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IAN & SPAIN

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

Mediterranean Tomato Soup
23 September 2015

         

Although tomatoes are around all year their natural season is coming to an end so if you grow your own tomatoes or have a load stacked up and are fed up drinking gazpacho every day and eating tomato salads this is a wonderful Mediterranean alternative to a great British classic. However the quality of the tomato is key to this recipe, the soup will only be as good as the tomatoes are, so if you can find a local farmer or market they will be far better than the ones you will get in the supermarket which have already experienced refrigerated store rooms, they also tend to be much bigger when home grown. However we want the tomatoes to be pretty ripe and not too hard, the riper they are the fuller the flavour. This recipe is a particular favourite of my daughter who is incapable of eating raw tomatoes, cooked or tomatoes in any which way or form unless it is in a warm soup, with no bits in it! I like to use large plum tomatoes, as they are full of flavour when ripe.

This recipe couldn’t get any more Mediterranean, all ingredients and herbs used form the backbone of Mediterranean cooking so if you have tomatoes in your vegetable drawer which are going soft and aren’t up to scratch for the salads, don’t throw them away, this is what you do with them….

 

Mediterranean Tomato Soup - 4 servings

1.25 kg. Ripe Tomatoes

1 Medium Yellow Onion


3 Garlic Cloves

1 tsp. Sea Salt

Fresh Ground Pepper


Dried Thyme and Rosemary

1 tsp. Paprika

1 tbsp. Chopped Parsley


1 Medium sized carrot

1 Stick of celery

500ml Vegetable Stock (or chicken)


1 tbsp. Concentrated Tomato Paste


1 tbsp. Heavy Cream  (optional)

Extra Virgin Olive Oil (Recommended: Oro Bailén “Reserva Familiar” - Picual)

Fresh Oregano & Basil for garnish

 

Firstly, prepare your vegetables. You need 1.25kg of ripe tomatoes. If the tomatoes are on their vines, pull them off and wash the tomatoes. Now cut each tomato into quarters and slice off any hard cores (they don't soften during cooking and you'd get hard bits in the soup at the end). Peel 1 medium onion and 1 carrot and chop them up into pieces. Chop 1 celery stick roughly the same size. Take 3 cloves of garlic but do not peel them, just chop of the stem root tip, the skin will prevent them from burning but they will still release their flavour. The garlic will go all soft and oozy inside the skin with a rich roasted flavour. Finally chop up 1 tbsp of fresh parsley.

Preheat the oven to 200ºC. Spread all the ingredients on a rimmed non-stick baking tray. Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil (preferably Picual). I mentioned the brand “Oro de Bailén” as it has a wonderful fruity-green tomato flavour and aroma, which is ideal for this dish and is available in Carrefour. Sprinkle on the salt, ground pepper, thyme, rosemary, paprika and the chopped parsley. Roast on the middle rack for 30-40 minutes until the tomatoes have broken down and reduced to about half their size and the onions are partially caramelised.

Remove and cool slightly. Warm the vegetable stock and stir in the tomato paste to dissolve. Now find the garlic cloves and remove their skin, they will just fall off in your hand. Add all of the ingredients from the roasting pan into the stock and let it gently simmer for 5-10 minutes, make sure every drip of that rich olive oil goes in too! Use a blender to puree the soup in the pan. The soup should be smooth, with some texture. If you don't like any texture at all, just run it through a fine sieve.

Return it back to the pot, and add some cream to taste, if you want it creamy that is, otherwise it is ready to eat. Taste for salt and pepper and serve with some thich toasted bread grilled with manchego cheese. garnish with fresh chopped basil and oregano. Listo! Enjoy!

 

          

     

 



Like 1        Published at 15:25   Comments (0)


Spanish Artichokes - What a Delight!
09 September 2015

Artichokes will be coming into season very shortly, at the beginning of October, and they are by far one of my favourite vegetables, however I am rather fussy. I am a sucker for the artichoke hearts and try to avoid the leaves at all cost. There are some who love to suck and chew on them in a stew and squeeze them of their very last ounce of goodness but I much say I prefer the tender and flavoursome centres, less effort and more flavour.

There are many ways to reap the amazing health benefits of artichokes. Unfortunately for me it is the leaves that contain many of the artichoke's powerful health benefits. There are ways to cook an artichoke, such as steaming or braising, so that the entire bulb, stem and all, can be consumed. However, even eating just the heart of the artichoke will provide benefits.

Ingredients in artichokes have been shown to reduce cholesterol by inhibiting HMG-CoA reductase (enzyme). They raise good cholesterol (HDL) and lower bad cholesterol (LDL). One large artichoke contains a quarter of the recommended daily intake of fibre. To give you an idea a medium artichoke has more fibre than a cup of prunes.

A study done by the USDA found that artichokes have more antioxidants than any other vegetable and they ranked seventh in a study of the antioxidant levels of 1,000 different foods. Some of the powerful antioxidants in artichokes are quercertin, rutin, anthocyanins, cynarin, luteolin, and silymarin. The pulp of artichoke leaves contains a polyphenol antioxidant called cynarin which increases bile flow.

They are good for the liver thanks to the cynarin and another antioxidant, silymarin. Studies have found they may even regenerate liver tissue. Artichokes have long been used in folk and alternative medicine as a treatment for liver ailments and the scientific studies are now proving them to be correct. So really they share many health properties with extra virgin olive oil, and should become a staple vegetable in our diet.

Additionally artichokes help the digestive system. They are a natural diuretic and they aid digestion, improve gallbladder function. Thanks to their positive effects on the liver, many people swear by artichokes as a hangover treatment! So I am going to show you a fantastic hangover recipe!

The dish I am going to share with you is fairly simple but can be a bit tedious if you don’t like peeling fresh artichokes, especially removing the hearts, which are what we want. However if you find this a pain and too time consuming you can buy artichoke hearts already peeled in jars in most supermarkets across Spain, but as they have been preserved in liquid they do maintain a slight aftertaste. So if you want the authentic experience get fresh artichokes from the market. When buying artichokes there are a few things to take into consideration. If the artichokes are fresh they will be completely closed and the leaves will be packed tight and the artichoke will be firm and feel heavier than its size would lead to believe. The tips of the leaves should also be comfortable to touch, if they are spikey and piercing the artichoke is no longer fresh. So take this into consideration when purchasing, the fresher they are the more flavour they have, simple.  Today’s recipe is a Spanish classic and is often on menus around the country as a starter or a garnish for main dishes. I on many occasions just enjoy this as a main meal with a glass of wine and some bread; flavoursome, light and extremely healthy.

The ingredients we will need for 4 servings are the following:

12 medium artichokes

300g mushrooms with the stems removed.

150 - 200 gr of Iberian ham thickly cut (Serrano will work too but it is a bit saltier)

2 lemons

2 eggs

3 cloves of garlic

1 small dried chilli

2 tbsp. of freshly chopped parsley

2 whole stems of parsley

Salt and pepper

1 large freezer bag

Extra Virgin Olive Oil, of course!

 

The first step is to remove the hearts from the artichokes and this can be a bit fiddly if you haven’t done it before and very lengthy to explain so I found a video which demonstrates two techniques extremely well, it is in Spanish but just from watching it you will clearly get the idea of what you have to do.

Artichokes discolour very quickly, within a minute they are turning brown so to avoid this we need a bowl of water with lemon juice, to place the hearts in while we are still preparing the rest of the ingredients. The lemons in the ingredients list are only for this purpose. It is also a good idea to wipe your cutting knife with a lemon to avoid further discolouring.

Once the hearts are ready we need to cook the hearts in boiling water with a large pinch of salt for approximately 20-25minutes until they are tender. Place a few stems of parsley with their leaves in the water to avoid further discolouring. Once they are ready drain the artichoke hearts in a sieve and let them cool down, drying them with kitchen towel to remove any excess water.

While they are cooling down we need to remove the fat from the Iberian ham and then chop up the ham into small chunks. It is best that the slices of ham are thickly cut this way the ham will not overcook when we fry it. This is especially the case if you use Serrano ham, as the thinner it is the saltier it will get when you cook it in the pan and we don’t want it too salty. This is partly why I prefer to use Iberian ham as it is firstly, better for you and also it is not a salty ham. However both will taste great! Slice up the garlic cloves, do not chop them, they need to be in slices or they will dominate the dish.

Beat the two eggs on a plate, as if it were for an omelette.  The next step is to grab the large transparent freezer bag, pour inside enough flour to comfortably coat the artichoke hearts, 4 tbsp. should be enough. Place the artichokes inside the bag and seal of the top leaving air inside so the artichokes can freely move. Shake the bag so the artichokes are well covered and empty out the artichokes onto a plate.  Start heating up the frying pan, and cover the pan evenly with extra virgin olive oil so we can shallow fry them. Make sure the oil is hot otherwise it will soak up the oil and not crisp properly. (To test the heat of the oil drop a small piece of bread in, if it sizzles and browns straight away it is ready, the oil should not smoke) Pass the floured hearts through the egg and place them in the oil until they are golden and crisp, turning them frequently. Then place them on a plate with kitchen towel to soak up any extra oil. This is olive oil so don’t be scared of the fat, it is good for you!

 

 ** If you would rather not batter them you can jump this stage and move directly to the final stir-fry adding the artichokes as they are after boiling.**

Remove the excess oil from the pan, leaving just a little for the mushrooms, ham and garlic. Heat the pan and add the garlic and the chili, make sure it is not too hot or you will burn the garlic, on medium to low heat is best. Add the fat that you cut off the ham to the oil and simmer for a minute or so and then remove it along with the chili. Next add the small cured ham chunks, fry for a couple of minutes and add the mushrooms, making sure the garlic doesn’t burn. The mushrooms you can put in whole or cut in half, but we want them in large pieces, not chopped. Add salt and pepper to taste and once the mushrooms are cooked, which shouldn’t take more than 5 minutes add the battered artichokes and the freshly chopped parsley, stir-fry it all together for a few minutes, serve immediately and prepare yourself for an amazingly tasty meal!

 

ENJOY!

 

 



Like 1        Published at 22:58   Comments (1)


Wonderful Light Snacks - White Asparagus from Navarra
01 September 2015

 
                              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
Salt
 
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
Water
 
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.
 
Enjoy!
 
 
 


Like 0        Published at 22:14   Comments (0)


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