Sunday, May 30, 2010


An especially wet winter worked wonders for my lemon tree—it’s loaded with fruit. Right now the tree bears large, overripe lemons as well as small, green ones that will mature by the end of summer, plus fragrant blossoms presaging winter’s fruit. In other words, three crops of lemons in a year.

I use lemon juice and zest just about daily, because they are essential ingredients in Spanish cooking. Tangy lemon juice combined with olive oil, chopped garlic and parsley makes aliño, a dressing or marinade for meat, fish, vegetables. Milk scalded with lemon peel and cinnamon stick is the starting point for Spanish custards such as natillas and flan.

But, recipes using whole lemons are few and far between. Several years ago I made preserved lemons—they are put up in a strong brine—from a recipe in Paula Wolfert’s first-ever cookbook,  Couscous and Other Good Food from Morocco (Paula will soon come out with a completely updated edition of the Morocco book). But, I had more preserved lemons than I could use. 

Since then I’ve experimented with using quantities of fresh lemons, sliced or chopped, in a variety of dishes. Chopped lemon is especially good added to lentils as they cook, whether vegetarian or with sausage. I add wedges of lemon to lamb stew with a touch of honey to balance the tartness.

Inspired by a salad I discovered in La Mancha—moje de limones—with peeled and chopped lemons, scallions, black olives and olive oil, I add shrimp and avocado to make a sensational take on shrimp cocktail (the recipe is in my book COOKING FROM THE HEART OF SPAIN—FOOD OF LA MANCHA).

And, there’s always lemonade! A Basque version uses sliced whole lemons, white wine and sugar.

The dish I make over and over when lemons are abundant is lemon-roasted chicken. Chopped lemons, onions and tomatoes in the roasting pan beneath the bird cook up to almost a confit, bringing out the sweetness of the lemons as well as their tang. Couscous or steamed rice to soak up the lemony pan sauce makes a good side dish.

Lemon-Roasted Chicken 

Serves 6.

1 (4 ½-pound) roasting chicken
salt and pepper
1 large or 2 small lemons
1 bay leaf
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 onion, quartered and sliced
1 tomato, chopped
2 cloves garlic, sliced
1 (2-inch) cinnamon stick
pinch of ground cumin
½ cup dry white wine 
1 zucchini (about 1 pound), cut in half crosswise and lengthwise

Preheat oven to 350ºF.

Sprinkle chicken inside and out with salt and pepper and allow to come to room temperature. Place 1 slice of lemon inside the chicken with bay leaf. Spread half of the oil in a roasting pan just large enough to hold the chicken.
Chop remaining lemon, discarding seeds, and spread in the bottom of the pan with the sliced onion, tomato, garlic, and cinnamon. Place the chicken  on top of chopped lemon and brush it with remaining oil. Sprinkle with cumin.
Roast the chicken, uncovered, for 45 minutes. Add the zucchini to the pan. Pour over the wine and cover the roasting pan (use a lid or foil). Roast until chicken is tender, about 1 hour longer. Remove the chicken and zucchini to a heated platter and allow to set for 15 minutes. Skim fat from roasting pan. Discard cinnamon stick. If most of liquid has cooked away, add a little water to the pan and scrape up the lemon and onion mixture. Serve it in a bowl alongside the chicken.

Sunday, May 23, 2010


“Cock-a-doodle-doo,” was Steve Winston’s last word after the E&J Gallo Winery threatened him with a law suit if he didn’t immediately stop selling the imported Gallo brand of fideo noodles. Steve and his wife, Sharon, run The Spanish Table, retail stores and web site, specializing in foods and wines from Spain. Gallo translates as “cock,” as in “rooster.” And as in “cock-and-bull story.”

The product that had come to the California wine giant’s attention was Pastas Gallo fideo and fideuá. “We had been selling them for over a year at our stores in Seattle, Berkeley, Mill Valley and Santa Fe,” said Steve.  “I told E&J Gallo’s representatives that these little bags of pasta, which come in two thicknesses, #1 and #2, had importance to our reputation as a source of special foods from Spain.”

Steve said he had no argument with trademark protection—The Spanish Table is a trademark holder. “Our issue is whether specialty food retailers should have access to legitimate, established foreign brands. The Spanish Table offers customers genuineness: genuine flavors, authentic brands. Pastas Gallo met that criteria.

“No matter what I told E&J Gallo Winery’s attorneys, they continued to plunge forward, filing a lawsuit in Federal District Court in Fresno, California (their home turf) and serving me with twenty-one pages of legal documents.”

As Steve’s legal fees mounted, he decided to settle the lawsuit, agreeing to, nevermore, sell Gallo brand fideo noodles in the US. “But I refused to disclose the name of the importer I bought the pasta from and I refused to keep the settlement a secret,” said Steve. "Cock-a-doodle-doo."

And, on the other side of the pond.

Perhaps I should put in a call to the the legal department at Pastas Gallo in Barcelona, for I just discovered, on the shelves of my village supermarket in southern Spain, several labels of E&J Gallo wines. (Who would pick California wines in Spain, at inflated prices, with such a fabulous selection of Spanish wines?) Maybe the pasta company should sue the winery to prevent encroachment on their trademark in Europe. Then, again, maybe the pasta people would just as soon not get involved in this cock-and-bull story.

Talking Noodles

In Spain, pasta talks Spanish (or Catalan) and the word is fideos (fideus in Catalan). Fideos are thin, round noodles, the sort you might put in chicken-noodle soup. They range in thickness from threads of angel’s hair to spaghetti-like cords.  Fideuá sort of means “noodled.” It’s the name of the pasta dish cooked all in one pan.

Spanish fideo noodles, like Italian pasta, are made of durum wheat and water, rolled, cut and dried. But they are cooked quite differently than Italian-style pasta. For one thing, the dry pasta is first toasted in olive oil. Next, instead of cooking the pasta in a pot of boiling water, then saucing it, the fideos cook right in the sauce, soaking up the flavors, much as rice is cooked in paella.

When I make fideuá, I buy Gallo brand of fideos. I prefer the sort that's cut in short lengths, with a pin-hole through the center. But, no need for contraband product—you can substitute vermicelli noodles or thin spaghetti, broken into short lengths.

I like to serve fideuá for a dinner party. Much of the preparation can be done in advance, then everything cooks in one pan (a paella pan, cazuela or very large skillet) that goes directly to the table. If you like, add vegetables such as peas, zucchini or green beans to the fideuá.

Seafood Pasta Paella

Prepare the fideuá in three steps—first the stock, then a sofrito, or fried tomato base, and finally, the pasta and seafood. Both the stock and sofrito can be made in advance and frozen. Cuttlefish or squid gives a lot of flavor to the stock, so is essential. Add “trash” fish or shellfish (such as tiny crabs) and any shrimp shells and fish heads.

Serves 6.
For the stock:
2 tablespoons olive oil
10 to 12 ounces cleaned cuttlefish or squid, cut in pieces
shrimp heads and shells
fish heads and trimmings
1 tomato, quartered
1 onion, quartered
1 stalk celery
parsley stems
1 teaspoon salt
freshly ground black pepper
lemon wedge
10 cups water

In a large soup pot, heat the oil and sauté the pieces of cuttlefish or squid for 3 minutes. Add the shrimp heads, fish trimmings, tomato, onion, celery, parsley, salt, pepper, lemon and water. Bring to a boil, skim, then cover and simmer 1 hour until cuttlefish is very tender.

Strain the stock through a colander and reserve it. Pick out the pieces of cuttlefish or squid and reserve them. Discard remaining solids.

For the sofrito:
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup chopped onion
1 cup chopped green pepper
2 cloves chopped garlic
2 cups peeled and diced tomatoes
½ teaspoon salt
freshly ground black pepper
¼ cup white wine

Heat the oil in a skillet or cazuela and sauté the onion, pepper and garlic until softened, 10 minutes. Add the tomato and fry 5 minutes. Add the salt, pepper and wine and simmer until sauce is thickened, 20 minutes.

For the pasta and seafood:
1 ½ pounds monkfish fillets
1 pound mussels
3 tablespoons olive oil
12 jumbo shrimp in their shells
1 pound #2 fideos (or spaghettini broken into short lengths)
1 cup sofrito
2 teaspoons pimentón (paprika)
cooked cuttlefish reserved from stock
½ pound small clams (such as manila clams)
¼ pound peeled small shrimp
5 to 6 cups hot stock
salt to taste
alioli to serve (optional) (recipe for alioli)

Cut the monkfish into 2-inch chunks. Salt it lightly and set aside. Scrub the mussels, put them in a deep pan with ½ cup water. Cover and cook on a high heat until mussel shells open. When cool enough to handle, remove empty half-shells and discard them. Sieve the liquid and add it to the stock. Reserve the mussels.

Heat the oil in a paella pan, cazuela or large skillet. Add the unshelled jumbo shrimp and sauté them just until they turn pink, about 4 minutes. Remove them from the pan and set aside. Add the fideos to the pan and fry them on medium heat until they are golden.

Stir in the sofrito and pimentón. Add the cooked pieces of cuttlefish, the monkfish, clams and peeled shrimp. Add 5 cups of hot stock and salt to taste. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and let the fideos bubble gently. Stir in the reserved mussels. Arrange the whole shrimp on top. Cook until the fideos are tender, 12 to 15 minutes, adding additional stock if necessary. The fideos should be very juicy, but not soupy. Allow to rest 5 minutes before serving. Serve with alioli, if desired.

Saturday, May 15, 2010


Loquat tree.

What’s that unusual fruit? Egg-shaped, the color of bright apricots, growing in clusters amongst floppy, dark-green leaves on a small tree in my neighbors’ garden. It’s a níspero, or loquat (Eriobotry japonica) (and not a medlar, as it is sometimes mistakenly called). Like apples and pears, the loquat is a member of the rose family. Loquats ripen in the spring, much earlier than apricots, but their season is brief. Now’s the time to enjoy them.

Originally from China, the loquat was long cultivated in Japan. Some sources say that the tree arrived in Europe as late as the 17th century, but according to others, it was first cultivated in Spain as early as the 12th century by the Arabs. The trees grow in subtropical climes along the south and east coastlines of Spain. Loquats grown in Alicante province have a protected quality denomination, Nísperos de Callosa d’en Sarrià.

Nisperos are loquats.

Loquats are easy to peel—just cut off the stem end and strip back the skin. In the center are dark, knobby seeds (from one to five, but averaging three). The fruit is tangy-sweet, sort of like a spicy pear in taste. The flesh is firm but juicy, not grainy, but not absolutely creamy. It oxidizes easily, so the pulp darkens from orange to dark pumpkin.

I like to eat loquats straight from the tree or diced into a fruit salad (with their seasonal contemporary strawberries). The puree makes a lovely mousse, enriched with cream and set with gelatin.

Loquats have cluster of seeds in center.

To prepare the loquats, peel them, cut in half and use a small spoon or melon baller to scoop out the seeds. Puree in a blender with lemon juice. Two pounds of loquats (16 to 17 fruits) make about 2 cups of puree.

Loquat Mousse
Espuma de Nísperos

I like lemon-vanilla with the loquats, but lemon-cinnamon or lemon-ginger are good too. You can prepare a low-fat version of this dessert by using two percent milk in place of the cream and no-fat Greek yogurt.

What, no loquat? Use apricot or nectarine puree in this recipe.

Makes 6 (1/2-cup) servings.

½ cup milk
2 ½ teaspoons plain gelatin
1 ½  cups pureed loquats
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 egg, separated
½ cup + 2 tablespoons sugar
1 cup light cream
grated lemon zest
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
1 ½ cups Greek-style yogurt

Place the milk in a small bowl and sprinkle over the gelatin. Combine the loquat puree with lemon juice.

Beat the egg white until stiff. Beat in 2 tablespoons of sugar. Reserve the egg white. Place the yolk in a small bowl.

Put the puree in a pan with remaining sugar, cream and zest. Heat until it begins to simmer. Beat some of the hot cream into the yolk, then whisk it into the pan. Cook on a low heat, stirring constantly, until yolk thickens slightly. Whisk in the milk and gelatine until completely dissolved. Remove from heat and add the vanilla. Beat in the yogurt. Fold in the beaten egg white.

Pour the mixture into dessert cups. Chill until the mousse is set, at least 4 hours.

Loquat mousse.

Thursday, May 6, 2010


Last week I was at the top of the fava bean season (see the previous blog posting for a couple of recipes). This week it’s peas, sweet garden peas, and a few long-awaited artichokes. Along with just-pulled spring onions and some asparagus (from the market), the ingredients add up to one of the best vegetable dishes of the seasonal Spanish kitchen.

This is menestra, a mixture or melange of veggies. Besides favas, peas, artichokes and asparagus, the combination can include any other vegetables fresh from the garden (or farmers’ market)—wild mushrooms, chard stems, cardoons, baby carrots, green beans, new potatoes. If served as a side dish (wonderful with grilled lamb chops), a little chopped serrano ham flavors the menestra. For a main dish, I like to add sliced sausage, such as Catalan white butifarra.

The traditional way to prepare menestra is to cook each vegetable separately in boiling water, then to combine them in a sofrito. Sofrito is the flavor base, a fried mixture of olive oil, onions, garlic and tomato. You can use fresh tomatoes, peeled and chopped, or, if tomatoes are not in season, a few spoonfuls of canned tomato sauce (not concentrate).

Menestra de Verduras
Mixed Spring Vegetables

I like to leave the (inedible) tips on the artichokes. To eat them, you pick them up by the tips and bite off the tender bottom. But, if you prefer, the artichokes can be trimmed down to the bottoms. (More about cooking artichokes  here.)

Serves 4 as a side or 2 as a main dish.

2 artichokes
12 asparagus spears
4 ounces shelled peas (about ½ cup)
4 ounces shelled fava beans (about ½ cup)
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 or 2 spring onions, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
4 ounces sliced butifarra or other sausage (optional)
1 ounce chopped serrano ham (optional)
¼ cup canned tomato sauce
¼ cup white wine
¼ cup water
salt and pepper
strips of roasted red pepper to garnish (optional)

Trim away stems on the artichokes, snap off a few outer leaves and cut the artichokes lengthwise into quarters. With the tip of a knife, nip out the fuzzy choke. Drop the cut artichokes into boiling salted water and cook until a leaf pulls off easily, 10 to 12 minutes. Drain.

Snap off and discard butt ends of asparagus and cut spears into two or three pieces. Cook them in boiling salted water for 3 minutes from the time the water returns to a boil. Cook peas 1 minute; fava beans 4 minutes. Drain the vegetables.

Heat the oil in a cazuela or skillet and sauté the onions and garlic 4 minutes. Add the sliced butifarra, if using, or chopped ham, if using, and sauté 4 minutes. Stir in the tomato sauce, wine, water, salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, then stir in all the vegetables. Simmer 10 minutes. Serve the menestra hot garnished with strips of roasted red pepper, if desired.