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Probably the Best Spanish Ham in the World...
19 February 2018

It's not the first time I’ve decided to talk about Spanish ham. But the other day I was fortunate enough to try again what many consider to be the best Spanish ham in the world and I must admit it was spectacular, just as I had remembered it.

Whether or not it is the best in the world or not, I will leave up to the experts but what I can say is that you will not be disappointed in the slightest.

Ibérico cured ham from the free-range, acorn-fed Ibérico pig has always been a hallmark of Spanish cuisine and enjoyed all over the country. But now it is making its mark all over the world and one brand stands out for the quality of its product: “Joselito”, the one I was fortunate enough to try the other day, cut by a professional may I add. At the end of this post, I have added a video on how to cut a Spanish ham because it is an art form and takes quite a bit of practice. A good cut can make a mediocre ham good and a bad cut can make a good ham mediocre. Cutting ham is actually a profession in Spain and takes many years to perfect. However, if you are patient and practise a little you shouldn’t have any problems cutting a ham by yourself to a respectable standard. I’m pretty fussy when it comes to ham and I do not like thick-cut slices so to enjoy a professional cut the other day was just divine.

A certain mystique has grown around Spanish cured ham and, among the experts, the town of Guijuelo in Salamanca province (Castile-Leon) has acquired a reputation for producing the finest examples. In fact, while the hams are cured here, the pigs are to be found largely in the Extremadura region in the west of the country where tens of thousands of pigs roam over endless pastures, gorging on the abundant acorns from the thousands of oak trees. Of all the ham producers in the country, none enjoys greater prestige than the family-run business “Joselito”, which now exports its products to 48 countries.



Hams from Joselito, among the most expensive on the market and worth every penny, have won acclaim from leading chefs. According to Basque maestro Juan Mari Arzak and Ferran Adría (considered world’s best chef), ‘Joselito’ is "the best ham in the world."

At first sight, Guijuelo with a population of 6,000 is a discrete sort of place. But, thanks to its flourishing business in pork products, it is one of Spain's most prosperous communities, with relatively few unemployed. At 1,000 m (3,280 ft) above sea level, the town enjoys an ideal climate for curing pork: chilly in winter, hot in summer. As it is a brand with such an established reputation I thought I would research the reasons behind its success.


( photos by 'Joselito Ham' )


The first requirement for a superior-quality ham is a superior breed of pig, the native cerdo ibérico (Ibérico pig). Hams are also distinguished by the way pigs are reared. Many pigs spend little or no time on the open range and are fed mostly on authorised meal. In contrast, the jamón ibérico de bellota comes from free-range animals, feeding on natural herbs and, most importantly, acorns.

Joselito's cerdos ibéricos de bellota roam over more than 100,000 ha (247,105 acres) of wooded scrublands called Dehesas much of it the company's property and the rest rented, in the Extremadura and Andalusia regions, Salamanca province and Portugal. As part of a 30-year reforestation plan, every year the company plants 70 to 80 thousand trees, mostly holm oaks (Quercus ilex) and cork oaks (Quercus suber). The company's efforts were rewarded this year with a management certificate from the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), a non-governmental organization promoting responsible forest management worldwide. It is the first time a business of this type has been selected anywhere in the world.

A key aspect in producing quality hams is the animals' freedom to roam. Each pig forages for food and water over 2 to 4 ha (4.9 to 9.8 acres) of pasture. This keeps them in shape, which contributes to the particular texture of their flesh. During la montanera, the months between October and February, each pig eats about 15 kg (33 lb) of acorns a day.

When the two-year-old pigs weigh about 180 kg (396 lb), around 40,000 are transported to Guijuelo to be slaughtered. The hams are stored in sea salt for a week or so, then washed and hung in the secaderos, with immaculately maintained, carefully ventilated chambers. In the summer heat, the hams sweat and the outer fat melts and penetrates the muscular fibres, a process vital to making the meat tender and aromatic.

For further maturing the hams are stored in dark bodegas at temperatures between 14 and 18ºC (57.2 and 64.4ºF) and humidity between 60 and 80%. More than 400,000 hams, from the years 2004 to 2011, hang in Joselito's installations. Hams from the paleta, or shoulder, are cured for a minimum of two years, and hind-leg hams, known as the Gran Reserva, for at least three years. A select number, vintage hams known as the Colección Premium, is matured for more than 82 months. 

The succulent meat in Joselito's hams is purple-red and marbled with veins of pinkish fat. It is, claims the firm, a healthy product, containing oleic acid, vitamins and natural antioxidants which help reduce cholesterol and the risk of arteriosclerosis. Joselito backs this up with the results of scientific surveys and points out that 100 g (3.5 oz) of their ham contains fewer calories than a plateful of rice of the same weight. To improve quality, a staff of 15 in Joselito's research and development department analyzes everything, from the pig's diet to the final product. Joselito also markets pork loin and various varieties of pork sausage, chorizo, salchichón and longaniza (spiced with pepper, salt and garlic), all from free-range Iberico pigs and naturally cured.

Spain exports annually around 20,000 tons (40 million lb) of cured leg and shoulder hams, from all breeds, representing sales worth more than €170 million. 0nly 10% of Spanish cured ham comes from the Ibérico breed, but it is this product which sets the standard and reinforces the country's prestige in foreign markets.

In the words of Ferran Adrià: "Hams like those of Joselito are the standard bearer of a sector which the whole world can enjoy." So if you have the opportunity to get your hands on some don't let it go by!





Like 3        Published at 12:30   Comments (1)

Breakfast with Extra Virgin Olive Oil reduces inflammation
01 February 2018

Studies published in 'Food Chemistry' show that adding phenol-rich olive oil to breakfast successfully lowers the inflammation linked to 'metabolic syndrome'.

Inflammation is associated with metabolic syndrome, an increasingly common condition characterised by the presence of three of the following pathologies in an individual: obesity (particularly abdominal fat), high blood pressure, a low level of “good” HDL cholesterol, high fasting blood sugar and a high level of triglycerides. Left untreated, metabolic syndrome can trigger diabetes, stroke and heart disease.

The studies brought together forty-nine patients with metabolic syndrome added 40 ml of high-, medium- or low-phenol virgin olive oil to their breakfast. The high-phenol olive oil (398 parts per million) breakfast neutralised pro-inflammatory gene expression in patients while reducing pro-inflammatory cytokines in blood plasma. The result was an overall lower level of post-meal inflammation.

Phenols — phytochemicals found in plant-based foods such as olives, coffee, tea, and chocolate — have been enjoying the nutritional limelight as an increasing number of health-related benefits are revealed. While the lion’s share of studies to date focus on their anti-oxidant benefits, growing evidence shows that phenols also reduce inflammation.

Chronic low-grade inflammation precedes and predicts the onset of diabetes in adults with metabolic syndrome and researchers believe it plays a similar role in cardiovascular disease. It is estimated that over 30 percent of all adults in the USA have metabolic syndrome, a phenomenon seen in another western countries and quickly spreading to developing countries including India, China and Brazil.

These studies add valuable information on understanding how phenols reduce inflammation by modulating cell signaling pathways and suggests that a breakfast that includes phenol-rich olive oil helps alleviate inflammation associated with metabolic syndrome and related diseases.

One way of knowing that your olive oil is high in Phenols is its taste. Phenols give olive oil its bitter taste, so the bitterer it is the more phenols it has. Examples of varieties that are high in phenols are Picual, Cornicabra, Hojiblanca and Empeltre. In supermarkets you will more readily find Picual, Hojiblanca and Cornicabra.

Like 2        Published at 13:28   Comments (0)

Not Green...But White
26 January 2018

                              White Asparagus Region in Spain
The asparagus is one of the most emblematic products of Navarra, this fertile land is often referred to as the larder of Spain. On the banks of the Ribera del Ebro, with a warm Mediterranean climate and located in a landscape scattered with hills and small mountain ranges, the Autonomous regions of Navarra, Aragon, and La Rioja can be discovered. This area is where the Asparagus of Navarra is cultivated and protected by its Designation of Origin as well as many other Spanish gourmet delights from the north that I will be writing about in future posts and have already mentioned before in earlier posts such as the Cecina from Leon.
Asparagus is a very contemporary product despite its ancient origins, as proven by Egyptian paintings dating back to 3,000 years BC that show the first images of this vegetable. However, the first time they were actually mentioned was during the Roman Empire in writings by authors such as Pliny.
According to legend, the first seeds of this refined foodstuff were brought from Baghdad in the baggage of a local citizen who was obliged to leave the city and ended up settling in Cordoba. A man from Tudela, who was travelling in those parts, tasted the delicacy for the first time and asked him to spare a few seeds, sowing them on his return in the capital of the Ribera region and making asparagus one of the leading lights of Navarrese cuisine.
The Asparagus of Navarra is a perennial plant which loses its leaves and trunk during the winter, with a productive life that lasts from six to eight years. It has a very powerful root system composed of main roots which grow horizontally and from which the small secondary roots grow. From a central stump or bulb turions or asparagus  grow upwards looking for light.This is the secret: to stop them reaching the light. If the "turions" or stems reach the surface, the frond is formed. On the other hand, if they are harvested before they see daylight, we have white asparagus, if not they would turn green with photosynthesis so the earth is frequently raised to form little hills so that the asparagus never sees daylight until it is ready to eat.
Asparagus is planted during February, placing it at the bottom of a furrow and covering it with sand afterwards. During the spring, the stems grow, and in this period and throughout the summer, the plant accumulates reserves in the roots to be able to sprout the following year. During the winter, the parched frond is cut, and the land is prepared.
In the second year, during March, before the plant begins to sprout again, the ridging is carried out. A ridge is a small pile of earth on the plantation line so that the sprouts reach  the surface much later. This provides them with their traditional white colour and makes them much more tender and sweeter
Although the Asparagus from Navarra has traditionally been related to a canned or bottled product, in recent years, a strong demand has grown for fresh white asparagus. Fresh white asparagus is available during the harvest-time, which is between April and June. The fresh white asparagus needs to be peeled and normally boiled, a simple process that allows you to enjoy their fuller flavour.
To peel them it is necessary to hold the asparagus by the tender tip and, with a kitchen knife or a vegetable peeler, it must be peeled from top to bottom, being careful not to touch the head, and turning it to homogeneously peel all of it. Lastly, the bottom part of the stalk is cut, and the asparagus is washed in cold water.
To boil them, fill in a deep pan with water and bring it to the boil. As soon as it begins boiling, add three teaspoons of salt and 1 teaspoon of sugar, carefully insert the asparagus piece by piece so as to maintain the temperature. Boil for approximately twenty minutes until they are tender (you should be able to easily spear them with the fork).
Once boiled and drained, it is recommendable to eat them warm, to be able to appreciate their full flavour with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil. However this may seem a bit simple for some so at the end of the post I have included three dressing recipes to accompany the asparagus, wonderful recipes for this summer if you fancy a healthy, light and fresh meal which is really simple to make.
Vegetables have, in general, a low-calorie content, but the asparagus is a particularly low-calorie vegetable. It almost has no fats or carbohydrates, and strangely has a strangely high amount of proteins for a vegetable. Its content of dietary fibre is very significant, as are the content of vitamins and minerals.
When mentioning vitamins, one needs to mention the presence of thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, and above all, alfatocoferol. This substance, also known as vitamin E, is one of the natural antioxidants we can find in food. It plays a very important role in the development and maintenance of the central nervous system, peripheral nerves and child and adult muscles. Nowadays, its influence on the cardiovascular risk profile and its inhibiting actions on the growth of leukaemia cells are being investigated. Although we do not have a specific organ to store vitamin E, we have small storage rooms in our liver and in the adipose tissue, with the added advantage that when someone loses weight (loses fat tissue), the amount of vitamin E stored in that tissue remains.
But beside these facts, the asparagus has a very characteristic substance: asparagine, a volatile substance which enhances the diuretic effect of the asparagus, helping with the water retention and hypertension associated with being overweight. It is a food source highly recommendable for:
  • People who need to eat low-calorie food, but which is rich in nutrients, as happens with people who are on a slimming diet
  • People who suffer from constipation, due to the high content of fibre of asparagus.
  • People who suffer from hypertension or water retention.
If they are going to be eaten fresh, they should be boiled with the smallest possible amount of water in order to minimise the loss of vitamins in the water.
The asparagus should not be washed after being peeled, as its water-soluble vitamins can be lost in the water. The stock resulting from the boiling of the asparagus is highly diuretic, which makes its use recommendable for soups, and rice dishes.
So who would have thought that this unusual vegetable would be so good for you and why isn't everyone eating them? Well we should be and if you find them a bit bland at times here are a few ideas to jazz them up and create a wonderful summery starter or light main meal. Either buy fresh D.O.P Asparagus from Navarra when they are in season, (which at the moment they aren't ) or buy them already cooked in a glass jar or a can, try and find the large thick asparagus (extra grueso) rather than the thin cheaper ones, it makes all the difference. 
Asparagus with Pipirrana 
1 large green pepper (not the long thin italian ones)
1 large sweet onion (cebolleta)
1 large salad tomatoe
1 small cucumber
Extra Virgin Olive Oil - Picual / Hojiblanca is just great and gives it a little fruity kick
Sherry Vinegar
1 hard boild egg yolk
Simply finely dice up all the ingredients, put three parts olive oil to one part sherry vinegar and 1/2 part of water into a cup and blend, crush the egg yolk into powder form and then blend into the oil and vinegar, whisk together to form an emulsion, season with salt and pour the vinaigrette over the diced vegetables and leave the Pipirrana to macerate for at least an hour in the fridge. Then simply serve the asparagus cold with the "pipirrana" poured over the top.
TIP: If you want this meal to be slightly more filling add tinned tuna steak to the pipirrana while it is macerating.
Asparagus Tropicana
This is similar to the previous Pipirrana but with a  tropical fruity twist to it. You will need:
Slices of smoked salmon
1 mature mango (cebolleta)
1 sweet onion
1/2 red pepper
1/2 yellow pepper
1 bunch of fresh chives
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Sherry Vinegar
Finely dice the mango, the sweet onion, the red pepper, the yellow pepper and the chives as in the previous recipe.
Make the vinaigrette as before in a bowl but this time with no egg yolk. Pour the vinaigrette over the diced vegetables and leave for an hour to macerate. Wrap the salmon around the asparagus and place on the plate and then dress the asparagus with the tropical pipirrana.
Finally one for those who want a few more calories!.....
Asparagus from Navarra with Cashew Nut Cream
8 large white asparagus
2 tablespoons chives, cut in 3/4-inch lengths
Extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and ground white pepper
1 cup salted cashews
1/3 cup whole milk
In a food processor, pulse the cashews into a fine powder; be careful not to over-process and turn into a paste. Place 2/3 of the ground cashews into a small saucepan; set aside the remainder for garnish. Add the milk to the pan, with 1/3 cup water. Bring to a boil and immediately turn off the heat. Mix well and then set aside. Cut up one asparagus julienne style and place in a bowl with the olive oil, a pinch of salt and pepper, to taste and then set aside.
Heat the oven to max temperature and wrap the asparagus in double tinfoil, baste them with extra virgin olive oil before closing the foil. Place them in the oven for about 5 minutes until they are warm (if you use fresh uncooked asparagus, peel them and leave them in for about 20 minutes). Remove from the oven, unwrap them, place each of them on the serving plate on top of  a spoonful of cashew cream, place the asparagus julienne on the side and garnish with crushed cashew.

Like 1        Published at 19:34   Comments (1)

My Wine Recommendation Nº 7 - For under €10
16 January 2018

Here I have a new wine for you all which I discovered just last week. It was quite a pleasant surprise after various failed attempts at discovering something 'good' at a reasonable price. Although slightly more expensive than I was really looking for, at €7,50 a bottle, I'm pretty sure you can get it a little cheaper if you shop around. Nonetheless, everyone at the table thoroughly enjoyed it. 

San Millan is a fairly recent brand as far as wines go and only goes back 10 years or so. It is a line of wine that is produced at the Legaris cellar near Peñafiel in the Ribera del Duero region, a project by the Cordoniu Group.  

It was in late 1998 that the Codorníu Group materialised its presence in the Ribera del Duero D.O. with the purchase of 90 hectares of land in the municipalities of Curiel de Duero (Valladolid) and San Martín de Rubiales (Burgos).
Just months later, in the spring of 1999, the first vineyards were planted, and in April of 2000, the construction of the future Legaris cellar was started. The first wines of the winery, harvested from selected vineyards, were Crianza and Reserva wines that were launched to the market for the first time in early 2003.

The two Legaris vineyards have been planted with Tinta Fina (Tempranillo) grapes, although it is expected that in some time, 20% of the lands will be used for growing Cabernet Sauvignon. The vineyard is located at an altitude of between 700 and 850 meters above sea level in loose soil which is rich in limestone and poor in iron.

However the wine in question today was named after San Millan de la Corolla, whose monasteries are now UNESCO world heritage.

San Millan Roble 2014

The cellars state that it is

"...made with the best grapes from Ribera del Duero, hand-picked by over one thousand cherubs, San Millán is a wine from Heaven to be enjoyed on Earth” 

I wouldn't go that far, but it is quite good! Especially if you drink it at around 17-18ºC which I think was just ideal.

The 2014 harvest was carried out from September 27th to October 20th. The grapes were gently destemmed and poured into tanks where they underwent alcoholic fermentation at 22-24ºC to preserve the varietal aromas.

Alcoholic fermentation and subsequent maceration lasted 10-12 days all in all. The wine then underwent malolactic fermentation in stainless steel tanks. A gentle clarification and final filtration were carried out to refine the wine before bottling.Once completed, the wine was poured into barrels of American oak where it remained for just 3 months before bottling.

This wine is ready to be enjoyed now. But according to the cellars, it may, however, evolve favourably over the next year.

Aspect: Deep purplish red with bluish hues.

Nose: Prominent notes of fresh red fruit –which reflect the wine’s typicity- that are interlaced with notes of vanilla from its ageing in barrels.

Mouth: Rich, balanced and rounded.

Food matching: White meats, pasta, tapas and fresh cheeses.




Here is a link :



Like 2        Published at 13:21   Comments (2)

Lentils on New Year's Eve
27 December 2017

At this time of year, there is nothing more warming and hearty than a hot plate of lentils with chorizo. In Italy, on New Year's Eve, it is a traditional meal with pigs trotters where they consider it to bring good luck and prosperity for the coming year. So if that isn't a good enough reason to try this dish I don't know what is! Even if you aren't in Italy, luck is luck and prosperity is prosperity!

This is one of my favourite winter dishes accompanied with some crusty bread and butter (that’s the British influence in me) and it is much easier to make than you might think. 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 fibre, 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 of 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 marrow bone(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 whereas 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. Whatever 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 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 otherwise 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 aftertaste, 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 well works the effort and to be honest once you have chopped up all the ingredients it cooks on its own. 




Like 1        Published at 15:41   Comments (1)

The Largest Nativity in Spain
21 December 2017

The Monumental Nativity scene in Xátiva has been declared the largest in Spain. When Christmas arrives, this Valencian city really takes the tradition to another level.

Each year the ‘Monumental Nativity’ grows a little more to show and interpret all the scenes from the Birth of the Messiah. It is such wonderful creation and even if you are not particularly religious it is still a worthy way to spend the afternoon or the evening. If you have children in the family they are sure to love it. This unique spectacle in Spain has become a tourist attraction of the first order bringing tens of thousands of visitors every year.

However, if you do decide to visit there is some important information about this particular Nativity scene that makes it rather special, and you should know:

• Ecological: Throughout the year, City Council workers collect materials that will later be used to assemble the nativity scene. In addition, some of the tools used are of an ethnological character and are yielded by the locals to build the necessary scenes.

• Live animals: One of the great attractions is that in the scene there are live animals: ducks, geese, bulls, sheep, donkeys and turkeys among others. These animals are under veterinary control that care, at all times, for their welfare.


• Solidarity: The fruits and vegetables used and which are usually donated by local businesses are later donated on to charities that work with the needy in the local area. Visitors also throw coins in the fountains and once the event is over, all is collected and allocated to local NGOs.

Falleros Artists: The majority of the figures are life-size and have been elaborated by traditional Fallas artists, making this nativity scene a genuinely Valencian one. At nightfall, the nativity acquires a special magic with bespoke lighting throughout.

If you happen to be in or near Xativa this Christmas, visiting the nativity scene is really a must.


Like 1        Published at 12:51   Comments (1)

Fancy something different for Christmas lunch this Year?
15 December 2017


Although nowadays Christmas Eve is probably the most lavish meal of the Christmas holidays in Spain, originally it was Christmas day, much as it is in the UK. It was a day for bringing together the entire family including grandparents, uncles, aunts and cousins and any other family member that you may not have seen throughout the year. Depending on the family, each year it would move house and thus the hosting of this enormous event would be shared amongst the family members. Nowadays, still very much a family event though, Christmas Eve and Christmas day is now normally split between the parents and the in-laws, one day with each.  

Each region of Spain has its own tradition for the Christmas menu, which is determined mainly by local cuisine, for example on the coast seafood or fish is common and inland, meat plays a more important role such as roasted suckling lamb, however nowadays most regions tend to combine both, especially on Christmas Eve. However Christmas day in the Valencian community is a day for enjoying a rather special typical dish called ‘Puchero de Nadal’ ó ‘Cocido Navideño’.  Effectively it is a stew with giant meatballs but it is enjoyed in two stages. It may seem very simple and rustic but it is a very long meal and takes time to digest. It contains almost everything you could possibly imagine putting in a stew. What makes this stew different to the rest of the stews in Spain is the use of local sausages and local vegetables. The Valencian community is well known for its vegetables and this is well portrayed in the Valencian ‘Puchero’.

As with most traditional recipes there is nothing written in stone, except using a giant cauldron!  So grab the biggest pot you can find otherwise there is no way all the ingredients will fit in. Remember the stock, the meat and the vegetables can all be frozen afterwards so if you have a lot left over, which you will, ration it out in Tupperware and freeze it for another day or use it for another recipe as mentioned later on.

For the stew you will need the following :

½ medium sized Chicken (approx. 1,25kg of meat)
2 large meatballs (recipe as follows)
1 piece of bone marrow
1 piece of knee bone
150 grams of beef 
1 Blanquet sausage 
1 Onion Morcilla sausage 
100 grams of pork fat
300 grams of chickpeas (soaked in water over night)
1 stick of Celery, 1 stick of Cardoon, 1 sweet potato, 1 white turnip, 1 yellow turnip, 1 parsnip, 3 potatoes, 3 carrots, 1 leek, 5 runner beans and ¼ cabbage. (As far as the vegetables go, you can chuck in what ever you have at hand, but this is the standard recipe in Valencia)

So, to make the stew it is as easy as cleaning and peeling the vegetables and placing them all in the pot with the meat and the meatballs, except for the carrots, potatoes, runner beans and the morcilla. These need to be held back for later as they cook more quickly. Cover with water and slowly bring to the boil then reduce the heat to a low heat and let it simmer for 90 minutes. Remember to skim off the foam that rises to the top. After 90 minutes pop in the rest of the ingredients that were held back and then simmer for another 90 minutes. To make the meatballs all you will need are the following ingredients:

2 eggs.
150g lean minced beef
150g minced pork.
1 sausage (with skin removed)
200g Breadcrumbs
1 tbsp. Fresh chopped parsley 
50g Pine nuts
1/2 tsp. Cinnamon powder
10ml fresh Lemon juice
Salt and pepper to taste

Stew net for binding
Cabbage leaves for wrapping up the meatballs.   


If you feel like saving some time you can always make the balls the day before. Mix the meat, salt, pepper, parsley, cinnamon, eggs and pine nuts to taste. Pour the breadcrumbs in and knead it all together until it forms a thick mass. Add the lemon juice and knead it all together again. Separate the meat mass into two parts and then roll into two large balls. Once you have made the balls wrap each ball in cabbage leaves and then place inside the stewing net and tie up tight and add to the rest of the meat for the stew.

Once the stew is ready it is customary to first enjoy a bowl soup from the stock cooked either with rice or noodles. Some may add a piece of the meatball to the soup and  others may add a bit of everything and then move onto the rest of the meat and vegetables, the choice is yours. It would also be customary to make an oven baked rice the following day with the left overs. So there you have it, a very hearty meal from the heart of Valencia and ideal for this time of year, it may not look very sophisticated but it tastes incredible! 






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Alioli or Garlic Mayonaise?
30 November 2017

‘Ali Oli’ or ‘Ajo Aceite’, as we call it in Valencia, is probably the simplest and one of the hardest recipes you will ever try to make. Simple, because traditionally it only has two ingredients and hard because it will make you break out in sweat, especially if you make it in summer! Ali Oli is often translated as garlic mayonnaise but in fact it is not mayonnaise at all, its not far off mayonnaise but it isn’t a mayonnaise. This is probably the recipe where your choice of olive oil is most important as it is the main ingredient and is pretty much 90% of the final product. So you need to find a very good quality extra virgin olive oil, which is fruity but not too bitter and not very pungent. The variety Arbequina is by far the best due to its high quantity of linoleic acid (an essential fatty acid) that favours the cohesion of emulsions and sauces. However any good extra virgin will do. Cornicabra is very popular as is Serrana de Espadán here in Valencia. However if you can’t find these varieties look for an Extra Virgin ‘Suave’. I have read many recipes throughout the net suggesting sunflower oil and refined oils for this recipe. Please do not use these types of oils as they will definitely not give you the same result and are far less healthy.

The recipe I am going to share with you is the authentic one, the one passed on from generation to generation, not the popular garlic mayonnaises being offered around most of Spain (However I will also tell you how to make that towards the end of the post). It is a recipe that dates back thousands of years and has spread all over the Mediterranean so I can assure you it was never made with refined olive oil or sunflower oil. Basically, Ali Oli is an emulsion of olive oil, garlic and salt, nothing else. The secret to the recipe is in the technique, which does take a bit of practice. This is not a mayonnaise, a traditional recipe that originated from Mahon in Menorca, as it does not use egg yolk or lemon.  In the case of mayonnaise, it is the egg that acts as the emulsifying agent and with Ali Oli, it is the garlic that has the emulsion-producing properties.




Extra Virgin Olive Oil


& Rock Salt


How do we make it?

To start with we need a pestle and mortar, not a blender or a mixer, this is a traditional recipe and must be done by hand to achieve the best results.

For this recipe, we will use ½ a litre of olive oil and 4 large cloves of garlic. Depending on how strong you like it you can add more or fewer cloves to the recipe. As this involves a substantial amount of garlic it is a good idea to remove the roots of the cloves before starting. This means slicing it down the middle, lengthways and taking out the core of the garlic, this will help reduce the characteristic bad breath and the taste of garlic coming back up throughout the day. It the root of the garlic that our stomach finds so hard to digest and it just seems to linger around for most of the day!

 Once the garlic is peeled and the cores removed place them in the mortar with a pinch of rock salt and start grinding them. Once we have a lumpy paste we need to start adding the olive oil. It is very important not to add too much or too quickly. Patience is a virtue with this recipe. Start by adding the oil drop by drop and move the pestle in a circular action from left to right following the hands of the clock. Once you have started this action you should not stop until the Ali Oli is ready.

This is when it gets a bit tiring, as you need to apply force as well and keep the pestle moving at a constant speed to draw out the juice from the garlic. Slowly you start adding more olive oil, little by little but always waiting until the previous dose has blended with the emulsion. This continues until you end up with a thick sauce/paste or find the consistency that you prefer. The whole process can take up to 15 minutes. You will probably have problems along the way to achieve an emulsion, it takes practice and isn’t as easy as it sounds but it is really worth the effort! Here is a video that might help ...




For those of you who find it too difficult there are a couple of tricks that help to keep the garlic moist and facilitate the cohesion of the emulsion, one is adding 3 teaspoons of freshly squeezed lemon juice to the mortar at the same time you add the garlic and the salt. This will help you keep the emulsion stable and also reduce a little bit more the pungency of the garlic.

Finally, if you prefer a garlic mayonnaise, which isn't as strong, the only thing you have to add is an egg yolk (no egg white) to the garlic with the lemon juice before you start adding the olive oil. Another trick which works with either recipe is making a little ball of dough from a loaf of sliced bread and wetting it with water. You add this dough ball when you add the egg or just before adding the oil and grind it into the mixture, this will help create the emulsion and stop it from separating!

Once finished it is common to garnish the Ali Oli with a bit of fresh parsley and Listo! Ready to eat.

In Valencia, it is particularly common to eat Ali Oli with anything from fried potatoes seasoned with paprika or Black rice which is a dish which uses the ink from squids. It is very versatile and fantastic with vegetables, fish and meats so use it to accompany anything you want.

A very traditional dish is simply Potato Ali Oli, which is a boiled potato salad eaten cold but made with Ali Oli (with or without the egg yolk) instead of mayonnaise, absolutely delicious with cold meats and salads.








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Fancy a change from 'Jamon'?
23 November 2017

Although Spain is famous for its "Jamón" or cured ham, which in my opinion is the best in the world, there is also another cured meat speciality which is not as well known and as equally exquisite.
"Cecina" from León can be defined as a smoked dried and salted beef, which in a similar way to ham is taken from the the hind leg. The outer part of the Cecina has a toasted brownish colour which is caused by part of the elaboration process. It is similar to the Italian Bresaola.
The Cecina is a delicacy with a millennial tradition and even though it is a product which is very well known in Northern Spain, there are endless written references about Cecina going right back to it's origin. The word “Cecina” comes from the latin "siccus", which means "dry". Even in the IV century before Christ, in the Agricultural Treaty 55 by Lucio Julio Moderato Columela, a friend of Seneca, there is a description of the manufacturing process of the dried beef “Cecina”, which recommends that it should be cured during the last quarter of the moon, especially during the winter solstice. In the XVI century, "El lazarillo de Tormes" is published, a picaresque novel, where there is also a reference to the dried beef Cecina. It was also present in the discovery of America, since it was on the list of the supplies taken aboard the caravel Santa María, together with other salted meats.
Cecina, when it is cut, is a cherry-maroon colour, increasingly getting darker towards the edges as the maturing process advances. Similar to Iberian Ham, and if it should present some light fatty embedded seams running through the meat, which gives the Cecina that juicy flavour. It´s a meat with a characteristic flavour, lightly salted and with a fine fibrous consistency. 
Every piece  of meat is identified individually and is perfectly controlled at all times throughout the processing. When the meat is received it is weighed and analysed and if the weight, fat and other essential requirements are met following the guidelines of the Ruling Council, the meat will be labeled and stamped with the Designation of Protected Origin to guarantee it's quality before being sent off for curing.
After a minimum time of seven months, required for the whole manufacturing process, each piece of meat must pass the organoleptic and physical-chemical controls carried out by the Regulating Council before it can be finally certified and given the definitive quality label of guarantee.
If the product is put into circulation in portions or in slices which are vacuum-packed, the quality label will be visible on the packing together with a reference number which will inform you from which piece those portions or slices come from.
Cecina from León, as its name clarifies, can only be manufactured by producers within the province of León. The average altitude of the province of León (1500 m) together with a mediterranean continental climate and long winters with an average temperature of 2ºC and relatively low humidity followed by springs and autumns with a lot of rain, bring together the ideal climatic conditions for manufacturing Cecina.
The climate makes possible the slow process of drying out the meat, helping to get that peculiar aroma and taste that is characteristic. Only free-grazing local breeds are used to make this cured meat.
The process of manufacturing Cecina consists of a  highly controlled process of transformation from the original cut to the final product.  The aromatic and flavour characteristics will mature thanks to a biochemical and microbiological processes which occurs inside the meat. The processing is made up of different stages:
Shaping: the cuts are given the correct shape
Salting: the cuts are covered with coarse grain sea salt. This helps with the dehydration, the development of the aroma and perfect preservation. The time spent salting lasts approximately 12 hours per kg of meat and it´s done at 2-5 ºC and with a relative humidity of 85%.
Washing: The cuts are washed with luke-warm or tepid drinking water in order to eliminate all excess salt..
Resting: It usually rests from 30 to 45 days. This eliminates excess water and makes the salt penetrate equally helping to develop the characteristic microflora.
Smoking: Oak and Holm oak wood is used. This phase lasts between 12 and 16 days.
Drying and hardening/curing: This takes place in natural drying rooms or areas until the maturing is complete; the temperature (close to 11ºC) as well as the humidity (75-80%) is always regulated and controlled.
Cecina can be eaten as any other cured meat, on its own or with a drizzle of olive oil and shaved "Viejo Manchego" cheese as you would a carpaccio with parmasan. You can use it as an ingredient in a whole list of recipes, it is absolutely divine and a wonderful alternative to Serrano or Iberian Ham if you fancy a change, for example you can use it to make a Pan Catalana or better said a Pan Leonese.
I thought I would share this wonderfully simple and tasty recipe with you, a classic but with a taste of León. Similar to the traditional bacon and eggs but with a Mediterranean touch and lot less fat!
//  Poached egg with crispy smoked Cecina from Leon and EVOO-Fried bread //
The first step is to make the crispy Cecina. Cut the Cecina into strips the size of streaky bacon and then crisp them. This can be done either in the oven at 180ºC for about 12 minutes or in the microwave (1000W) for about 2 minutes.
The next step is to prepare the poached egg and the EVOO-Fried Bread.  Fill a pot with water and heat it up until boiling,  now we want to prepare the eggs. A way I love to prepare poached eggs is by using "cling film", it makes for an almost perfectly shaped egg and avoids loosing flavour and egg white because of the water. Take a square of cling film and stretch it out on the work top, brush the inner surface of it with a little olive oil and introduce the cling film into a small glass (as in the photo),
now just pop in the egg, season with a little pepper and close the cling film and tie it up tightly into a little sack with a piece of string. Now it is ready to pop into the water.
But before that start heating up a non- stick frying pan, take a slice of country bread or the bottom slice of a baguette (cutting horizontally) and generously baste both side with a good fruity extra virgin olive oil. 
Make sure the the water is boiling and the pan is hot, pop the egg into the water for 3 minutes, while the egg is cooking pop the bread into the frying pan and toast it in the pan on both side pressing down the bread with a spatula to remove the air in the bread. You will be left with a lovely crunchy fried olive oil bread, yes fried bread, but a healthy one!
After 3 minutes remove the egg sack from the water and carefully open it up, it should look like the egg in the photo! The white should be cooked but the yolk should be totally liquid.
Place the bread on a plate, create a Cecina lattice with the crispy strips on top of the bread and then finally place the egg on top. Listo and ready to serve. Enjoy!

Like 2        Published at 09:35   Comments (4)

9 October - The Day of the Valencian Community
10 October 2017


The Day of the Valencian Community (Día de la Comunidad Valenciana) marks the anniversary of King James I of Aragon's re-conquering of the city of Valencia from Moorish forces in 1238. It is also the Day of Saint Dionysius, a traditional festival for lovers, the Valencian “Valentine’s day”.

The custom on this day is to give the  person you love the ‘mocadorà or mocaorà ‘which consists of a knotted silk scarf with miniature marzipan candies in the shapes of fruits and vegetables inside.

The most widespread version of the origin of this tradition is that Jaume I and his wife, Violante of Hungary, on their triumphal entry into the city of Valencia, after defeating the Muslims on October 9, 1238, they were met by their inhabitants with gifts of fruits and vegetables from the local orchard and farms, wrapped in silk handkerchiefs.



From 1331 this date was established to commemorate the founding of the Kingdom of Valencia, which over time became a celebration of marked festivity in which the worldly pleasures were given free rein.

Unfortunately, with the abolition of the regional code of law by Felipe V in 1707, the celebrations of the 9th of October were also banned.  However, all was not lost, and with the intention of  the 9th October not losing its festive character, the guild of bakers and confectioners of the city of Valencia impelled the celebration of Saint Dionysius (Sant Donís) as the "day of the lovers".

To this day, the Valencian bakeries prepare themselves thoroughly for the 9th October and cook thousands of marzipan miniatures; it is estimated that more than 80,000 kilos of marzipan are used to make about 250,000 "mocadoràs". In addition, the Guild of Bakers and Confectioners of Valencia convenes the Sant Donís Contest, to choose the best "mocadorà" and is the best showcase opportunity fro the bakeries and pastry shops through out the city of Valencia. This year’s winner  of the 36th Edition was El Forn de Latzer. You can see some examples here and perhaps pay it a visit if you are in the area :



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