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The best way to eat bread
20 November 2015


For those of you who have been to Spain you've probably seen or tried this dish but for those of you who haven't its your lucky day, because tasty food doen't get any easier. Well, more than a dish it is a fantastic “breakfast” alternative or a starter, side dish for a meal or even  a main meal which can be accompanied with cheeses and salads.


Like all great dishes, simplicity rules and here is no exception. “Pan Catalana” or “pa amb tomàquet” as they would say in Catalan is pretty much part of the Catalan’s staple diet. 


This recipe is considered one of the best examples that define the Mediterranean diet and has spread all over Spain as a traditional recipe. 



The only ingredients you need are thick sliced country bread, a clove of garlic, “GOOD” Extra Virgin Olive Oil. I personally prefer to use a very “green” fruity olive oil with fresh grass notes, such as that from the Hojiblanca variety or a blended Picual, “Venta del Varon” is ideal for this, as this dish relies on so few ingredients I like to be able to noticeably savor all of them in every bite! However any good extra virgin will do. You will also need a little salt and Iberian bellota ham (Spanish cured acorn ham). 


It is a favourite with all my family and all the visitors that come to stay. Funnily enough, many end up eating so much of it before the main meal that they don’t make it to half way through the main course let alone to the dessert! It is rather moreish, so be careful!


Naturally as with all recipes that spread, every area of Spain prepares it in a slightly different way. For example in Majorca, Catalan Bread or “Tomato Bread” is prepared with tomatoes called Tomatiga de Ramillet, which is a specific variety of tomato on the vine, which is smaller and with a little bit more of and intense and bitter taste than normal tomatoes, it is also a tomato that has a longer maturing period, meaning a longer shelf life of up to several months. The important thing here is that the tomato should be very ripe, making it easier to rub the pulp onto the bread. The original base used to be and still is made (in Catalunya) with toasted slices of “pa de pages” ('peasants' bread'), a typical round piece of wheat bread of a fair size (from ½ kg to 5 kg, from some 20 cm to 50 cm in diameter) Nowadays many make a pre-mixture of grated tomato, olive oil and salt and then just spread it on to the toasted garlic bread and top it with a couple of slices of Iberian Bellota Ham, which is much easier if you are serving a large table and especially if you like a lot of tomato on your bread.


However if the mixture is not pre-made, there is said to be an “ideal order” in which the ingredients are integrated to yield the best flavour. First, the garlic is rubbed on the bread. Then the same is done with the tomato. Next comes the salt, and lastly the olive oil. The traditional way to get all the flavours mixed well without having to pre-make a mixture is to cut off the heel of the loaf and use it to gently but firmly press all of the ingredients together.






So, how do I make it? I personally like a fair amount of tomato on my bread so I tend to grate a couple of mature ripe tomatoes into bowl (cut the tomatoes along their horizontal axis, not vertically), I sometime use plum tomatoes which work very well indeed. I thickly slice a country loaf of bread, one with a crunchy crust, about a thickly as the toaster will allow me to and toast them. I then grab a clove of garlic and cut the top off it and then with out taking the skin off, rub the garlic over the toasted bread. I then change the “ideal order” and pour the extra virgin olive oil on next, as I find it tends to slide off the tomato if you put it on last, then I add a little salt, as it is easier to control how much salt you put on, with out the tomato, then I spoon on the grated tomato pulp and spread it evenly over the bread. Finally I top it with a couple of thin slices of Iberian Bellota Ham and that’s it. Done. Ready to eat and enjoy, with a glass of Ribera del Duero red wine or even a coffee and freshly squeezed orange juice at breakfast. Fantastic!





Like 2        Published at 12:31   Comments (5)

Authentic Spanish Omelette
13 November 2015

One of the easiest Spanish recipes and probably the most travelled of them all is the Spanish potato omelette. But when such a simple dish has become an important part of a staple diet it tends to convert into an art form in Spain. There are over 40 million people in Spain and probably 20 million different ways of making a Spanish omelette.

Everyone has there own personal touch that makes it slightly different. This is very similar to a fried egg, simple in essence but believe me a simple fried or poached egg can be a raving success or a disaster. There is a fine line between culinary heaven and mundane foodstuff. Exactly the same thing goes for the Tortilla Española. Having so few ingredients each must be prepared to perfection and the main trick lies in the timing.

Eggs are eggs and potatoes are potatoes pretty much anywhere in the world so finding decent ingredients won’t be a problem here. I have eaten hundreds of Spanish omelettes and I imagine most that are reading my blog have done so too. I’ve eaten really thick ones, really thin ones, ones loaded with potato, ones with hardly any potato, but the vast majority are really dry and over cooked meaning it’s almost compulsory to add a bit of mayonnaise so your mouth doesn’t dry up! But every now and again you come across a tortilla that takes you by surprise and you say WOW! What is it that is different about this omelette? For me it’s a “tortilla” that isn’t too thick or too thin, is nicely browned but isn’t dry in the middle giving it moisture and thus there is no need to add anything else. I also prefer it with onion as it gives it that extra edge of flavour, a sweeter touch.

Maintaining that moisture is quite complicated as eggs are so easily over cooked and when you take it off the pan it keeps cooking on the inside so really it’s a question of practise makes perfect as the eggs are never the same size and nor are the potatoes so giving exact cooking times is a bit pointless. However I am going to share some guidelines that I learnt from a “Master Tortilla Maker”, as I call her, but she is more commonly known and Maribel! Our good friend’s mother, who is now 75 going on 30 with a heart of gold and a love for life, has been making omelettes every week for as long as she can remember, well over 60 years, so I would say she is an expert on the subject. Not a week goes by without making one and Maribel is a Spanish food encyclopaedia and still spends most of her life in the kitchen working, although fortunately for her she really enjoys it. 

Last Sunday we paid her a visit and lone behold she was making a tortilla...again, so I thought “perfect!” this is the opportunity to share her secrets with you all and take a few photos to help in the process. I’m not bad at it myself but she makes it look so effortless, the way she finely chips the potatoes directly into the oiled pan without even looking with a small knife and at a speed akin to a nimble young women. No chopping board, no potato peeler, nothing, just a small sharp knife and a pair of hands, chipping away at a rate of knots and before you have realised it she had three chipped and in the frying pan only to be followed by an onion which was also chopped up in a blink of an eye. I had to tell old Maribel to slow down otherwise I’d miss out on interesting photos! But she said, “You speed up, you’re the young one!” so that put me in my place and I quickly managed to grab some photos to share with you. Maribel said “It’s just an omelette what’s all the fuss about? But Maribel’s omelette isn’t just any omelette.  So what is Maribel’s secret? Well it’s quite simple, so I will run you through the steps.  For a normal Spanish omelette you’ll need three medium sized potatoes, one large onion, 4 large free range eggs, salt and some good extra virgin olive oil. This will serve 4 adults as part of a main meal or 8 as a light tapas. If you want to make it bigger and thicker just multipy the ingredients accordingly.

If you don’t think your as nimble as Maribel then you should chop up the potato and the onion before heating the pan, because if you are too slow the first potato chips will cook faster than the last ones. So to be on the safe side you need to chip the potatoes before. I don’t mean cut them into slices or chip shapes but cut away at the potato with a knife as if you were carving a wooden sculpture and cutting off large uneven chips of wood. The pieces of potato shouldn’t really be much bigger than a 50p coin and no thicker than say two 50p coins if you get what I mean…we don’t want them very thick not too thin but it doesn’t matter is some parts are thicker than others and that every chip is different, this helps them to hold together better and the omelette has less chance of breaking up and it is also easier to cook all the potato uniformly. Chopping them unevenly also means some parts of the potatoe chips brown slightly giving the tortilla more flavour. There is nothing worse than having cooked and undercooked potato together in an omelette so be careful not to cut really thick pieces of potatoe. Cut the onion into quarters and then slice it up but not too finely. Some people fry the potatoes and the onions seperately but here we are going to do it together. If you do them seperately make sure the onions go really soft and don't burn.

At this point we are going to need two deep frying pans, one to cook the potatoes and then one to make the omelette. We aren’t going to use the same pan. We need a wider frying pan to evenly cook the potatoes and onion and then a smaller frying pan to get the thickness for the omelette.

Pour some extra virgin olive oil into the pan being careful not to pour too much, we are not deep frying the potatoes so just cover the pan all over leaving about 1 mm of oil across the pan and put it on medium heat, let the oil heat up and then reduce to a low heat straight away. At this point we need to add the potato and the onion and season with salt. Cook the onions and the potato on a low heat for about 20 minutes until they are well cooked, remember we are not frying them so we don’t want to brown them too much or make them go crispy, towards the end they will slightly brown in parts and that is fine but if they brown too quickly your heat is too high and if they go crispy you have too much oil in the pan too. If they absorb all the olive oil and it looks like they are drying up don’t be afraid to add a little more olive oil while cooking.

Once they are cooked you need to beat the four eggs together. Maribel has a great little trick but takes a little practise; she beats her eggs on a plate and not in a bowl helping to air the egg mixture making it lighter and spongier. Another trick is to beat the egg whites first and then the yolks. Once beaten the eggs should have air bubbles all over the surface of the egg mix, season with salt and put to one side. Wait for the potatoes to cool down a bit and pour a little olive oil in the smaller non-stick frying pan and add the potatoes. 


Next we add the beaten eggs, let them sit for about 10 minutes so the egg mixture has well and truly settled amongst the potato and filled every nook and cranny, shake the frying pan to help evenly spread out the potatoes. Now you can put the frying pan on low heat and start cooking the omelette.

Once the eggs have set grab a plate which is larger than the diameter of the pan and place on top of the frying pan to turn the omelette over, slide the omelette back into the pan and continue cooking for a couple of minutes. Turn the omelette over again cook for another 30-40 seconds then turn it over again until both sides are slightly browned but no too much. Remove from the pan and place on a serving plate. It is now ready to eat. There are millions of ideas as to what the perfect tortilla is but for me it is one that is nicely cooked on the outside but still moist and slightly liquid in the centre, so it is not cooked all the way through, this timing takes practise but when you get the balance right it is a real delight. What would otherwise be a heavy dry omelette becomes a fantastic culinary masterpiece that needs nothing added except for a slice of thick crusty bread, to clean the plate! 




Like 1        Published at 11:50   Comments (4)

It's truffle season in Spain
03 November 2015


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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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


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

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

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


You will need for four servings:

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


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



Like 0        Published at 09:35   Comments (0)

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