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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.

Artichokes will soon be in season...
23 September 2019

 

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 a 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 chilli, 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 previously cut off the ham into the oil and simmer for a minute or so and then remove it along with the chilli. 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 12:29   Comments (0)


World Paella Day - 20th September - Can you cook it?
20 September 2019

 

Today, 20th of September is the second edition of World Paella Day. This day is in recognition of the most universal dish Spanish gastronomy has given to the world. A day in which the Valencians share their great invention with everyone around the globe, putting aside differences and disputes with techniques or ingredients. World Paella Day simply put, celebrates a meal of humble Valencian origin that has transcended all borders. With millions and millions of yearly searches on the internet and its global consumption, according to the organisers and tasteatlas.com amongst other sources, it has scaled the ranks to become the fourth most important dish on the planet, only beaten by Sushi, Ramen and Tacos. Today being World Paella Day, all 'versions' of the Paella are accepted whatever ingredients you use, but tomorrow or the day when you happen to read this article, I can assure you they won't. The Spanish or the Valencians will return to their defensive position of protecting the original Paella - The Paella Valenciana.

There are hundreds of recipes for paella but I am amazed at how many just give the wrong ingredients and techniques and have probably just posted the recipe without even trying it first.

Yes, this is a dish that appears simple and straightforward but has its complications, as I am sure those who have tried making one for the first time quickly found out: “It hasn’t got much flavour” or “The rice is all sticky” or “is that the right colour?” or maybe all of them. I have seen dozens of recipes for paellas on the internet and I am amazed at how few follow the traditional recipe and don’t even give straightforward instructions. I’ve eaten a lot of paellas in and outside of Valencia and I can assure you the story changes when you leave Valencia. People start getting creative and putting ingredients in that a Valencian wouldn’t dream of using, not even on World Paella Day, like peas, chorizo, sausage or onion! This is not the traditional dish and therefore cannot be called a Paella! It is simply a Valencian would call it "Rice with Things" - "Arroz con Cosas..."

It is just not done like that in Valencia and let’s not forget, Valencia is the home of the Paella. The recipe has been around for well over 500 years and yet many still consider the “Paella Mixta” (mixed paella: meat and seafood and God knows what else) to be traditional Paella. The Mixta was a recent creation for the foreign tourists and started back in the ’60s with the tourist boom, it’s not very clear why it started but probably Mum and Dad couldn’t agree on which paella they wanted; “meat or seafood?” and asked for a mixed one! Who knows? But this “version” is only really served in tourist regions and is very popular in the Balearic isles, precisely for this reason; the tourists. So it is very rare to see a Spaniard and definitely not a Valencian ordering a Paella Mixta and you’ll be hard fetched to find a restaurant that serves one in Valencia.

So all this said, if you consider entertaining Spanish people with Paella, do not serve a Mixta! Surf'n Turf doesn't work with this dish.

 

 

 

I am going to start with the traditional recipe: La Paella Valenciana (chicken and rabbit). I’ve eaten so many I’ve lost count, and have had the opportunity to see many great local cooks prepare it and they all have a trick or two up their sleeves. It took me quite a few efforts to get it right too and even after a hundred it can still go wrong from time to time, so every paella is an occasion, everyone anxiously waiting around the table to see 'how it turned out!'

I will start by saying until you feel comfortable with the preparation process stick to the same sized paella pan because when you change sizes all hell can break loose if you don’t consider all the changes you have to make. So a  minimum size is a paella pan that measures 34/36cm in diameter, which is pretty much the biggest pan size you can handle with a large standard gas ring at home. To move up to a larger pan (which I prefer) you will need a paella burner adapter for your gas ring or buy a paella burner tripod to be used with a bottle of camping gas, but this is always to be used outside, never in the house. If you really want to practice cooking paella you will need a paella burner, they aren't expensive and you can buy them online, the reason being anything smaller than a paella for 4 people will not get you a great result as there won't be enough ingredients to get a decent stock fro the rice. My recommendation, to begin with, is a pan measuring 38-40cm.

You really need to consider your heat source and that will limit you to the size of the pan. Always go for the largest pan that will fit your heat source, as the more thinly spread the rice is the tastier it will be. Gas is always the best option while you are learning as it is precise and you can control the heat quickly, once you’re more expert, the ultimate paella is made over a wood fire, and preferably orange tree wood, but any will do. It is very common to use wood planks from pallets because they give a very even flame and get up to temperature quickly.

 

So what ingredients do you need? The authentic “Paella Valenciana” has a seal of guarantee of origin and quality (Denominación de origin), which identifies the 10 basic ingredients that it must have :

Olive Oil, Chicken, Rabbit, Ferraura (wide green runner beans), Garrafon (local large white bean),Tomato, Water , Salt, Saffron and Rice (Valencian round rice).

 

 

These are the basic ingredients for the orthodox paella, nothing else. However, some local variations are admitted under the name “Paella Valenciana”, which have come from local areas within Valencia, such as Benicarló where they historically add artichokes. Duck is used as well as other ingredients in the L’Albufera, snail, sweet paprika and rosemary are also admitted but nothing else.

So here we go, I’m going to include artichokes, paprika and rosemary to the base recipe and even though this recipe is for 4, I will use a paella pan sized for about 7/ 8 people approx. 38-40 cm.

That way the ingredients are not too cramped and the paella will be thinner and have a much fuller flavour.

 

  1. 500g (about 125g per person for a healthy serving) de Valencian round rice - variety Bomba if possible. Valencian Bomba rice will be more forgiving when cooking, it also absorbs much more stock meaning it holds more flavour. Do not use long-grain rice, it does not absorb nearly as much stock as the Valencian round rice and hence will not hold the flavour, which is the secret behind the paella.

  2. 800 g Chopped up chicken, including the liver.

  3. 500g Chopped up Rabbit, even if you don't eat it, add it for flavour.

  4. 400 g of  Ferraura (also known as bajoqueta) - large thick flat green beans - try and buy fresh.

  5. 200g of   Garrofon – large white bean. Supermarkets in Spain sell these two vegetables together in frozen packs for paella: "Verduras para Paella". Easier but better if you can buy them fresh.

  6. 200g Grated tomato (without the skin)

  7. 4 Artichokes – once cut up into 4 parts each, keep them in water with a little lemon, that way they won’t turn the paella a dark colour. 

  8. 150ml Extra virgin olive oil (more or less) depending on the pan. The pool of oil in the pan centre should not surpass approximately 4 fingers distance from the edge of the pan.

  9. Saffron threads

  10. Table Salt

  11. 1 Dessert spoon of paprika (sweet)

  12. Fresh Rosemary still on the branch. Do not use dried rosemary, it is far too easy to put too much in. With the branch it is easy to remove it as soon as the right level of taste is acquired. Rosemary is not meant to stay in the paella, it is only there to flavour the stock. If you use dried chopped rosemary it will be impossible to remove and probably ruin the whole paella.

  13. Water - 2,375L: 1,125L which will evaporate to make the stock + 1,25L to cook the rice. (Remember as a guideline for Bomba Rice 1 Kg of rice = 2,5 L of water)

 

Instructions

# First make sure that the paella pan is perfectly horizontal, if it isn’t it won’t cook properly. You can test this by adding the olive oil to the pan and it should all stay in the centre. If it doesn’t adjust until it does.

# Turn on the gas to low heat.  Always start with low heat or you will warp your paella pan and it will never recover its original form. Then gradually move up to medium heat.

# When the oil is hot, add the chicken and the rabbit. 

# Fry the chicken and the rabbit for at least 25-30 minutes at medium heat. You don’t want it burnt but you do want it a deep rich golden brown colour on all sides. This is one of the main tricks behind a good paella. Most people do not cook the meat enough during the preparation stage. It will not end up tough, later with the water it will soften up the meat. You will see that small parts of the meat/skin start to stick to the bottom of the pan as you fry it giving it a golden brown coating in areas, this is exactly what you want, without it you will not get a good paella stock.

 

# Once you have achieved the colour of the meat, spread out the meat to the edge of the pan to make room in the centre for the vegetables.  

# Add all the vegetables and fry them for about 5 - 7 minutes until the green beans have softened and are slightly browned in parts.

# Spread the vegetables out to the edge of the meat and make room in the centre for the tomato  

# Add the tomato and fry for about 3-4 minutes  

# Leaving the tomato in the centre, we now add the paprika. Now, this is a critical point. We must have the water ready and at hand when we do this and move to low heat. For about 1 minute max. we cook the paprika with the tomato. If you cook it for too long it will make the paella bitter. When you add the water it will stop the paprika cooking any further.

# Now we add the water. There are many tricks etc with the water measurements and really this is the key to success. Some measure it by the rivets on the pan and so on, but until you really control the paella it is better to follow these basic rules. The rules are based on the water from Valencia, which is a very hard water so if you have soft water you may need to adjust slightly. The basic rule for Bomba rice is 1 kg of Rice – 2 ½ Litres of water. Now, this is the amount of water you will need to have in the pan just before you put the rice in. So you will need more water to make the stock about 50% more than that required for the rice. So you will need approx. 1,125 litres more to make the stock on this rule, this will of course evaporate.

# Add the first measurement of 1½ litres of water and make a note of where the water level has reached in the pan - you can use the handle of a wooden spoon and mark the spoon at the water level  – then add the rest of the water.

# Raise the heat to medium heat and start boiling the stock for at least 25-30 minutes, add salt to taste.

# If the water level reaches the first measurement of the 1½ litres before time just add more water until the stock has a strong, rich and very slightly salty taste. The rice will absorb the salt. After about 20 minutes of boiling test for salt and add the rosemary branch. After about 5-6 minutes you can remove it, this is done by taste and smell if it is becoming overpowering remove it straight away. 

# Once we have a good stock flavour and have reached the first water level mark we add the rice. Just spread it out around the pan, as you have measured it, it is not necessary to do a cross or a line as many people do, these techniques come from judgement and practise. Just make sure all the rice is evenly distributed and all the grains are covered by the stock.

# Add the saffron until we achieve a nice rich golden colour. Be careful not to put too much in, you don’t want an orange paella.  

# After this point, you must not touch the rice or move it around. This is really important. If you do, you will cause the rice to release its starch and break and then all the grains will stick together.

# Cook on high heat for 8 minutes, until the rice starts to appear through the stock. 

# Then drop to low heat and cook for 6 minutes. It is important to drop the heat because we then avoid the sticking and burning of the starch that has come out of the rice and thickened the stock.

# The last 4 minutes or so will be on low heat or possibly a higher heat depending on how much stock you still have. That will depend on the water hardness. 

# We will not cook the rice for more than 20 minutes (Bomba variety) unless we are not at sea level, as is Valencia. Altitude affects the cooking of rice; the higher up you are the longer it will take. So if you are up in the hills say 700m above sea level you will need a couple more minutes to cook the rice! 

# At this point you should be checking for the Socarrat, this is the thin crispy bottom to the rice, not burnt I may add, but crispy and golden brown. To test, use a spoon. Push to the bottom of the rice and see if the rice moves or if it has stuck to the pan. If it doesn't move and it doesn't smell burnt, you have achieved that crispy finish. If it does smell burnt you will need to remove it from the heat immediately and place the paella pan on a very wet cloth to stop the cooking process and hopefully save the paella. If all is going well remove it from heat and let it sit for at least 5 minutes. The stock should have evaporated completely. If you are using wood, traditionally one would let the paella sit directly on top of the embers for a minute or so to finish off the socarrat. You could also raise the heat of the gas to the max for around 30 seconds or so until it starts to stick, but be careful not to burn it.

# If the rice is still a little hard  (evaporated too quickly) you can cover the rice with a damp kitchen cloth or tin foil if it is still quite hard. This will help finish off the rice. Let it stand for 5 minutes or until it is ready.

 

 

 

The rice should be roundish, in one piece, not broken or sticky. You should be able to separate the grains easily.

Paella is often decorated with lemon quarters but honestly, it should just be decoration, the Valencians say "lemon is only used on a bad paella" ....to give it some flavour. So, NO lemon! and remember a traditional paella is best savoured using a wooden spoon, don't ask me why, but it is true. It just tastes better!

 

Enjoy!!!!!!!  

 

RECOMMENDATIONS

If you don't have time to make it yourself, or would rather simply try the Real Deal here are a few of my recommendations if you happen to be in the Valencia area, all range from 20-40 euros / per person depending on wine, but these aren't just restaurants, they are wonderful places to spend the afternoon and enjoy a lazy long lunch in good company.

These first two restaurants are run by the Rafael Soler Orient so share the same philosophy. He is the son of the founders of La Genuina in Pinedo, also listed below and considered one of the classic restaurants in Valencia, all are fantasic restaurants.

 

ALQUERIA DEL BROSQUIL - Castellar, Valencia (Next to Pinedo)

http://www.restaurantealqueriadelbrosquil.com/index.html

Trip Advisor comments

 

 

ALQUERIA DEL POU -  Valencia capital (Next to the Science and Arts Museum)

http://alqueriadelpou.com

Trip Advisor comments

 

 

LA GENUINA - Pinedo (Next to Valencia : 10 min)

They don't have a website

Trip Advisor comments

 

 

CASA SALVADOR - Cullera (40 km south of Valencia on the coast)

Must order table on the terrace. It's preferable to avoid Sundays here, it gets ever so busy and can be slow.

http://www.casasalvador.com

Trip Advisor comments



Like 1        Published at 18:35   Comments (2)


How Olive Oil can help Cardiovascular disease
13 September 2019

Cardiovascular diseases are the top cause of death in the industrialised world. A host of studies have documented that arteriosclerosis is closely linked to eating habits, lifestyle and some aspects of economic development. The progression of arteriosclerosis depends on many factors: the most important ones are high blood cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes and cigarette smoking.

"… The lowest rates of death from coronary heart disease are currently recorded in the countries where olive oil is virtually the only fat consumed." Professor Francisco Grande Covián
 
WHAT IS ARTERIOSCLEROSIS?

Arteriosclerosis is the condition in which cholesterol-rich patches (known as atheromas) deposit on the walls of the arteries. This stops blood from reaching the tissues and obstructs the functioning of vital organs, such as the heart and brain.

WHAT ARE ITS CONSEQUENCES?

When the heart is affected, arteriosclerosis causes angina and heart attack and it increases the risk of sudden cardiac death. When the brain is attacked, cerebral thrombosis occurs, leading to muscular paralysis, loss of cognitive capacity and the risk of dementia. The aorta and leg arteries may also be damaged, causing pain and difficulty in walking and the risk of necrosis and gangrene.

When a fatty patch burst, for instance, because of a rise in blood pressure, the small arteries in the patch also burst. This triggers a response where certain cells found in blood, known as platelets or thrombocytes, join together to form a thrombus or blood clot.

The blood clot travels through the arteries, but when it is larger than the vessel it causes a blockage. Because blood cannot get through, the tissue or organ dies.

OLIVE OIL AND ARTERIOSCLEROSIS

It has been demonstrated that olive oil has an effect in preventing the formation of blood clots and platelet aggregation. It has been observed that by avoiding excessive blood coagulation, olive-oil-rich diets can attenuate the effect of fatty foods in encouraging blood clot formation, thus contributing to the low incidence of heart failure in countries where olive oil is the principal fat consumed.

WHAT IS CHOLESTEROL?

Cholesterol is a fatty substance contained in foods of animal origin. Diets containing a large amount of animal fats raise blood cholesterol level, which is one of the chief risk factors of cardiovascular disease.

Fats (triglycerides) and cholesterol are transported in the blood by lipoproteins. The cholesterol bound to low-density lipoproteins [very low-density lipoproteins (VLDL) and low-density lipoproteins (LDL)] is atherogenic, damaging the vessel walls. In subsequent stages, this may lead to acute heart attack. Such cholesterol is known as "bad cholesterol". In contrast, the cholesterol bound to high-density lipoproteins (known as HDL-cholesterol) is called "good cholesterol" because it provides protection against the onset of cardiovascular diseases. The high-density lipoproteins remove free cholesterol from the cells, then esterifying it and transporting it to the liver where it is eliminated with bile.

OLIVE OIL AND CHOLESTEROL

Olive oil lowers the levels of total blood cholesterol, LDL-cholesterol and triglycerides. At the same time it does not alter the levels of HDL-cholesterol (and may even raise them), which plays a protective role and prevents the formation of fatty patches, thus stimulating the elimination of the low-density lipoproteins.

The beneficial effect of olive oil consumption with regard to cardiovascular disease has been demonstrated in primary prevention, where it reduces the risk of developing the disease, and in secondary prevention, where it prevents recurrence after a first coronary event.

At present, research is revealing the effectiveness of the Mediterranean diet in the prevention of secondary coronary events and the positive influence of olive oil on the depression associated with such events and on mood. These findings are very important in view of the high incidence of depression in the modern-day world and the great risk it poses in recurrent heart disease.



Like 2        Published at 14:36   Comments (1)


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