Saturday, February 18, 2017


Counting down to Lent, now it’s time for Carnaval and feasting on fat. You’ve certainly heard of Mardi Gras—“fat Tuesday,” the last day before Lent. In Spain, it’s jueves lardero, or “fatty Thursday,” celebrated at the beginning of Carnaval. This year jueves lardero is February 23. 

Carnaval celebrates Don Carnal, Mister Flesh-pot, a last pig-out before Lenten austerity. Besides raucous parades, ribald ditties, flamboyant costumes and plenty of partying, there’s food, in particular fatty food—sausages, lard, ham—before the fasting of Lent begins.

Ensaïmadas are sweet rolls made with lard, typical of the island of Mallorca.

In Mallorca (Balearic Islands in the Mediterranean) a favorite for Carnaval is  ensaïmada, a spiral sweet roll traditionally made with lard. In fact, saïm means “lard” in the Catalan usage.

Ensaimadas are popular year-round and now can be found, not just in the Mediterranean archipelago, but in every corner of Spain. Small ones are perfect breakfast sweet rolls paired with café con leche. Big ones, split crosswise and filled with pastry cream, chocolate or whipped cream, might become dessert. Leave off the topping of powdered sugar and they make great sandwich buns. Are ensaimadas the next Cronut?

For Carnaval, the spiral roll is studded with slices of sobrasada, typical Mallorcan soft sausage, and slices of candied pumpkin. 

The perfect breakfast sweet roll!

Split the rolls and serve with marmalade.

Rolled cords of yeasted dough form the spiral rolls.

Sweet Rolls with Lard

Melt pork fat to make lard.

Buy rendered lard from a good butcher or buy the fresh pork fat (leaf lard) and render it yourself. Heat it in a heavy pan until fat is melted. Strain the lard, cool and refrigerate. The solid bits that are strained out can be fried crisp and salted as a snack--cracklings. Freeze lard that you do not intend to use immediately. 

Fresh yeast.

Use fresh pressed yeast, levadura prensada, if you can get it. I buy it from a panadería, bread bakery. Kept in the freezer, it lasts up to a year. If substituting dry yeast, use 1 (¼ ounce-) envelope of active dry yeast.

Use harina de fuerza—bread flour—for this recipe. 

Allow the dough to rise slowly—overnight—in a draft-free space such as a turned-off oven. Use a deep enough bowl so the dough doesn’t reach the top. Cover with a clean dampened cloth. To speed up the second rising, after the rolls are shaped, place them in a warm place. Don’t cover the rolls, as the cloth will stick to the dough, but put the pans in a draft-free place. 

Make either small, individual rolls or two large ones. You’ll need space (big table is good) for rolling out large pieces of dough.

Makes 12 (5-inch) rolls or 2 (10-inch) rounds.

Softened pork lard.
½ cup warm water
1 ounce fresh pressed yeast
½ cup sugar
2 eggs
¼ teaspoon salt
½ cup (4 ¼ ounces) softened lard
4 cups bread flour
Olive oil for rolling out
Slices of sobrasada and candied fruit (optional)
Confectioners’ sugar

Place the warm water in a small bowl. Crumble the yeast into it. Add 1 teaspoon of the sugar. Stir. Allow the yeast to activate for 15 minutes.
Beat the sugar and eggs together in a large bowl. Add the salt, 1 tablespoon of lard and half of the flour. Use a wooden spoon to mix well. Add the dissolved yeast. 

Gradually work in remaining flour. Turn the dough out on a work surface and knead it (or use a mixer with dough hook) for 25 minutes. At first it will be crumbly and shaggy, gradually becoming shiny and very stretchy. If dough tends to stick to work surface, oil the surface lightly. (Don’t add additional flour.) To test the dough for elasticity, take a marble-sized ball and stretch it—it should become thin and transparent. 

Gather the dough into a compact ball and place it in a large, oiled bowl. Turn the dough to coat it on all sides with oil. Place it in a draft-free place (such as a cupboard or turned-off oven) until doubled in size (6 hours or overnight). 

Line 2 baking sheets with baking parchment.

Punch down the dough and divide it in half. If making small rolls, divide the halves into 12 pieces (each about 2 ½ ounces) and roll them into balls.

Roll out dough, smear it with soft lard.

Lightly oil the work top and rolling pin. Place a ball on the surface, pat it to flatten and roll it out to a long rectangle (about 12 inches for a small roll; 25 inches for a big one). With the fingers, smear the surface of the dough generously with lard.

Lift and stretch edges of dough.

Working on the long sides, lift the dough and gently stretch it until very thin and transparent. 

Cut a strip of dough off of one long side. Place it on the edge of the other long side and use it as a “core” to roll the dough around. Roll the dough into a long cord. Pick it up in the center and gently squeeze and stretch the cord towards the ends. 

Roll the dough into a long cord.

Coil the cord of dough into a spiral, leaving gaps between the loops, as the dough will expand as it rises. Place the rolls at least 2 inches apart on the baking sheet. (If making two large ensaimadas, place each one on a separate baking sheet.

For the Carnaval ensaïmada, add pieces of sobrasada and candied fruit.

Dough expands as it rises, so place rolls 2 inches apart.

Allow the rolls to rise in a warm place until doubled in size, about 2 hours.

Heat oven to 350ºF. Bake the rolls, changing the position of the baking sheets after 8 minutes, until golden on top, about 15 minutes.

Sift powdered sugar over the rolls while still warm.

All jollied up for a village Carnaval parade.

Saturday, February 11, 2017


Like the “white sales” of January, the grocery store ofertas offer some post-holiday bargains. Some of the best are found at the butcher’s counter, where duck liver and magret, baby kid, turkeys and partridge, pork loins are displayed at discount prices.

I take advantage to buy a whole lamb’s quarter—leg and loin—at a special price. The butcher takes the time to cut it up for me, separating the shank from the leg and boning out the loin.

The shank goes in the freezer until I’ve got enough of them to braise. The boneless loin, the most tender part, I’ll freeze as well, perhaps to use for kebabs. The leg, a Sunday roast to serve six. The heap of bones will make a rich lamb broth for cooking mushroom-barley soup.

For a frugal February--cannellini beans fill out a robust lamb stew.
I’m left with some scrappy, fatty pieces cut from the loin section. They’re not really enough meat for a whole meal, but, trimmed, cut up and cooked with beans, they make a hearty winter stew, perfect for a frugal February.

I used about 1 ½ pounds of boneless lamb. Boned-out flank or breast could be used as well. (I consider the shoulder too good for stew.) The stew can also be made with bony, bargain cuts of lamb such as shanks, necks, riblets. Allow about 3 pounds for bone-in pieces.   

Tender bites of lamb plus beans make a hearty meal.

I used a jar of cooked cannellini beans. If you’re starting with uncooked beans, put them (8 ounces or about 1 ¼ cups) to soak in water to cover overnight. Drain the beans and put them in a pot with 4 cups water. Bring to a rolling boil. Drain the beans, rinse them in cold water, and return them to the pot. Add 4 cups water, 2 bay leaves, and 1 teaspoon of salt. Bring to a boil and simmer until tender, about 90 minutes.

Lamb and Bean Stew
Estofado de Cordero con Alubias

The flap of meat covering the loin is layered with fat. Trim off as much as possible before cutting the meat into bite-size pieces.
Serves 4

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 ½ pounds boneless trimmed lamb, cut in 1-inch pieces
1 ½ cups chopped onion
3 cloves chopped garlic
½ cup drained, canned diced tomatoes
Sliced carrots
1 teaspoon peppercorns, coarsely crushed
Pinch of ground cloves
½ teaspoon smoked pimentón (paprika)
1 bay leaf
Sprig of fresh dried thyme
Sprig of fresh rosemary 
2 cups water
3 cups cooked cannellini beans
Chopped fresh cilantro, parsley, or mint to serve

Heat the oil in a heavy skillet. Brown the pieces of lamb on all sides and remove them.. Add the onion and garlic to the skillet and sauté until onion begins to brown, 10 minutes. Add the tomatoes and carrots and sauté 2 minutes. Add pepper, cloves, pimentón, bay leaf, thyme, rosemary, ½ teaspoon salt, and 2 cups water and stir. 

Return the lamb to the pan. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer until lamb is tender, about 60 minutes. Add the beans to the pan and cook 15 minutes more.

Serve lamb and beans in bowls, garnished with chopped cilantro, parsley, or mint. 

Lamb bones produce a rich broth. Vegetable-barley soup coming next.

A recipe for lamb shanks.

Saturday, February 4, 2017


At a roadside restaurant on the banks of the Guadalquivir, not far from Sevilla, my friends and I ordered the menu del día, a fixed-price meal consisting of primer plato (starter), segundo plato (main dish) and postre (dessert) for €8.50 (about $9.20). There were a couple choices for each course. 

For the primer plato, we chose albondiguitas de pescado, fish balls. Served in shallow bowls with sauce and bread to go with, they were four or five small balls, nicely seasoned, very tasty. I asked the cook for the recipe.

Fish balls in sauce--a Spanish dish that dates from medieval times.

I later discovered almost the identical recipe for albóndigas de pescado in Sephardic (Jewish) cookbooks. Sephardic cooking originated in medieval Spain, when Jews lived in many parts of the Iberian peninsula along with the Moorish (Arab) overlords. The word “albóndiga” comes from the Arabic al-bundaq, meaning “round.” Albóndigas is the word for either fish or meat balls.

You can use any white fish, such as hake, cod, sole, grouper or halibut for these fish balls. Fresh fish is best, but frozen will work just fine. (If you’re in Spain, you might want to try this recipe with the widely available rosada, a fish caught wild in the South Atlantic (Genypterus capensis, pink cusk eel) and marketed frozen or thawed.)

The fish balls are also a good way to use leftover cooked fish. Use about 2 cups flaked, cooked fish and leave off the poaching step.

My current favorite fish is corvina. (More about corvina  here.) Because it is farmed in Spain, the fish is reasonable in cost. I cut two fillets from the lomo, thick center section, for grilling and save the skinny tail ends and thick “belly” section with rib bones for making these fish balls. Once the bony pieces are gently poached, it’s easy to remove any remaining skin and bones.

After frying, the fish balls can be served as a tapa.

Add fish balls to soup with cooked rice and peas.

Serving ideas. Make small fish balls (marble-sized) and serve them, without the sauce, as a tapa. Accompany the fried balls with a garlicky alioli. As a starter, they’re good with bread for mopping up the sauce. If you’re serving them for dinner, make walnut-sized balls and accompany them with steamed white rice, pasta or potatoes. At my house, kids like fries with the albóndigas. Remaining broth from poaching the fish can be saved for fish soup. Add any leftover fish balls to the soup.

Fish balls in sauce on the dinner plate, with new potatoes and snap peas from the garden.

Fish Balls in Sauce
Albondigitas de Pescado

If you’re starting with fish that has some skin and bone, use about 20 ounces fish, as some will be discarded.

Makes 16 fish balls or 32 small ones.

For the fish balls:
1 pound boneless, skinless white fish
4 ½ cups water
Slice of lemon
Sprigs of parsley
Slice of onion
1 bay leaf
2 ounces crustless bread (about 8 baguette slices)
½ cup milk
2 cloves garlic
½ cup chopped parsley
Pinch of crushed saffron (optional)
½ teaspoon salt
Grated lemon zest
1 egg
Plain flour for dredging the fish balls (about ¼ cup)
Olive oil for frying 
For the sauce:
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup chopped onion
½ cup chopped green pepper
½ cup grated tomato
½ cup fino Sherry or dry white wine
¾ cup reserved fish broth or water
Salt and pepper
Chopped parsley to serve

For the fish balls: Wash the pieces of fish. Place the water in a pan with lemon slice, parsley, onion slice, bay and 1 teaspoon salt. Bring to a boil and simmer 5 minutes. Add the fish to the pan and simmer just until it flakes easily, about 5 minutes. Lift the fish out with a slotted spoon and allow to cool. Strain and reserve ¾ cup of the broth in which the fish was poached. (Remaining broth can be saved for soup.)

After poaching, it's easy to remove bones.

When fish is cool enough to handle, flake or chop it, discarding any skin or bones.

Pour the milk over the bread slices in a small bowl and allow to soak for 10 minutes.

In a food processor finely chop together the garlic and parsley. Squeeze out excess liquid from the bread. Add it and process until bread is fairly smooth. Add the saffron, if using,  ½ teaspoon salt, lemon zest and egg and process to blend. Place in a bowl.

Add the flaked fish to the processor and pulse several times just to chop it. Combine the fish with the bread mixture. Refrigerate the fish mixture, tightly covered, at least 30 minutes and up to 8 hours.
Mix chopped fish with bread.

Place the flour in a shallow pan. Shape the fish mixture into 1 ¾ -inch balls (or small ones, half that size) and place them in the flour. Roll the balls to coat evenly with flour.

Roll fish balls in flour.
Add enough oil to cover the bottom of a large frying pan. Heat the oil and fry the fish balls, in two or three batches, turning them to brown on all sides, about 5 minutes total. Remove them as they are browned.

After frying, fish balls are ready to serve. Or, reheat them in the sauce.

For the sauce: Heat the 3 tablespoons oil in a clean frying pan. Sauté the chopped onion and green pepper on medium heat for 5 minutes. Add the tomato and fry on a high heat until tomato sweats out its liquid, about 5 minutes. Add the wine and reserved strained fish broth. Season with salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, cover and simmer 20 minutes.

Add the fish balls to the sauce and reheat gently, about 8 minutes.

Sprinkle with chopped fresh herbs to serve.

Fish balls are light, juicy.

More recipes for meatballs and fish balls.