A blog about Spanish food--how to cook it, how to eat it, here or there. The focus will be on simple, easy and mostly healthy dishes, with lots of options for vegetarians, vegans, and folks (like me) on low-cholesterol diets.
In her latest article in The Wall Street Journal "Spain's Delicious Wines Won't Break the Bank,"Lettie Teague comes to a not very surprising conclusion: Spanish wines are rewarding, yet their prices tend to be "absurdly low." She tries Alabariños, Riojas, a rosado, and many others, all under fifteen dollars, all (with a few exceptions) undervalued. It is surprising that her "Spanish wine-loving friends" carry on about a Monastrell from Jumilla--a thick Southern red that often has an overripe, almost prune-like taste. At the same time, it's not surprising at all: fashion in the U.S. still seems to lean towards such heavy reds, which is why some of the best Spanish wines (and best values of all) never get exported.
The article really only scratches the surface when it comes to the tremendous variety of Spanish wines that go for crazy low prices. During our last trip to Madrid, I focused on Valdepeñas (a wine rarely exported to the U.S.), along with La Mancha, Madrid, a Castilla y León. I drank almost exclusively reservas and gran reservas. Most of them were "old style"--subtle, complex, sometimes a little difficult to get to know (the opposite of a heavy Jumilla). Oh, and all of these wines were, without exception, under 7 Euros a bottle.
Basically you just grill the biggest green onions you can find until they're charred on the outside. Take them off the grill, wrap them up in paper or foil and let them steam five or ten minutes, then peel off the charred outer layer and enjoy them dipped in a good olive oil or romesco sauce (my easy romesco works well). The hot taste of the onion becomes sweet and rich during the cooking, and the texture is tender.
At the end of the video there is an example of the traditional way to eat these grilled onions (not with a knife and fork!)
Grated tomato (tomate rallado) is used in many different Spanish dishes. In Andalusia it is smeared on toast and drizzled with fruity olive oil for breakfast. In Valencia grated tomato is a main ingredient in sofrito, which is used to make, among other things, paella. You can use grated tomato in pisto, an old fashioned gazpacho (the texture is quite different than when made in the blender), or as a base for tuna in tomato sauce (bonito y tomate). In fact you can substitute fresh grated tomatoes just about anywhere you would use canned tomatoes. It's a great alternative for people on low-salt diets, since tinned tomatoes usually have a lot of sodium.
If you've never grated a tomato before, you'll probably be surprised by how easy and quick it is. Just rub the tomato against a grater over a bowl.
The flesh, juice and seeds go into the bowl, but most of the peel stays in your hand. When you've finished grating, discard the peel or use it for making stock.
Grated tomato is not quite as refined as tomatoes run through a food mill, but it is quite different too from tomatoes finely chopped.
I will be honest: for a long time whenever a recipe called for "tomate rallado" I just chopped the tomatoes instead. When on a whim I tried grating tomatoes, I realized it really does make a difference in flavor and texture, and just makes Spanish dishes more Spanish. And it really isn't any more difficult or time consuming than chopping.
Pour the split peas into a large pot. Look them over, pushing them around, and remove any bits of stones or dirt. Rinse the peas 2 or 3 times.
Add enough water to the pot so that the peas are covered by 2 to 3 inches of water. Bring them to a boil. Simmer for half an hour. When the peas begin to soften, add the bay leaf and carrot and continue simmering.
Meanwhile, saute the garlic in the olive oil. Remove the pan from the heat and let the oil cool some. Add the Spanish spice blend. Stir. Add this mixture to the simmering peas.
Let the soup simmer until the peas are quite soft. Add salt to taste (It doesn't need much, thanks to the spices, making this a good soup for people on a low-sodium diet). Just before serving, add handfuls of fresh chopped parsley and--for an Extremaduran or Canary Island touch--a handful of coarsely chopped cilantro.
This mix of typically Spanish spices--thyme (tomillo), cumin (comino), smoked paprika (pimentón) and a little hot pepper (guindilla)--often serves as a base for adobo, but it can also be used in many other ways, basically anywhere you would use pimentón. It is especially useful for adding depth and complexity to the flavor of many vegan, vegetarian, and low-salt dishes.
Whenever we're in Spain, Ana tries to pick up a few tins of Ortiz anchoas "a la antigua"--anchovies prepared "the old fashioned way." We have not been able to find a source for these in the U.S., and even in Spain it isn't always easy to find them (the supermarket chain Carrefour sometimes carries them), but they are well worth searching for. Of all the tinned anchovy fillets, these come the closest to the salt-packed anchovies (anchoas en salazón) served in the very best tapas bars.
You can sometimes find Ortiz's anchoas "a la antigua" in miniature packets, about half the size of the standard 50 gram anchovy tin. These are perfect for when you want to make only one or two tapas. (An open tin of anchovies in olive oil just doesn't keep very well even in the fridge, so it's best to eat them all the day you open the can).
Basically Ortiz anchoas a la antigua are first-class anchovies (you can still see bits of silvery skin attached to the fillets, just like in a good tapas bar), packed in an excellent virgin olive oil with herbs. The texture is firm. The flavor, like that of any good anchovy, is not at all fishy. At the same time, these anchovies are unique because of the quality of the ingredients, the way they are prepared, and the herbs.
Open a tin of these, serve them with good bread and wine, and you have an instant tapas party.
Roscones de Reyes, the traditional, wreath-shaped sweet breads sold in Spanish bakeries for King's Day (and increasingly throughout the holiday season) are usually decorated with chopped nuts, powdered sugar, candied fruits, and sometimes a glaze. These decorations not only make the roscones look festive, they add a lot of flavor.
An easy way to decorate your roscón at home is to make some candied citrus peel and arrange them, along with chopped nuts, onto a freshly glazed bread. Here's one we did last year:
Candying citrus peel is easy. Just peel some strips of orange zest (or other citrus of your choice) with a vegetable peeler. Cut them into match sticks or other shapes if you like, or just leave them "abstract" (that's what I do). Put them in a pot of cold water. Bring them to a boil. Drain them. Repeat.
Make a simple syrup: Put one cup of sugar and one cup of water in a saucepan. Bring it to a boil. Add the citrus peels. Let them simmer in the syrup an hour or so. Remove them from the syrup and roll them in sugar.
These keep for weeks so you can make them ahead of time.
Now after five months maceration, they look like this:
The aguardiente (a type of pomace brandy similar to grappa) has taken on a rich cherry flavor and color, and the cherries are now spicy with aguardiente. These make a great dessert and digestif just as they are, but you can also use them in some traditional Spanish sweets--hopefully the subject of a near future post.