Alubias de Tolosa con Sacramentos

alubias de tolosa con sacramentos

Alubias de Tolosa are a small dark purple (almost back) bean, with a single white dot on the side, from Tolosa in Pais Vasco. Tolosa has become famous for it’s beans, which are produced locally in small quantities. These beans are commonly cooked slowly and often served with “sacraments.”


According to the Association of Producers of Alubias de Tolosa, the beans may have been brought over from the New World in the 16th Century, but, they didn’t become an important crop until the 18th and 19th Centuries. At one time beans were eaten on a daily basis in Pais Vasco (not just this variety) and by 1914 the annual Alubias de Tolosa harvest reached about 4 million kilos. The popularity of beans declined during the second half of the 20th Century, but in the last 10 years or so, there has been a resurgence, due to a consumer desire for healthy diets. Tolosa sits on the main trade route between Western France and Spain and the town’s market has become famous for selling these beans.

soaking beans

I had some Alubias de Tolosa a couple of weeks ago at La Tasca de la Vasca – they were so good that I went home and started looking up recipes straight away. The beans can be cooked more or less on their own, with little more than onions and olive oil. Alubias de Tolosa con Sacramentos is a more elaborate dish, where beans and several types of pork are cooked separately and served together with cabbage and guindillas.

Alubias de Tolosa con Sacramentos recipe (serves 4):

For the Beans:
500g of dried Tolosa beans (or turtle beans)
1 1/2 pints of water
5 dessertspoons of extra virgin olive oil
1 large onion, finely chopped
6 cloves of garlic (chopped)
a squirt of anchovy paste
a splash of sherry vinegar

For the Meat:
1 gammon knuckle
2 slices pork belly
2 morcillas de cebolla
2 cooking chorizos (soft and uncured)
1 stick celery (chopped)
1 carrot (chopped)
1 large onion, finely chopped
6 cloves of garlic (peeled)
2 pints water
Extra virgin olive oil

my left foot

There are variations on which pork ingredients one should use – most (if not all) include chorizo and morcilla and the difference comes with ribs, unsliced bacon, brined pork, pork belly, pig’s ear and pig’s tail. I set out to buy a piece of smoked bacon, a couple of ribs and some slices of pork belly. When I arrived at the Spanish butcher, he had some excellent chorizo and morcilla, but no pieces of bacon, he did however, have cheap gammon knuckles, which I thought would cover bacon and ribs.

Before proceeding, both the gammon and the beans should be soaked overnight (separately). This is a slow cooked dish and it would be a good idea to allow yourself 4 – 5 hours before serving supper.


For the gammon, using a large cast iron casserole, fry a chopped onion in extra virgin olive oil until it goes translucent, then stir in the carrots, celery and garlic.

cooking gammon

Rinse the soaked gammon and place it on top of the vegetables before pouring on 2 pints of water. Bring almost to a boil and scoop off any scum that comes to the surface before covering with a lid and removing it to a preheated oven at 150º C. Turn the gammon every hour or so. It will take about 3 1/2 hours before the knuckle is tender.

caramelised onion

Meanwhile, using another casserole, gently caramelise a chopped onion in olive oil. Keep stirring and don’t put the lid on! You are caramelising not sweating.

beans, onion and garlic

When the onion is soft and slightly brown, stir in the garlic and the rinsed beans. Add 5 dessertspoons of extra virgin olive oil and cover with water (about 1 1/2 pints). Bring to a simmer and cook on low with the lid on (or in the oven, if you have room) for a couple of hours, until the beans become soft and tender. Do stir occasionally and pour on more water if necessary.

cooked beans

The beans can be cooked for more than 2 hours if you wish (mine were cooking for 3 hours) – the longer you cook them the softer they get. They should start to break down a little and the liquid will look like chocolate. If you wish, once they are soft, a cup or so, can be mashed to thicken the sauce. A quick in and out whiz with a stick blender will also do the job. Taste the beans and season with a squirt of anchovy paste and sherry vinegar  If the beans are ready before the meat, they can be set aside with the lid on and warmed up (if necessary) at the appropriate time.

gammon and meat

When the gammon has been cooked for about 3 hours, the pork belly can go in with it for an hour. Add the chorizo and the morcilla for the final 15 minutes only!

gammon rojo

Notice how the pimentón leaches out of the chorizo and flavours the broth. The liquid isn’t normally added to the beans, but since I’d  made it like a stock (it tasted amazing) and it had some saltiness from the gammon, I stirred in a spoonful or two, to taste.


Some recipes call for the sacraments to be served on top of the beans – no doubt this array of pork sacraments would have been enough to convince the Inquisition (not disbanded until 1834) of one’s fealty to the Catholic Church.

alubias de tolosa

Other recipes (including Anna la Vasca’s) prefer the meat and sausages to be chopped up and stirred in. I only used a single piece of the gammon, roughly the size of a slice of pork belly. I have other plans for the gammon meat and stock later…


Alubias de Tolosa con Sacramentos should be served with spicy guindilla peppers (pickled in white wine vinegar) and boiled cabbage on the side. Guindillas come from the Basque Country (like the beans), but you can buy them in jars from Spanish shops or online. Failing that, other pickled peppers may taste slightly different, but will still be a good compliment to the beans.

I recommend drinking a Basque wine with this, such as Txakoli, otherwise, a tempranillo from neighbouring Navarra might be acceptable.

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Pheasant with Navy Beans

pheasant with navy beans

Pheasant were probably introduced to Britain by the Romans and were definitely well established by the time of the Normans. It should be relatively easy to buy pheasant from a decent butcher during the shooting season, October 1st to February 1st and from December onwards they should be the size of a small chicken. I recommend hanging pheasant (intact), in a cool dry place, for at least 3 days and up to 10 days to improve the flavour. Once plucked and gutted a pheasant should be refrigerated and eaten within a couple of days. A good sized pheasant will feed 2 people (even greedy ones like me).


Pheasant with Navy Beans recipe (serves 3 people):

1 large pheasant (jointed)
1/2 chorizo picante ring (chopped)
2 slices smoked streaky bacon (chopped)
250g dried navy beans (or 1 tin)
1 large onion (chopped)
2 sticks of celery (chopped)
2 carrots (chopped)
6 pieces of garlic (finely chopped)
3 teaspoons rosemary, sage and thyme (a few sprigs of each), 6 juniper berries, coarse sea salt and black peppercorns ground in a mortar and pestle
2 bay leaves
a heaped teaspoonful smoked pimentón dulce
1/2 teaspoonful smoked pimentón picante
a pinch of crushed chillis
2 dessertspoons plain flour
1 dessertspoon tomato pureé
a squirt of anchovy paste
1/2 pint pheasant stock
a glass of red wine
a splash of sherry vinegar
extra virgin olive oil for frying
Sea salt and cracked black pepper (to taste)

navy beans

Navy beans originally came from the Americas. The beans became popular in Spain and were probably spread through Europe by the Jews who were expelled from Iberia. It is thought that the bean returned to the Americas in long slow cooked dishes, like cholent, which is probably the origin of cassoulet in France and baked beans in the United States.  If using dry beans like me, do make sure you soak them overnight. Obviously beans from a tin or jar are ready to use.

pheasant browned

Joint the pheasant, season it and brown all over in extra virgin olive oil. You are not cooking the meat at this stage, just caramelising the sugars in the skin. Don’t overcrowd the pan, do this in two batches if necessary. When suitably brown, remove the pheasant to a plate.

bacon, chorizo and onion

Using the same cooking vessel (cazuela or cast iron casserole) and oil, gently fry a chopped onion until it is soft and brown. Stir in the bacon and chorizo with  pinch of crushed chilli and allow the meat to take some colour.

carrot, celery and garlic

Add the carrot, celery and garlic and allow to cook for a few minutes, before mixing in the tomato purée and anchovy paste, then sprinkle on the ground herbs, pimentón and flour – stir to create a roux.

bay and beans

Pour in the stock, red wine and sherry vinegar to make a a sauce. When this is done, the beans and bay leaves go in too.

pheasant with beans

Return the pheasant to the cazuela and turn the heat up to medium.


When the dish starts to simmer, cover and turn the heat down.


Cook for about an hour and a half on low (you can do this in the oven at 150º C if your cooking vessel will fit). Stir occasionally and check the seasoning after about an hour. Cook for the last 30 minutes uncovered, so that a skin starts to form on top.

Serve with seasonal vegetables and some crusty brown sourdough bread. I recommend a robust red wine to go with this, such as Palacios Remondo la Vendimia.

Other pheasant posts

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The French House

the french house

I had lunch on Thursday at The French House, with friends (and fellow bloggers) Michelle and Steve from Gourmandistan. The French House is perhaps the last bastion of bohemian in Soho and is famous for being a regular haunt of Charles de Gaulle, Francis Bacon, Dylan Thomas, Tom Baker, Lucian Freud, Jeffrey Bernard (when not unwell and in the Coach) …and because it only sells beer in half pint glasses!

Back in 1992 Fergus and Margot Henderson launched The French House Dining Room above the pub – both have since gone on to achieve international acclaim in their own right.  Last November, I was very excited to hear, that Neil Borthwick, former executive head chef at Mercheants Tavern, was relaunching the restaurant above the French. My friend Oli was at the opening and described the food with relish – he also mentioned that Neil’s wife, Angela Harnett, had been in the kitchen helping out and peeling spuds!

french house interior

The restaurant, like the pub, is quite small, seating about 30 people at a time. It’s very popular, so booking is essential. Initially, I could only get seats at the bar, but the helpful staff manged to find us a small table, which was just right for three.

french house menu

The menu is simple – perhaps, top of the line French bistro style, but with local ingredients. I like the way Neil hand writes the list of today’s dishes and signs the bottom with a, “Bon Appetit, Neil” – it reminds me fondly of Julia Child.

house red

We drank the house red, while making our minds up – I wanted everything on the menu, it was a hard choice!

salt cod beignets

Michelle ordered Salt Cod Beignets with Aioli – these were light and crispy with a rich garlicky aioli. They definitely would have been my second choice.

pig’s head terrine

Steve chose the Pig’s Head Terrine with rocket and apple salad – which was a meaty brawn without too much jelly …ahh, that was my other second choice!

calve’s brains

So my preference was for Calve’s Brains with brown butter, capers and parsley. These were sliced brain, lightly fried, fluffy salty and savoury from the capers and butter. Excellent brains and a nice change from the deep fried version I often eat in Cataluña.

tamworth pork chop

Steve had a Tamworth Pork Chop with Lentils and Swiss Chard as his main course – this was a man sized chop, with beautiful caramelised fat along the edge. At about this time, I noticed that Neil was bringing many of the orders to the table himself – you don’t get that kind of service in a large restaurant!

roast quail

Michelle and I both ordered Roast Quail with Remoulade and Hazelnuts. The quail was cooked to perfection (probably about 18 minutes), the skin was crispy while the flesh was slightly pink and succulent. The acidic raw celeriac, mustard, mayonnaise and cream remoulade was a perfect foil for the bird with crunchy roasted hazelnuts on top.

green salad

We shared a green salad


and creamy, cheese, potato mash with the main dishes.

yorkshire rhubarb meringue mess

For pudding, Michelle had Yorkshire Rhubarb and Ginger Meringue Mess. This was made with delicious forced rhubarb – in season now. Nigel Slater does an interesting version with sloe gin.

vanilla tart

I had a delightful Vanilla Tart (from the specials menu). This was light and delicate with crisp home made pâte sucrée. On the side were sweet marinated berries, which I suspect were black raspberries


Steve ordered the cheese selection – three generous portions of French cheese with pickle.

Having a simple menu and a limited number of tables, means that customers get food cooked to perfection and personal service from the chef himself. What’s not to like about that? We had a lovely relaxed lunch and didn’t leave until about 4.30.

The French House is at: 49 Dean Street, Soho, London, W1D 5BG.

Lunch is Monday to Friday, call 020 7437 2477 for reservations.

Recent glowing reviews by Fay Maschler and Grace Dent.

A little French pub history.

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La Tasca de la Vasca

la tasca de la vasca

At the back of Calella’s Market House, there’s a fantastic bar called El Nou Bar del Mercat: La Tasca de la Vasca. The bar is run by Ana Biurrun, from Donostia (San Sebastián) in País Vasco (the Basque Country), a region famous for it’s cuisine, Michelin starred restaurants and pintxos.

morcilla pintxos

Pintxos are like tapas (which originated in Andalucia and are said to have been small snacks on dry bread to keep the flies out of a glass of wine or sherry), but coming from the foodie capital of Spain, they tend to be far more elaborate. Pintxo comes from the verb pinchar, to pierce – most pintxos come with a toothpick piercing the topping to hold it on to the slice of bread underneath. Bar staff often count the empty toothpicks in order to calculate the bill. Pintxos and tapas alike, are not really supposed to constitute a meal – originally they were just intended to be a snack or appetiser with a drink. However, when small dishes are this good, it’s hard to resist having more than one.

jamon pintxos

I’ve spent time in San Sebastián and the pintxos in every bar are out of this world. I dropped a small fortune on bar hopping in order to try (nearly) all of them. That said, I’m sure you can imagine how excited I was to learn of a small Basque bar in Calella, doing a special pintxo deal on Saturday lunchtimes. I was not disappointed – one look at the counter and I knew I was in for a treat.

el nou bar del mercat

La Tasca de la Vasca sits in the middle rear of the market, with one side next to the vegetable stalls (above) and the other side (top picture) facing the back door. The bar was busy, I probably could have found a table, but as I ogled the pintxos, a stool became vacant at the bar, so I grabbed it quickly, in order to watch and chat to the staff.

jordi vertiendo sidra

I ordered Basque sidracider is very popular in North West Spain. It is traditionally poured from above the head (as Jordi demonstrates above) to aerate the drink and enhance the flavour. This is done for every single glass!


To go with my first glass of sidra I had a fantastic pintxo of chopped jamón and allioli with a little piece of jamón skewered on top (left). This was salty, creamy and garlicky, all in one. While I scoffed that down, Jordi warmed up the morcilla (center) sitting on a slice of red pimento – roasted red pepper, with the burnt outer skin removed, which gives it a sweet smokey flavour. Far right is a spicy chistorra sausage pintxo, which was also heated up for me.


Hungry for more, I ordered a tigre and a couple of croquetas (below and to the right). Tigres are steamed mussels, which have been chopped up, mixed with a béchamel like sauce, breadcrumbs, white wine, onions, tomato sauce, etc. The mixture is returned to the shell and the whole thing is deep fried, breaded side down for a couple of minutes, until golden brown.

croquetas y tigre

Above is the deep fried tigre (left) and the delicious croquetas, squid ink (rear) and mushroom front.

bolas de patatas

Temptation had me ordering more sidra and a bola de patata con txampis al txakoli – a purée potato ball with mushrooms and txakoli wine.


Txakoli is a dry, slightly fizzy white wine, produced mostly (but not exclusively) in the Basque country. It’s drunk young, up to one year after bottling and is poured from a height (for aeration) like sidra.

bola de patata

The bola de patata is deep fried and served with a little Mary Rose like sauce on top – it’s crispy on the outside and light and fluffy inside.

cangrejo pintxos

One more sidra and Anna brought out cangrejo pintxos – unbelievably delicious crab mayonnaise with a large pieced prawn on top. This finished me off, but what a great way to go!


I had to pass on the Basque Idiazabal raw milk sheep’s cheese


and a beautiful looking Greek moussaka – I wasn’t expecting to see that!


You will be unsurprised to see me finish my lunch with a carajillo de cognac – it really does pick you up after a good feed.

This has not been my only visit to La Tasca de la Vasca – I have been suitably impressed each time, especially as the pintxos change each Saturday and the staff are lovely. All the above, including 4 glasses of sidra cost €14.

El Nou Bar del Mercat: La Tasca de la Vasca is at: Carrer de Sant Jaume, 130, 08370 Calella, Barcelona.

La Tasca de la Vasca is open Tuesday to Friday 07.00 – 15.00 and 06.00 – 16.00 on  Saturdays.

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Mercat Municipal de Calella

mercat municipal

Callella has a small indoor market – Mercado de San Jaime, designed by architect Jeroni Martorell and  built in 1927. In contrast with Barcelona’s big city markets (La Boqueria, Mercat Galvany, etc.) this one is quite tiny.

david i cristina

Inside the front door, there are two fruit and vegetables stalls, David i Christina on the left

cal xoi

and Cal Xoi on the right – both selling top quality local fare.

fem salat

Next to David i Christina is Fem Salat, selling olives, salt cod and many prepared bacalao dishes, such as bacallà amb xamfaina (salt cod with ratatouille), bacallà a la llauna, bacallà gratinat amb all i oli (salt cod au gratin with allioli), bunyols de bacallà (salt cod fish balls), etc.

cento sonia

Suitably, the stall along side Fem Salat, is a fresh fish stall – Peixateria Cento i Sonia.


The fish here is sourced daily from the local port of Arenys de Mar.

el nou bar del mercat

At the back of the market, there’s a fantastic bar – El Nou Bar del Mercat: La Tasca de la Vasca.

mercat a l’aire lliure

On Saturday mornings, Calella has a weekly market in the car park next to the market house, which you can see in the background.

taronges mandarines

There were oranges everywhere.


Unsurprising, since Spain is a big orange growing country.


I noticed, last week, in the neighbouring town of Pineda de Mar, that the high street is lined with little orange trees, each containing at least two dozen mandarins.


Note the price here – 5 kilos for €3!


Walnuts were also in abundance,


along with pomegranates – only €0.35 per Kg!


Kakis were similarly cheap.


All types of vegetable are available – most being locally grown, including what would be considered late spring and summer varieties in the UK.


Most vegetables like peppers


and tomatoes are imported from Spain by British supermarkets during the winter.

tomàquets verds

I saw tomatoes and peppers growing on an allotment last week, so even Cataluña in the north has enough sun for two vegetable growing seasons.


Calçots are a particular Catalan delicacy – they are a forced spring onion, created in Valls, and cooked by blackening over a fire of vine branches. Calçots should be served with Romesco Sauce or Salbitxada.


Here the vendor obligingly held up two green cauliflowers for a customer just as I raised my camera – note the fantastic large garlic next to the lemons.


These baby artichokes looked perfect for deep frying in batter


and there were still some saffron milk caps on sale – these are a very popular mushroom in Catalan cuisine. The sign next to them indicates that they are from the local Penedès wine region.


Vegetables are not the only thing on offer here – this charcuterie stall had all sorts of cured meat, sausages, bacalao, cheese, olives and hand cut jamón iberico.


The cheeses look to be a complete bargain at about a third less than deli and supermarket prices.

olles i paelles

The market isn’t solely for food – I came across quite a large stall selling pots and pans.

moda íntima

There were also a few people selling clothes and in particular red knickers! Calella’s wealth comes from textiles and there are many shops in town selling moda íntima (intimate fashion).


This apothecary stall sells cures for everything,


including diabetes and cholesterol!

packing up

As I mentioned before, the outdoor market is Saturday mornings only, at 2pm they start to pack up and by 2.30 it’s all gone.

Calella’s Mercat Municipal is at: Carrer de Sant Jaume, 130, 08370 Calella, Barcelona.

The indoor market is open Tuesday to Friday 07.00 – 14.00 and 16.30 – 20.00. Saturdays 06.00 – 16.00.

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Bones Festes 2018

Wishing you all a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

I found this fantastic mother pig pie and babies, in La Colmena – Dolceria de la Colmena is one of Barcelona’s oldest pastelerías (patisseries) and it’s always good to have a look in the window when you pass by. I assume the pig is a savoury pork pie, since suckling pig is commonly served here at Christmas. I noticed vacuum sealed pigs in the supermarket this week – they even sell them frozen, as per turkey in Britain and America.

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El Hogar Gallego

carrer de les ànimes

On Thursday we went to El Hogar Gallego for lunch. Calella is only about 5 streets deep, as you walk up from the beach towards the mountains – El Hogar is on Carrer de les Ánimes to the left.

el hogar gallego

El Hogar is a smart Galician restaurant, a tell tale sign being the high prices on la carta (menu)

el hogar carpark

and the palatial car park opposite!

el hogar bar

A beautiful wooden bar runs down the right hand side of the restaurant, with silver service dining at the rear.


For those of us lunching from the low price menú del día there’s a seating area to the left of the bar, alongside the crustaceans, who were very good company.

menú del día

You will see from the remarkably cheap menú del día above, that one gets 4 courses here (at lunchtime) for €10.90.

vi moraleda

Wine is extra, but this bottle of house Moraleda rosat was very good for €9.90.


We both ordered the delicious savoury consomé (spelled with one m in Catalan).

ous fregits amb patates

Oli ordered ous fregits amb patates (egg and chips) as his second course. I’m reminded of a time, when my Valencian flatmate (1991), cooked up a plate of egg and chips for lunch. He told me that it was a typically Spanish dish and asked what we had like it in England?

macarrons amb pollastre

I had macarrons amb pollastre (macaroni with a chicken sauce).


Galician food is quite hearty – even the bread comes thick and rustic.

arròs negro

We both ordered the excellent arròs negro as our main course. This unctuous dish is like a seafood paella, made with Valencian rice and blackened by squid or cuttlefish ink. This one definitely contained squid and octopus. We ordered a little allioli on the side. Just before this arrived, I noticed that our impeccable waiter served the food from it’s dish with spoons, in the traditional silver service manner, albeit at a side table and not quite in front of us.

flam de café

For pudding, Oli ordered flam de café (coffee flan),

tarta de pistacho y fresa

while I had tarta de pistacho y fresa (a strawberry and pistachio cake with cream) – tarta can mean tart or cake in Spanish. This one blew me away with it’s incredible fresh strawberry flavour. The top (other side) was studded with crushed pistachios.


The restaurant has several sections. Towards the end of the long wooden bar, there’s an area dedicated to jamón – you will notice at least 14 hanging in the background.

fish fridge and bar

Beyond the jamón, is the fish fridge (left)


and finally next to the fine dining area, there are beautiful plates of crab and other fish.

el hogar nadal

I failed to notice the car park Christmas decorations during the daytime, but Oli alerted me to them the next day (after visiting the post office round the corner), so I grabbed my camera and returned to take a picture!

For a delicious lunch, in a beautiful establishment with first class waiters, El Hogar Gallego is a must visit restaurant in Calella. Our bill came to a modest €37.29 for 2 people. The New Year’s Eve menu is quite tempting – at €175 it sounds expensive, until you take into account that it includes a free bar and is open until 5am!

El Hogar Gallego is at: Carrer de les Ànimes, 73, 08370 Calella, Barcelona.

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