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IAN & SPAIN

WELCOME TO MY BLOG. HAVING LIVED IN SPAIN FOR OVER TWENTY YEARS I HAVE TRULY MANAGED TO IMMERSE MYSELF IN THE LOCAL CULTURE AND FEEL TOTALLY INTEGRATED. I WILL BE WRITING ABOUT MY PASSION FOR SPANISH FOOD AND DRINK AS WELL AS ITS CULTURE, PEOPLE AND PLACES OF SPECIAL INTEREST. PLEASE FEEL FREE TO LEAVE A COMMENT.

Finger Licking Good!.... It's Calçot Season.
22 January 2019

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! ( At least in Valencia...today!) 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 one-day old baguette bread

·         1 Ñora pepper or Choricero pepper

·         4 ripe tomatoes

·         Red Wine vinegar

·         Salt

·         Pepper

·         Paprika

 

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

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

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

 

 

 [choricero pepper]

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

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

 



Like 2        Published at 15:46   Comments (4)


A Winter Warmer from Valencia
15 January 2019

‘L’arròs amb fesols i naps’ is a well-known Valencian dish also known as “Caldera”, ‘Olla de San Antón’ ò “Olla Pobre” (poor man’s pot). Whichever way you call it, it is a fantastic dish, which is ever so easy to make. Commonly made all around the Valencian Community during village festivities it is on a par with Paella when it comes to feeding large crowds. Traditionally made in tall cauldron pots, it can be just as easily made at home in a large casserole pot.

 

 

In Valencian villages such as El Puig and those between Rivera, La Safor or La Marina, cooking this rice dish in the town square has become a yearly tradition. Usually cooked over a log fire made with orange tree wood, it is custom to prepare this on the day of the villages’ patron saint and a plate handed out to anyone who wants one. It is not unusual to see Falleros preparing it during the Fallas festivities too.

In English we would call it ‘Rice with beans and swede’ although it does have some meat in it as well. The basic ingredients include pork (ear, snout, trotters, nowadays some lean pork is included and sometimes bacon), white sausage, onion morcillas, white beans, swedes (also known as yellow turnip), and edible cardoon, round Valencian rice, paprika and salt. As with many dishes born out of poverty this one is no different, nowadays is isn’t unusual to find versions which substitute some of the cheaper cuts of pork for beef or lamb which also reduces the fat content and calorie count! Additionally other areas such as L’Horta near the camp de Turia will substitute the white beans for garrafón, the large flat bean used in paellas. However in all cases the essential ingredient that always characterises the flavour of this dish is swede, which gives a lovely sweet touch to the broth.

This rice broth or ‘arroz caldoso’ as we would call it is without a doubt the most widely established dish in the Valencian Community especially this time of year. It is, after the paella, probably the most popular rice dish for the locals and still greatly unknown by foreigners but the ritual behind this recipe does stir up a lot of curiosity.

In Vinalesa, a village in L’horta Nord (northern part of Valencia) they prepare their version of this dish on the 13 and 14 of October during their annual festivities. It is a recipe that is traditionally cooked by men, as with paella, in fact in Spain, men normally prepare any recipe that involves firewood. It’s sort of like the caveman syndrome. If it needs fire it’s a man’s job, if it needs sweat, it for the women, that’s why the women the day before have to peel all the vegetables and are known as the ‘peladores’ or ‘the peelers’ while the men cut up the meat and prepare the wood. It’s kind of like a barbecue back home; it’s a man’s thing isn’t it? Nonetheless all are happy and a huge quantity of food is prepared and given out to all the village.

In Godella, the Clavarios de San Antonio prepare this rice dish, en Masalfasar they also make this dish for the day of San Anton which has just past and they call it Poorman’s Pot: ‘Olla Pobre’. In Almàssera thay call it ‘Caldera’, en Estivella they prepare it for the day of San Blas, en Alaquas they celebrate ‘El Porrat’ en honor of San Francisco de Paula on the 23rd of March and hand out this dish to anyone who happens to pass by. In Foios, Villarmarxante, Olocao and practically every other village in the community will have a special day for preparing this rice broth. It is unique and well worth trying. After the paella, it doesn’t get much more Valencian.

Here is the basic recipe for 6 people : 

300g Round Rice from Valencia
300g White Beans (soaked in water over night)
300g Pork pieces (ears & snout)
300g Lean Beef in 3 large pieces
1 Pig’s tail cut into pieces
3 Pigs trotters cut into pieces
200g Pork Pancetta / un-smoked bacon
2 Onion Morcilla
1 Large White sausage – Blanquet
3 Medium sized swedes
2 sticks of edible cardoon
3 medium sized Potatoes
2 tsps. Paprika (de la Vera)
Saffron
Salt
           

  

The process is really very simple. Fill a large deep stew pot with 3 litres of water. It should fill the pot to about ¾’s of its maximum volume. Start to heat up the water on a medium heat with a large pinch of salt.

Once the water is hot, add all the meat to the water, cut it up previous into manageable pieces, but not too small so they are easy to remove afterwards if you don’t want to eat them. I am not a great fan of ears, snout or trotters, so I just use them for flavour and separate them afterwards. I prefer the beef and pancetta with the morcillas and the white sausage. It is important to remember to create a cross on either end of the morcillas with toothpicks otherwise they will disintegrate in the broth. Once all the meat is in let it cook for an hour or so. 

Now you will need to add the swedes and the cardoon. Don’t chop the swedes up too small; they should be in medium sized chunks/pieces. Let it cook on low heat for another hour. 

Now we will add a pinch of saffron and the paprika. Remember we should always cook the paprika before adding it to any dish, so get a small frying pan and add a little extra virgin olive oil, heat up the oil and add the paprika, stir it and fry it for a few seconds and then add a ladle of stock to the pan from the pot, stir around and pour it all back into the stew pot and mix in. 

Now we need to add the potatoes and the beans. Cut the potatoes into medium sized chunks. After 10 minutes we will need to add the rice but check for salt before doing so. Once the rice has been added stir in and cook(simmer) for a further 15 minutes and then remove from the heat. If the rice is still a little tough it will continue cooking in the stock so don’t worry.

That’s it. Serve up in a bowl or deep plate with a mixed salad and fresh crusty bread with a glass of red wine. It is also customary to eat this with raw sweet onion cut into pieces and sprinkled onto the plate.

 

 

ENJOY!



Like 1        Published at 13:56   Comments (1)


Breakfast with Extra Virgin Olive Oil reduces inflammation
10 January 2019

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 0        Published at 13:29   Comments (1)


Midnight Shopping with Chocolate & Churros
04 January 2019

Tomorrow, 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:

300gr Flour
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 a 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!

 



Like 2        Published at 20:16   Comments (0)


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