Paella de Marisco

paella de marisco

Paella is a Valencian rice dish, which originated in the 18th Century. The Moors began cultivating rice in Spain, perhaps as far back as the 8th and 9th Centuries and the marshes and lagoon of L’Albufera, (in the south of Valencia) proved to be a perfect place for paddy fields (though rice is cultivated all over Spain). Originally rice dishes would have been cooked in cauldrons or terracotta cazuelas – soupy stews of fish or meat, such as a Caldero Murciano or oven baked meat and rice with beaten eggs on top like Arroz con Costra. Paella became popular from about 1840 onwards and takes its name from the pan it’s cooked in – a wide but shallow polished or coated steel frying pan with handles on either side, ideal for cooking outdoors over an open orange wood and pine fire which provides a smokey flavour. Having become extremely popular with Spaniards and tourists alike, versions of paella can be found all over Spain and as far afield as British supermarkets. Much to the consternation of Valencian chefs and traditionalists, the fairly specific regional ingredients have become adapted, often mixing fish and meat – the worst transgression being the addition of chorizo, which is not found in any of the above mentioned rice dish recipes. Some of the “best” British celebrity chefs have played a big part in adulterating Spanish regional food. Read the 6 pages of comments on this paella recipe to see how heated the debate can get. The revered Catalan writer Josep Pla said this, “The abuses committed in the name of Paella Valenciana, are excessive – an absolute scandal.”

To defend against the corruption of their regional food heritage, an organisation of Valencian celebrities from the world of culture, gastronomy and society has been set up, called Wikipaella. Their aim is, “To encourage knowledge and acknowledgement of authentic paellas.” Wikipaella lists 3 types of authentic paella, with acceptable ingredients: Paella Valenciana, Arroz a Banda/Senyoret and Paella de Conejo y Caracoles. Arròs a Banda is probably the origin of Paella de Marisco (with Arròs Meloso somewhere in between them and the cauldron), served all along the coast of Valencia and Cataluña (and probably the rest of Spain).

Arròs a Banda is mostly rice and fish stock, without seafood on top. All traditional paellas were peasant dishes, cooked in the fields or onboard fishing boats, so the ingredients were cheap and whatever people had to hand. In the case of fishermen, they used the fish and fish parts that they couldn’t sell. Apparently Arròs a Banda dates back to the Ancient Greeks, who prepared fish with saffron, in a cauldron over an open fire (the Greeks colonised the Mediterranean coast of Spain, 500 years or so, before the Romans arrived). Spanish fishermen cooked the same, adding rice to the pot some time after the Reconquista. Rice consumption decreased in popularity for a while, after the expulsion of the Moors (in no small part due to mosquitoes and malaria in the rice fields), but by the 16th Century, rice production was on the increase. Arròs a Banda is eaten apart from the fish that’s cooked in the same caldero, hence the translation, rice apart, though I’ve also seen it translated as, rice in abundance.

I was asked to cook something nice for a small outdoor birthday this week. My suggestion of a seafood paella was met with a resounding, “Yes!” Paella is traditionally cooked over a wood fire to impart a smokey flavour, but a barbecue can be a reasonable compromise and keeps everything outside. It’s quite common for Spanish people to use purpose built dual ring gas burners these days – some restaurants (and the Valencians consider this to be sacrilege) even use purpose built paella ovens!

arròs negre

Paella de Marisco receta:

500g Spanish Bomba or Senia rice
2 pints fish stock
1 medium squid (diced)
8 – 10 large prawns
8 – 10 mussels
1 small onion (finely chopped)
6 cloves garlic (finely chopped)
1 romano pepper (a pointed sweet red pepper) (finely chopped)
3 tomatoes (grated)
a glass of dry white wine
2 teaspoons pimentón de la Vera dulce
a large pinch of saffron
a dessertspoon fresh parsley (chopped)
lemon wedges (to serve)

cuttlefish ink

You will notice that I cooked two paellas – the top one contains Spanish El Aeroplano food colouring, added with the stock to give the rice a vibrant orange/yellow colour. The second, arròs negre (black rice) paella contains two sachets of cuttlefish ink added with the stock to make the rice go black. Otherwise, the recipes are the same.

First cook the prawns gently until the go pink, then reserve for later. Cook the onions in the middle of the pan – keep them moving until they take some colour. Move the onion to the outside of the pan, which is cooler and fry the romano pepper in the middle (a red bell pepper will do). Move the pepper to the outside of the pan with the onion, while you fry the chopped squid in the center. Mix the squid with the vegetables and move them to the outside. Grate 3 tomatoes (discard the skin) into the middle of the paellera. Cook for a minute or two and combine with the other ingredients. Add the parsley and garlic, then sprinkle on the pimentón de la Vera dulce (mild). Give everything a good stir before thoroughly mixing in the rice.

saffron

Have the stock hot and ready – make it yourself (as per mine, here) or use a good quality stock from your fishmonger. Pour the stock into the paellera, along with the wine. Use a good pinch of Spanish saffron, as much as you can afford – it’s the stamen of crocuses and is the world’s most expensive spice. Grind the saffron with a mortar and pestle (a trick taught to me by a Persian lady to increase permeation), pour on a splash of boiling water and mix into the paella. Add the food colouring or cuttlefish ink now. The Turn the heat up and give it one final stir. Taste and add seasoning if necessary, but if the stock tasted right (beforehand), it shouldn’t be necessary.

el aeroplano food colouring

Place the uncooked mussels and cooked prawns around the dish. On an open fire or Spanish paella hob, the stock reduction and absorption takes about 5 minutes. With a domestic hob it takes 8 – 10 minutes. When you can see that the liquid has reduced, but there’s still a little below the rice, reduce the heat to half way. Cook for a further 5 minutes at which point almost all the liquid should have been absorbed. Poke the wrong end of a spoon into the pan to check if you have any doubts. Remove from the heat and cover the paella with newspaper (or a double thickness of kitchen towel) for 5 minutes – not a lid! The paper keeps the dish warm and absorbs the steam, so that it doesn’t condense and drip back down onto the rice. Sprinkle on a little parsley for decoration.

allioli

Paella is traditionally served at lunchtime, warm, not hot and is eaten with a wooden spoon, straight from the pan with a wedge of lemon and  allioli. A large plate of paella is often a starter on a menú del dia, but it can cooked to order, in a large paellera, as a dish to share among friends.

gazpacho

I made a huge batch of gazpacho – handed out when people arrived.

salchichas

Later, Willy barbecued some fantastic sausages, made in house by her local butcher. Nick provided a Greek Salad and Abdul arrived with his delicious home made Pakora.

We drank gallons of cava from Sant Sadurní, where all the road bollards look like champagne corks!

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Fideuà

fideus

Fideuà is a Valencian dish, similar to Paella (specifically Arroz a Banda), but made with pasta instead of rice. Pasta is a traditional Spanish food, though most people associate it more with Italy or China. The Chinese were probably the first civilisation to make noodles with rice, perhaps as far back as 200 BC. In Rome, Lagana was first mentioned by Horace, writing in 1st Century AD – these were sheets of fried dough.  A recipe for lagana was recorded by the Greek Athenaeus of Naucratis in 2nd Century AD – sheets of dough made with wheat flour and lettuce juice, which were spiced and fried. The recipe is attributed to Chrysippus of Tyana from 1st Century. By the 5th Century recipes for lagana refer to layers of dough and a meat stuffing, which is probably the origin of lasagne.

Itrium is mentioned in the Jerusalem Talmud, as a boiled dough popular in Palestine from the 3rd Century AD onwards. This is also documented by Galen a Greek philosopher, physician and surgeon in the 2nd Century AD, as itrion. Pasta in this form was probably eaten in the Levant as far back as 500 BC.

People of the Maghreb were eating couscous by the 11th and 13th Centuries. Couscous is made of  little sun dried drops of durum wheat semolina, rehydrated and cooked in a steamer, over a stew. Some food historians believe that the origin of couscous making, may date back to several millennia earlier.

Marco Polo definitely did not bring pasta to Italy from China in 1295! This is a myth started by the US National Macaroni Manufacturers’ Association’s magazine, in 1929, to promote pasta in America.

fideuá gallo

Pasta in the form of lagana, may have arrived in Spain with the Romans and it was most definitely popular after the Moorish conquest. By the 13th Century there were at least 4 types of pasta in Spain: small spindles fidawus, balls al-muhammis, larger balls zabzin and short macaroni aletría. Note the Arabic names – fidawus is almost certainly the origin of fideos (above) used for making fideuà (Catalan spelling, the Spanish spelling has the accent going the other way – fideuá). Fideos became popular cooked in a beef broth and later as Sopa de ave con fideos (chicken with noodles) and Fideos a la cazuela (a meat stew with noodles). Fideos are so popular, that it is the Spanish who first took pasta to the New World – Mexican Sopa de Fideo is a food staple (I hadn’t realised that fideos were popular in Mexico until I saw a film about a Mexican barbecue chef, quite recently).  From 1880 to 1924, 4 million Italians emigrated to the New World, firmly establishing pasta in North America.

fideos

According to legend, Fideuà was created by Gabriel Rodriguez Pastor, a cook on a fishing boat (from Gandia, Valencia), and his assistant Joan Batiste Pascual (known as Zabalo) in 1915. Apparently they often cooked paella for the sailors onboard ship, but the captain loved rice and was greedy – he always ate the lion’s share. In an attempt to share the food out equally, the cooks swapped the rice for pasta (fideos), in the hope that the captain would like the noodles less. Unfortunately, fideuà proved to be a big hit with the skipper – bad news for the crew, but a new dish was born. Like paella, fideuà has become an incredibly popular lunchtime dish on the coasts of Valencia and Cataluña (no doubt elsewhere in Spain too), often as a  starter on a menú del dia.

I bought the above fideuá from a supermarket in Barcelona – there were several types, made by the same local manufacturer – being in a hurry, I grabbed one. This is the largest version, with a hole in the middle, to maximise absorption of stock. It is not the kind most commonly used for fideuà (as you can see here from pictures of past lunches), the most common has the thickness of vermicelli or angel hair pastaFideos No 2. You can crunch up vermicelli to make 1 inch (2.5cm) fideos and in America, fideos are available in Mexican shops. I made the most of my fat noodles, which proved to work perfectly.

fish heads

Fish Stock:

3 fish heads and bones
6 mussels
cuttlefish off cuts
1 onion (roughly chopped)
6 cloves garlic
2 carrots (quartered)
2 sticks celery (quartered)
2 leek tops
1 tomato (quartered)
2 bay leaves
a level teaspoon of fennel seeds
a few sprigs thyme
a handful of fresh parsley
a level teaspoon black peppercorns
sea salt (to taste)
a glass of white wine
2 1/2 pints water
extra virgin olive oil

Ideally, one should make fish stock, though some fishmongers and supermarkets sell it in jars. Most fishmongers will give you some fish bones if you buy fish or crustaceans. Mine had just filleted some bream and was very happy to give me the heads and bones, rather than throw them away. The best fish for stock, in my opinion, are scorpion fish (rascasse in French or escorpora in Spanish), monkfish heads and gurnard.

vegetables

Dry and brown the fish, in olive oil. pour on the wine, add the vegetables, herbs and water. Don’t overdo the fennel seeds, or you will have an anise flavoured stock – great for bouillabaisse, but not so good for fideuà.

cooked stock

Bring to a simmer, skim off any foam and cook gently for 45 minutes. Allow to cool and strain.

Fideuà recipe (serves 4):

400g fideuà
2 pints fish stock
2 small squid (sliced into rings)
1 small cuttlefish or half a large one (diced)
8 large prawns
8 mussels
a handful of clams
1 small onion (finely chopped)
6 cloves garlic (finely chopped)
1/2 romano pepper (pointed sweet) (finely chopped)
3 tomatoes (grated)
a glass of dry white wine
2 teaspoons pimentón de la Vera dulce
a large pinch of saffron
a dessertspoon fresh parsley (chopped)
lemon wedges (to serve)

toasting

First, pour plenty of oil into a hot frying pan and add the fideuà.

toasted

Stir vigorously for 4 or 5 minutes until the pasta has browned all over. It tends to crackle a bit when golden. Remove to  plate.

Fideuà is cooked in a paella pan, called a paellera. This is a wide but shallow cast iron frying pan with handles on either side, ideal for cooking outdoors over a wood fire which provides a smokey flavour. Ideally, like paella, fideuà should be cooked out of doors,using a wood fire, though many Spanish people have special gas hobs with an inner and outer ring of flames. The inner ring is lit to cook the fish and vegetables and the outer ring is lit to reduce the stock. However, the largest gas ring, on a normal hob will suffice.

prawns

Turn the gas ring to the middle setting and cook the prawns until the go pink.

gambas

Put the prawns on a plate for later. Monkfish (rapé in Spanish) is a traditional fideuà ingredient, which would go in now. This was once a cheap fish, probably relative to it’s ugly face, however it has become quite expensive at £30 per kilo. As fideuà is a peasant dish, I left the monkfish out and used other popular cephalopods and shellfish instead – they are the ones commonly used in Spanish restaurants.

cebolla

Cook the onions in the middle of the pan – keep them moving until they take some colour.

romano pepper

Stir in half a romano pepper – the long, sweet, pointed one (a red bell pepper will do).

calamar i sípia

Move the vegetables to the outside of the pan, which is cooler, while you fry the chopped squid and cuttlefish in the center.

tomates

Mix the cephalopods with the vegetables and move them to the outside. Pour 3 grated tomatoes (discard the skin) into the middle of the paellera. Cook for a minute or two and combine with the other ingredients.

parsley

Add the parsley and garlic.

pimentón

Sprinkle on the pimentón de la Vera dulce (mild).

pasta

Return the fideuà to the pan and mix well with the other ingredients.

stock

Have the stock hot and ready.

caldo

Pour the stock into the paellera, along with the wine and saffron (see below), turn the heat up and give it one final stir. Taste and add seasoning if necessary, but if the stock tasted right (beforehand), it shouldn’t be necessary.

saffron

Use a good pinch of Spanish saffron, as much as you can afford – it’s the stamen of crocuses and it’s the world’s most expensive spice. Some people use a yellow food dye instead, but that doesn’t have the saffron taste!

ground saffron

Grind the saffron with a mortar and pestle (a trick taught to me by a Persian lady to increase permeation), pour on a splash of boiling water and add to the fideuà.

mariscos

Place the uncooked mussels, clams and cooked prawns around the dish. On an open fire or Spanish paella hob, the stock reduction and absorption takes about 5 minutes. With a domestic hob it takes 8 – 10 minutes. When you can see that the liquid has reduced, but there’s still a little below the noodles, reduce the heat to half way. Cook for a further 5 minutes. When the fideuà starts to crackle, it’s time to turn off the gas. Almost all the liquid should be absorbed. Put the wrong end of a spoon into the pan to check, if you have any doubts.

newspaper

Cover the paellera with newspaper for 5 minutes – not a lid! The paper keeps the dish warm and absorbs the steam, so that it doesn’t condense and drip down onto the fideos.

fideuà

Sprinkle on a little parsley for decoration.

allioli

Fideuà is traditionally served at lunchtime, warm, not hot and is eaten with a wooden spoon, straight from the pan. It usually comes with a wedge of lemon and home made allioli. My preferred accompaniment is a nice cool glass of rosado, such as Familia Torres de Casta Rosado.

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Goat with Lentils and Harissa

goat and red lentils

Goat meat is often overlooked in Northern Europe, whereas around the Mediterranean, it’s a common staple. Goat tends to be gamey, the flavour being quite similar to mutton. One would think the popularity of goat’s milk and cheese in Britain would result in cheaper meat, but it’s young goat (kid), that’s normally for sale – this is tender and less strong in flavour than old goat and therefore commands a higher price. However, halal butchers generally sell chopped goat meat (with the bone in) quite cheaply and it’s perfect for a stew.

Lentils (Lens Culinaris) are probably the oldest domestic pulse crop, originating in the Middle East and Asia, which makes them one of our earliest food sources. There are (surprisingly) far more varieties than the common, brown, green and red. The annual bushy plants produce a lens shaped seed, hence lentil. These nutritious seeds can be dried and will last for years if stored correctly, making them a perfect food in a time before cans and refrigeration. There’s even mention of lentil soup in the Bible (Genesis 25:30-34) and several mentions in the comic plays of Aristophanes (Athens 446 – 386 BC). Red lentils need no soaking before cooking and have a particularly sweet and nutty taste.

goat

Goat with Red Lentil and Harissa recipe (serves 3):

1 Kg chopped goat (on the bone)
1 large onion (chopped)
6 cloves garlic (finely chopped)
5 medium tomatoes (grated)
1 preserved lemon (chopped)
250g red lentils
1 teaspoon cumin seeds (ground)
1 teaspoon coriander seeds (ground)
1 dessertspoon tomato purée
2 big squirts anchovy paste
4 teaspoons harissa
1 teaspoon pimentón de la Vera dulce
1 teaspoon pimentón de la Vera picante
a pinch of crushed chillis
4 teaspoons za’atar
2 bay leaves
1 heaped dessertspoon fresh chopped coriander (cilantro)
3 dessertspoons sherry vinegar
2 pints water
sea salt and cracked black pepper
extra virgin olive oil

Season the goat with salt and pepper before browning in hot olive oil. Do this in two batches, so as not to crowd the pan and reduce the temperature. Reserve to a plate when done.

caramelised onion

Caramelise the onion slowly in the same oil.

tomatoes

When the onion is soft and sticky, grate in the tomatoes (cut them in half and grate the wet side, discard the skin) and stir in the garlic.

cumin and coriander seeds

Warm the cumin and coriander seeds in a frying pan before grinding with a mortar and pestle – this wakes up the flavour and aroma.

ground spices

Mix in all the dry spices. I included 4 teaspoons of za’atar, a popular Levantine spice mix (and family of herbs).

submerged goat

Return the goat to the pot, along with 2 pints of water, the chopped fresh coriander, anchovy paste, tomato purée and a squirt (about 2 teaspoons) of harissa. Harissa is a fiery chilli paste from Tunisia, available in most supermarkets. I try to buy Le Phare du Cap Bon Harissa, which is imported direct, as opposed to being a watered down supermarket brand. In point of fact, it is quite simple to make it at home, but it’s handy to have a tube in the fridge. It’s thought that the Spanish took the first chilli peppers to Tunisia, when they occupied the country between 1535 and 1574.

preserved lemon

Chop up a preserved lemon, discard any pips and mix that in too.

tender goat

Cover and cook for about 90 minutes, until the goat is tender.

red lentils

Rinse the red lentils them before stirring into the cazuela, along with 3 dessertspoons of sherry vinegar.

simmering

Simmer for a further 30 – 40 minutes until the lentils are soft. Add additional water if the stew gets dehydrated.

goat with red lentils and harissa

When the lentils are done, check the seasoning and add more harissa (about 2 teaspoons) to taste or serve it as an accompaniment. Harissa tends to mellow and dissipate during cooking – if you keep adding it, the heat will still disappear, so a little at the beginning and end works best.

Serve the goat and lentils with crusty bread and a glass of Didona Réserve, from Tunisia, which has a rich history of wine making, dating back to the Carthaginians – apparently the Romans benefited greatly from this viticulture expertise. The world’s first viticulturist was a Carthaginian man called Mago – his guide to agronomy and wine making was promptly taken back to Rome (after the sack of Carthage in 146BC) and translated into Greek and Latin.

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Albóndigas con Sepia

cuttlefish with meatballs

Cuttelfish with Meatballs (mandonguilles amb sipia) is a typical Catalan dish, where meat and seafood, Mar i Muntanya, are cooked together. This Sea and Mountain style of cooking is said to have originated in Empordà, in the north of Cataluña, where the Pyrenees Mountains come down to meet the sea. Legends say that Empordà was born of a marriage between a shepherd and a siren, though in reality, the region takes it’s name from the Ancient Greek town of Empúries, meaning “the markets”. Empúries was once an important Greek (later Roman) colony on the Costa Brava, which was eclipsed by Barcino (Barcelona) and Tarraco (Tarragona), falling into disrepair in the 3rd Century AD and abandoned by the 9th Century.

Mar i Muntanya itself, is said to have been invented in the town of Calella de Palafrugell, however, the Romans were definitely know to have cooked shellfish with poultry and in classic French cuisine there is poulet à la Nantua – chicken garnished with prawns or crayfish. The real regional origin may relate to a time before refrigeration, where farmers and fishermen traded meat for fish and combined the two. As far as I can tell, there are no strict rules regarding the sea and mountain combination, but the type of dishes often seen are Pollo con Gambas (chicken with prawns), Patacó Tarragoní (tuna fish stew with snails) and Albóndigas con Sepia (cuttlefish with meatballs). My recipe is a recreation from memory, of a dish I’ve eaten several times at the Victoria in Barcelona.

cuttelfish

The cuttlefish is a mollusc in the class cephalopod, which makes it a distant relative of the snail and closer cousin of the octopus and squid. The large white cuttlebone (loved by budgerigars, inside the cuttlefish), is in fact an internal shell filled with gas, used to control buoyancy. This cephalopod has a large brain, is highly intelligent, can change colour to camouflage itself, shoots out a cloud of ink when threatened and lives on small fish, crabs, prawns, etc. The cuttlefish has a distinctive taste and smell, it’s slightly pungent and liverish, a little bit sweet and of the sea. It’s less popular in the UK than squid and octopus and is therefore considerably cheaper. In Spain, however, cuttlefish is a very popular ingredient in soups, stews, paella and fideuà. I bought the above cuttlefish from Steve Hatt, where they cleaned it for me. It’s not a difficult job, but removing the ink sac can be messy. Chop the cuttlefish body into chunks and the tentacles into short lengths.

Albóndigas (meatballs) recipe:

300g pork belly slices
500g veal leg meat (or beef)
1 small onion (chopped)
6 cloves garlic
1 egg
a dessertspoon parsley (chopped)
a piece of stale brown sourdough bread (cubed)
sea salt and cracked black pepper (to taste)
2 dessertspoons plain flour (for dusting)

carne de panceta

I recommend making your own meatballs – the packets sold in supermarkets contain little or no flavouring. If you don’t have a mincer, buy the meat minced and chop the vegetables finely before mixing together. If using pork belly, do remove the skin.

pan de masa fermentada

Roughly chop the vegetables and cube the bread.

mincing

Put everything solid through a mincer and sprinkle on a generous amount of salt and pepper. Stir the egg in after the meat has been through the first time.

mixture

Mine was mixed up by hand and got minced 3 times to thoroughly combine the flavours. Take a small pinch of the mince mixture and fry it to check the seasoning. I was cautious with the salt and pepper and it took 3 taste tests before I was satisfied.

albóndigas

Roll about 20 meatballs in the palm of your hand, then dust with plain flour. Refrigerate for 30 minutes before frying. Veal is cheap and common in Cataluña, but beef makes a very good substitute. Other ingredients that are often used, include sour wine, milk, almonds, hazelnuts, pine nuts and chicken.

mandonguilles

Brown the albóndigas in hot olive oil and reserve, before starting on the sauce.

Sepia (cuttelfish) Sauce recipe:

1Kg cuttlefish (about 600g when cleaned)
the meatballs
2 large onions (chopped)
4 tomatoes (grated)
10 pods of new season broad beans (or peas)
1/2 pint fish stock
a large squirt of anchovy paste
a large glass of Albariño (or other dry white wine)
extra virgin olive oil
sea salt and cracked black pepper (to taste)
a teaspoon chopped parsley

cebollas

Using the same olive oil and pan, make a sofregit –  gently fry (sofreír – to underfry) the onions over a low flame until they become soft and caramelised. The onions above may look overcooked, but the dark colour comes from the meatballs, previously browned in the same oil. This adds to the flavour as per a roux in gumbo.

tomate

When the onions are soft and sticky, grate in 4 tomatoes – cut them in half and grate the wet side, discard the skin.

caldo

Add the garlic, anchovy paste, parsley, wine and a splash of stock. Season with salt and pepper (to taste) and let the alcohol in the wine evaporate for a couple of minutes.

sepia

Mix in the cuttlefish pieces and turn the heat down – cephalopods need to be cooked very quickly or very slowly, otherwise they become tough.

albóndigas en salsa

Return the meatballs to the dish and pour on more stock, so that they are almost submerged. Cover with foil or a lid and cook at a low temperature on top of the stove for an hour, stirring occasionally. Don’t adjust the seasoning after this point.

habas

After a hour, scatter the broad beans on top (10 minutes before adding the picada), re cover the pan and the beans will steam. Fresh peas are more common, but this year’s peas were one week away and I had some lovely new season broad beans from Perry Court Farm, which were pea size. Broad beans are, after all, the original Mediterranean bean.

albóndigas con habas

Picada recipe:

10 toasted almonds
2 large cloves garlic (chopped)
a dessertspoon parsley (chopped)
a slice of fried sourdough bread
2 teaspoons sherry vinegar
3 dessertspoons cooking liquid

In Cataluña, many dishes are finished off with a flavour enhancing thickener called a picada. This usually contains nuts, dry bread, garlic, vinegar, herbs and some cooking liquid.

almendras

Toast a handful of blanched peeled almonds in a frying pan.

molienda

Grind the almonds, fried bread, garlic and parsley with a mortar and pestle, before adding the sherry vinegar and three dessertspoons of the cooking liquid to make a smooth paste.

picada

Combine the picada with the stew 5 minutes before serving – this should give it a burst of flavour and thicken up the sauce.

albóndigas con sepia

Sprinkle on a little chopped parsley for decoration and serve with boiled or fried potatoes and homemade allioli on the side. I recommend a glass of chilled Albariño as a suitable accompaniment.

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Pita Bread

pita bread

I noticed taramasalata and hummus on special offer at a Greek stall in the farmer’s market last week and had my arm twisted. I normally make my own hummus from chickpeas, but taramasalata requires fish roe, which is harder to come by. I thought about buying pita bread to go with the dips but realised I had fresh yeast to use up and (at last) some white and wholemeal bread flour in the cupboard. I knew instinctively, with regard to bread making, pita would be easy.

Pita bread is ancient and relates to prehistoric flatbreads made 14,500 years ago in the Middle East, baked on hot stones around a fire. People in Jordan first cultivated wild wheat and barley – the earliest records of bread making from Mesopotamian (4,000 years ago) document a pita like bread cooked in a tinûru or tandoor oven. The word pita comes from Modern Greek, via Byzantine Greek (pitta, cake, bread, pie) and possibly from the Ancient Greek pikte (fermented pastry). This may also be the origin of the Latin word pizza!

rising dough

Pita bread dough recipe (makes 6):

125g white bread flour
125g strong wholemeal flour
20g fresh yeast (or 1 sachet of dried yeast)
1 dessertspoon extra virgin olive oil
1 heaped teaspoon salt
180ml lukewarm water

Pita bread is incredibly easy to make – it’s recommended to use bread flour because there’s extra gluten in it, which helps to make the pita puff up while cooking. Combine fresh or packet yeast with warm water for up to ten minutes beforehand in order to get the yeast active. Don’t use hot water, it will kill the yeast! Combine all the ingredients and knead for 10 minutes. I use an ancient food processor with a dough hook – it does a fantastic job and makes it easy. If the dough looks too wet add a little flour or too dry add a little water. The end result should be smooth but slightly sticky. Make a ball of the dough and allow it to rest. Dry yeast will work a lot quicker than fresh yeast. I don’t usually add sugar to dough, but it does make the yeast act faster – if you wish, a teaspoon of honey with the water and yeast would be in keeping with pita bread of the ancients. I left my dough in a warm place for 2 hours, at which point it had doubled in size and had lots of air bubbles.

dough ball

Get the oven on full – as hot as it gets! I use a pizza stone for baking – if you have one, put it into the oven cold, if not, when the oven gets hot, put a metal oven tray onto the middle rack for 5 minutes to preheat. Knock the dough back – push the air out with the back of your hand and knead into a new dough ball.

pita balls

Separate the dough into 6.

rolled out

Roll out 2 pitas at a time. Using a floured oven tray slide the pitas onto the baking stone or hot tray inside the oven. Bake for about 5 minutes, or until they have puffed up and taken a little colour.

baked

Pita bread is best served warm and on the day of baking. Stack the pitas inside a clean cloth (to keep them warm) until you are ready to eat. Pita bread can also be “baked” in a skillet.

Serve pita bread with the following…

kalamata olives

Kalamata Olives – theses are a delicious purple olive, originally from the city of Kalamata in Greece.

hummus

Hummus – an ancient Middle Eastern dip, popular throughout the Mediterranean, made of chickpeas, tahini, garlic, lemon and olive oil. The hummus above is sprinkled with pimentón de la Vera dulce (sweet smoked paprika).

feta

Feta – this is probably the best know Greek cheese internationally.  Feta is made with goat and sheep’s milk (and sometimes cow’s) – it is a curd cheese, pickled in brine. It has a salty, tangy, nutty taste. Sprinkle with oregano or thyme.

taramasalata

Taramasalata – is a rich and creamy Greek meze made from salted, cured cod roe (also carp or grey mullet), olive oil, bread or potatoes and lemon juice. The colour of taramasalata depends on the fish eggs used. The supermarket versions are generally bright pink, coloured with beetroot. Taramasalata is surprisingly hard to find in Spain, which is odd because the Spanish love eating cured fish eggs (Bottarga), though it’s quite common in neighbouring France. The only place I could find taramasalata in America was in Greek Town, Detroit. It was relatively easy to find in Melbourne, Australia, which has the largest Greek speaking population outside of Greece.

I recommend drinking Retsina with the above mezes – it’s a distinct and 2000 year old Greek wine flavoured with pine resin. Apparently, the Ancient Greeks stored their wine in amphora lined and sealed with Aleppo Pine resin to preserve it and then developed a taste for pine infused wine. Retsina is available as a white or roza (rosé) wine.

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Pissaladière

pissaladière

The Pissaladière is an anchovy, olive and onion topped flat bread, which is synonymous with the city of Nice. It’s thought that the origin of the pissaladière is likely to be Genoa (Italy), where they have been eating a Pizza all’Adrea or Sardenara from the late 15th Century – this predates the Neapolitan Pizza by 150 – 200 years – the word pizza being first documented in A.D. 997. The Romans were know to have eaten panis focacius, a flat bread with toppings and this type of food can be traced back throughout the Mediterranean for millennia. In the Balearics, Cataluña and Valencia, they have their own flat bread with sweet and savoury toppings called Coca …but more on that another day.

The Pizza all’Adrea is now a tomato, caramelised onion, anchovy and olive topped pizza, named after  Genoese Admiral Andrea Doria, who’s favourite food was said to be bread topped with olive oil, garlic and anchovies. The original Pizza all’Adrea definitely did not have tomato sauce on it, because they weren’t used on pizza until the late 18th Century – many people thought that the bright red tomatoes, brought back from the Americas, were poisonous! With regard to the name Sardenara, Elizabeth David states, “Originally salted sardines were part of the top dressing.”

The pissaladière takes it’s name from the original topping of pissalat, small fish, salted with herbs (such as bay leaves, thyme, fennel, oregano, savory, etc.) layered in amphora or barrels as was probably done by the Romans in the making of their condiment, garum (used with most foods). The pissalat would be sprinkled on top of the onions before baking. I’ve noticed that anchovies canned in olive oil break down naturally into something similar to a pissalat, when they’ve passed their sell by date. Being canned, I’m very much inclined to use these broken down fish as salad dressing or in casseroles – food in tins will last for years, unless the can is damaged. I remember reading that tapenade came about naturally, from capers breaking down when stored for a long time in olive oil.  Elizabeth David mentions that the pissalat topping had disappeared by the 1930s and around that time in Provence, there was a choice of pissaladière with onions and black olives or tomatoes, anchovies and black olives – from her observations, it’s not hard to see the connection with Pizza all’Adrea.

fresh yeast

I have been meaning to do a post on the pissaladière for several years, but the thing that gave me the impetus was a small purchase of fresh yeast from Bread Ahead, last Friday. There has been no yeast in all the usual shops, so a huge lump for £1 (from the baker) was a bargain! I froze half and the other piece sat in the fridge, until I remembered, that fresh yeast only lasts for a few weeks. The yeast pictured above is roughly 20g for the pissaladière dough.

Pissaladière dough recipe:

200g strong bread flour
100g 00 flour
200ml lukewarm water
20g fresh yeast (or 7g dried)
1 dessertspoon olive oil (preferably from the anchovy tin)

flour

Before doing anything else, break up the fresh yeast and mix it with a few drops of water to form a paste. Stir the remaining lukewarm water into the paste and let the yeasty water sit for 5 or ten minutes. This helps to wake the yeast up and get it going. If using dried yeast, it’s still good to mix it into warm water ahead of adding it to flour.

Put the flour into the bowl of a food mixer with dough hook. Make a well in the middle and pour in the yeasty water. Add the olive oil – use some of the oil from the anchovies, it’s generally olive oil and is infused with anchovies and salt. Do not add any additional salt to the dough!

kneading

Allow the dough hook to do it’s work for 10 minutes, or perform the task with your hands.

dough ball

The dough should be slightly sticky, but not so much that you can’t handle it. Rub a little flour on your hands and form a ball with the dough. Cover the bowl with a tea towel and let mixture rest for an hour or two – the dough should double in size – the time it takes depends on room temperature and time of year. The onions take a while, so the dough should be ready by the time they are done.

PissaladièreTopping:

4 medium to large white onions (sliced)
6 cloves garlic (finely chopped)
20 anchovy fillets (3 or 4 tins)
20 Kalamata or other good black olives
a teaspoon fresh thyme (chopped)
1/2 a teaspoon dried oregano
a pinch of dried savory
ground black pepper
5 dessertspoons extra virgin olive oil

onions

The onions need to be caramelised to the point where they break apart on your lips or tongue. They are absolutely full of natural sugars, so,, in my humble opinion, adding sugar defies logic – the added sugar caramelises and burns before the onions become properly soft and sticky. Four medium to large onions will reduce by at least half, if cooked slowly, ideally in a saucepan or terracotta cazuela (as above). This works much better than in a frying pan! The original volume of onions was slightly above the level of the cazuela to start with. Use lots of olive oil, including some from the anchovy tins – keep the heat very low and stir often.

caramelised onions

I used a heat diffuser under the pan – they are cheap and available online and in good kitchen shops. It took between 90 and 120 minutes to get the onions to the perfect, sticky, sweet and golden state of caramelisation, with no burning.

garlic and herbs

When the onions are soft, add the garlic, herbs and black pepper. Cook for a further 5 minutes and allow to cool.

onion liquid

Remove any excess onion liquid with a spoon – this can be saved and used to enhance a casserole, gravy or sauce.

rising dough

By this time the dough will have risen nicely.

rolling pin

Knock back the dough, to let all the air out, then form a ball, ready to roll out.

pissaladière dough

I believe the traditional pissaladière is a rectangular shape, but whatever fits your oven tray or baking stone is best. Roll out a suitable shape and unless you have a proper bread oven, I recommend baking the dough blind for about 12 minutes at 210º C. Preheat the oven first and poke holes in the dough with the tines of a fork. The dough is ready, when it has taken a little biscuity colour. Baking it blind will make the dough crisper when fully cooked. There’s nothing worse than soggy dough under a properly cooked topping. I did consider baking on a pizza stone, but thought that the olives would roll off, when I tried to get the pissaladière off a baking tray and onto the hot stone. It’s a lot easier done with a professional bread oven and a paddle.

decorate the dough

Spread the caramelised onions onto the partially baked dough and make a lattice across the top with anchovies. Place a black olive in each of the diamond spaces made by the anchovies.

baked

Return the pissaladière to the oven for about 30 minutes, or until golden brown.

pissaladière sliced

Allow the pissaladière to cool a little and seve with a Salade Niçoise and a glass of chilled Côte de Provence rosé.

As an alternative to bread dough, Julia Child baked her pissaladière with a puff pastry – c’est très riche. Bon appétit!

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Carne de Cerdo en Adobo

pork adobado

The preservation of meat and fish in Adobo went to South America with the Spanish after 1492. The original recipe containing red wine vinegar and olive oil, preserved food in barrels during long sea voyages. Columbus brought pimentón (smoked ground peppers) to Spain (when he returned from his second American expedition), which was duly added  to the preservative mixture for flavour. Food preserved en adobo provided people with meat and fish during hot weather, so it was popular on land too, at a time before refrigeration.

The food traveling from the New World back to Spain (beans, chillies, potatoes, squash, tomatoes, vanilla, etc.) wasn’t just a one way street. When Columbus made his second trip to South America he took horses, cows, sheep, and at Queen Isabella’s insistence 8 Iberian pigs. Later, in 1539, Hernando de Soto took 13 pigs to Tampa Bay (Florida), which grew to a herd of 700, three years later, when he died. The genetic footprints of these non indigenous animals can still be clearly seen, especially in the Mexican cerdo pelón. No doubt the new found popularity of the pig was helped somewhat by the missionaries spreading Christianity. Religious orders could read and write, so they took their cookbooks with them. Foods such as dairy, rice, wheat, etc. followed swine to the New World.

Over the years, South American cuisine has adapted many of the old world foods. In Mexico (and other countries) adobo is no longer a liquid marinade. Mexicans make a chilli paste which is used to marinate meat and fish which can also be used as a condiment. Lime or citrus fruit juices are often used in combination with chilli. These contain a similar acidity to vinegar and can preserve and tenderise food. A good example of food preservation with lime juice is ceviche. The lime itself comes originally from Indonesia and was grown extensively by the Moors in Spain, prior to the Reconquista and discovery of the Americas.

toasting chillies

In researching Mexican Adobo, I came across hundreds of recipes which were American, many of which looked excellent, but I was concerned with finding the real thing. Eventually I came across Diana Kennedy, who is English but has lived in Mexico for over 60 years and has become an authority on Mexican cuisine, being decorated by the Mexican government for her efforts. This isn’t her recipe, but her books did point me in the right direction.

Carne de Cerdo en Adobo recipe:

1 boned pork shoulder (butt) about 5lbs
3 ancho chillies
3 chipotle chillies
6 cloves garlic (chopped)
1 medium onion (chopped)
12 black peppercorns
4 cloves
1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
1/4 teaspoon thyme leaves
1 heaped teaspoon sea salt
1 heaped teaspoon dried oregano
2 bay leaves
1 1/2 cups cider or other fruit vinegar
1/4 cup of chilli soaking water
the juice of half a lime

chillies soaking

You can make an adobo paste on the day you smother your pork (or other meat), but it improves if you mix it up 24 hours in advance. First, toast the chillis in a hot, dry frying pan for about 30 seconds per side before soaking them for 2 hours in warm water. Cover with a plate to keep them in the water, or they will float. I used Chipotle chillis here (along with the Ancho chillis), Guajillo chillis would be preferable, but they were unavailable this week. There was definitely a fantastic aroma of pungent smokey chilles while they soaked.

Towards the end of the soaking time, warm the cumin seeds and cloves until you can smell them, then grind them up with a mortar and pestle, along with the salt and black pepper. Chop the garlic and onion roughly, cut the tops of the chillies, de seed them and remove any veins. Put all the ingredients, except the pork, bay leaves and lime into a blender.

adobo

Blend the adobo and taste to check the seasoning, then add the bay leaves. My initial reaction was, “Not too hot,” and then my eyes began to run, my tongue burned and the endorphins kicked in. In truth it’s not excessively hot, but I did notice that my fingers started to tingle after washing up the blender (quite a pleasant experience which lasted for several hours). I was struck by the fact that the cider vinegar had disappeared into the background. The ingredients make about 1 pint. Allow the adobo to fuse overnight. 24 hours later the marinade smelled fruity – this along with the taste reminded me slightly of HP or A1 Steak Sauce, albeit much spicier. 1/4 of the adobo will cover a 5 lb piece of pork shoulder or similar chicken. Divide the remaining marinade up and freeze it for a rainy day.

pork shoulder

The next day: In the UK, pork shoulder normally comes with skin, which crisps up nicely if scored and rubbed with salt. I’m fairly sure that the skin is removed in America and Spain.

scored

Adobo pork doesn’t come with skin, so run a very sharp knife between the meat and flesh to remove it in one piece. Save this for the following day and score it with a knife (don’t cut all the way through). Wipe it dry and and sprinkle on and rub in salt. This can be cooked in the oven at the same time as the adobo and will make fantastic crackling.

skinned

Retie the pork, if necessary, to hold it together.

adobado

Spread the marinade all over, cover and put it in the fridge for 24 hours.

marinated

Allow the marinated pork a couple of hours to come to room temperature. Put the adobo into a cast iron casserole with half an inch (1.25 cm) of chicken or vegetable stock. Heat the casserole gently and when warm remove to a preheated oven at a temperature of about 160º C for 3 hours with the lid on. Baste the pork every hour.

crackling

The pork skin goes into the oven at the same time as the adobo and will become fantastic brittle toffee like crackling. Pour off any fat and save for cooking roast potatoes.

cerdo en adobo

After 3 hours, baste the pork and remove the lid for a further 30 minutes. When cooked, squeeze on the juice of half a lime and allow to rest, wrapped in foil.

gravy

Pour off the juices from the casserole, make a roux with a spoonful of pork fat or olive oil and an equal amount of flour. Stir the juices back in to make a gravy. Taste and add a splash of cider vinegar if necessary.

pork in adobo

Serve with rice, black beans, a pico de gallo salsa and tequila. The pork was starting to fall apart after 3 1/2 hours, but if you want it pulled for carnitas, it needs another hour or so in the oven.  If the pork is cubed before marination, it’s perfect on skewers for a barbecue.

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Pollo en Adobo

pollo en adobo

This week I came across a cheap chicken and no, not factory farmed – it was free range and corn fed! I thought it might need some preservation in order to keep it “fresh” for Sunday, so my choice was freezer or adobo. Since spatchcocking and marinading works perfectly for the recent sunny weather and barbecueing, the chicken’s fate was sealed by the time I got home.

Back in the 16th century, the Spanish and Portuguese combined tried and tested food pickling in vinegar with their newly discovered pimentón from the Americas to create a delicious method of preserving meat and fish while adding flavour. The Spanish called this mixture Adobo, the Portuguese equivalent being Vinha d’alhos (which is the origin of vindaloo). This meant that perishable food could be kept adobado, in barrels on long sea voyages without it spoiling. Vinegar (above 5% acetic acid) kills bacteria and pimentón inhibits insects and mould growth, providing that meat or fish is completely submerged.

These days, adobo is more commonly used as a marinade (prior to cooking), although food cooked in vinegar and pimentón (en escabeche) for preservation in cans or jars is still incredibly popular. In Mexico and South America, adobo has taken on a new dimension as a sauce marinade or sometimes dry rub. Philippine adobo is somewhat different. When the Spanish conquered the Philippines in the late sixteenth century, they discovered that the indigenous people had a cooking method that used vinegars (cane, coconu, palm, etc.) soy, garlic and other ingredients, but not generally pimentón. The Spanish called this adobo de los naturales (adobo of the natives) and the term adobo has stuck. The word adobo comes from the Spanish verb adobar – to marinate.


corn fed chicken

Before marinating, spatchcock the chicken, by removing the back bone – see here for my step by step pictures. Don’t skewer the bird until after marination.

dissection

Opening up and butterflying the chicken allows a marinade to penetrate all the meat and  the bird will cook faster without drying out.

adobo marinade

Chicken Adobo recipe:

1 medium sized chicken
6 cloves garlic (finely chopped)
3 sprigs thyme (torn up)
1 heaped teaspoon dried oregano
10 black peppercorns
2 bay leaves
a heaped teaspoon pimentón de la Vera dulce
a heaped teaspoon pimentón de la Vera picante
1/2 cup red wine vinegar
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

pollo adobado

Mix up the adobo ingredients in a bowl and make sure the chicken is coated all over (inside and out). Keep the pollo adobado (chicken in marinade) in the fridge. The best method of doing this is probably in a plastic bag (or plastic food container) for maximum saturation and immersion, unless you have a large barrel of adobo and walk in fridge to hand. The marinade may react with metal, so metal containers are not recommended. My chicken was marinated for 48 hours, but 12 – 24 hours in adobo will impart a good flavour.

oven ready

When it’s time to cook, soak two wooden skewers in water for at least 30 minutes before using – this stops them burning. Push them diagonally through the legs/thighs to the wings on the opened up side of the chicken, see here. If cooking in the oven, turn the chicken skin side up. On a barbecue, cook skin side down to start with and turn over when the bird has browned sufficiently. Do sprinkle on salt and pepper before cooking. Reserve the marinade to make a gravy, but don’t use a raw marinade on cooked meat even if it does contain vinegar!

pollo asado

Typically the weather turned cold, so the chicken went into a hot oven at 240ºC, which was turned down after 5 minutes to 180º for an hour. Check to see that the juices run clear, or use a meat thermometer. Chicken should be cooked to a temperature of 75ºC. Wrap the bird loosely in foil while you make a gravy with the leftover marinade and some stock.

gravy

Stir some plain flour into the drippings on the bottom of the oven dish, over a gentle heat and slowly mix in the reserved marinade and some stock. Taste and add seasoning if necessary.

roast potatoes

Serve with roast potatoes and seasonal vegetables, or potato salad if dining al fresco. The chicken was extremely moist and tender with an infusion of pimentón and a slight piquancy from the red wine vinegar. The vinegar flavour is subtle and not in the least bit overwhelming. I enjoyed a glass or two of Marqués de Caranó Gran Reservado (a Spanish red blend of Garnacha, Tempranillo and Cariñena grapes) with my supper.

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Osso Buco Bianco

osso buco bianco

I came across another bargain this week – 2 organic rose veal shins for £2, something that’s considerably more expensive normally. I decided to cook the classic calf’s shank dish, osso buco, which is typical of Lombard cuisine. Osso buco (bone with a hole) originated in the city of Milan in the 19th Century. The veal shank is cut across the bone, so that the marrow is exposed and cooks with the meat.

Some time ago, I posted the more modern tomato version of osso buco, so not wanting to repeat myself, I decided to cook the original Milanese version of the dish – Osso Buco Bianco. Knowing that the Catalans cook shin of beef with a picada (a paste made typically of fried bread, almonds or hazelnuts, garlic and olive oil) to boost the flavour at the end of cooking and that osso buco is generally served with gremolata (to provide a similar sharp kick), I decided to combine the two, to great effect. It can, after all, be said that Catalan and Italian cuisines have a lot in common.

shin of veal

Veal, as you may or may not know, is the male offspring of dairy cows. A cow needs to have a calf in order to produce milk and the calves are more or less 50/50 male or female. The female calves become milk cows, but the males are not beef cattle and are therefore slaughtered younger to provide a more delicate and tender meat. Veal got a very bad name in Britain during the 1970s, when an exposé showed very small calves in crates being shipped large distances to Holland. The scandal was so great that people in the UK more or less stopped eating veal. This, however, is somewhat short sighted. Britain still drinks milk and eats cheese while male calves are born regardless. The net result has been than most veal calves have been shot and thrown away within a day or two of birth.

The rose veal above was fed a natural diet of grass and grain and lived a normal farm life. These calves are typically slaughtered at 8 – 12 months, which means they are considerably older than most chicken, lambs or pigs. Judging by the size of Catalan osso buco in the Boqueria, I’d say that their calves could even be up to 18 months old.

browned

Osso Buco Bianco recipe (serves 2):

2 pieces of veal shin (bone in)
3 slices pancetta (chopped)
1 large onion (chopped)
6 cloves garlic (finely chopped)
1 large stick celery (chopped)
1 large carrot (chopped)
1 heaped dessertspoon plain flour (seasoned with a little salt and black pepper)
1 glass white wine
1/4 pint chicken stock
a large squirt anchovy paste
a teaspoon of ground rosemary and sage
2 bay leaves
cracked black pepper (to taste)
extra virgin olive oil
a knob of butter

Dust the osso buco with seasoned flour and brown on both sides in hot olive oil and a knob of butter (save any leftover flour for later). When done remove to a plate. Some cooks snip the skin around the meat to stop it expanding and becoming misshapen, however, when cooked for several hours this does cause the osso buco to fall apart. A piece of string can remedy this, but I’m inclined to leave the shanks au naturel.

pancetta and onion

Using the same cast iron casserole and fat, caramelise the onion with 3 slices of chopped pancetta. Pancetta is similar to streaky bacon and made from cured pork belly.

In Spanish, pork belly is called panceta, as is the cured meat. I once made the mistake of ordering 2 pork bellies from a wholesaler in Cataluña and asked for vientre de cerdo, which does mean belly, but the cut is actually stomach with kidneys attached. Fortunately the butcher saw the funny side of it and swapped it for panceta de cerdo. Apparently it’s a common mistake in translation.

carrot and celery

When the onion is suitable sticky, mix in the carrot, celery and garlic, sprinkle on the herbs and the remaining seasoned flour to make a roux.

stock

Add the anchovy paste, white wine, stock and two bay leaves. Allow the liquid to bubble for a few minutes to burn off the alcohol.

submerged

Sink the osso buco in the bubbling sauce, cover the casserole with a lid and place it in a preheated oven at 160º for about 2 hours. Turn the meat about half way through.

cooked

When the osso buco is ready, it will be fork-tender.

toasted almonds

Picada:

a dessertspoon fresh coriander (chopped)
10 blanched peeled almonds (toasted)
1 clove garlic (finely chopped)
a slice stale sourdough bread (toasted and torn into little pieces)
2 teaspoons sherry vinegar
3 dessertspoons cooking liquid

In Cataluña, many dishes are finished off with a flavour enhancing thickener called a picada. This usually contains nuts, dry bread, garlic, vinegar, herbs and some cooking liquid.

First toast some blanched peeled almonds in a frying pan.

stale bread

A slice of stale bread can be used as it is – it can also be fried or toasted. I toasted mine to aid in grinding. Tear it up into small pieces.

mortar and pestle

Put the dry ingredients into a mortar and grind with a pestle. Drizzle in the sherry vinegar, followed by the cooking liquid, to make a smooth paste.

picada

Remove the osso buco briefly from the sauce and stir in the picada. Taste the sauce and adjust the seasoning if necessary.

osso buco

Return the osso buco to the casserole and sprinkle with chopped coriander before serving with polenta, risotto or mashed potato. I recommend drinking a glass or two of La Niña Rojo (the red girl) as a suitable accompaniment.

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Farinata

farinata

I’ve been looking for some rye flour to go with the strong wholemeal flour in my cupboard for several weeks, in order to make a sourdough starter. However, as you know, there is an acute shortage of flour on the shelves. It’s not an actual lack of flour – most flour is sold to bakers in huge sacks, many of whom are temporarily closed. The problem here is that there are lots of large sacks of flour available, but the demand is currently for small bags weighing 2lbs (1Kg) or so. Flour producers can’t rebag their product fast enough and there’s a shortage of the empty bags.

In truth, I haven’t suffered a lack of sourdough – many bakeries have (understandably) closed, but Bread Ahead in Borough Market has stayed open and sells it’s wares from a stall outside the bakery. The brown sourdough is extremely good and it sells for a sensible price – £4.50 per large loaf.

besan

In the meantime, I kept noticing chickpea flour on the otherwise empty shelves and in the space of a week, I came across 3 recipes for Farinata and Socca. Well I like chickpeas, hummus, falafel and pakora (vegetables fried in chickpea flour) …and the farinata recipes looked easy, so I splashed out £1.40 on a bag of Besan, also known as Gram Flour (not to be confused with Graham Flour). When an interesting food slaps you in the face, go with the flow!

chickpeas

Farinata is dough pancake which originated in Genoa – it is said that Roman soldiers used to cook it over a fire, on the back of their shields. The name farinata comes from the Latin farina, meaning meal or flour, also farina in Italian, farine in French and harina in Spanish. Very similar dishes can be found in Nice, called Socca and Tuscany, called Cecina, from the Italian for chickpeas (ceci), not to be confused with the Spanish Ceina, which is air dried beef, horse or rabbit. A large portion of the inhabitants of Gibraltar hail from Genoa and Calentita (farinata) has become one of the Rock’s national dishes.

gram flour

Farinata recipe:

1 1/2 cups chickpea (garbanzo) flour
2 cups lukewarm water
1 teaspoon salt
a level teaspoon of rosemary ground with a pinch of coarse salt and 6 black peppercorns
3 dessertspoons extra virgin olive oil
2 dessertspoons olive oil for the frying pan
3 cloves finely chopped garlic (optional)

batter

Before you start, farinata batter needs to rest for between 2 – 8 hours, the cooking time however, is only about 10 minutes.

Put the chickpea flour in a bowl and beat in the warm water until it is smooth. It will seem quite thin but don’t worry that’s normal. Cover with a plate or cling film and allow to stand at room temperature. I left mine for 2 hours and it was perfect – I will be trying overnight next time, to see how 8 hours develops the flavour.

skimmed

When the batter has rested, heat the oven to it’s highest setting and preheat a cast iron or copper frying pan in it, ready for the batter. Skim off the bubbles and froth on top of the batter and gently beat in the salt, a level teaspoon of the rosemary and pepper, garlic and the olive oil. Set the skillet on the hob with a flame underneath. Pour in 2 dessertspoons of olive oil, swirl it round and as soon as you see smoke, drizzle in the batter as per pancakes, about 1/4 inch (1 cm) deep. Place the frying pan in the hot oven.

oven

Bake for 5 minutes, then turn on the grill (broiler) and toast until the top starts to brown.

The farinata was quite fantastic, like a cross between an omelet and a flat bread. The browned top has a fabulous crisp texture, while the inside is slightly moist. Garlic is not traditional, but I would definitely add it again.

cheese & tomato topping

I made a second farinata and when cooked, sprinkled on grated cheddar and squeezed the juice of a fresh tomato on top, then returned it to the grill until the cheese had melted. This produced a delicious farinata “pizza”. I will be trying onions in the next one and I noticed a recipe with artichokes here – that’s definitely something to try!

Buying the chickpea flour was well worth it – I’m sure it will make about 10 farinatas and I may get round to making pakora

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