Saturday, December 25, 2010



My family and I are invited to friend Charlotte's house for Christmas dinner. I'm taking good old mashed potatoes--seasoned for the occasion with bittersweet pimentón, smoked paprika. 

From MY KITCHEN IN SPAIN, I send good wishes to all for a happy holiday season. 

Tuesday, December 21, 2010


I once lived in an old house in the village with a big, overgrown garden behind it. Stone dry walls divided the sloping garden into terraces on which were planted many trees—an olive, a fig, orange and lemon, peach, pear and apricot. All these I could identify. Then there were some others, new and exotic to me.

One of these bloomed flamboyant red flowers in the spring and then in the fall  produced fruits of a deep red color, the size of big apples, tufted, with skin like burnished leather.

Cut open, the fruit revealed jewel-like red kernels. This, I learned was the pomegranate, called granada in Spanish. (While it’s not clear that the name of the Spanish city of Granada derives from the fruit, it’s true that the pomegranate is grown in that southern Spanish city.)

I treasure these jewels for their intense sweet-tangy flavor and their glowing, ruby-red color.

The “jewels”—arils—are the edible parts. The red juice is enclosed in a transparent kernel with a tiny edible pip in the center. The flavor is tart and sweet with a little tannic edge.

How to extract the kernels? I’ve always cut the fruit into quarters, then used a knife to pry out the seeds. But, I watched my son Ben whack a pomegranate, tufted side down, hard on the cutting board, break it open and chuck the chunks into a bowl of water. The loosened seeds sank and the connecting bits of white pith floated, easily skimmed out. By the way, the juice stains (brown, not red), so protect your clothing.

Pomegranate juice is delightful in cocktails (a recipe is here). The jewel-like seeds make a festive addition to holiday dishes. One of my favorites is sliced oranges, red onions, pomegranates and serrano ham atop escarole or mesclum, with a vinaigrette made with Sherry vinegar and a touch of honey. Sometimes I add raw fennel for extra crunch.

The final touch: Leo adds pomegranate seeds to a festive salad. (Photo by D. Ellefson.)

In Spanish cuisine, pomegranates are used as a cooking medium for pork (in Mallorca) and as a lively garnish for tapa salads in Andalusia and Extremadura.

Solomillo de Cerdo con Salsa de Granadas
Pork Tenderloin with Pomegranate Sauce

Pomegranate cooked in a sauce does not keep its vibrant color. In this recipe, the kernels are sieved out of the cooked sauce and the dish garnished with reserved bright red pomegranate bits. Pomegranate molasses, a reduction of pomegranate juice, while not a Spanish ingredient, would intensify the flavors of this sauce.

2 (1-pound) pork tenderloins
salt and pepper
1 pomegranate
2 tablespoons olive oil or lard
½ cup dry Sherry
1/3 cup meat or chicken stock

Sprinkle the pork with salt and pepper. Remove kernels from pomegranate, discarding the skin and white pith. Reserve a handful of the seeds for garnish.

Heat oil or lard in a skillet and brown the meat with the chopped onion. Add the pomegranate seeds to the meat with the Sherry, stock and additional salt and pepper. Cover and simmer for 20 minutes, turning the pork occasionally.

Remove the meat and keep warm. Cook the sauce for 15 minutes more to reduce it. Sieve the sauce. Slice the tenderloins and serve with the sauce, garnished with reserved pomegranate seeds.

Serves 6.

Friday, December 17, 2010


Whole Hog (Ibérico, Dehesa de Extremadura)

When I was reporting for an article about Spanish ibérico ham from 5J in Jabugo (read the story in the Los Angeles Times here), I was sniffing about for recipes with ham and listening for Americans’ experience with Spanish ham. I called up my main “ham man,” Miguel Ullibarri, formerly director of the Real Ibérico consortium and now with A Taste of Spain, a tour company specializing in food and wine tours. He told me about Bruce Weinstein and Mark Scarbrough, authors of Ham—An Obsession with the Hindquarter (Stewart, Tabori & Chang, March, 2010), who were planning to escort a grand ham tour to Spain. (Sorry to report, the tour is off for spring 2011. Stay tuned for future tour dates.)

Mark and Bruce, who live in Colebrook, CT., got involved with Spanish hams while researching a chapter in their book about dry-cured hams in Europe. Mark is the writer and Bruce the chef and recipe developer. Through Miguel Ullibarri the authors got in touch with Fermin, the sole exporter of ibérico hams to the U.S.

“That’s who provided the ibérico ham that graces the cover of the book,” said Mark. “For months after the photo shoot for HAM, Bruce and I lived in bellota bliss (bellotas are acorns--what the pigs fatten on). We would get invited to dinner parties and bring the whole leg, shave off a pound or so, and be piggy with abandon. When we got the thing down to the bone, we cooked it with a pot of beans, cracked open a bottle of rosé cava, and moved on to the sequel to ham, the first-ever all-goat (meat, milk, cheese) book in English” (slated for publication April 2011).


HAM, the book, presents a global look at porky hindquarters, with chapters covering Fresh Ham, Dry-Cured Ham in the Old World, Dry-Cured Ham in the New World and Wet-Cured Ham. Recipes run the gamut from appetizers to soup to main dishes to leftovers. There are some tempting recipes for Chinese stir-fry, Italian-style pizza, down-home southern country stews and chic salads (smoked ham with arugula, pears and honey vinaigrette, for instance), all with tips and Testers’ Notes. Naturally, I gravitated to the recipes with Spanish ham (serrano, as ibérico is too good to use in cooking). The Serrano-Wrapped Scallops, Serrano Fritters and Stewed Mussels with Jamón Serrano, Chickpeas and Saffron all sound enticing. But I decided on trout stuffed with ham, a recipe somewhat like a traditional way with trout in Navarra.  

(Photo in my kitchen in Spain is by Donna Ellefson)

Whole Trout Stuffed with Jamón Serrano, Rosemary, and Fennel Seeds
Recipe adapted from HAM An Obsession with The Hindquarter
by Bruce Weinstein and Mark Scarbrough: Photographs by Marcus Nilsson
(Stewart, Tabori & Chang; 2010).

The recipe in the book calls for 4 (1-pound) trout. Trout at my market are considerably smaller, so I chose to use a larger salmon-trout, which weighed in at about 1 ¾ pounds after boning, serving 3. Although the recipe doesn’t mention removing pin bones for the individual-sized trout, I decided to do this to facilitate dividing the cooked fish into crosswise slices.  I chose to use needle and thread to sew up the fish’s cavity in order to make it easier to turn the fish without losing the stuffing. And, because I like fresh thyme more than rosemary, I substituted my favored herb. The fennel seeds lend a subtle Pernod-y taste, just right with the ham. Deglazing the pan with Sherry vinegar creates an instant and very delicious pan sauce. 

While shopping, without thinking about it too much, I picked up a Rueda wine, a white made of verdejo grapes (Pentio, 2009). The fruitiness of verdejo, I thought, would complement the ham in the stuffing. It was only later, reviewing the recipe in HAM, that I noticed that the recipe’s headnotes state, “Fast, easy and elegant, this company supper cries out for a bottle of Spanish white from the Rueda region.” Ah so. Perfect, indeed.

1 whole salmon trout (about 2 ¼ 
     pounds), boned
¼ cup fresh bread crumbs
3 ounces thinly sliced serrano ham,
1 clove garlic, minced
½ teaspoon fennel seeds, crushed
1 teaspoon rosemary or thyme,
2 tablespoons white wine
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons Sherry vinegar

Preheat the oven to 450ºF.

Mix the bread crumbs, ham, garlic, fennel seeds and rosemary or thyme in a medium bowl. Add just enought wine to moisten the mixture, but not enough to make it wet.

Open up the salmon-trout and spread the stuffing mixture on one side, patting it into place. Flap it closed. (You can use needle and thread to sew up the cavity opening.)

Heat the oil in a large ovenproof skillet over medium heat, adding the oil. Slip the trout into the skillet and cook until crisp, about 7 minutes, shaking the skillet occasionally so the trout doesn’t stick.

Use a large spatula to turn the trout, then shove the whole contraption in the oven. Bake until cooked through, about 10 minutes.

Remove the very hot skillet from the oven and use that large spatula (or two) to transfer the trout to a heated serving platter.

Set the skillet back over medium heat and splash in the vinegar. Stir quickly to scrape up any stuff on the bottom of the skillet, then drizzle this sauce over the trout.

Mark Scarbrough blogs, with taste and humor, about his favorite foods at
Book your tour to ham country with Miguel Ullibarri at

Hams on the hoof.

Monday, December 6, 2010


Glowing red-orange orbs of fruit on a neighbor’s tree had a powerful attraction. I could see them, dangling tantalizingly, every time I went up the steps to my car. The fruit attracted small birds as well. I watched them peck holes in the bright skins, hollowing out the fruit. Time to take action. As my neighbor would be away for months, I took a step-stool and basket and managed to pick all but the top-most fruits.

Now that I had a basket of gorgeous persimmons, what to do with them? A little internet research showed me that persimmons come in two main varieties, Fuyu, which can be eaten while still firm, and Hachiya, which must be very ripe or else are too astringent to eat.

From the photos, I decided my cache of fruit were Fuyu, so I cut them up into a sort-of Waldorf salad with apples, celery and toasted almonds.

I was so wrong!! The fruit was so astringent it turned my mouth inside-out. Completely inedible.

So I piled the persimmons on a tray and waited. They ripened one by one, gradually softening from the bottom to the calyx and turning a deep tomato red color.

I cut one in half and scooped out the pulp, now very mushy, with a spoon. It was juicy and very, very sweet. Not “fruity,” just intensely sweet, like honey or dates or raisins.

A friend and I ate one or two a day. Excess ripe ones were scooped out and stashed in the freezer.

I was itching to do something more exciting with all this exotic fruit. With Thanksgiving approaching, I decided to invent a dessert with a Spanish inflection using the persimmons. Thus, persimmon flan.

Would the remainder of the fruit ripen in time? Someone suggested freezing them to speed up the process of softening, changing that god-awful tannic astringency to sweetness. That seemed to work, giving me a sweet and gorgeously colorful puree.

By the way, the persimmon is called caqui in Spanish. When my flan emerged from the oven, it was no longer that burnished orange of the fresh fruit, but rather the color of caca. I don’t think I need to translate, do I? And, while it tasted very nice, perhaps persimmons are best enjoyed without too much fuss.

Persimmon Flan

I think anisette liqueur, called aguardiente de anís in Spain, adds to the persimmon’s flavor.

Serves 8 to 10.

1 cup + ¼ cup sugar
3 tablespoons water
1 cup milk
1 ¼ cups evaporated milk
5 eggs
2 cups persimmon puree
½ tablespoon cornstarch
2 teaspoons cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
¼ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon anisette
Unsweetened whipped cream, to serve

Preheat oven to 350ºF. Heat a 2-quart round oven casserole or flan mold in the oven.

Place 1 cup of sugar and water in a heavy saucepan and cook over moderate heat until the sugar melts and turns a dark gold. Pour the caramel syrup into the heated oven casserole, tilting it to cover the bottom and sides.

Combine remaining sugar, milk and evaporated milk in a pan and bring to a boil. Remove from heat. Beat the eggs until foamy and beat in the persimmon puree, cornstarch, cinnamon, cloves, salt and anisette. Beat in the hot milk.

Pour the persimmon-egg-milk mixture into the caramel-coated casserole. Set it in a pan of boiling water and bake until a knife inserted in the middle comes out clean, about 1 hour 15 minutes.

Remove the casserole from the pan and allow to cool completely, then refrigerate the flan overnight.

To serve, run a knife around the edges of the flan to loosen the custard. Place a serving dish with a rim on top and invert the flan onto it. Serve the flan with whipped cream.