Saturday, January 14, 2017


I have guests coming for Sunday lunch. What to fix for dessert? (Dessert is always a dilemma.) Poking around in the cupboard, I came across the bag of dried figs I bought for the photo of dried fruits and nuts a few weeks ago. Fig tart, perhaps? Too fussy for my tastes. I’ll put it all in baking dish and call it “pudding.”

Dried figs from Málaga are dusted with rice flour before packaging.

Figs grow throughout southern and central Spain. In former times the fruit was far more important than it is today, a source of sweetness. In late summer, ripe figs were picked and spread to dry in the sun. When fully dried, they were packed into a serete, a woven straw basket, and cinched tightly closed. The baskets were placed in a fig press, which consisted of a wooden frame threaded with a thick wooden screw hewn from hard holm oak, and winched down. Once pressed, the figs were impervious to insect infestation and would keep for months.

Now I buy packaged figs, small Málaga figs that have been lightly coated in rice flour to keep them from absorbing moisture. (They can be eaten without washing.) There are also other varieties imported from Turkey. Any variety of dried fig can be used in the recipe. Cut small figs in half; quarter large ones. Dried figs are so sweet that, in my opinion, the dessert is sweet enough with no added sugar.

Figs are enhanced with various spice combos--anisette and cinnamon, ginger and cardamom, or, as I have used, vanilla and lemon.

Figs bake in a custardy-batter topped with nuts.

Dried figs are plumped in milk before mixing into the batter.

Dust the pudding lightly with confectioners' sugar immediately before serving.

Fig Pudding
Pudín de Higos

I found that the rice coating on the figs thickened the batter somewhat, so I used the larger quantity of milk. 

Serves 6-8.

1 pound dried figs
½ vanilla pod
Strip of lemon zest
1 ½ -2 cups milk
4 eggs
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons sugar (optional)
1 cup flour
1/8 teaspoon salt
Slivered almonds or coarsely chopped nuts (optional)
Confectioners’ sugar (optional)
Dessert sauce (recipe follows)

Use kitchen scissors to snip off stems.
Cut away stems from the figs and cut them in half or quarters. Place in a heatproof bowl. 

Heat the milk with the vanilla pod and lemon zest. Pour the hot milk over the figs and allow them to soak until milk has cooled. Discard the lemon zest. 

Preheat oven to 400ºF. Oil a baking dish (11- 12-inch rectangle or oval).

Remove the vanilla pod. Split it open lengthwise and scrape out the pulp. Add the pulp to a mixing bowl or blender. Add the eggs and oil and beat or blend until combined. Add the flour and salt and beat again to combine. 

Pour the batter over the figs and mix well. Spread the figs and batter in the baking dish. Sprinkle the top with slivered almonds or chopped nuts.

Bake 10 minutes. Lower oven temperature to 350ºF and bake 25 minutes more. Pudding is done when a thin skewer comes out clean.

Serve hot or cold, dusted with confectioners’ sugar, if desired. Serve sweet dessert sauce separately.

Sweet Sherry Dessert Sauce
Salsa Dulce con PX Sherry

Serve pudding with a sweet Sherry sauce.
½ cup light cream
¼ cup PX (sweet) Sherry

Combine the cream and Sherry in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil and simmer 2 minutes. Serve hot or cold.

And, more fig recipes:

Saturday, January 7, 2017


My kitchen: new induction cooktop and electric oven!

Oh no! I burned the lentil soup! In an instant, the lentils and carrots at the bottom of the pot scorched, ruining lunch and a perfectly good pan.

This happened on my brand-new induction cooktop. I hadn’t intended to use it until learning more about how it works. But, as luck would have it, when I turned on the big old gas stove to heat up lunch, the burner sputtered out—an empty butane tank. Ben called some burly friends and they, unceremoniously, moved the old stove out. Bye-bye, bombonas (butane tanks).

I put the pot on the new cooktop, turned up the heat dial and touched “P” for power. By the time I turned to get the soup bowls ready, the soup had scorched.

I felt like a dolt. Or, anyway, a novitiate in the kitchen. There’s going to be a learning curve here, as I adapt to a new way of cooking. So, “P” for power is great for bringing a pot of water to a boil to cook pasta—but not for anything with solids that rest on the superheated bottom.

Smaller oven, but 11-pound turkey just fits!

My new eye-level electric oven presented no orientation problems, other than needing to convert Fahrenheit to Celsius for temperature settings. I put in an 11-pound stuffed turkey, basted it with olive oil and white wine every 30 minutes. The turkey was roasted in less than three hours. While I made the gravy, I popped mashed potatoes with pimentón and roasted Brussels sprouts in the oven to reheat.

Roast garlic under broiler/grill.

I’m using the oven way more than I did the oversize one on the old gas stove. It is radically more efficient. Plus, I need it to do a few things that I used to do on an open gas flame—like roast a head of garlic (to add to lentils or black-eyed peas) or roast bell peppers.

Cut peppers in half and flatten them to roast under broiler/grill.

And, I can’t use my clay cazuelas and earthenware tagine on the cooktop (only pans with ferrous content, that a magnet will stick to, work on induction), so, until I get a special induction plate, I am using the oven for clay-pot cooking too.

My first experiment—arroz marinero, seafood rice in cazuela—was a little off on the timing. Although I know from experience how earthenware holds the heat, I still managed to overcook the rice in cazuela!

Note to self: stand back when opening the oven to avoid an eye-level blast of steam.

Baked Rice with Seafood in Cazuela
Cazuela de Arroz Marinero al Horno

Rice and seafood, baked in an earthenware cazuela.

Bring cazuela right to the table to serve.

A touch of saffron gives rice a golden hue.

An earthenware cazuela takes a long time to come up to temperature, but once the liquid starts to bubble, the cazuela holds the heat for a long time. Take the rice out of the oven before it is completely tender and allow it to finish cooking in a 10-minute waiting time. 
Bomba is a variety of Spanish rice that doesn’t readily overcook and turn mushy. If not available, use medium round-grain paella rice or Italian risotto rice. 

If you can get whole shrimp with the heads on and you don’t mind peeling them, they’re best because the shells add flavor to the oil for cooking the sofrito. If whole shrimp are not an easy option, just skip the first step in this recipe.

Serves 4-6.

Par-boiled artichokes and frozen peas.
1 pound whole jumbo shrimp
1/3 cup olive oil
½ cup chopped onion
½ cup chopped red or green bell pepper
2 cloves garlic, chopped
¾ cup grated tomatoes (2-3 plum tomatoes)
¼ cup dry Sherry or manzanilla
½ teaspoon pimentón (paprika)
Saffron (optional), crushed
2 tablespoons hot water
2 cups round-grain rice, preferably bomba variety
½ pound cleaned squid, cut in rings
12 ounces monkfish fillet, cut in 1 ½ -inch cubes
5 cups fish or chicken stock
1 cup frozen peas
Artichoke bottoms, frozen or par-boiled
Sprigs of fresh mint or chopped parsley

Fry heads and shells to flavor oil.
Peel the shrimp, keeping the heads and shells. Reserve the bodies. Heat the oil in a skillet. Add the shrimp heads and shells and fry them on medium heat until they change color. Remove from heat. Tilt the pan so oil runs to one side and carefully skim out the shrimp heads and shells. When they are cool, discard.

Cook tomatoes until jammy-thick.

Add the onion, pepper and garlic to the oil and sauté on medium heat until softened and beginning to brown, 10 minutes. Add the tomatoes. Turn up the heat and cook until reduced to a thick sauce. Add the Sherry and cook until evaporated. Stir in the pimentón.

Dissolve the saffron, if using, in the hot water. Stir it into the sofrito tomato sauce. Scrape all of the sauce into a 12-inch cazuela. Add the rice.

Add the cut-up squid and cubes of monkfish to the skillet and sauté them very quickly. Add to the sofrito and rice in the cazuela.

The cazuela can be prepared up to this point at least 1 hour in advance.

Preheat oven to 425ºF. Bring the fish stock to a boil. Taste it and add enough salt to season the cooked rice. Stir the hot stock into the cazuela. Add the peas and artichoke bottoms.

Bake the rice uncovered. Careful of escaping steam when opening the oven!
Carefully place the cazuela, uncovered, in the oven. Bake until the liquid just begins to bubble, about 20 minutes. Carefully slide oven rack partially out. Add the reserved shrimp to the cazuela and stir the rice. 

Lower oven temperature to 350ºF. Return the cazuela to the oven and cook until most of the liquid has been absorbed, but rice still has a kernel of hardness, about 15 minutes. Remove the cazuela from the oven and allow it to set 10 minutes. Garnish with sprigs of mint. Serve the rice from the cazuela.

Earthenware cookware holds the heat for a long time.

Complementary recipes:

Saturday, December 31, 2016


Frutos secos are nuts of all kinds, in Spain, as elsewhere, beloved at holiday time.

A bowl of walnuts and a nutcracker. Fruitcake studded with raisins, citron and nuts. Plum pudding with currants. Nuts and dried fruits are cherished for winter holiday treats.

In Spain, too. Frutos secos—all kinds of nuts and seeds—and frutas secas or desecadas—dried fruits add sweetness and cheer to a festive season. Almond confections such as turrón, nougat, and mazapán, marzipan candies, are the most emblematic. And there are many more.

Dried fruits are winter treats--bottom,´figs (dusted in rice flour), center, Málaga muscatel raisins, and top, dried apricots, called orejones or "little ears." Spain is known for figs and raisins. Apricots and dates are grown in Spain, but most are imported.

Walnuts--nueces--are grown in Spain, but most sold here come from California.

Pecans, known as nueces americanas or pecanas. I buy them from a chica in my aerobics class whose family has a pecan plantation not far from my village in southern Spain.

Almonds, almendras. I pick these in my garden. The ones on the right have been blanched, skinned and toasted.

Hazelnuts, avellanas, grown in Catalonia. They are an ingredient in the famous romesco sauce.

Pine nuts, piñones. Nut-bearing pine cones drop onto my patio from the tree that towers above it. I don't have the patience to crack the tiny nuts and extract the seeds, so I usually buy them. They are expensive.

Apricot-Almond Bars
Pan de Albaricoques con Almendras

Dense with fruit and nuts, sweet apricot bars are real energy bites.

This sweet is traditionally made with dried figs ground to a paste and mixed with almonds and sesame. It’s called pan de higos, or fig “bread,” although it’s not really bread nor is it baked. The confection can be made with any dried fruit—apricots, figs, raisins, prunes—or a mixture of fruits. It typically contains a shot of anise-flavored liquor, aguardiente or anis seco. You can leave it out or substitute a sweet wine such as PX or Málaga moscatel. 

This version, with apricots, contains flour, which keeps the mixture crumbly rather than sticky. It’s finished in the oven to cook the flour.

Serve thin wedges of apricot bars with mild fresh goat's cheese.

Serve the fruit loaf like candy, cut into very small pieces. It combines well with mild fresh goat cheese. Serve a sweet wine with it.

Grind the apricots in a food processor or meat grinder. I used a mini-processor, dividing the apricots and flour into three batches.

Plump Málaga muscatel raisins are the sweetest in the world. However, they must be de-stemmed and seeded. Dip fingers and knife tip in flour to prevent seeds from sticking.

Paste of ground apricots.
1 pound dried apricots
¾ cup flour
½ cup Málaga muscatel raisins, seeded
½ cup coarsely chopped walnuts
2 teaspoons sesame seed
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
Dash of ground cloves
2 tablespoons honey
1/3 cup hot water
1 tablespoon anis seco (anisette)
1 cup almonds, skinned and toasted
Oil to grease the mold

Cut the apricots into quarters and sprinkle them with the flour. Grind them in a food processor, dividing into batches, if necessary. Place the apricot pulp in a bowl. Add the raisins, walnuts, sesame, zest and cloves. Dissolve the honey in hot water. Mix it into the fruit mixture with the anis liquor.

Preheat oven to 325ºF. Oil an 8-inch round or square cake pan and line it with baking parchment.

Press apricots and almonds into mold.

Spread half of the fruit mixture in the pan, pressing it firmly. Place half of the almonds on the fruit layer and press them into the paste. Place remaining paste on top and press it into an even layer. Place remaining almonds on top.

Bake the fruit loaf 30 minutes. Allow to cool in the pan. Loosen the sides with a knife and turn out onto a cutting board or plate. (Baking parchment may be removed or left in place.)

Cut the loaf into thin wedges (round pan) or squares (square pan) and place them on a candy dish.

Wrap wedges of the apricot bars in plastic film. What a nice hostess gift!

More recipes with nuts and dried fruits:
Squab stuffed with raisins, apricots and walnuts.
Roast stuffed chicken.
Turkey breast with spinach-walnut stuffing.
Walnut torte.
Fig roll (pan de higos).
Layer cake with apricots and marzipan.