It's Calçot season! Time to get messy!
30 January 2017
Published at 14:35 Comments (1)
The Calçot season has arrived (pronounced calsot) and those who don’t know what I’m talking about are in for a mouth-watering and extremely fun surprise! Calçots are a typical dish from the Catalonia region of Tarragona, specifically from the town of Valls however their popularity is spreading all over Spain and is also common in the Valencia rural region. If you have never experienced a “Calçotada”, the name given to the entire lunch ceremony you will now have a new excuse for inviting your friends over, as this is a dish that should be enjoyed in numbers as it can get very messy and first-timers beware, Calçots leave their ‘mark’ in every sense of the word! There is a saying in Catalan that clearly defines the best time to eat Calçots:
“ In January for the peasant farmers, In February for the Master and in March for the servants” so we are clearly entering the right month for trying this fantastic dish.
So what exactly am I talking about? Calçots are a type of onion, something between a spring onion and a leeK, with no bulb. The origin of the variety is disputed, but the most commonly accepted version of its history is that they were developed by Xat de Benaiges, a peasant farmer from Valls at the turn of the 20th century. He is said to have been the first to plant the sprouts of garden onions, covering them with earth so a longer portion of the stems remained white and edible. This technique is known Catalan as calçar, a Catalan agricultural term which means to cover the trunk of a plant or vegetable with soil. As the plant grows, soil is continuously added and replanted until it reaches a certain length, hence the name calçot.
The Calçots are chargrilled on an open wood fire or a barbecue with a high flame. You can also cook them in the oven but the result is not the same. So I highly recommend this dish as a starter for a barbecue. It may not be ideal weather back home for a barbecue but in Spain the weather right now isn’t too bad! In Catalunya this is a massive family event and many villages celebrate the season’s harvest by organising street barbecues for the inhabitants.
It symbolises the renewal of friendships as the entire event is carried out around a bonfire making for a long day of eating and talking. However the most important part of this dish is the thick sauce that you dip the Calçots in called Salvitxada.
Traditionally Calçots are served on a clay roof tile to keep them warm and are eaten standing up, once the Calçots are ready their outer skin will have hardened and turned black, totally charred. You hold the Calçot by the green leaves and remove with the other hand the charred outer skin, and the tender sweet white onion is revealed. This is dipped in the sauce and then raised up, leaning your head back, you lower the Calçot into your mouth.
It can get very messy as the sauce drips and your hands will go black, so be very careful not to scratch your nose! The first time I ended up pushing my hair out of my eyes, rubbing my eyes due to the smoke and I can assure you I wasn’t a pretty site. I looked as if I had been down a mine all day! It is customary to wear a bib when eating Calçots, yes a bib, even the adults. If you ever go to a restaurant to eat Calçots you will automatically be given a bib and the day you try it you will almost certainly appreciate it!
The star of this recipe is the sauce so I am going to share with you the traditional recipe. As with many Spanish recipes there are slight changes depending on the region and then every family adds their special touch. The same thing happens with the Paella and Gazpacho and a number of other well-known dishes. However this is the standard recipe the majority work with. Once again it is greatly dependant on olive oil and local Mediterranean ingredients, so it is very healthy and finger-licking delicious.
If you are a knife and fork person and a prisoner to creature comforts, this dish is not for you!
For the Claçot sauce this is what you will need:
· 150ml Aceite de Olive Extra virgin – Arbequina variety if possible
· 1 whole head of garlic unpeeled
· 100g of peeled almonds
· 100g of peeled hazelnuts
· 5 slices of 1 day old baguette bread
· 1 Ñora pepper or Choricero pepper
· 4 ripe tomatoes
· Red Wine vinegar
If you made the Ali Oli the other day you can go and get out your pestle and mortar again! However if you are in a rush you can use your blender with this recipe.
The first step is to soak the Ñora pepper in luke warm water for at least 12 hours. So do this the night before, as they are sold sun dried. The Ñora pepper is like a cherry red pepper in size but it is hot, not as much as a chilli but has a very distinct flavour.
They are not easy to find in the UK as they are typically from the Murcia region in Spain. If you can’t find one use a normal red pepper or a choricero pepper and add a couple of small dried chillis to the recipe. Once the Ñora had swollen with the water remove it and scrape away the pulp from the skin and keep to one side.
If you are using a barbecue place the 4 tomatoes and the head of garlic on the barbecue until they are charred all over. The garlic will take slightly longer. The cloves will be soft inside when they are ready. You should slice the bottom of the head of garlic so the heat can penetrate more quickly and so you can also control when the cloves are ready. When ready remove them from the grill and peel the tomatoes and the garlic cloves and place to one side. If you are not using a barbecue you can grill them or use a hot plate grill to char them. The next step is to brown the almonds and the hazelnuts in a pan with a dash of olive oil. We don’t want them dark brown, just slightly golden. Remove the nuts from the pan and add a little more olive oil, place the stale bread slices I the pan and toast them slightly until they are golden brown too and then put them to one side. Now we have all our ingredients ready, we can start blending.
Initially we will grind the nuts in the pestle and mortar, you can use a blender but we don’t want a powder so be careful not to blend them too finely. They need to be small but not so small as we can’t see them in the sauce. This will help give consistency to the sauce and help it stick to the Calçot. Then we add the peeled tomatoes and at least 3 cloves of grilled garlic along with a healthy dash of extra virgin olive oil. Blend slowly or manually using the pestle and mortar. The next step is to add the Ñora pulp and the fried bread. Break the bread up into little pieces and put it into the blender/mortar. Season the mixture with salt and black pepper, a dash of red wine vinegar and a small teaspoon of paprika. At this point you can add more cloves of garlic if you feel you would like it to be stronger in flavour, this is a personal question of taste, some like it very strong and even chuck in a raw clove of garlic to spice it up a little, I don’t think it is necessary. Finally blend it all together in the blender or the mortar and slowly add extra virgin olive oil to the mixture until you reach a thick consistency, taste and adjust, as you feel necessary. You may find you want a little more vinegar or little more salt, practise will make perfect.
If you don’t have a barbecue you can char the Calçots over a gas flame until they turn black using a grill rack, then quickly wrap them totally in tinfoil and place them in the oven at 200ºC for about 10-15 minutes in an earthenware dish. If you weren’t able to barbecue the tomatoes or the garlic, grill them slightly until they have charred slightly and then place them in the oven until they soften along with Calçots.
Now you are ready to eat your Calçots, just slide off the outer skin, it comes away without any problems then dip the Calçot in the sauce and eat! No knives and forks here! It’s time to get messy! Don’t forget your bib!
If you have decided to use a barbecue then the ceremony doesn’t end here, traditionally the meal would continue with chargrilled sausages and meats all washed down with Cava!
Enjoy your next Calçotada!
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A Real Winter Warmer 'a la Española' - Lentils and Chorizo
23 January 2017
Published at 13:34 Comments (4)
At this time of year there is nothing more warming and hearty than a hot plate of lentils with chorizo. One of my favourite winter dishes accompanied with some crusty bread and butter (that’s the British influence in me), which is much easier to make than you might think and if you make a little extra it will last in the fridge for a few days, however they don’t freeze well so it is always best to make them fresh.
‘Lentejas con Chorizo’ is a traditional dish which has spanned the Iberian peninsula, it is a dish that allows for some flexibility when it comes to ingredients as recipes vary slightly from region to region where different vegetables are added but chorizo is always the reigning ingredient for flavour. Rich in proteins, minerals and carbohydrates, lentils have been a part of the Mediterranean diet for thousands of years.
This legume fuelled roman legions and it’s not surprising given that about 30% of their calories come from proteins. Lentils have the third-highest level of protein, by weight, of any legume or nut, after soybeans and hemp. They also contain dietary fiber, folate, vitamin B1, and minerals. The low levels of Readily Digestible Starch (RDS) 5%, and high levels of Slowly Digested Starch (SDS) 30%, make lentils of great food for people with diabetes but more so they are a good source of iron, having over half of a person's daily iron allowance in a 100g serving.
To make this dish we will need the following ingredients for 6 people :
500gr Pardina Lentils “Extra” (a Spanish variety but readily available)
1 Green pepper - diced
4 large carrots – chopped into slices (not too thin)
2 large cloves if garlic – finely chopped
2 large onions - diced
2 bay leaves
1 Tsp. Paprika
Salt & Pepper – to taste
4 Tbsp. Extra Virgin Olive Oil
2 large mature tomatoes – peeled and diced
3/4 chorizos – approx. 250g
180g of diced Serrano ham (optional)
1 morcilla (optional)
1 piece of Serrano ham bone (optional)
1 piece of beef marrowbone(optional)
If you include all the ingredients you are in for a feast but you may not have all those ingredients readily available so if you can only get chorizo that will be sufficient to get a good result, the rest of the meat ingredients are optional. If you can’t find ham or bones, you could substitute them for 200g of Pancetta (unsmoked bacon) cut into large thick pieces, which is more readily available in the UK and actually more traditional than the chopped ham, it's just, I find that the pancetta adds even more fat to the dish where as the ham doesn't.
The first thing you need to take into consideration is the class of lentil. Pardina lentils are used for this recipe and it is best to use the ones classed as “extra” as they don’t need to be soaked in water before cooking them. However if you can’t find these you will need to soak the lentils in water for about 6-8 hours, so best to do it before going to bed and in the morning they’ll be perfect. You can however soak the “extra” lentils too and it will reduce the cooking by 30 minutes. That is up to you. I normally do it anyway and in the morning you will see that some lentils are floating on top of the water, these need to be scooped up and thrown away as they are not suitable for cooking. What ever you decide, the lentils must be washed before using to remove any impurities. Once we have our lentils ready, put them aside until we need them. This recipe contemplates the lentils being soaked.
Get a stew pot and add the extra virgin olive oil and heat it up. Then add in the onions and garlic and fry for about 10 minutes. Then add the green pepper, tomatoes, carrots and bay leaves and fry for a further 3 minutes.
Add the bones to the pot and a generous teaspoon of paprika. Quickly stir the paprika and then add the lentils and the Serrano ham. Be careful not to burn the paprika, this will make the dish go bitter, a few seconds is sufficient before adding the lentils. Stir in the lentils and the ham so all the ingredients are well mixed in and then add the cold water straight away. For 500g of lentils you will need 1,5L of water approx. The water should comfortably cover all the ingredients, as there are still ingredients to add. Depending on how you prefer your lentils you can adjust the water to have more stock or less stock at the end. If you see your lentils are running out of water before they are ready you can add more boiling water during the cooking process if necessary but it must be boiling so not to interrupt the cooking process. Slowly bring to the boil, when it is boiling some foam will appear on the surface of the water, scoop it off. These are impurities from the bones and we don’t want it in the stock. Let it simmer for about 20 minutes and taste for salt and pepper. You may not need to add any as the ham does add salt to the stock.
Now add the chorizo, you can either add it whole or chopped up into large pieces, I prefer it chopped up as it releases more flavour. You can now also add the whole morcilla if you have decided to use it (don’t chop it up otherwise it will disintegrate). Reduce to a medium heat for another 30 minutes, stirring from time to time. Now you can remove the bones. For another 15-30 minutes cook on a low heat checking the texture of the lentils until they are perfectly cooked. Be careful not to cook them for too long or get distracted other wise they will turn to mush. Once ready, remove from the heat and serve in a bowl with a side of crusty bread and butter. A little trick to jazz them up and give them a little kick from time to time is to dress the bowl with a couple of Basque chillis in vinegar, alternatively if you don't like chilli a little squirt of white wine vinegar gives it a great after taste, this was my father in law's favourite way of eating lentils.
If you are in a rush you can always use a pressure cooker, which will reduce the cooking time to about 25 minutes depending on your cooker. If you are looking for a slightly healthier version of this dish you can remove the meat ingredients and add potatoes and leeks to the stock resulting in a fantastic vegetarian dish.
I really hope you give this a go, it is well work the effort and to be honest once you have chopped up all the ingredients it cooks on its own.
Authentic Spanish 'Bravas'
16 January 2017
Published at 12:11 Comments (4)
Patatas bravas are originally from Madrid, where it was created and then spread throughout the country. Now each region has made their own modifications such as in Valencia where they serve it with a garlic mayonaise and paprika pepper. But one of the most emblematic places to eat Bravas in Madrid with a traditional Brava sauce is Bar Docamar in Calle Alcalá 337. It's sauce is legendary in Madrid and a house secret. This bar goes through literally tons of potatoes every week and customers travel from all over Madrid to enjoy their Potato Bravas and buy their sauce. This classic tapas is basically potatoes cut into irregular chunks of approximately 3-4 cm, fried and dressed in a spicy sauce that is poured over the them and served very hot.
When it comes to Patatas bravas' sauce there are two schools of thought: with tomato and without tomato. From my experience of living in Madrid and researching I would say the more traditional Brava sauce without tomato. It is made with a base of extra virgin olive oil, sauteed onions, garlic, papika and cayenne pepper, wheat flour and water or chicken stock. However other ingredients are used which are well guarded secrets by each cook who adds a special something to the recipe.
In Catalonia the sauce is made with olive oil, chili, sweet paprika and vinegar. The important thing is that it's spicy, in fact it's name "bravas" makes allusion to this. In the Spanish language, bravo-a means brave or fierce if referring to an animal.
Patatas bravas are typically served in bars in many regions of Spain as tapas or "ración". It's considered one of the cheapest tapas due to its inexpensive ingredients. Should you ever visit Madrid, you'll absolutly have to taste patatas bravas and I highjly recommend passing by Bar Docamar.
Here is my take on the 'Madrid' Patatas Bravas - Potatoes and Hot 'Brava' Sauce - Madrid Style
Ingredients - four portions:
4 large potatoes
1 large onion
3 garlic cloves
Pepper mix: 1 tsp of Paprika (normal) + 1 tsp of Paprika de la Vera (smoked) + 1 tsp of ground Cayenne pepper (hot) + 1tsp of white pepper
1,5 tbs of flour
1,5 tbs of sherry vinegar
Extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp salt
1 cup of chicken stock
1. Par-boil the potatoes. Cut the potatoes to size - uneven chunks of about 3 - 4 cms. Put the potatoes in a pot with water and bring to boil. Let them cook for about 10 minutes.
2. Dice the onion in fine chunks and chop the garlic
3. Heat three tbs of extra virgin olive oil and stir-fry the onion until its transparent.
4. When the onion is ready add the garlic. When the garlic is browned, remove from the heat and add the pepper mix. Stir well so it mixes properly and put at low heat.
5. Add the flour and stir in well for about a minute. Be careful not to burn the paprika.
6. Add the cup chicken stock and cook for 10 minutes to make sure the the flour and paprika are properely cooked.
7. Add the salt and the sherry vinegar and cook for a further 5 minutes. If it is too thick just add a little more stock or if it is too liquidy just let if reduce further and cook for a little longer. It should be thick but not too thick. The photo should give you an idea of the consistency. But then again, choose the thickness you prefer.
8. Put the sauce in the mixer and blend until there are no lumps or use a hand blender.
9.In a frying pan heat abundant extra virgin olive oil (very important) and fry the potatoes on medium heat and then raise the heat for the last 2 minutes to crisp. Once they are lightly browned put the potatoes on absorbent paper so any excess oil is drained.
10. Put the potatoes in a large bowl and pour the desired amount of sauce.
Patatas bravas are simple and cheap to make, and best of all, you can add any spice or herb to your taste, Recipes all over the country are usually modified by each cook. A popular alternative is to add freshly grated tomato instead of chicken stock and flour. They are an excellent tapas and starter to any family meal so if you are thinking of holding a party or inviting friends over for dinner, why not make these for them!
Crema Catalana - A real treat
11 January 2017
Published at 13:31 Comments (1)
Crema Catalana or 'Catalan cream' was originally consumed in Catalonia and it is without doubt this region's most typical dessert. With time it spread throughout Spain and is now a standard on most restaurant menus. However it is NOT exactly a Crème Brûlée for those who are unfamiliar with it.
It Catalunya it is tradition to prepare this dessert on March 19, when Saint Joseph is commemorated, which also happens to be the last day of Lent. Over this period, orthodox Christians would have been following a strict diet, so this tasty creamy dessert would have been a well earned reward for such sacrifice. Saint Joseph's day is also the Spanish equivalent of Father's day. So if your Dad has a sweet tooth you might want to make him some for next Father's Day.
However if we go back in time to its beginning, it can be traced back to Jewish food. The hebrews were very appreciative of the many and great combinations of milk and eggs. We have some references of Crema Catalana in medieval archives, as "illet cuita" (cooked milk). Apparently it didn't always have the caramel coating.
Today, Crema Catalana is without doubt one of the most famous examples of Catalan desserts and is recognised both nationally and internationally thanks to its simple preparation, originality and taste. Within Spain, the town of Sant Bartomeu del Grau celebrate a Crema Catalana cooking competition on the 4th of March, which forms part of the town's Craft and Commercial fair.
It's a simple recipe with common ingredients, however its difficulty lies in the sugar that coats it, which is heated on a steel plate or with a cooking blowtorch until it melts leaving a crunchy layer. Originally this was done with a heated rod or a branding iron, however it is now much more common for this process to be done using a gas burner.
The most similar dessert is Crème Brûlée, and they are often confused. The main difference is that crema catalana is made from milk and is then thickened with corn starch and egg, and the French dessert made with thick cream and eggs, and cooked in the oven in a water bath, and it has a texture more similar to a flan. If you want to watch your calorie intake, you can use skimmed cream, however it does not produce quite the same results as it does with whole milk.
The taste of crema catalana is so distinctive that it has been used as the basis of many other products in Spain. You can find crema catalana ice cream as well as a nougat like sweet which is called 'torró'. The flavour has also been copied in several liquors and liqueurs across the country.
If you ever happen to go to Barcelona be sure to try crema catalana, it will be served in most restaurants. But if you can't wait to get to Spain, you could always have a go at making this Spanish dessert at home by following this simple recipe:
1.Bring the milk to the boil with the cinnamon stick and lemon peel.
2.Beat the egg yolk with the sugar in a bowl.
3.Dissolve the cornflour in the milk and add the egg mixture.
4.Cook slowly over a low heat, stirring constantly with a whisk until the mixture comes to the boil. Remove from the heat immediately.
5.Pour into bowls or individual earthenware dishes and refrigerate.
6.Before serving, sprinkle with sugar and place under a hot grill as close as possible until caramelised, unless you happen to have a blow torch or a branding iron lying around!
You can use wheat flour or any other kind of starch, and add it to the egg yolk mixture.
The crema catalana can be eaten without the sugar crust. If this is the case, place a piece of brown paper over the top to prevent a skin forming.
The crema can be eaten with biscuits or carquinyolis (a type of Catalan biscotti).
Eggs - 8 yolks
Milk - 1 l.
Cinnamon - 1 stick
Lemon - 1 piece of lemon peel
Sugar - 200 g.
Cornflour - 40 g.
Midnight Shopping with Chocolate & Churros
05 January 2017
Published at 14:27 Comments (3)
Today, on the eve of the Three Kings or the Three Wise Men, however you wish to call them, we'll follow the family tradition and go out to the “Reyes” market in the Cabañal. The Cabañal market is very well known in Valencia and it is at night when parents leave their kids at home asleep (with a relative watching over) and escape to buy a few last presents and give a helping hand to the overworked kings. Even though most presents have already been bought, a wonder around the market in the early hours of the morning is a must, especially with my wife and my sister in law. Both from the neighbourhood, and after years of frequenting the market at Christmas, they know every trick in the book on how to get a bargain and if you are prepared to hang around, they know the right time to really push the bartering into fifth gear and walk away with ridiculous bargains, normally around 4:00am. At that time the sellers are tired after a long days work, their opportunity to sell has come to an end, within a matter of minutes no one will have any reason to buy any presents at all and above all toys. This is when the toy prices plummet by over 50% so you can whip up some great presents for next to nothing. Although we enjoy wondering around the market and picking up a few stocking fillers, the real reason we head down there every year is to feel the Christmassy atmosphere that is in the air and enjoy our seasonal ‘churros and hot chocolate’, normally the first of the winter season.
On a chilly night, at 2:30 in the morning a hot cup of chocolate and freshly made churros is pretty much unbeatable, just what you need to get you through to the end of the market! However it’s not all about shopping, the number of people you bump into is unbelievable and this makes progress sometimes painstakingly slow especially for me at least, as I am not much of a fan of crowded places so I get a bit irritable and would rather take a quick detour to the local coffee shop and wait for the women there!
I must admit I quite like this market though, its full of junk mostly but still its fun and if you look hard you can come across some nice stuff and if you are cheeky enough you’ll get a decent price. But it’s this night that kicks me into “pudding” mode and I start to cook sweets at home, normally during the summer and autumn I don’t bother but when the cold arrives and the smell of churros is in the air, I can’t help myself. So I thought I would share a recipe for churros, you can’t always find them when you want them and honestly they are not difficult to make. So here is a recipe I was taught and I hope you find it useful too. Remember the chocolate is the easy part, you can buy that in powder format in any supermarket, I normally buy the powder made by ‘Chocolates Valor’, which is really very good. Remember it must be thick!
The ingredients you will need for approximately 4 servings of churros is the following:
400ml water (300ml if you want the churros slightly heavier, a question of taste)
1 tsp. of yeast/bicarbonate of soda
½ tsp. fine table salt
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
First you will need to heat up the water and add the salt. If you are using tap water drop a slice of lemon peel in, this will help get rid of that tap-water taste. Once boiling, remove the water from the heat and let it cool slightly. When you can pop your finger in without burning yourself, add the flour that you have previously mixed with the yeast (brand ‘Royal’ is ok) or bicarbonate of soda. Mix in the flour and yeast mix bit by bit until it has become an even mass without any lumps. It shouldn’t be a very thick mix (unless you’ve reduced the water, it will be thicker). Once ready, let it sit for an hour or so. It’s important not to use too much yeast otherwise they will swell up too much and absorb a lot of oil and become indigestible.
Now fill an icing syringe or bag with a wide nozzle and squeeze out about 15cm of churros mix, cut with scissors at the nozzle tip and let it drop into abundant hot olive oil, careful it doesn’t splash the oil! Let it cook until golden and repeat the process until all the churros are cooked. When you remove them from the oil place them on kitchen towel to soak up excess oil and sprinkle with sugar. One trick is not to cook too many churros at the same time, the more in the oil the quicker the temperature will drop and for the churros to be crispy and not soak up oil, the oil must be very hot throughout the entire cooking process.
So as you see they are no more difficult than pancakes so give it a go and start dunking churros with a cup of thick hot chocolate!
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