Spanish Food 101: Ingredientes y Miscélaneo

A culinary journey through Spain via the unparalleled medium of informal oral testimonies. This is written in English. If you would like a Spanish/Spanglish translation may I recommend reading slower, louder, and adding the letter “o” intermittently to the end of words. This is an appended addition to the series of this crash course in Spanish cuisine. An introduction to this tale can be found by clicking here, and you can see the earlier forays of this adventure by scrolling down and reading more of this blog, which I would recommend that you do anyway. 

And now for some stray thoughts and things that I couldn’t find an appropriate place to put in any of the other posts. Maybe I should have tried harder. But I am writing this on a plane, and it is a Ryanair flight so not a particularly comfortable way to type on a laptop. Battery is draining, sun is careening in through the window. No internet. This is where my effort is going. Consider this post Appendix O.

Aceitunas

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Or olivas. Olives to you and I. Most came with a stone in. A lot of eating in Spain is being comfortable picking food out of your mouth, and watching others pick food out of their mouths. The same statement can be made for Asia, only spicier (so having to watch people pant a little too).

We ate these as an aperitif. The mother asked me what aperitif was in English, and thinking that she meant an aperitif, I said it was the same. Of course, it is actually appetiser, or “app” if you like shortening words and are terrible. Or maybe “nibbles” if you are twee.

Spain is an unsung olive producing country. When you, or certainly I, think about the olive producing nations of the world it is usually Greece or Italy that comes to mind. Not so, or not only so. Italy often buys Spanish olives and repackages them with their Italian branding. There is something more alluring about Italy maybe, but more on that later. “They are better marketers” reasoned the father. This may be so.

Green olives are preferable to black olives on their own, and black olives are on the whole more popular to add to salads, paellas and other dishes that require a tang of olive.

You can buy olives from pretty much anywhere, including the airport. I don’t recall there being fridges with deli meats, cheeses and the like in the UK, but it is possible that I just spend too much time trying on sunglasses.

Fresh olives undeniably taste better. Often they are accompanied with pickled garlic, tomato or peppers. It is such a shame to have to return to jarred or canned olives. Please picture me looking longingly out of the window of the plane, which is what I am doing.

 

Allioli / Aioli

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The family do not buy mayonnaise. Nor do they serve ketchup, salt or vinegar with their homemade chips (did you know that in ESL textbooks “home-made” is an example of a compound adjective, yet the hyphenated version has been outmoded for several years. There is nothing like teaching your own language to make you question the inconsistencies, rules and fashions of it) as the seasoning comes in the cooking; chips are one thing that even they admit shouldn’t be coated in olive oil. No, the family do not buy mayonnaise, they make it, and often. For salads, for dips, for fun, for chips (that was for the rhyme. My statement of chips still stands).

Allioli is mayonnaise with garlic and is a popular accompaniment to rice dishes, namely arrosejat. Punchy, deep and rounded, it is a sauce which encapsulates Spanish cuisine. Try this and a salsa de tomate and you will have been given a very brief yet quite telling overview of the flavour profiles of Spanish cuisine. It acts well to bring out the richness of the stockier Spanish dishes. And, whatever, we can say that it allows you to have a vegetable with your mayo.

One of the daughters made a poster that said, in English, “do you like mayo with your ice cream?” I do not, but I am impressed at the thought process that went into that question coming into her mind and then the desire to make it into an A4 poster.

 

Maybe I Just Like Italian Food Better?

Pizza! (a note I left to myself under this heading).

As outlined in the introduction, my experience with Spanish food before coming to Spain was very limited. I expected it would be a poor man’s Italian food. A worse version of Italian food. And that Spain on the whole was a worse Italy. What I have found is more apples and oranges than this. Spain very much has its own personality, and the Spanish a caliente personality. Spanish food is perhaps better compared to Portuguese or Greek food, but then again no, each of these countries are distinct in their culinary and other traditions.

The Spanish are very proud of their cuisine. Outside of the big cities, you will predominantly find Spanish restaurants. At home, families eat Spanish food. Or Japanese food when they have fresh, fresh fish. But ninety percent of the time, Spanish food.

However, like every country that I have visited, Italian food is popular here. Gelato and pizza and pasta. You can put your Catalan or Spanish twist on it, but a gelato is a gelato, a cannola a cannelloni, and an expresso an espresso.

When I spent the weekend in Barcelona city with my friend, I insisted on a pizza and gelato afternoon as it had been three weeks since I had eaten pizza. “You have a three week limit on not eating pizza?” “I went three months without pizza in Asia and had one of the darkest periods of my life. It’s best to have some pizza when I can.” In the Gothic Quarter there is a row of pizza by the slice restaurants. I was unsure of what to order, and as I nearly gave up hope they put out a ham and vegetable pizza: exactly what I was looking for. The first bite of that slice was pure joy. Not the best pizza of my life, but pizza for the pizza starved is a well of life.

A pizza restaurant after a fair in Premia de Mar. The picky-eating cousin said that she didn’t like pizza. I nearly fainted.

“What do you want instead?”

“A bikini [cheese and ham toastie]”

“A pizza has cheese and ham and bread. You will like pizza.”

The emphatic happiness on that child’s face as she ate slice after slice of pizza was unrivalled for the rest of the week. Surely nobody can truly dislike pizza? This restaurant served a thin, quite crispy Neapolitan pizza which far exceeded my expectations. I had a capricciosa, and the mothers were sold on capricciosa as a pizza topping. The menu was quite extensive, which isn’t always a good thing, and the service variable, which showed that it was run by Italians.

You are never too far from a passable pizza in Europe. Or an Italian restaurant run by Italians. Goodness I love Europe.

In Spain the fish has been better than that which I had in Italy, but I have been fortunate enough to stay with pro-fish families, while in Italy I was purely a holidaymaker.

So what to say of Spanish food as a concluding comment? It is for the home, for the bar, and is the pride of its people. Mucho gusto. Muy bien.

“You are a girl who definitely loves Spanish food. Is good to see. We are glad.”

“I will miss the beach, the family, the weather, and, undoubtedly, the food.”

 

We are all abajo mismo sol. Spain’s just shines brighter – the light quality of Andalusia is the best I have come across in the world, as is the night sky. It is no wonder that it is such a popular location for filming. But now the sun has set on my Iberian adventure and the fasten seatbelt sign has turned on. The bell will ring for a timely arrival of Ryanair and I will return to eating the culinary stylings of the French. The son said that his favourite food is French – though couldn’t name a single French dish, nor did any of them know what boeuf bourguignon was – and invited himself around for dinner. The boldness of children, and the Spanish. While I may not actively opt to eat in a Spanish restaurant, any Spanish person who would be happy to have me in their home can extend an invitation and certainly expect a guest exclaiming “tengo hambre” y “delicioso”.

Spanish Food 101: Bebidas (La Secunda Parte, Alcohol)

You can find the first part of bebidas here, or by scrolling on down. 

Sangria

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A frighteningly popular drink for BBs all over the world. I am yet to drink any in Spain. In fact I have only ever drunk it twice in my life: once in Slice, Manchester (good for Roman-style pizza, dates, catching up with friends, book readings, everything), and once another time I’m sure. When I worked in Nando’s one person once ordered a sangria and three of us haphazardly threw together a jug of something with alcohol, fruit and soda. There were no complaints.

It is quite easy to make, but, like Pimm’s, it requires that little bit of extra effort that makes it all to much of a hassle when beer, wine or continuing to live my life as normal are options.

If you did want to know what sangria is or how to make it, in short: wine, juice, soda, ice, sliced fruit, mint, mix. Put on your best hat and recline in a garden. We all live for the summer.

 

Tinto de Verano

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You may be thinking that this picture looks very much like the above picture, only taken from above. If Google Images is to be believed, you would be mistaken.

Tinto de Verano, or ‘lazy sangria’ as I like to think of it, is red wine topped with soda, lemonade, or other such carbonated drink. Plus a slice of lemon, and poured over ice. As you may gather from its translation (“red wine of summer”) is popular in summer – or March, which is when I first drank it.

I have since drunk it in summer and can attest that it is quite the red wine of summer. Though I would perhaps amend it to be “dulce tinto de verano“.

Forget sangria; to be really Spanish order up some tinto de verano. B your Vs. Th your Cs. Gesticulate. Speak loudly. Be fabulous. And so on and so forth.

 

Cava

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One of the most heated conversations of my stay was about Cava – the others were solely in Spanish and I have little to no idea what they were about.

“His family knows about seafood and chickens, but they do not know about Cava! He thinks he knows about Cava! Ha!”

“No, no, no, listen, no, listen to me, Cava is not different to Champagne except, except for conditions you cannot control.”

Then an extended debate in fiery Spanish, the eldest daughter invigilating by saying that only one of them should speak at a time, and some English about how French champagne is the best because they have historical knowledge, countered by technique can be easily learned and it is the soil and weather that is the difference.

Once upon a time I worked in the food department of a luxury department store and we had a tasting evening. To welcome people we sold glasses of a £5 Tesco Cava. Clientele for luxury department store swirled and smelt and gave tasting notes, enquiring which of our fine wines they were being served. Naturally, as soon as they found out its provenance, they “could tell” that it didn’t have the “depth” of a finer wine. Of course. Sip, enjoy. You get what you pay for.

Catalunya is Spain’s primary region for cava production, with 95 percent of it being produced in the Penedès area, though it is grown and made across Spain. It is made as either white or rosé (for a cheeky Friday with the girls!) and crosses the spectrum from dry to sweet.

‘Brut’, the family told me, is a sign of ‘better cava’, or more champagne-like cava. When it was first developed, they told me, cava was very sweet, often having sugar added to it. As Franco-era Spain fell and people were given more access to the luxury goods market, people started to get more of a taste (or ‘keeping up with the Joneses’ desire) for champagne. Drier was better, and cava producers made a more concerted effort to mimic the flavour profile of champagne. A handy article I have just come across highlights the main differences as being the grape type, bottle pressure (champagne having a higher pressure), it being uncommon to have vintage cavas, and fewer bottles of cava produced.

Both cava and champagne are defeated by Italy’s contender in the sparkling wine wars; in the UK I’ve certainly seen that Prosecco is popular for gifts, weekends, bad days, good days, and dine in for two for £10 deals. Well done, Italy, well done.

 

Vino

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For a pure wine – that is, a wine that has not been mixed with any other beverages a la sangria or tinto de verano – my experience has been that white wins out in popularity. As red is best served at room temperature and for at least three months of the year any drink drunk at room temperature is unpleasant, you have to make the decision of either drinking a red in a way that would greatly offend the French or accept that white is your year-round wine. It is not uncommon, I have heard, to take the option of offending the French by putting ice in a red or putting the red in the fried or freezer before serving. Sacrilege. What is this lawless place that I’ve found myself in?!

The wine that is most probably best known outside of Spain is Rioja, which is the country’s biggest wine-producing region. Other than Rioja, another high-yield wine production area, predominantly of reds, worth a try is the Ribera del Duero.

The Spanish love Spanish wine. In supermarkets you will find shelves upon shelves of wine from their homeland, and then a cursory corner for wines from the rest of the world. In one supermarket the only non-Spanish wines on sale were five or six Italian wines which were part of an Italian food display. My host in Andalusia lamented this as, paraphrasing his words, “there isn’t much difference between Spanish wines and I prefer French wines, but the Spanish aren’t sophisticated enough to appreciate a French wine.”

As part of a day trip to a home depot store, Andalusian host made a stop-off with his hodgepodge group of workers, myself included at an independent wine merchant and deli. We tasted the wine from the barrels then spent over €100 on about 30 litres of wine, all of which was decanted from the barrel into plastic bottles. This, friends, is how to make nice wine look incredibly awful very quickly. And it’s hard to say whether our tasting was askew or the plastic affected the wine, but one of the bottles had spoiled by the time it was drunk. Prior to our purchase, a few of the group started helping themselves to extra sips of wine and maybe asked for one too many samples and ended up being shouted at by the sixty-year-old owner whose patience was full tried, though smiled a sweet smile as we handed our money over. Women: can never tell what their next move is going to be.

A Catalunyan white wine had a very poetic label written in Catalan. Evoking images of, I am told, where the mountains meet the sea, the intensity of the wind, the ruggedness of the land, the river gushing down the mountainside, this rugged landscape is what gives the wine its flavour. It was a nice, light white, quite in contrast to the image evoked on the label. As we all know, advertising is illusion.

 

Cerveza

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In addition to wine, the Spanish drink beer. Bears shit in the woods. The Pope is Catholic. And the sky is blue. Both hosts that I have stayed with have drunk beer every day. Beer is perilously cheap, even when you’re getting ripped off on the beach. Beers on the beach. Ah, beers on the beach. One of my fondest memories of Barcelona, even if it did take me back to being a teenager again.

The extent to which I enjoy Spanish beers makes me realise that it is unlikely that I will ever be a beer connoisseur. The beers of choice for the family are Mahou Cinco Estrellas and Cruzcampo. Estrella Damm was drunk on the beach. They are all lagers, all quite light, and all (save maybe three, when I drank at restaurants and was given draught in a glass) were served from cans; cans in Spain are 330ml, which feels more refined (for a can) than our British 500ml. I have known people who have an app to track which craft beers they drink, and add tasting notes to said app. I will never be that person. I am a simple soul who enjoys the humble lager. Light, refreshing lager. Ice cold beer. Here, here, for ice-cold beer.

“In Spain, we consider warm beer a castigo, a punishment.”

When I disembarked from my flight I had resigned myself for a month of not drinking, as being an au pair I expected to have to exhibit some kind of temperance. Not in Spain. Beer with dinner every night. A shared beer with the mother at lunch a couple of times a week. Wine. Un mojito, dos mojitos. Something something something bonito (Shakira).

Three cheers for a life with beers.

 

Clara con Limón

clara

Spanish shandy. They served it with Fanta limon as an aperitif before having wine with a main course. Fanta limon is preferable to regular lemonade, and I expect homemade lemonade might be another winner. British lemonade isn’t sharp enough to cut through the beer and take it on a different journey in a shandy. Or the shandies I have drunk, at least. A clara is refreshing and sharp for summer; a shandy is a choice for a designated driver.

Several years ago I was at a boyfriend’s grandparents’ house for a pre-Christmas dinner. The grandparents offered me a sherry, which I confused with shandy and so accepted the offer. A much more harsh (tasting), drunk dinner than I had anticipated ensued. And, I expect, more enjoyable than a shandy dinner.

 

Vermut

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A restaurant on an industrial estate was full at 1pm on a Saturday. While there is outdoor seating, there was no view from the restaurant, unless you enjoy views of industrial estates; and besides, everywhere has outdoor seating in Spain. Nor was there convenient parking, and it wasn’t close to anything else of interest.

“Why you think is so busy?”

“Good food?”

“No. Well, yes, it is good food there. But it is the vermut. Catalonians take vermut very seriously. They love it. And here they do very good.”

There you have it. Vermouth. And if you’re in the area, the restaurant/bar/grocery story for you is Espinaler in Vilassar de Mar.

 

Spanish Food 101: Bebidas (La Primera Parte, Refrescos)

A culinary journey through Spain via the unparalleled medium of informal oral testimonies. This is written in English. If you would like a Spanish/Spanglish translation may I recommend reading slower, louder, and adding the letter “o” intermittently to the end of words. This is the last in the series of this crash course in Spanish cuisine. An introduction to this tale can be found by clicking here, and you can see the earlier forays of this adventure by scrolling down and reading more of this blog, which I would recommend that you do anyway. 

What is food without the drink? Why, still wonderful of course. But the drinking culture of a country can speak volumes, and in the western world it can often be seen that we speak more passionately about our drinking than our eating. We are a drinking people, that is true indeed. Without drink you will die far sooner than without food, but, as less of a flaccid platitude, it is often drinking which leads to adventures or follies. This will surely be the subject of my children’s book.

I went on a walk at 10am this morning (as opposed to 10am at night) and passed a café with at least three people drinking beer outside. While day drinking  has long been one of my preferred pastimes, there is still plenty for Iberia to teach me about this art, and relaxing more wholly: bebiendo por la mañana. In Elephant & Castle, London’s Spanish/Latino district, I came across the same phenomenon (phenomenon, habit). Five beers before midday on a Sunday. Hey, at least it wasn’t a weekday. This isn’t really the type of drinking culture that I was necessarily looking to talk about, but it was worth the digression.

Onto the drinks. Salud!

 

Orxata / Horchata

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In December, drinking Horchata / I’d look psychotic in a balaclava. 

Not to everyone’s taste, so much so that it is currently the only drink that I have first been offered a tiny taste of before being committed to being poured a full glass. Two of the three children absolutely love it, the other doesn’t, but she doesn’t like milk.

Horchata is  made of  ground almonds, sesame seeds, rice, barley and tigernuts.  It is milky in texture, a little bitter and a little sweet, like a milky-textured child. It is no mystery as to why it is an acquired taste, but not quite why it gets such vehement dislike. Having strong opinions gets you more girls may be the reason, but very likely isn’t.

In Catalunya it is traditionally it is served with fartons, a combination that I did not taste though having tried them both individually am sure that it is perfectly fine. Maybe they will come together to really pop – like fries and a Frosty, or wheels on a bus – but alas I cannot tell you definitively. Buy bottled from the market, make your own at home, or have yourself a treat afternoon at one of the many combination gelateria-orxatarias around town.

 

Cubano

Cubano

Not to be confused with the rice dish ‘cubana’.

As my foray into drinking Cola Cao and eating postres may suggest, my ongoing attempt to give up azucar is not going particularly well.

Here is another drink primarily for children which is often served during la merienda. An aim here appears to be making horchata more palatable, or giving the combination gelateria-orxataria something to give their indecisive customers.

“Cubano! Cubano!” the children scream excitedly, still dripping wet from their evening swim. Their mother says that I don’t have to have it if I don’t want it. I have only been with the family for three days and she is yet to be fully accustomed to my “eats everything” attitude.

Quite simply, you take horchata, put a scoop of chocolate ice cream in it and grate some chocolate on top. Frankly, what can’t be made better with these additions? A great many things, I hear you say. Well, I retort, clearly someone hasn’t watched the film Chocolat, or read my questionable screenplay.

 

Leche Merengada

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This morning I asked the mother what the name of that cinammon milk (como se llame el bebida con leche y canela? were exactly the words I used. Spanish grammar still eludes me) drink that we had a couple of weeks ago.

“Leche merengada,” she said.

Gracias,” I replied, “I wanted to check for that thing I’m writing. Escribo?” I make a very loose effort with my Spanish at least, even more so when I have just been swimming with jellyfish.

On the way home we stopped off at the gelateria-orxataria and she bought some leche merengada, which polite English me felt equal parts grateful and guilty for, and the child in me would rather that we had got good old-fashioned helado.

Leche merengada, which translates as ‘meringue milk’, is made by heating milk and simmering with cinnamon, lemon and our trusty friend sugar. Well-made merengada is supposedly left to infuse for a few days, though this might be a lost-in-translation story which would leave me with food poisoning were I try to follow the advice at home. Nigella Lawson says to add brandy, but this wasn’t the merengada that I meren-had-a.

Horchata for people who don’t like horchata but do like cinnamon. Also for people who enjoy sweet cinnamon drinks, milk, want a taste of Christmas year round, or just have a plain old sweet tooth.

On cinnamon: in Andalusia the phrase “loose cinnamon” was added to my “list of word couplets I find pleasing to the ear.” Others on this list include “flaccid platitudes” and “free [anything]”.

Cola Cao

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The above picture is quite optimistic in the solubility of Cola Cao, a chocolate powder similar to Nesquik which seemingly never dissolves no matter how long you stir. It is popular among children (or the young at heart!) for breakfast and le merienda, usually with a Marie biscuit, which is best described as being somewhat similar to a Rich Tea. It is a healthy alternative to when chocolate cake and lard seems too indulgent, though the pack assures me that there are vitamins and minerals nestled within.

It tastes a lot better than Nesquik (another children’s health drink with vitamins and minerals), hence the willingness to accept your fate of having a chocolate powder mustache every time you drink it, showing to the world that you are a proud youth who tantalises their tastebuds at every turn.

 

Café

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It shouldn’t come as a surprise that coffee culture is quite prevalent in Spain. Coffee is the most popular drink in the world after all – I once got that question in a pub quiz.

Unlike the Italians and Portuguese, it has been my experience that café con leche is preferable throughout Spain. So great is their ambivalence towards strong black coffee that they spell expresso like so in a lot of coffees. Es/xpressos are often served cortado, that is, with a drop of warm milk.

“I would have had a coffee but they spelled espresso wrong” are real words that I said out loud at breakfast in Barcelona.

I drink my coffee black, to the mild surprise of my Nespresso-machine-owning host family. “No leche? No azucar? Are you sure??” It was to their additional surprise that I prefer coffee to tea, being that I’m English and all, and stereotypes hold strong.

n.b. Spanish people really don’t drink tea. In Andalusia at least, if you order tea, you will receive a cup of hot milk with a teabag in it.

Hot coffee in the morning, café con hielo in the afternoon. Sleep is for suckers.

 

More on drinks in part two.

Spanish Food 101: Pasteles y Postres, La Secunda Parte

You can find the first part of pasteles y postres here, or by scrolling on down. 

 

Coca de Llavaneres

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Or, as Google Translate would have it: “coca de filled puff pastry by angel hair.” Before discovering, as above, that “angel hair” is a pumpkin jam this seemed like a particularly erroneous translation, possibly equalling my asking for an exit when I wanted a receipts in Germany. You’re okay for now, Google translate.

This was eaten at 1.30am on the night of the Festa de San Juan, one of the highlight nights of my trip. And the highlight pastry of my trip. Petardos pasteles. The mother tells me that this cost nearly €30, then griped at having spent nearly €50 on fireworks. Expensive festa. But can you put a price on the look of joy on a child’s face? Why of course you can. But that price exceeds €80. A few days later she would buy an even bigger coca for even more money.

On the Friday of buying, the mother waited outside the pasteleria for over an hour. I used to indignantly proclaim that queuing for food is a waste of time and that I would never do it and people who do are stupid and have too much free time. But in my year off, a year spent staring out a lot of windows and going on wanders, I realised that we all have a lot of free time and that if this is what you want to do with your time then that’s absolutely fine. She caught up on some phone calls and brought tasty treats to the table. Is filing your nails in front of the television a better time spend (yes, if it’s for an overhyped hip, new opening as is too common in London. I stand by that view)?

As with a lot of Spanish pastries, the ingredients and method are quite simple: puff pastry, pine nuts (they love pine nuts. But also can’t hear the difference between “peanuts” and “pine nuts”, just as I struggle to tell the difference between many, many words e.g. por qué [why] and porque [because]) sugar, ground almond, egg, and custard. The best pieces are from the centre as you get more filling and a softer texture, but you will still walk away fulfilled if you eat an edge or corner piece.

Round up the family for 22-23 Juny 2018.

 

Coca de Llardons

llardons

“Sugar! And pork! …It’s wonderful!”

A review of coca de llardons from the son there.

Another typical Catalan coca, again made with sugar, pine nuts, flour and eggs. And, indeed, pork. Pork crackling. Rich, fatty, crunch-then-melt pork rinds. Sweet and savoury. A pastry that would surely be met with chagrin by a lot of English people, but I expect would be quite popular in Chinatown.

A small piece sufficed for me (as I then went on to eat a fair share of the coca de llavaneres) but the rest of the family finished it quite comfortably.

Originally it was eaten towards the end of Lent (from Maundy Thursday. Many good desserts have religious bearing. See particularly: Portuguese custard desserts) and other major Saint Days in Catalunya. My Saint Day is May 15th, but alas the Catalonians are yet to make a specific pastry for dear Saint Sophia; at least Istanbul shows some respect.

On another note, Wikipedia in Catalan is Viquipèdia.

 

Coca de Sant Joan

coca de sant joan

The traditional pastry of the Festa de Sant Joan. We did nt try this, instead going for the two cocas above. The Coca de Sant Joan looks frightfully unappetising so I wanted to share this picture with you. Like the art project of a colourblind four-year old. I have eaten too many congees in my life to claim that I eat with my eyes at all, but I find something about this particularly off-putting in a way that few other foods put me off. That it has evoked such a reaction means that it is surely worth its place as a holiday treat. Festas are for being bold, not bland.

As you can see, it is a coca covered with candied fruit. The fruit is put on the coca while the dough is still raw and it is all left to ferment for half an hour before baking.

 

Crema Catalana

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Eaten on one of the few times that we went to a restaurant.

“Should I have the crema catalana or the mató.”

“Crema Catalana. Is special. I get the mató and you can try some.”

I try some mató then the crema catalana. I was given the correct advice.

Crema catalana, or crema cremada. Look at the picture. Look at the name. Guess what it is like. If you guessed crème brûlée then grab a spoon and crack some sugar because you my friend are correct! There are some slight differences, most notably the custard being flavoured with lemon or orange zest and cinnamon. Spain has been somewhat of a newfound love affair with cinnamon, so, for now at least, crema catalana is my preferred of the burnt cream desserts.

The method for burning the sugar is also different from the brûlée, with caramelisation being achieved by using an iron rather than a flame, resulting in a slightly less hard sugar surface.

You can also find in the yogurt aisle.

Churros con Xocolata

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One of the few sweet treats in life that I can’t seem to get behind. The only times that I have eaten churros have been in Mexican restaurants. I once came close to ruining my favourite dress (Friday dress, so-called because I used to wear it on Fridays) having dropped chocolate on it.

Ingredients and process-wise, it is very similar to a donut. A donut which you dip in chocolate. I would rather have a donut.

The mother tells me that she takes the children for churros in winter after their piano lessons and on Saturday afternoons when they have nothing else to do in the winter. Their usual churreria in the mountains had morphed into a gelateria for the summer.

Google tells me that Spanish churros are not as sweet or cinammony as Mexican churros. If they are less greasy, that would be the dream. The chocolate that you dip them in is incredibly thick and rich. Maybe I should just get myself a nice, thick pot of chocolate and settle down for a night of watching romcoms and making lists of regrets.

 

Turrón

turron

A Christmas nougat dessert that was mentioned to me when we were talking about Christmas. I love the sound of the Spanish voice when it says “nougat”. Home counties British English is so unmelodic. Why not buy or make your friends, family and fellow man a turrón for the holidays and forever be in their good graces.

Honey, sugar, egg, whites, almonds, oil, and optionally flavour with chocolate. The first version of the recipe came up in the 16th-century Manual de Mujeres. Considering how illiterate most of the population were at that time, I appreciate that there was a women’s handbook which included instructions for how to prepare sweet treats.

Feliz Navidad, y adiós a mi.

 

 

Spanish Food 101: Pasteles y Postres, La Primera Parte

A culinary journey through Spain via the unparalleled medium of informal oral testimonies. This is written in English. If you would like a Spanish/Spanglish translation may I recommend reading slower, louder, and adding the letter “o” intermittently to the end of words. This is the tenth part in the series of this crash course in Spanish cuisine. An introduction to this tale can be found by clicking here, and you can see the earlier forays of this adventure by scrolling down and reading more of this blog, which I would recommend that you do anyway. 

 

I am writing this while eating a helado/gelat. It only seems fitting for the occasion.

Southern Europeans love a great many things, but it is possibly their love of sugar which we in the UK are least aware of. Each time I have met a Southern European person this year my mind as boggled at the sheer amount of sugar that they eat. There is a very definite pastry culture. And I am surprised that there is less of a diabetic epidemic. Eating the same breakfast as a Sicilian left me shaking for the rest of the day. Sugar is their fuel. The guidebooks tell me that I simply must try the many pastries, desserts and other sweet delights of the southern European countries that I have visited: Portugal, Italy and Spain. While Spain is my focus of this blog, I must give a special shout out to two of my favourite desserts: pastel de nata (Portugal), and cannoli (Italy. Also tiramisu and semifreddo).

Sugar in my bloodstream, on with the whirlwind tour of pastries and desserts.

 

Helado/Gelat

helado

I’ve said it once, I’ll say it a thousand times: “a life without ice cream is not a life well lived”. Or, putting it through Google translate: “Una vida sin helado no es una vida bien vivida“.

Gelato, ice cream, helado, gelat, whatever you want to call it – or whatever it is in your language – is one of my great passions in life. I like ice cream more than the children, though they have increased their love of ice cream since I visited. Chocolate (dark if available) is my base flavour of choice, then I tend to add either coffee, stracciatella, or pistaccio. I had a very good canela ice cream from Gel&Gurts in Vilassar de Mar, so this will also be added to my repertoire.

The children also like chocolate (milk) and nata, which is too sweet for me. Always ask for a taster in the gelato shop. If they don’t give it to you, it’s a bad shop. Also make sure you know the price before paying; I have been with people on two different occasions where they scarcely got change for €10 for a gelato. The youngest daughter also likes coffee ice cream a lot, the first time I’ve come across a coffee-loving child. She enjoys smelling coffee too. The mother says that they can drink coffee at age 16, and alcohol at 18. The mother had a mojito gelato. A real mojito is preferable.

If it is around midday, a time that I have not eaten gelat in Spain so far, I opt for a fruit flavour: strawberry, raspberry and blueberry are my preferred choices. Were you looking for a way to my heart, take me for a gelato.

The best gelatos are in Italy. Thankfully, Italians have spread their wings across Europe and good gelato is quite widely available – and better than Cornish/Devonshire ice cream, apologies to my friend in Plymouth. After Italy, Germany has the best ice cream. The popularity of gelatos and eiscafe culture in Germany is something which I had not anticipated, but there it is.

Helado culture in Spain is still prevalent. It is hot, after all. The mother has takes the kids for ice cream at least once a week, and there is always ice cream in the freezer.

There is often horchata available from heladerias as well, which is the Catalan stamp on the Italian parlour. Children prefer parlours where they can get toppings. They are yet to be ice cream purists like myself.

I look forward to the ice cream truck at my friend’s wedding, though hope that I can still fit in the bridesmaids dress. Walk, swim, yoga.

We all scream for ice cream.

 

Fartóns

fartons

I am still not old enough to not find this name funny.

A typical pastry of Catalunya and Valencia, typically eaten with Horchata year round, or heated and served with hot chocolate or café con leche in the cooler months.

They are a simple pastry and really were nothing special to me. Saying this, I had just eaten a gelat and was possibly disappointed that this wasn’t a second gelat. That afternoon wandering around Mataró with sugary fingers and children with sticky fingers, faces and ruined t-shirts was possibly not the most apt moment for the mother to decide to buy school supplies for the children. A dampener on the fun; or fun to the dull.

What it most reminded me of was a beignet. The only time I have eaten a beignet was in Chicago, where it was given free “because it’s your first brunch in the states”. I enjoyed that beignet a lot, but was it because it was free?

Having eaten a fartón with horchata, I can say that there are some things that are maybe best appreciated as part of a tradition.

 

 

Tortas de Aceite

Tortas_De_Aceite_2410

So ingrained in the Spanish culture that they are even mentioned in Don Quixote, arguably one of the greatest novels to come out of Spain and the world at large.

They are mostly made in southern Spain, with several towns around Sevilla claiming to be the home of these light, crispy, delectable tortas. They are made of olive oil (a far crisper finish than mantequilla), wheat flour, almonds, sugar, sesame seeds and anise; the taste of the anise is pleasant, not overpowering, and combined with the olive oil gives the torta its specific taste which has resulted in its ever-long popularity, and the proud, conflicting declarations of the different places claiming to be its creator. Crisp, sweet and tempered with umami, then wrapped with greaseproof papel for transport across the country and colonies.

 

Torta de Manzana

Just-a like-a Tia makes it. The mother of the host father made a Torta de Manzana. I didn’t take a picture and nothing on Google gives a good enough representation of it. Somewhere between a pie, cake and tart, this soft apple sponge pudding (throwing all the words out there) is one of the most understated, pleasantly tangy and only mildly sweet apple dessert that I have tried, and I have tried a lot. I prefer a tartin, tart or crumble, but there’s always a draw to grandma’s cooking, even if she isn’t my grandma. She lives in San Carlos de la Rápita, so based only on this fact I will claim that this is how they make it on the Catalonia/Valencia border.

Apparently for her 40th birthday, the father of the family bought the mother a desserts book. His mother cooks excellent desserts I hear and have tasted one example of. “Maybe you will be happier if you cook a good cake for once in your life.” Ah, love.

 

Ensaimada de Menorca

ensaimada.jpg

The first sweet treat of this leg of my Spanish trip. It was served at breakfast then again at la merienda and equally popular for adults and children.

The parents had spent the previous day in Menorca, catching a flight at 7am and arriving back at midnight, coinciding with my flight time. During their day in Menorca they bought a boat, worked on their tans, drank some wine, and picked up this treat.

We ate a cabello de angel (a type of pumpkin jam) filled ensaimada, which I will declare as being the most popular and traditional of the fillings. Other flavour options are chocolate, custard, cream, or sobrassa (ground pork, paprika, salt, spices) for a savoury option.

Our sweet version reminded me of a flatter, more spiraled pandoro. Not just for Christmas. And showing me that there is more to the Balearics than sunburnt Brits.

 

More on pasteles y postres in part two.

 

Spanish Food 101: Queso

A culinary journey through Spain via the unparalleled medium of informal oral testimonies. This is written in English. If you would like a Spanish/Spanglish translation may I recommend reading slower, louder, and adding the letter “o” intermittently to the end of words. This is the ninth part in the series of this crash course in Spanish cuisine. An introduction to this tale can be found by clicking here, and you can see the earlier forays of this adventure by scrolling down and reading more of this blog, which I would recommend that you do anyway. 

The cheese board comes out at least once a day. Mother wields a knife, the children lean keenly in, she gesticulates during conversation, the children move back to eat and avoid the swing of the knife. Observing the mother during most meals, it would seem that the way to keep slim as you go into your forties (she told me many a time that it was much harder to stay slim as you get older. Many, many a time) is to spend most of your mealtimes cutting your children’s food. When it comes to finally eating your own meal, everyone else has almost finished and you don’t want to be left as the last person eating. With cheese, the children eat it so quickly that she has to take an “eight for you, one for me” eat break or miss out on the cheese altogether.

In Andalusia, the group of us went through at least one and a half blocks of cheese a day. Most of this was eaten by a skinny German girl.

In Europe they love cheese. In Britain we rather like cheese, but our fondness of it isn’t comparable. We may use it as a regular ingredient of our cooking, go out for cheese boards and have cheese evenings, but that we have to preface it with “cheese” rather than just calling it an “evening” and not note that we are eating a variety and not insubstantial quality in our normal daily lives shows that we are not quite there yet.

There are more cheeses in Spain than I care to write about, so here are the favourites that I have come across. The children’s preferred brand is President, but, like other ingredients in the pantry, the parents go to a range of delis for their queso, so unbranded is the main brand.

 

Manchego

Manchego

In the same way as cheddar would be the English cheese were there a reason for the country to only have one designated cheese, manchego would be the cheese of Spain. It is the cheese that was always on the cheese board and the cheese you will likely receive if you order cheese for tapas. It is versatile enough to be the main element of a meal, melted and dipped with bread, creating a Spanish-style fondue (or camembert dipping evening, if that is your preferred bread-dipped cheese inclination).

To be officially classed as manchego, it has to come from La Mancha, use the whole milk of the manchega sheep, be aged for a minimum of sixty days and a maximum of two years, and be produced by pressing in a cylindrical mould with a maximum height of 12cm and diameter of 22cm.

Stringent rules for this cheese. Undoubtedly worth it. It is my preferred cheese of the cheese board, and of the fondue set, and would feature in the top three cheeses of each of the family members. Seeing the black rind on the cheese board always filled me with excitement.

A two weeks-aged queso fresco version is also available, and the mother also tends to have a manchego queso fresco in her cheese shelf at most given times. Mild, light and overall quite pleasant, it would surely only be the texture that would put a person off queso fresco. Texture, or allergy. Inoffensive and difficult to dislike, but more difficult to love than the stronger flavoured, aged cheeses.

“Fuertes” one of the daughters declared. I had just eaten queso azul, but even if I had not, manchego can hardly be described as strong. A slightly rubbery consistency in the mouth but with bite, and a pleasant medium flavour, with a sharpness bite to it. The older the age (the classifications go from semicurado to curado then Viejo depending on aging period) the richer, deeper, nuttier and spicier the flavour. Make your own comparison to people here.

 

Tetilla Galega

queso_tetilla_9564_630x.jpg

Or ‘Galician tit cheese’, named for its shape: a small, conical breast topped with a ‘nipple’. Champagne glasses aren’t the only things shaped after breasts, though may be the only shaped directly on Marie Antoinette’s breast. From teat to tit: I wonder why this is the cheese to have taken its shape inspiration from the breast and why it isn’t more common practice.

Tetilla galega is a medium-soft, creamy cheese which has a mild sweetness to it and as such is often used for desserts. Not since comté, which I now like, have I had such a mixed first impression towards a cheese. Such is the sweetness that it is often eaten as a dessert in Galicia.

And for its rules for DOP certification: it must be produced from the milk of the Fresian, Parda Alpina or Rubia Gallega cattle and within Galicia – most traditionally in the towns along the provinces of Coruña and Pontevedra, and it must weigh from 500g – 1.5kg with a diameter and height ranging from 9-15cm.

For a comparatively (to northern Europe) rule-less nation, the Spanish do ascribe a seriousness to their food.

I enjoy tetilla galega for being the reason that the family said “tit cheese” over and over again during an al fresco dinner. How I will miss the daily outdoor dinners.

 

Queso Azul

This specifically is the cheese that the German girl ate by the block. Never have I seen one person enjoy eating blue cheese so much, or really enjoy eating anything so much. How her face lit up when we were in the cheese aisle of Mercadona. Her cheese of choice was Gorgonzola – a very blue blue cheese.

The son in Catalunya also had a preference for queso azul, with his cheese of choice being the queso de Cabrales. This cheese comes from Cabrales in Asturias and is produced from a mixture of two or three kinds of milk from the cow, goat and sheep. As a Spanish cheese, it would of course would be his blue cheese of choice as it is the cheese that his parents would buy, and the most readily available blue cheese at any given deli. It is more blue-greenish in colour than the gorgonzola, possibly has a stronger smell, and is more creamy than crumbly in its consistency.

For years I disliked blue cheeses. Now, with my palate having developed towards “the stronger the taste, the better”, the more I like them. At one work Christmas dinner years ago, someone ordered a cheese board which they couldn’t finish; I took the stilton home for my then boyfriend and my bag never smelled the same again. Until two years ago this was one of my only direct experiences with blue cheese. While I now enjoy them, I couldn’t tell you the difference between any of them – unless, maybe, I tried each of them one after the other.

 

 

Croquetas

croquetas

Technically croquetas can be filled with most things, but my first experience of them was with cheese, so this is the segment that it’s going in. I am yet to have a bad croquet. The inner child and actual children has an innate attraction to anything breaded and fried. My order of preference for croquet fillings from most liked to least most liked is: bacalau, spinach, jamón, queso, pollo, then potato. The children, by contrast, loved the queso, pollo, jamón and patata, but weren’t keen on the bacalau and found the spinach actively revolting. To be fair, an moist dark green croqueta isn’t overly alluring for the eye.

Croquetas gained popularity in Spain during the late-nineteenth to early-twentieth centuries, with housewives finding it an effective, economic and delectable way to use up ingredients. It is quite complex to make, so for the time conscious (majority) of the population, they are eaten at a tapas bar or bought at a deli. The filling is coated in bechemel sauce and a crisp breadcrumb batter. It ideally should be eaten in two bites (or one huge bite so your dining companions can’t see just how many you are wolfing down), with the outside giving a satisfying crunch before you hit the soft, smooth filling.

You take a bite of the cheese croqueta and the melted cheese unctuously spreads itself across your mouth. And hands. You lift the spilled cheese into your mouth trying not to catch the attention of anyone else. You do not, as they are busy doing the same, or preparing the food of their children. Another crisp bite followed by oozing cheese. The first croqueta is better, but as you eat subsequent crispy parcels of happiness, the cheese hardens and it is less messy.

 

Mató

1024px-Cheese.Mato.Catalonia

A dessert cheese, for a sweet dessert rather than a “cheese board as dessert” desert. A cheese board isn’t a dessert, it’s a cheese board. Ptch. Cheese dessert like cheesecake.

This soft cheese is produced in Catalunya from the milk of either a cow or a milk and is usually served with honey in mel I mató (which Google Translate doesn’t recognise as having an English translation). Along with crema catalana it is the typical dessert of Catalunya. It is generally agreed among the family (and therefore in all of Catalunya) that crema catalana is the conqueror of this dessert battle.

Mató is lighter than crema catalana, lighter and softer. It is a little like a flan. The choice when you want a dessert, when your tooth desires some sweetness, but don’t want the full indulgence of crema catalana. Plus it’s a cheese so that’s like, protein, right?!

 

This has been a hard way to learn that I have a lactose intolerance.

Spanish Food 101: Sopas

A culinary journey through Spain via the unparalleled medium of informal oral testimonies. This is written in English. If you would like a Spanish/Spanglish translation may I recommend reading slower, louder, and adding the letter “o” intermittently to the end of words. This is the eigth part in the series of this crash course in Spanish cuisine. An introduction to this tale can be found by clicking here, and you can see the earlier forays of this adventure by scrolling down and reading more of this blog, which I would recommend that you do anyway. 

I recall having a conversation with someone in the past who was physically repulsed by the idea of cold soup. I gave a similar response on hearing that it is not uncommon for Andalusians to put ice in their red wine. Then you visit Spain and find that it’s too hot to function for most of the day suddenly makes the idea of cold soup and cold wine sound incredibly appealing. In a country with the summer heat and humidity of Spain, neither room temperature wine nor hot soup appeals.

Soups that are served hot in the winter may also be served cold in the summer. We should all be year-round soup eaters. Hearty, filling and refreshing, a soup is a wonderful start to a meal.

Gazpacho

Tomato_gazpacho

The Spanish soup that we have all heard of. I write this from the very sweaty, poorly air conditioned Terminal 2 at El Prat Airport. A gazpacho sounds very good right about now. Always served cold,

The family tell me that they prefer to make gazpacho from scratch for taste, but sometimes it’s impractical and so all the gazpacho that I ate came from a carton (also in cartons: brown sugar. The carton industry in Spain is really in its prime).

Always served cold, an invention of hot, hot Andalusia. Its main ingredients are tomato, cucumber and garlic, a refreshing trio indeed – the garlic from the carton scarcely came through, and there was a slight picante ting from a spice. On different occasions we sprinkled jamón, pepper and cucumber inside, which was necessary texturally for the otherwise wholly smooth carton gazpacho would be for all intents and purposes a slightly different tack on a Virgin Mary mix, albeit marginally thicker.

The son does not like tomatoes, which begs the question of exactly just how Spanish is he? His parents make him eat the gazpacho, for children shouldn’t be spoiled, but it is through a grimace. A grimace at a national dish and a national ingredient.

Vichyssoise

Vichyssoise

The son, however, very much likes vichyssoise. The youngest daughter doesn’t, as she doesn’t like milk. If you have three children, I learned, it is very rare to please everyone. They all like the beach and swimming pool at least. Sometimes the son has vichyssoise while the rest of the family has gazpacho; sometimes the daughter gazpacho when the rest of the family has vichyssoise; and sometimes the family stick to playing hardball and everyone has to eat what they’re given.

As you may be able to tell from the name, this soup originated in France (or, says Julia Child says, American. But we can’t always trust celebrity chefs, or Americans. Coining terms like “au pair” and “vichyssoise”. What’s wrong with English, hey? What did our veterans fight for??). Catalunyan cuisine takes some influence from France, and the family take additional infuence from France as a result of their house in the mountains there.

A thick, cold soup made of boiled, pureed leeks, onions, potatoes, cream and chicken stock. It tastes very French, like a soup that Pierre would make and the whole family would enjoy. Potato and leek, ptch, American. And for the winter it can be served hot, which I imagine is quite lovely and something that the Covent Garden Soup Company probably has made a variant of.

 

Salmorejo

1200px-Salmorejo_-_Barajas

An Australian workawayer in Andalusia told me about this, saying that a Couchsurfer that he stayed with in Grenada made it several times for him and his wife. He spoke about it so passionately. “A true exhibition of the freshness of Spanish ingredients” he said. “I’ll make it before I leave.”

“What’s it called again?”

“Salmorejo.”

“Salaam-alaikum?”

“No, salmorejo.”

“I’ll stick with salaam-alaikum soup.”

Spanish has always gone well for me. And he never did make it. Nor did anyone else, so this remains a dish for me to try.

Quite similar to gazpacho, though thicker and a little less fresh. It originated in Cordoba – the city that the Australian said was his favourite city after Porto; slightly odd favourite city choices for this New York/Paris/Florence girl – and is served cold in summer and hot in winter.

The main ingredients are tomatoes, bread, oil, and garlic, and it may be garnished with serrano ham or boiled eggs. Why serrano over Iberico? Cost and availability I expect, for surely it is not taste or texture.

While I am yet to try it, I must say that I was and remained underwhelmed at the ingredients and cooking process of salmorejo compared to just how much gusto he spoke about it. Then again, talking about pizza brings tears to my eyes so the proof is always in the eating (also “she seems like the kind of person who is passionate about soup” is something that I say about dull people. And from memory, there is only one soup I have ever actively recommended).

Caldo de Cocido

hct_caldo_cocido_pelota

The first cours on Christmas Day. Cardos (thistles), pinones (pine nuts), a variety of cerdo (cured and fresh pork knuckle, snout, and corpo, for you should use as much of the animal as you can), carne de vache, cabbage, potatoes, carrots, and garbanzo beans (chick peas for us Englishes). There are many variations on this recipe, but this is the family’s ingredients list so here you have it. And, as December is prime eating time, it is served caliente.

This is the most Chinese-looking of the Spanish soups, in that it is the only that has not been pureed. Show me what is in my soup, and have a broth (caldo de cocido literally translates as “cooked broth”) not a puree. A peasant dish, a traditional dish, a dish to prepare you for the…fish or turkey main course. All the animals for the holidays!

Spanish Food 101: Patatas

A culinary journey through Spain via the unparalleled medium of informal oral testimonies. This is written in English. If you would like a Spanish/Spanglish translation may I recommend reading slower, louder, and adding the letter “o” intermittently to the end of words. This is the seventh in the series of this crash course in Spanish cuisine. An introduction to this tale can be found by clicking here, and you can see the earlier forays of this adventure by scrolling down and reading more of this blog, which I would recommend that you do anyway. 

Potatoes are not just for the Irish, and feature as a key ingredient in one of Spain’s most famous dishes. Of course, you get your usual patatas fritas, but the humble potato is a cherished ingredient of the Spanish dinner table and tapas bar. Often crisp and spicy, the Spanish style is a far cry from the functional boiled new potatoes of many a diet plan or lazy luncheon.

Before my Irish friend arrived in Spain I helpfully sell the country as follows: “I expect you’ll like Spain. For one, the weather is good so you’ll probably get sunburn again. And for two, some of their main national dishes prominently feature potatoes.” While he did indeed enjoy Spain, it wasn’t necessarily for the above reasons.

 

Tortilla Española

Tortilla-de-patatas

Also known as a Spanish Omelette, a better name I feel as it is quite different from the “tortilla” that I had been accustomed to for most of my life. The use of ‘Spanish’ in each name demonstrates the prevalence of this dish to Spanish culture.

Potato. Eggs. Oil. Fry. Serve. And there you have a centrepiece to your dinner. Add ingredients if you wish. Sausage or jamón are particularly popular for this – and in general. Onions have featured in all of the omelettes that I have tried, as has garlic, peppers and chives from time to time.

You can serve it hot or cold. Versatile. A staple year-round and liked by all the family, and, as far as I can tell, all of society, expats and indigenous alike.

The family prepares this at least once a week. At my Andalusian workaway, the Mexican-Italian couple made a tortilla on two different occasions, which were oilier and fried more than the Spanish-made tortilla. No less tasty, but less healthy I’m sure. Watching the effort that the couple went in to making it, part of me wonders how the father can consider it a simple dish for lazy meals – it is often served when we have had a big lunch or been out for most of the day. Serve with a salad, cheeseboard, and cured meat. Arriba!

 

Patatas Bravas

Patatas_bravas_madrid

A very popular tapas dish, I suppose for the same reason that we buy chips in the UK. Potatoes taste good. Fried potatoes taste even better. Spicy salsa de tomate or allioli (more common in Catalunya and Valencia, where the potatoes may also be sprinkled with olive oil, pepper, paprika, chili and vinegar) are both fine sauces. Great, lovely. Several people have spoken to me about patatas bravas as if it would be something mind-blowingly exceptional. If you are able to show me a relatively plain potato dish that is mind-blowingly exceptional please find me and let me taste it. A potato is a potato is a potato. It would likely be the sauce that I would remember – and indeed this sauce can be used in the dishes mejillones en salsa brava and tortilla brava.

Patatas bravas are most commonly found in tapa bars. My Andalusian host once got a tapas feast consisting solely of potatoes and cheese in a 2:1 ration. I enjoyed my anchoas. You can also top the bravas with other meats or fish to get more bang for your buck, more bravo from your brava, an additional texture to yer crispy ‘taters.

 

Patatas Rellenas

patatas rellenas

At the restaurant in the mountains this was the alternative suggestion to cannelon for my starter, as another recommendation for a traditional Catalan specialty. The father got patatas rellenas so that I could try. As I prefer pasta to potatoes, this was a good call, though they are worth a try. In the mountains they add meat to everything. When you are several hundred kilometres from the sea you need to get your protein from somewhere. And sprinkle some cheese on top and now you have yourself a party.

The best comparison that came to mind was a cheese, bacon filled fried potato dish which was served in my former favourite restaurant in Canterbury (it is now closed, or has changed from a steakhouse to a French bistro). It is comforting and indulgent, with two types of pig meat, two types of cheese, and a special Catalan salsa. Plus oil.

While I preferred the cannelon, this is my choice potato dish from Spain.

 

Las Castañas y Los Boniatos

Boniatos-y-castañas

Eaten on November 1st. Halloween isn’t such a big deal in Spain, but Todos Los Santos is, and what better way to celebrate than with chestnuts and sweet potatoes? This tradition is particularly common in Catalunya, with other parts of the country leaving out the sweet potato and just opting for chestnuts, almond cakes, and special donuts.

I’m here in summer, so no All Souls for me. But there is a pride in their tradition as they regaled me with tales of roasting in November.

Spanish Food 101: Pan

A culinary journey through Spain via the unparalleled medium of informal oral testimonies. This is written in English. If you would like a Spanish/Spanglish translation may I recommend reading slower, louder, and adding the letter “o” intermittently to the end of words. This is the sixth in the series of this crash course in Spanish cuisine. An introduction to this tale can be found by clicking here, and you can see the earlier forays of this adventure by scrolling down and reading more of this blog, which I would recommend that you do anyway. 

Carbs, glorious carbs! In Spain, like most of continental Europe, the humble loaf (or slice, depending on your appetite. More slice than loaf) of bread is still celebrated. It is an integral part of most mealtimes, and oftentimes comes in as a handy plate cleaner for the more saucy dishes.

 

Pan (en General)

Spending the best part of a day shopping is a not uncommon, and the Spanish people who I have met aren’t averse to travelling all across town and beyond in order to buy the best ingredients. A stop-off at the panadería is therefore often warranted. Indeed, my host family exclusively buy bread from a local bakery and have a handful they frequent depending on their bread needs. Indeed this morning there was a great argument over bread, with the mother not wanting to make the journey to the father’s preferred bakery and two non-optimal bread days in a row was too much for him to handle. I preferred the taste of the richer bread from yesterday, but the texture of today’s lighter bread is preferable, especially for toast.

Some towns and villages also have their own village oven which can be used by locals, or which is entrusted to the most skilled baker.

In Europe, the Germans get my vote for best bread. They tend to prefer denser ryes and what not. Then the French. The baguette will ever remain a pinnacle of dough-based treats. In Spain, the breads that I have tried are primarily white flour-based, crusty, and light. Best toasted, otherwise regularly required for mopping up the juices of dishes. Bread: the culinary plate cleaner. Gluten free never looked so wasteful.

 

Pa amb tomàquet / Pan con tomate

Pan_con_Tumaca

Or “dirty bread”. You take some toasted bread, add a dash of oil (or add the oil after if that is your preference) then rub half a tomato on it. Bickety bam, you are done. The tomato is thrown away which appears wasteful to me but clearly I am in an abundantly tomatoful country and even the peasant dishes are rife for waste. In a country that hosts the festival of La Tomatina I should really withhold my surprise that they’re not above wasting a few tomatoes on the domestic scale. I’d still like to think that poorer families use the cast-off tomatoes for salsa but I have no evidence of this.

This features often as a side to meals, in tapas, and sandwiches. “All sandwiches are served on pan con tomate” read more than one menu in Barcelona.

For all they rave about it and eat it, I am still yet to fully understand the hype. Bread with oil is equally as enjoyable, so much so that one of the children cried last night because she was served pan con tomate rather than pan con aceite, although her bread was pan con tomate. Children – who ever can tel?!

 

Coca de Escalivada

Coca de Escalivada

A type of Catalan pizza, though not a pizza proper. A “coca” is a stretched bread which has different ingredients put on it before being baked quickly in the oven. A “coca” is also a type of cola, and a hair tie, which led to confusion that the word came up in all three contexts last night at dinner.

A Coca de Escalivada is a coca which specifically has roasted red pepper, aubergine and onion on it. According to preference, you may also add tomatoes, potatoes, olives, or anchovies. And a drizzle of oil. Always a drizzle of oil.

I am yet to try an actual escalivada, or indeed a coca, but it was described to me as I was recommended to add roasted aubergine and pepper to my pan con tomate. Lovely, a definite improvement. The son recommends the following order of construction for cheat CdE: “first tomato, then oil, then aubergine, then pepper, then a few seeds of tomato, then oil. Is wonderful.”

 

Pintxo / Pincho

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Spain is not Texas, so not everything is bigger. Speaking of Spain and Texas, Andalusia is probably the most similar place topographically to Texas/New Mexico/Arizona/ regular Mexico (which used to be called ‘New Spain’, so this tidbit shouldn’t necessarily come as too much of a surprise) and is quite regularly used in movies as filming locations for the American southwest.

Pinchos are similar to tapas, with the main difference being that they are “pinched” by a cocktail stick which holds them together. They are served as individual portions, usually on bread, with a variety of fillings from seafood, vegetables, and the carb-on-carb tortilla, as pictured (n.b. the most carb-on-carb horror I felt was in Malaysia, where the people I was staying with ate spaghetti on bread and literal ice cream sandwiches; the British have the chip or crisp sandwich which is arguably equally carb-heavy), cheese, meat: so, the other main staples of the Spanish diet. The family eat them when they’re having a quick dinner after a heavy lunch, and they are moderately popular as a snack with drinks in Barcelona. The most popular region for them in Spain is the Basque country, namely San Sebastián.

 

Empanadas

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“They are so popular in Spain that there are jokes about them.”

I imagine that there are jokes about a great many things in the country, but the host father made a point of saying this and I thought I should relay the message to you, dear reader.

Italians have calzones, the Cornish have pasties, and the Spanish world has empanadas (based on my time in Elephant & Castle, I thought it was a Colombian specialty which sometimes got mentioned on TV in other contexts, but a quick Google has taught me otherwise).

The internet tells me that they originated in Galicia and were first mentioned in Libre del Coch, a Catalan cookbook published in 1520. Where other varieties of empanada favour variations on meat and potatoes, in Catalunya I have found that seafood is preferred. The family’s homemade empanadas had a filling of tuna, onion, bell peppers, hard boiled egg, tomatoes, and some herbs (empanadas de atún).  You can also add spice, but not for the children.

 

Spanish Food 101: Pasta

A culinary journey through Spain via the unparalleled medium of informal oral testimonies. This is written in English. If you would like a Spanish/Spanglish translation may I recommend reading slower, louder, and adding the letter “o” intermittently to the end of words. This is the fifth in the series of this crash course in Spanish cuisine. An introduction to this tale can be found by clicking here, and you can see the earlier forays of this adventure by scrolling down and reading more of this blog, which I would recommend that you do anyway. 

After rice comes pasta. The Italian rice. Popular among students and food enthusiasts (“foodie” is such a trite term) alike. Sunny days and happiness are made for these dishes. It is no real wonder that it is a southern European staple.

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The poor state of my phone camera. The contents of a cupboard.

For lazy cooking days, or days when a picky-eating cousins come to visit, for example, people the world over may dip their head into their pantry and opt for the enduringly popular, simple and delicious pasta. Where would we be without pasta? Why, in Asia, possibly. But we are not in Asia, we are in Spain.

One of the proudest moments of my life – no, I’ll say ‘year’ to bring the hyperbole down a little – was when I was at a tapas restaurant in Andalusia eating spaghetti a la boloñesa con atún next to an Italian girl. She turned to me as I was twirling the spaghetti with my fork and spoon as I had learned from the film Brooklyn (so many lessons to be learned from that fine film) and she proclaimed in one of the very few complete phrases of English that she knew that I “look like a real, good Italian girl.” Ever since I went skiing in Sauze d’Oulx, ate the best pizza of my life and watched fashionistas scurry about town on Vespas, then watched The Godfather three years later, I have wanted to be a real, good Italian girl. And now my dream had come true, if only for a moment. And in Spain.

 

Pasta salads or carbonara or pasta and pesto are made on lazier days, so maybe once or twice a week. When we were boiling the water for pasta and pesto, the mother showed me one by one all of the pastas in her cupboard. The smaller pastas are used for soups and stews, and the larger for normal pasta dishes as they are the world over. I was a little confused as to what was happening as more and more pasta was thrust towards me between sips of beer, but here we have it.

An aide memoire for Spanish pasta preferences: for pasta and music love, it’s rigatone y Reggaeton. (This one needs a little work).

One of my friends claims that the best pasta he has ever had in his life was in Valencia. He cared nothing else for Valencia except this and the weather. He doesn’t leave the country often.

And, of course, at the end of your pasta dish, have a slice of bread at the ready to mop of the remnants of that delicioso salsa. Carbs are here to stay.

 

Fideuà

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The difficult to pronounce (I’ve said it many times this month and here it is again: Spanish and English mouths are very different from each other) pasta-alternative, seafood-only alternative to paella which comes from the Valencian/Catalan word fideuada, or “large amount of noodles”. It’s amazing what different cultures have specific words for.

The mother prefers this in theory to paella as she has a tough time digesting rice. The Chinese have a tough time digesting alcohol properly, so it’s a reasonable trade. Like paella, it is cooked in a big, flat pan, and has shellfish and other white fish within its ingredients list. Then substitute the rice for hollow noodles, and there you have it.

The story goes that a cook on a boat used noodles instead of rice when making arrosejat as it proved too popular among the people aboard the boat and so nobody got a full portion. The substitution was well-liked, spread around the harbour then the rest of Spain, where it is here to stay.

 

Cannelons

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Cannelons. Catalan cannoloni. At the restaurant in the Catalunyan mountains, I was told that I simply had to try the cannelons (my other choice for a starter would have been anchoa, which they made for me this lunchtime as recompense). The eight-year-old daughter also had the cannelons for her starter, off the kids menu.

A Catalan specialty, I am told. Pasta, bechemel and meat. Delightful, of course, and you would be correct in thinking that it is similar to lasagne or Italian canneloni. The main difference is the meat used, with the Italians usually opting for a minced meat, while for the Spanish it is more shredded.

They are popular year-round, but it is especially common to eat them on Boxing Day, when they have been prepared using the leftovers of Christmas Eve and Christmas Day’s dinners. You can also add potatoes and garbonzo beans.

Comforting. Creamy. Not necessarily for summer, but in the mountains it is never truly a Spanish summer.