Saturday, April 4, 2020


Semana Santa (Holy Week) won’t be the same in Spain this year, without the solemn religious processions wending their way through the streets and the tapa bars thronged with people, both devout and not, seeking refreshment while the drum beat and mournful trumpets resound. It’s all cancelled due to the coronavirus crisis.

My own observance of Holy Week is also constrained. Every year I try out a different recipe for bacalao, dry salt cod, the most emblematic food during Lent and especially for Viernes Santo, Good Friday. I didn’t have the foresight to buy the cod several weeks ago, before lockdown (it keeps long periods without refrigeration). But I do have in the freezer a package of fresh-frozen cod fillets.

So, I’m making a tapa bar favorite, Soldaditos de Pavía, batter-fried salt cod, subbing the frozen fish for the dry salt cod.

"Little soldiers" of batter-fried cod. Typically, they are served with strips of roasted red peppers.
Soldaditos de Pavía means “little soldiers of Pavía.” The “soldiers” are strips of batter-fried cod. The saffron in the batter turns the fritters yellow and they’re usually wrapped in a strips of red pimiento, so they are named, depending on which story you prefer, either for the color of the uniforms worn by the Spanish Hussars who occupied the Italian city of Pavia in a famous battle of 1525, won by Emperor Charles V, or else for the troops of General Pavía, who wore red waistcoasts when in 1874 they stormed Parliament and forced its dissolution at bayonet point, marking the beginning of the end of Spain’s first republic.

I’ve got canned piquillo peppers, a pantry must-have. Instead of topping the fried fish with bands of the red peppers, I made a piquant sauce with them.

If you want to know how to prepare real salt cod, see this blog post.  At the end of that post are links to many recipes using bacalao.

I've used piquillo peppers to make a piquant, pungent alioli sauce to accompany the fried fish. (Photo by Ben Searl.)

Saffron in the batter gives the yellow color.

Soldaditos de Pavía are typical of tapa bars, especially in Sevilla and Madrid.

Inside the crispy coating, fish is moist.

“Little Soldiers” (Batter-Fried Cod)
Soldaditos de Pavía

If you are using dry salt cod, de-salt it by soaking in water for up to 3 days, changing the water several times a day. If using fresh fish, salt it lightly and allow it to stand for 30 minutes. Do not salt thawed frozen fish. Hake can be substituted for cod.

Can’t find yeast? Try the recipe for beer-battered fish instead. See the link to the recipe below.

Serves 4.

Thawed fillets of fresh (not salt) cod.

1 teaspoon active dry yeast
Pinch of saffron threads, crushed
Hand-hot water
¾ cup + 1 tablespoon flour
½ teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon finely chopped parsley
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
1 ¾ pounds cod fillets
Olive oil for frying
Strips of roasted red pepper or canned pimiento
Piquillo pepper alioli, to accompany (recipe follows)

Place the yeast in a small bowl and the saffron in another small bowl. Add 2 tablespoons hot water to each. Let stand 5 minutes.

Batter with yeast for coating fish.

Place the flour in a bowl and combine with the salt. Make a well in the center of the flour and stir in the oil, yeast and saffron. Stir in enough additional hot water (6 to 8 tablespoons) to make a smooth batter about the consistency of thick cream.

Cover the bowl with a dampened cloth and let the batter stand for 1 hour. Stir in the parsley and garlic.

Cut the cod into strips of approximately 4 X 1 ½ inches. Pat the fish dry with paper towels.
Place oil in a deep skillet to a depth of 1 inch. Heat until the oil is shimmering, but not smoking (about 355ºF). 

Fry in olive oil. (Photo by Ben Searl.)

Dredge the strips of cod in the batter, letting excess drip off. Carefully place cod in the hot oil, without crowding the pan. Fry the pieces of cod, turning them once, until golden on all sides, 3 to 4 minutes. Remove with a skimmer and drain on paper towels. 

Serve the cod hot with a strips of red pimiento and the piquillo pepper sauce

Piquillo Pepper Alioli
Alioli con Pimientos de Piquillo

The piquillo variety of pepper is bittersweet and mildly piquant. If desired, add a little hot pimentón (paprika), cayenne or Tabasco to the sauce to give it more punch.

Piquillo peppers in a can.

2 cloves garlic
½ cup mayonnaise
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/3 cup drained and coarsely chopped piquillo peppers (about 4)
Salt, to taste
¼ teaspoon hot pimentón (optional)

Finely chop the garlic in a food processor. Add the mayonnaise and process until it is smooth. Add the oil, piquillo peppers, salt and pimentón, if using. Blend until smooth. 

Alioli (garlicky mayonnaise) with piquillo peppers is also good with baked potatoes, beans and grilled chicken.

Another recipe for batter-fried fish:

The view from my kitchen window--splendid isolation. Lockdown in Spain has been extended to April 25. I'll need to get out shopping before then. 

Saturday, March 28, 2020


Cazuela de fideos--noodles cooked with seafood in the Málaga style. This version is with sea scallops.

By the end of the second week of lockdown, it’s definitely time for another run on the supermercado! The cupboard is almost bare. We’re down to bare bones. But, I’m not scraping the bottom of the barrel. In a reverse operation, I’m using my stash of foods kept just for special occasions. This is certainly a "special occasion," if not the sort I originally had in mind.

I’ve defrosted a bag of plump sea scallops, a shellfish I adore. I used to buy them fresh, but they seem to have disappeared from local markets. I occasionally splurge on frozen ones.

I’ve also discovered in the freezer two small containers of shrimp broth (made from the heads and tails of fresh shrimp) and a bag of baby fava beans. Favas are in season now, but I´m not growing them this year. These are left from a previous year. In the cupboard, a packet of fideos, thin soup noodles, and some canned tomatoes.

My ingredients suggest a cazuela de fideos, a Málaga-style seafood and noodle casserole. Instead of the traditional version, with clams or bacalao (salt cod), this one, with scallops, will be special.

Noodles and sauce cook together. They are served juicy, not soupy.

A sprig of fresh mint is the finishing touch. My version has baby fava beans and, instead of peas, a garnish of snow peas from my garden. (So nice to have fresh vegetables, even when shopping is circumscribed.)

Plump scallops come with the coral or roe.

The fideo noodles cook right in the liquid (flavorful stock). A sofrito of onions, garlic and tomatoes fried in olive oil makes the flavor base. (The sofrito can be made in advance.) Cook the noodles in a clay cazuela if you have one or use any heavy pan.The finished noodles should be juicy, saucy, not soupy. A sprig of fresh mint is the typical garnish, making the dish truly “Málaga style.”

Potato is typical in this dish, yes, with pasta. Also typical are peas, fava beans, artichokes. I scattered the tiny (defrosted and peeled) favas on top of the fideos, like a garnish. Fresh ones can be cooked with the noodles. I also considered pureeing them with mayonnaise and garlic to make a green-tinged alioli to serve alongside.

Scallop and Noodle Casserole
Cazuela de Fideos con Vieiras

1 medium potato, cut in ½-inch dice
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 pound sea scallops (3-4 per person)
1 clove garlic, crushed
¼ teaspoon saffron threads, lightly crushed
8 ounces (about 2 cups) fideo noodles or spaghetti broken into short lengths
¼ cup thick sofrito (recipe follows)
3 cups shrimp, fish or clam broth
Freshly ground black pepper
1 cup cooked fava beans or peas
Snow peas, blanched
Sprigs of fresh mint

Fideo noodles come in various sizes, from thin angel's hair to thicker. This medium noodle is perfect for the cazuela and also for soups. Use spaghetti broken into short lengths, if fideos are not available.

These are thawed baby fava beans. Blanching splits the outer skins, making them fairly easy to peel. The skinned beans are vivid green, a nice contrast with noodles.
Par-boil the diced potatoes for 2 minutes. Drain and reserve them.

Heat the oil in a cazuela or heavy pan. Sauté the scallops with the clove of garlic on medium heat, turning to brown them lightly on all sides. They should be just cooked through. Remove the scallops from the pan. (Leave the garlic in the pan.)

Add fideos to the oil in the cazuela, then add the sofrito and broth. The pasta cooks in the sauce.

Sprinkle the saffron into the oil in the pan. Stir in the fideos and potatoes and sauté for 1 minute. Add the sofrito and broth. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat so liquid bubbles gently. Season with salt and pepper. (If broth and sofrito were salted, additional salt may not be needed.) Cook, stirring occasionally, until fideos are al dente and most of the liquid has been absorbed, about 6 minutes.

Place the sautéed scallops and fava beans on top of the fideos. Cover the pan and allow to set 5 minutes.

Serve the fideos and scallops garnished with snow peas and sprigs of mint.

Thick Sofrito with Canned Tomatoes
Sofrito con Tomates en Conserva

Sofrito usually is made with fresh tomatoes. Here's a recipe for making it with canned tomatoes. You only need half of this thick sofrito paste for the fideos recipe. Store the rest in the fridge for use in another recipe. 

Makes ½ cup thick sauce.

3 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup chopped onion
2 cloves chopped garlic
¼ cup chopped green pepper (optional)
1 cup drained and crushed canned tomatoes
Freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons dry Sherry

Fry the onions and tomatoes until all liquid is cooked away.

Heat the oil in a heavy skillet. Sauté the onion, garlic and green pepper on medium heat until softened, 5 minutes. Add the tomatoes, salt and pepper. Cook on medium-high until all of the liquid is cooked off and the vegetables begin to “fry” again in the oil.

Add the Sherry, raise the heat and cook off all the liquid. Let the mixture just begin to brown. Remove from heat.

Puree the sauce in a mini-processor.

More recipes with scallops:

More recipes for fideo noodles:

More about sofrito here.

Saturday, March 21, 2020


And, on the seventh day, I shopped. I parked as far from the market as possible, for a chance to stretch my legs, and donned rubber gloves. (No masks available anywhere.) Officers on patrol pulled up next to me, saw my shopping bags and moved along without a word. At the market, the butcher and fruit vendor handed over receipts to show as proof that I was out and about to purchase food, almost the only movement outside home that is permitted. Such is life during the coronavirus crisis lockdown. 

Another customer at the butcher’s (keeping a 1-meter distance from others) asked if business was suffering with people keeping to their homes. Francisco, the carnicero (butcher), replied that, no, he had had the best four days ever. “But, nobody is buying meat with any joy,” he said. It seemed true. Usually a feast-day food, meat and poultry were being purchased for survival. Everybody seemed pretty glum.

But I was overjoyed to have a fat pollo amarillo (free-range “yellow” chicken) for roasting, a bundle of fresh asparagus and local avocados to replenish my menu planning for another week in quarantine.

Still, I haven’t eaten too badly in the seven days of isolation, using frozen and canned foods plus produce from my garden—cabbage, kale, chard, carrots and snow peas. Here are some of the dishes I ate during the first week of lockdown.

Snow peas from my garden, for an easy stir-fry with beef (from the freezer).

For St. Patrick's Day, a recipe from Epicurious--Cabbage Potato Pie. Only, instead of potatoes, I used mashed zucchini. (For anyone following my blog: this is the last cabbage from the garden!)

Chickpeas in the freezer from a previous meal go into hummus with tahini. Great snack food. I use the leftovers as a dressing for salads and cooked vegetables.

Harira, a spicy Moroccan soup (this recipe also from Epicurious--see the link below), is a great lunch dish. I had vegetables from the garden. You could use canned chickpeas. Add beef, lamb or chicken to make the soup even more substantial.   

From the pantry: canned mussels in escabeche. These are canned with pieces of algae from Galicia.

To make sauce for pasta: Add contents of two cans of mussels in escabeche to sautéed garlic, ham and kale.

I served one portion of the mussel-kale sauce with noodles and the other with zoodles (zucchini noodles).

I kept myself entertained one afternoon making these cauliflower patties, using leftover cauliflower "rice" that I had made for the stir-fry earlier in the week. I wanted crisp crackers, but they're not. But they make a tasty snack, nice with a dollop of Greek yogurt.

Cauliflower Patties
Tortitas de Coliflor

Makes 16.

2 cups cooked cauliflower “rice”
1 cup (unsweetened) almond flour
1 egg, beaten
½ cup grated Manchego cheese
½ teaspoon salt
Freshly ground black pepper
½ teaspoon smoked pimentón picante (hot paprika)

Heat oven to 400ºF. Line a baking sheet with parchment.

Combine the cauliflower rice and almond flour in a bowl. Add the egg, cheese, salt, pepper and pimentón. 

Drop spoonfuls of the cauliflower mixture onto the baking sheet. Use the back of the spoon to press them into 2-inch patties.

Bake the patties until golden, 15 minutes. Serve hot or room temperature.

To make cauliflower “rice”: Cut out and discard the center stalk of the cauliflower. Cut the cauliflower into florets. Add the florets and small stems to food processor and pulse until they are chopped to the consistency of rice grains. Place the cauliflower kernels in a microwave-safe bowl and drizzle them with olive oil. Microwave on high for 2 minutes. Stir. Microwave for 1 or 2 minutes more or until cauliflower is the desired degree of doneness. Add salt.

Links to recipes pictured above:
Harira (Moroccan Soup), by Joan Nathan.
Cabbage Potato Pie by Anna Stockwell.

More recipes for cauliflower rice here.
More recipes for cooking with algae here.
More recipes for lockdown meals here and here.

KitchenQuarantine  a Facebook Page.

By the way, it's SPRING! Orange blossoms.