally the bay leaf and the oregano.

7. Half cover the pan with the lid and cook on medium-low heat for another 15 minutes. After 5 minutes of cooking add the sherry vinegar and stir in.

8. Next place the tuna steaks back in and cook for a further 5 minutes.  The sauce should be thickening so the stock and wine should have reduced more or less by this point but not dried out. If you see it starting to dry out remove from the heat straight away or add a drop of fish stock and continue, but only if you want the tuna well cooked. These last 5 minutes will depend on your preferences, experiment! I like my tuna raw in the middle.
 (If the source is still too liquid then you could thicken it with a little flour, but brown the flour in a separate saucepan first and add a little stock from the onions, stir and blend in the saucepan and then pour it into the other pan)

9. Now just serve and enjoy.

If you are interested in the tuna traditions associated with Cadiz then you might find this other article of mine interesting: Red Tuna of Almadraba





Like 2        Published at 15:48   Comments (2)

Spanish Fish Dishes - Cod Pil-Pil
04 May 2017

Bacalao (cod) al pil-pil is a recipe originally from the Basque country. It may be more myth than history, but there's a story that claims this Spanish dish was created during the 2nd Carlist war, when a merchant ordered 20 or 22 specimens of cod before the siege of Bilbao began. Instead of 20 or 22 fish, he was delivered 20,022.

The legend says that the merchant tried to sell most of the excess cod he had received in towns within the Cantabric region but then the second siege of Bilbao began. It was in fact a fortunate mistake, as there was an important shortage of food due ti the siege, and luckily there was enough olive oil as well. These two key factors helped soften the famine in Bilbao.

The story says that this merchant  went on to become a rich man and one of the most important business men in the city. This dish was particularly popular during Lent, as fish was the only meat source people were allowed to consume. However this is one version of history. There are other theories that claim that bacalao al pil-pil was the natural evolution of a dish called Bacalao a la Provenza or similar cod dishes.

Anyhow, despite it's dubious origin, what makes bacalao al pil pil such a successful dish? I believe it lies in the simplicity of its ingredients: cod, olive oil and chili. If you happen to visit Spain, most bars and restaurants in Spain will serve it so make sure you give it a try.

There is however some debate surrounding this seemingly simple cod recipe as there tends to be with most classic Spanish dishes. That debate concerns the way that the cod should be cooked. Some people believe that the cod should first be cooking skinside up for five minutes, before being flipped over and then performing the pil pil process. Meanwhile others say that the cod should be cooked skinside down first, and should be skinside up during the pil pil process. Both sides claim that theirs is the best way for releasing the gelatine from the fish to make the sauce. Maybe you should try both and decide yourselves. I personally tend to cook it skinside up for the first few minutes then skinside down for the pil-pil process.

Bacalao al pil pil is a little tricky and does require a little technique in order to make the pil pil sauce just right. However don't be put off as even the most novice chef, with a little patience, can produce an excellent example of the dish. To make sure you get it right, here are a few quick tips. Only use olive oil as other oils and fats do not produce the same emulsion effect and make sure the temperature of the oil is quite low. You can use fresh cod or salted cod, traditonally it is made with salted cod which you need to 'de-salt'  in clean water for about 24-48 hours (depending on the thickness), changing the water every 8 hours. Most claim that this is the best way but both syles of cod work.

The key is to create a good emulsion sauce with the oil and the gelatine that the cod releases. To do it the traditonal way by swirling the pan is very difficult and time consuming but the quickest way to get a good thick emulsion is once the cod is cooked you let the oil and cod gelatine mix in the pan cool down until it is warm, then transfer it to a sauce pan. The next step is to get a sieve and a ladel. Ladel a little of the oil and gelatine mix into the frying pan (no heat) and stir backwards and forwards with the sieve, basically whisk it with the bottom of the sieve in the frying pan, this will help to emulsify the oil. Add a little more and repeat. Do this until you have enough sauce. Remember it is impossible to emulsify the oil if it is still very hot.



Ingredients for 4 people:

    •    8 pieces of fresh or desalted cod loins
    •    300 cc of olive oil
    •    5 thickly chopped garlic cloves
    •    1 chopped chili (5 pieces more or less)
    •    Salt to taste


1. Desalt the cod if necessary, remove any fish bones.

2. Add the olive oil to a sauce pan at medium heat.

3. Add the garlic and brown them slowly.

4. Remove the garlic and add the chopped chili to the oil.

5. Place the cod loins skinside up in the oil (medium heat) for 2 minutes and then turn over for another 2 minutes, this should be enough to cook them through. (Remember you are not deep frying the fish. If it is sizzling a lot then oil is too hot and won't release its gelatine)

5. Remove the cod loins and place them on a dish, also remove the chillis.

6. Let the oil mixture cool down and then create the emulsion as explained earlier with the sieve.

7. Serve as displayed in the photo.

8. You can accompany this dish with runner beans and boiled  new potatoes if you wish.



Like 3        Published at 11:23   Comments (1)

The Biggest Covered Market in Europe
28 April 2017

Markets are no longer what they were. Following in the wake of the culinary revolution forged in restaurants, they too have chosen to reinvent themselves. Madrid and Barcelona have some of the most significant examples of this new trend, although other cities, such as Valencia and Bilbao, are not far behind. We're no longer talking about a place to sell food, but of spaces for gastronomic experiences. Without renouncing their vocation as traditional markets, they now also include restaurants, book stores and even exhibition spaces.



Ribera Market, located beside the river estuary in Bilbao, is a reference in terms of shopping for the whole of Biscay. One of its many merits is to have been recognized in 1990 as the most complete municipal food market by the Guinness Book of Records, at that time being the largest in terms of traders and stalls and the biggest covered market as regards space in the whole of Europe, with a surface area of 10,000 square metres. Refurbishment work began en mid-2009 aimed at renewing its structure, stalls and services in order to remain a reference for shoppers in the 21st century. Not in vain, life and business have never stopped in this space where more than 60 merchants manage to provide customers with the finest produce at the best price: meat, fruit, shellfish, cheeses, cooked meats, frozen food, mushrooms and fungi...



A complex of stands and the arcades of the lower levels of the buildings served as a market in the Ribera of Bilbao for centuries, when this area was an urban centre, with City Hall and the Consulate, right in front of San Antón. A metal market pavilion was built at the end of the 19th Century. It was an example of what was called ‘cast-iron architecture’, in use up through the mid 1920s.

After several proposals, in which even covering the Estuary was proposed, an ambitious project was developed to substitute the old market, then quite rundown. The project by Pedro Ispizua, Municipal Technician, was enlarged and improved from the time of its drawing in 1927 up to its construction in 1930. Issues such as monumentality derived from its representational character are combined with functional aspects and hygienic concerns. Ispizua takes on a nearly rationalist language in this project, in accordance with the functional needs of the buildings and construction issues. His plans include similarities with central-European architecture, more or less moving away from earlier somewhat regionalist views.

A voluminous, modern market with clearly monumental and representative ideals was built to replace the old ‘cast-iron’ market from the end of the 19th Century. Concrete replaced cast-iron to form a grand vessel with ample interior space for all of the stands. With its marked personality (volume, form, details…) the building has become an integral part of the image of this historic enclave along the Estuary.

Like 2        Published at 19:42   Comments (3)

Rustic & Delicious : Pisto Manchego and fried egg!
10 April 2017

Having just returned from a visit to La Mancha, I was lucky enough to get a plate full of wonderful homemade “manchego pisto”, so simple yet so tasty. La Mancha is a natural and historical region located on an arid but fertile, elevated plateau (610 m or 2000 ft.) of central Spain, south of Madrid, spanning the elevated plateau of central Spain from the mountains of Toledo to the western spurs of the hills of Cuenca, and bordered to the South by the Sierra Morena and to the North by the Alcarria region. La Mancha includes portions of the modern provinces of Cuenca, Toledo, and Albacete, and most of the Ciudad Real province. 

The name "La Mancha" is probably derived from the Arab word اal-mansha, meaning "the dry land" or "wilderness". The name of the city of Almansa in Albacete also has the same origin. The word Mancha in Spanish literally means spot, stain, or patch, but no apparent link exists between this word and the name of the region.

Similar to the French ratatouille, Pisto Manchego is a mixture of slowly fried regional vegetables. It is ever so easy to make and conserves well in the fridge so there is no problem making a little extra for the coming days. It is great as a main dish served with a couple of fried eggs or as an accompaniment to poultry, meat, sausages or even rice. I like to serve it with fried eggs and with toasted “glass bread” topped with olive oil, basil leaves and mature manchego cheese, just divine. “Glass bread” (Pan de cristal)  is a relatively recent creation as far as I know and is spreading across Spain as a premium bread, but it is available in some supermarkets too, I buy it regularly from Consum supermarket. With its extremely fine crust and almost zero dough density, its appearance and texture is a revelation. What makes this bread different is that it is translucent, almost transparent. The air bubbles in its dough are enormous and they give it a unique lightness and crispyness. Its taste is very gentle and neutral, and it will bring out the flavours in any good olive oil. A deluxe accompaniment for this very rustic and traditional dish…

So this is what you’ll need to make enough for 4 :

2 Medium courgettes. 
3 Green peppers. 
1 Red pepper
1 Medium aubergine 
1 Large onion. 
1 Kg ripe plum tomatoes
2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
2 teaspoons of Paprika de la Vera
Brown sugar. 
Extra virgin olive oil - Oro de Bailén




The first step is to cut up the peppers, courgettes and aubergine into small pieces, diced is fine. 

We start frying the diced peppers in a frying pan with a little oil. Once fried, we put them in a pot and put them to one side.
It is very important to drain all excess oil well after frying; the pisto should not be full of oil and greasy. 

Do the same with the courgette and aubergine and add them to the peppers in the pot.

Next chop up the onion and fry it also separately. When the onion is almost cooked make a an opening in the centre and add the garlic, cook for a minute or so and then add the paprika, stir the paprika into the oil quickly for about 30 seconds and then mix in with the onion and garlic. Remove from the heat, drain it and add to the pot with the other vegetables.

Now you need to add the tomatoes to the pan. So first you will need to scald them in boiling water to remove their skin and then chop them up finely, also removing the part of the stem so there are no tough bits left in. Add the tomato with a little olive oil, 1-teaspoon salt, and 1 teaspoon of sugar to remove the acid and fry for about 40 minutes over medium low heat.  If your tomatoes are not particularly good in flavour, and nowadays that’s quite common, you may want to add a tablespoon of tomato concentrate or half a brick of “tomate frito”, which ever you can hands on. Hopefully you have great tomatoes in your area and you won’t need it. Now add in all the vegetables and simmer for another 15 minutes or so until all the water from the tomato has reduced and you have a thick consistency. That’s it.




Serve hot with a couple of fried eggs and a side order of toasted “glass bread” drizzled with olive oil, a couple of fresh basil leaves and a thin slice of cured manchego cheese.  To finish it off, a glass of Tempranillo from Valdepeñas and you have a meal fit for a king!  


Like 1        Published at 15:11   Comments (3)

The Perfect Fideuá...everytime!
24 March 2017

 Grao de Gandia
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, as with the Lobster rice post, 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. Fideuá was actually invented by accident by a Valencia fisherman called Joan Batiste Pascual who lived and worked in the Grao de Gandia.
Apart from being a fisherman he was also responsible for cooking the lunch on board which was pretty much always “arroz a banda”, rice cooked with fish and fish stock, but it was also the Captain’s favourite dish and as a result he would always take huge helpings reducing the rations left for the other fisherman, who always went hungry, so one day he decided to uses short noodles instead of rice hoping the captain would find it less appetising but it was a great success and was to go on to become a traditional dish in the fishing town and spread all over the region. 
Here are the ingredients you will need to make a Fideuá for 4 adults:
1kg of mixed white fish and fish bones for stock
300g of Small uncooked prawns
50g Fresh “flat” parsley with stems
2 cloves of garlic
½ glass of dry white wine (this is optional)
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.
500g of Fideuá Pasta / Small thin elbow pasta or short thick noodles (Fideo Nº5)
2 ripe tomatoes – 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 
300 g 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 (or small elbow macaroni or short noodles) 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 2        Published at 19:24   Comments (0)

Spanish Seafood Tapas - Tigres
22 February 2017

The Basque Country is most definitely one of the most famous regions in Spain for its incredibly tasty cuisine. One of my first culinary discoveries when I came to Spain was a local Basque classic, although I discovered it in Madrid. I never forgot the name….Tigers! ó should I say ‘Tigres’? I never quite understood the logic behind the name but I understood straight away the logic behind eating them. They were delicious!

In a nutshell ‘Tigres’ are stuffed mussles and are a perfect example of a recipe that uses simple ingredients to create a dish with big flavour. Although it can be a little fiddly to make, it is really worth it. This tapas is usually found in Bilbao to the North of Spain where fresh seafood and shell fish are in abundance. I later discovered that this dish is often served with a spicy tomato and anchovy sauce which apparently led to the name 'tigres', because they are so fiery in their taste. 

As with all shell fish dishes, make sure that you wash the shells thoroughly and follow the golden rules of cooking shell fish. Before you cook them, throw away any mussels that are already open. Yet when you finish cooking them, get rid of any of the mussels whose shells remain closed. Also, don't forget to ask if any of your guests are allergic to seafood! However before you throw opened mussles away make sure you haven't handled the mussels for at least 15-20 minutes. Mussels tend to open when they haven't been moved for a while, ie the fridge all night. But when they are moved or handled they are quite slow to react. Let's say their defense mechanisms are not lightning quick after being out of water for long periods and they can take a little while to close again. So  be patient, otherwise you might find yourself throwing out live mussels unecessarily.

This is what you'll need to make 'Tigres' (Mejillones Rellenos) | Stuffed Mussles

    •    18 mussels, scrubbed well and beards removed
    •    3 tbsps water
    •    2 tbsps olive oil
    •    1 tbsp onion, minced
    •    2 tbsps flour
    •    3 tbsps white wine
    •    ½ cup mussel stock (you will make this in the cooking process)
    •    1 egg, beaten with 1 tbsp of water
    •    4 tbsps fine dry breadcrumbs
    •    Olive oil for frying
    •    Makes 18 pieces


1. Steam open the mussels by placing them in a deep saucepan full of water. Cover the pan and place over a high hear and cook until the shells open. Remove the pan from the heat and throw away any of the mussels that do not open.

2. Once the mussels have cooled sufficiently so that you can handle them, start removing and discarding the halves of the shells which are empty. Loosen the meat of the mussels from the bottom shell and then chop up the mussels. Strain the mussel water and keep to one side.



 3. Heat the olive oil in a saucepan and then fry the minced onion until it goes soft but do not let it go brown. Stir in the flour and cook for a minute stirring frequently. To this, add the wine and mussel liquid and mix well. Cook this mixture, stirring constantly, until it thickens and is of a smooth consistency, now add in the chopped mussel meat.


4. Put a spoonful of the mussel and white sauce into each mussel shell and smooth it down so that it is more or less level with the top of the shell.




5. Place the tray of filled mussels into the fridge until the sauce is firmly set which should take at least an hour.


6. Place the beaten egg into one dish and the breadcrumbs in another dish. Then dip each mussel, open side down into the egg and then into the breadcrumbs to coat that side. Arrange the dipped mussels onto a tray. At this point you can then freeze the mussels if you want to eat them at a later date. When you come to cook them, allow them to defrost for at least an hour before continuing with the rest of the recipe.



7. To cook the mussels, heat up enough olive oil to cover the bottom of a frying pan. Fry the mussels in two or three separate batches, placing the breaded side down and frying until they turn golden brown.


8. Drain the mussels slightly with paper towels and then serve hot.




Like 2        Published at 11:57   Comments (5)

It's Calçot season! Time to get messy!
30 January 2017

The Calçot season has arrived (pronounced calsot) and those who don’t know what I’m talking about are in for a mouth-watering and extremely fun surprise! Calçots are a typical dish from the Catalonia region of Tarragona, specifically from the town of Valls however their popularity is spreading all over Spain and is also common in the Valencia rural region. If you have never experienced a “Calçotada”, the name given to the entire lunch ceremony you will now have a new excuse for inviting your friends over, as this is a dish that should be enjoyed in numbers as it can get very messy and first-timers beware, Calçots leave their ‘mark’ in every sense of the word! There is a saying in Catalan that clearly defines the best time to eat Calçots:

“ In January for the peasant farmers, In February for the Master and in March for the servants” so we are clearly entering the right month for trying this fantastic dish.

So what exactly am I talking about? Calçots are a type of onion, something between a spring onion and a leeK, with no bulb. The origin of the variety is disputed, but the most commonly accepted version of its history is that they were developed by Xat de Benaiges, a peasant farmer from Valls at the turn of the 20th century. He is said to have been the first to plant the sprouts of garden onions, covering them with earth so a longer portion of the stems remained white and edible. This technique is known Catalan as calçar, a Catalan agricultural term which means to cover the trunk of a plant or vegetable with soil. As the plant grows, soil is continuously added and replanted until it reaches a certain length, hence the name calçot. 

The Calçots are chargrilled on an open wood fire or a barbecue with a high flame. You can also cook them in the oven but the result is not the same. So I highly recommend this dish as a starter for a barbecue. It may not be ideal weather back home for a barbecue but in Spain the weather right now isn’t too bad! In Catalunya this is a massive family event and many villages celebrate the season’s harvest by organising street barbecues for the inhabitants.


It symbolises the renewal of friendships as the entire event is carried out around a bonfire making for a long day of eating and talking. However the most important part of this dish is the thick sauce that you dip the Calçots in called Salvitxada.

Traditionally Calçots are served on a clay roof tile to keep them warm and are eaten standing up, once the Calçots are ready their outer skin will have hardened and turned black, totally charred. You hold the Calçot by the green leaves and remove with the other hand the charred outer skin, and the tender sweet white onion is revealed. This is dipped in the sauce and then raised up, leaning your head back, you lower the Calçot into your mouth.


It can get very messy as the sauce drips and your hands will go black, so be very careful not to scratch your nose! The first time I ended up pushing my hair out of my eyes, rubbing my eyes due to the smoke and I can assure you I wasn’t a pretty site. I looked as if I had been down a mine all day! It is customary to wear a bib when eating Calçots, yes a bib, even the adults. If you ever go to a restaurant to eat Calçots you will automatically be given a bib and the day you try it you will almost certainly appreciate it!

The star of this recipe is the sauce so I am going to share with you the traditional recipe. As with many Spanish recipes there are slight changes depending on the region and then every family adds their special touch. The same thing happens with the Paella and Gazpacho and a number of other well-known dishes. However this is the standard recipe the majority work with. Once again it is greatly dependant on olive oil and local Mediterranean ingredients, so it is very healthy and finger-licking delicious.

If you are a knife and fork person and a prisoner to creature comforts, this dish is not for you!


 For the Claçot sauce this is what you will need:

·         150ml Aceite de Olive Extra virgin – Arbequina variety if possible

·         1 whole head of garlic unpeeled

·         100g of peeled almonds

·         100g of peeled hazelnuts

·         5 slices of 1 day old baguette bread

·         1 Ñora pepper or Choricero pepper

·         4 ripe tomatoes

·         Red Wine vinegar

·         Salt

·         Pepper

·         Paprika


If you made the Ali Oli the other day you can go and get out your pestle and mortar again! However if you are in a rush you can use your blender with this recipe.

The first step is to soak the Ñora pepper in luke warm water for at least 12 hours. So do this the night before, as they are sold sun dried. The Ñora pepper is like a cherry red pepper in size but it is hot, not as much as a chilli but has a very distinct flavour.

They are not easy to find in the UK as they are typically from the Murcia region in Spain. If you can’t find one use a normal red pepper or a choricero pepper and add a couple of small dried chillis to the recipe. Once the Ñora had swollen with the water remove it and scrape away the pulp from the skin and keep to one side.



 [choricero pepper]

If you are using a barbecue place the 4 tomatoes and the head of garlic on the barbecue until they are charred all over. The garlic will take slightly longer. The cloves will be soft inside when they are ready. You should slice the bottom of the head of garlic so the heat can penetrate more quickly and so you can also control when the cloves are ready. When ready remove them from the grill and peel the tomatoes and the garlic cloves and place to one side. If you are not using a barbecue you can grill them or use a hot plate grill to char them. The next step is to brown the almonds and the hazelnuts in a pan with a dash of olive oil. We don’t want them dark brown, just slightly golden. Remove the nuts from the pan and add a little more olive oil, place the stale bread slices I the pan and toast them slightly until they are golden brown too and then put them to one side. Now we have all our ingredients ready, we can start blending.

 Initially we will grind the nuts in the pestle and mortar, you can use a blender but we don’t want a powder so be careful not to blend them too finely. They need to be small but not so small as we can’t see them in the sauce. This will help give consistency to the sauce and help it stick to the Calçot. Then we add the peeled tomatoes and at least 3 cloves of grilled garlic along with a healthy dash of extra virgin olive oil. Blend slowly or manually using the pestle and mortar. The next step is to add the Ñora pulp and the fried bread. Break the bread up into little pieces and put it into the blender/mortar. Season the mixture with salt and black pepper, a dash of red wine vinegar and a small teaspoon of paprika. At this point you can add more cloves of garlic if you feel you would like it to be stronger in flavour, this is a personal question of taste, some like it very strong and even chuck in a raw clove of garlic to spice it up a little, I don’t think it is necessary. Finally blend it all together in the blender or the mortar and slowly add extra virgin olive oil to the mixture until you reach a thick consistency, taste and adjust, as you feel necessary. You may find you want a little more vinegar or little more salt, practise will make perfect.

If you don’t have a barbecue you can char the Calçots over a gas flame until they turn black using a grill rack, then quickly wrap them totally in tinfoil and place them in the oven at 200ºC for about 10-15 minutes in an earthenware dish. If you weren’t able to barbecue the tomatoes or the garlic, grill them slightly until they have charred slightly and then place them in the oven until they soften along with Calçots.


Now you are ready to eat your Calçots, just slide off the outer skin, it comes away without any problems then dip the Calçot in the sauce and eat! No knives and forks here! It’s time to get messy! Don’t forget your bib!

If you have decided to use a barbecue then the ceremony doesn’t end here, traditionally the meal would continue with chargrilled sausages and meats all washed down with Cava!




Enjoy your next Calçotada!




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Like 1        Published at 14:35   Comments (1)

A Real Winter Warmer 'a la Española' - Lentils and Chorizo
23 January 2017

At this time of year there is nothing more warming and hearty than a hot plate of lentils with chorizo. One of my favourite winter dishes accompanied with some crusty bread and butter (that’s the British influence in me), which is much easier to make than you might think and if you make a little extra it will last in the fridge for a few days, however they don’t freeze well so it is always best to make them fresh.

‘Lentejas con Chorizo’ is a traditional dish which has spanned the Iberian peninsula, it is a dish that allows for some flexibility when it comes to ingredients as recipes vary slightly from region to region where different vegetables are added but chorizo is always the reigning ingredient for flavour. Rich in proteins, minerals and carbohydrates, lentils have been a part of the Mediterranean diet for thousands of years. 

This legume fuelled roman legions and it’s not surprising given that about 30% of their calories come from proteins. Lentils have the third-highest level of protein, by weight, of any legume or nut, after soybeans and hemp. They also contain dietary fiber, folate, vitamin B1, and minerals. The low levels of Readily Digestible Starch (RDS) 5%, and high levels of Slowly Digested Starch (SDS) 30%, make lentils of great food for people with diabetes but more so they are a good source of iron, having over half of a person's daily iron allowance in a 100g serving.            

To make this dish we will need the following ingredients for 6 people :

500gr Pardina Lentils “Extra” (a Spanish variety but readily available)
1 Green pepper - diced
4 large carrots – chopped into slices (not too thin)
2 large cloves if garlic – finely chopped
2 large onions - diced
2 bay leaves
1 Tsp. Paprika
Salt & Pepper – to taste
4 Tbsp.  Extra Virgin Olive Oil
2 large mature tomatoes – peeled and diced

3/4 chorizos – approx. 250g 
180g of diced Serrano ham (optional)
1 morcilla (optional)
1 piece of Serrano ham bone (optional)
1 piece of beef marrowbone(optional)






If you include all the ingredients you are in for a feast but you may not have all those ingredients readily available so if you can only get chorizo that will be sufficient to get a good result, the rest of the meat ingredients are optional. If you can’t find ham or bones, you could substitute them for 200g of Pancetta (unsmoked bacon) cut into large thick pieces, which is more readily available in the UK and actually more traditional than the chopped ham, it's just, I find that the pancetta adds even more fat to the dish where as the ham doesn't. 

The first thing you need to take into consideration is the class of lentil. Pardina lentils are used for this recipe and it is best to use the ones classed as “extra” as they don’t need to be soaked in water before cooking them. However if you can’t find these you will need to soak the lentils in water for about 6-8 hours, so best to do it before going to bed and in the morning they’ll be perfect. You can however soak the “extra” lentils too and it will reduce the cooking by 30 minutes. That is up to you. I normally do it anyway and in the morning you will see that some lentils are floating on top of the water, these need to be scooped up and thrown away as they are not suitable for cooking. What ever you decide, the lentils must be washed before using to remove any impurities. Once we have our lentils ready, put them aside until we need them. This recipe contemplates the lentils being soaked.

 Get a stew pot and add the extra virgin olive oil and heat it up. Then add in the onions and garlic and fry for about 10 minutes. Then add the green pepper, tomatoes, carrots and bay leaves and fry for a further 3 minutes.

Add the bones to the pot and a generous teaspoon of paprika. Quickly stir the paprika and then add the lentils and the Serrano ham. Be careful not to burn the paprika, this will make the dish go bitter, a few seconds is sufficient before adding the lentils. Stir in the lentils and the ham so all the ingredients are well mixed in and then add the cold water straight away. For 500g of lentils you will need 1,5L of water approx. The water should comfortably cover all the ingredients, as there are still ingredients to add. Depending on how you prefer your lentils you can adjust the water to have more stock or less stock at the end. If you see your lentils are running out of water before they are ready you can add more boiling water during the cooking process if necessary but it must be boiling so not to interrupt the cooking process. Slowly bring to the boil, when it is boiling some foam will appear on the surface of the water, scoop it off. These are impurities from the bones and we don’t want it in the stock. Let it simmer for about 20 minutes and taste for salt and pepper. You may not need to add any as the ham does add salt to the stock.

Now add the chorizo, you can either add it whole or chopped up into large pieces, I prefer it chopped up as it releases more flavour.  You can now also add the whole morcilla if you have decided to use it (don’t chop it up otherwise it will disintegrate). Reduce to a medium heat for another 30 minutes, stirring from time to time. Now you can remove the bones. For another 15-30 minutes cook on a low heat checking the texture of the lentils until they are perfectly cooked. Be careful not to cook them for too long or get distracted other wise they will turn to mush. Once ready, remove from the heat and serve in a bowl with a side of crusty bread and butter. A little trick to jazz them up and give them a little kick from time to time is to dress the bowl with a couple of Basque chillis in vinegar, alternatively if you don't like chilli a little squirt of white wine vinegar gives it a great after taste, this was my father in law's favourite way of eating lentils.

If you are in a rush you can always use a pressure cooker, which will reduce the cooking time to about 25 minutes depending on your cooker. If you are looking for a slightly healthier version of this dish you can remove the meat ingredients and add potatoes and leeks to the stock resulting in a fantastic vegetarian dish. 

I really hope you give this a go, it is well work the effort and to be honest once you have chopped up all the ingredients it cooks on its own. 




Like 1        Published at 13:34   Comments (4)

Authentic Spanish 'Bravas'
16 January 2017

Patatas bravas are originally from Madrid, where it was created and then spread throughout the country. Now each region has made their own modifications such as in Valencia where they serve it with a garlic mayonaise and paprika pepper. But one of the most emblematic places to eat Bravas in Madrid with a traditional Brava sauce is Bar Docamar in Calle Alcalá 337. It's sauce is legendary in Madrid and a house secret. This bar goes through literally tons of potatoes every week and customers travel from all over Madrid to enjoy their Potato Bravas and buy their sauce. This classic tapas is basically potatoes cut into irregular chunks of approximately 3-4 cm, fried and dressed in a spicy sauce that is poured over the them and served very hot.

When it comes to Patatas bravas' sauce there are two schools of thought: with tomato and without tomato. From my experience of living in Madrid and researching I would say the more traditional Brava sauce without tomato. It is made with a base of extra virgin olive oil, sauteed onions, garlic, papika and cayenne pepper, wheat flour and water or chicken stock. However other ingredients are used which are well guarded secrets by each cook who adds a special something to the recipe.

In Catalonia the sauce is made with olive oil, chili, sweet paprika and vinegar. The important thing is that it's spicy, in fact it's name "bravas" makes allusion to this. In the Spanish language, bravo-a means brave or fierce if referring to an animal.

Patatas bravas are typically served in bars in many regions of Spain as tapas or "ración". It's considered one of the cheapest tapas due to its inexpensive ingredients. Should you ever visit Madrid, you'll absolutly have to taste patatas bravas and I highjly recommend passing by Bar Docamar.

Here is my take on the 'Madrid' Patatas Bravas - Potatoes and Hot 'Brava' Sauce - Madrid Style
Ingredients - four portions:

4 large potatoes
1 large onion
3 garlic cloves
Pepper mix: 1 tsp of Paprika (normal) + 1 tsp of Paprika de la Vera (smoked) + 1 tsp of ground Cayenne pepper (hot) + 1tsp of white pepper
1,5 tbs of flour
1,5 tbs of sherry vinegar
Extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp salt
1 cup of chicken stock    


1. Par-boil the potatoes. Cut the potatoes to size - uneven chunks of about 3 - 4 cms. Put the potatoes in a pot with water and bring to boil. Let them cook for about 10 minutes.
2. Dice the onion in fine chunks and chop the garlic
3. Heat three tbs of extra virgin olive oil and stir-fry the onion until its transparent.
4. When the onion is ready add the garlic. When the garlic is browned, remove from the heat and add the pepper mix. Stir well so it mixes properly and put at low heat.
5. Add the flour and stir in well for about a minute. Be careful not to burn the paprika.

6. Add the cup chicken stock and cook for 10 minutes to make sure the the flour and paprika are properely cooked. 
7. Add the salt and the sherry vinegar and cook for a further 5 minutes. If it is too thick just add a little more stock or if it is too liquidy just let if reduce further and cook for a little longer. It should be thick but not too thick. The photo should give you an idea of the consistency. But then again, choose the thickness you prefer.
8. Put the sauce in the mixer and blend until there are no lumps or use a hand blender.
9.In a frying pan heat abundant extra virgin olive oil (very important) and fry the potatoes on medium heat and then raise the heat for the last 2 minutes to crisp. Once they are lightly browned put the potatoes on absorbent paper so any excess oil is drained.
10. Put the potatoes in a large bowl and pour the desired amount of sauce.


Patatas bravas are simple and cheap to make, and best of all, you can add any spice or herb to your taste, Recipes all over the country are usually modified by each cook. A popular alternative is to add freshly grated tomato instead of chicken stock and flour. They are an excellent tapas and starter to any family meal so if you are thinking of holding a party or inviting friends over for dinner, why not make these for them!


Like 2        Published at 12:11   Comments (4)

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