Monday, December 31, 2012


Look what I’ve got! An ibérico ham. Time to invite some friends over to share this deliciousness.

 Using the lavishly illustrated book, Slicing Spanish Ham by Pilar Esteban, as reference, my son, Benjamin Searl, broaches the ham, a pure ibérico de bellota (acorn-fed) from Los Pedroches (Córdoba) with more than 36 months curing time.

The ham is sweet and nutty; the fat is soft and melting.

For my Sunday afternoon Open-House-with-Ham party I made a pot of black-eyed peas to get a jump on good luck for the New Year. That recipe is in my January 1 blog last year. And, hot from the oven, a cazuela of patatas a lo pobre, potatoes cooked with onions, peppers and tomatoes in wine (recipe).

Also on the buffet table, a bright winter salad of cauliflower with capers instead of the olives shown in the photo (recipe),

I also made olivada, a garlicky olive paste, good with quail eggs or bread sticks for dipping. I bought a heap of empanadillas de batata, little fried pies filled with sweetened sweet potato paste, and made a batch of carrot-raisin-apricot-fig cupcakes to serve with mandarins from my trees.

How many guys to turn a ham?

With good ham, I love fino Sherry. I also served red and white wine and beer. Most guests seemed to favor beer for an afternoon gathering. The sun was shining and we all sat on the terrace until sunset. Glorious winter day.

Olivada is a garlicky olive dip.
Olive Spread

My home-cured and pitted manzanilla olives lost their crisp texture, so I turned them into this tasty spread. Serve it as a dip, sandwich spread or sauce to accompany hard-cooked eggs, roast lamb, fried fish or sliced tomatoes.

Makes  ¾ cup.

1 cup drained and pitted olives, black or green
½ cup fresh breadcrumbs
1 clove garlic, chopped
1 shallot, chopped
1 tablespoon chopped parsley
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 tablespoons dry Sherry
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper

Combine all the ingredients in a blender or food processor. Blend until smoothly pureed. Serve cold or room temperature.

New Year's luck--black-eyed peas.


Saturday, December 22, 2012


Walnuts, some still with outer husk.              

Usually at this time of year, I’m cracking almonds to make a holiday dessert. But this year a friend gifted me with a heap of walnuts from her trees. These may be the first Spanish walnuts I’ve ever had. The ones I buy at the market are from California—one of few American food imports.

Galletas Marías--plain cookies.

So this year I’m making a walnut torte for Christmas dinner.  The torte is made with fine crumbs from galletas Marías, plain, not-too-sweet cookies. These cookies, typically, are served with desayuno, breakfast, to be dipped in coffee, tea or cocoa. The crumbs are combined with coarsely chopped walnuts and egg whites. Ever so simple, but a delicious dessert served with a dollop of whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.

Walnut torte makes a delightful holiday dessert.

Torta de Nueces
Walnut Torte

Serves 6.
Coarsely chopped walnuts.

1 ½ cup cookie crumbs
1 cup sugar
1 ½ teaspoon baking powder
1 cup coarsely chopped walnuts
1 ½ teaspoons vanilla
4 egg whites

Powdered sugar to garnish

Preheat oven to 350ºF. Oil a 9-inch pie pan.

Combine the crumbs, sugar, baking powder and walnuts. Add the vanilla. In another bowl, beat the egg whites until stiff. Fold in the crumb mixture.

Spread the mixture in the pie pan and bake until golden, about 25 minutes. Allow to cool. Sprinkle with powdered sugar before cutting.

Walnut torte is best with a dollop of whipped cream.


Saturday, December 15, 2012


I’m like a kid on the night before Christmas, excitement mounting, as I await delivery of my Spanish ham.

Not just any ham, but for the first time ever, a certified ibérico de bellota ham, made from the esteemed ibérico breed of pig that is raised free-range and fattened on acorns.

While waiting, I am boning up on how to slice ham with the sumptuously illustrated book,   
SLICING SPANISH HAM—Mastering the Fine Art of Slicing Spanish Ham, by Pilar Esteban Odorica.

I did the translation for the English edition of Pilar’s book, which takes you through every step, using photographs of master ham slicers to demonstrate the procedures. The photos (both serrano and ibérico hams are pictured) will have you drooling.

Pilar studied design, graphic arts and photography in England, then settled in Marbella (Costa del Sol) where she built a professional career with clients in the hotel and tourism sector. I met Pilar back in the 1980s when she was art director for Lookout Magazine, where I was a regular contributor.

“During the preparation of this book,” Pilar says, “I spent many hours watching professional slicers work. I photographed them slicing whole hams while they explained, step by step, details that otherwise I would never have known.  As the knife's edge separated slice after slice, the blade became covered with fat. The fingers of the maestro, sometimes unconsciously caressing the sides of the ham, took on a sheen as if they were covered with a film of fine silk. Truly, there are many sensory nuances involved in the slicing of a whole ham. Watching from behind the camera lens, I felt like a voyeur peeping through a keyhole, discovering the secrets of this art.”

SLICING SPANISH HAM is available in the US from Kitchen Arts and Letters , in the UK from Spanish Ham Master or from the author, Pilar Esteban, at

If the pictures whet your appetite for authentic Spanish ham, you can order one, either serrano or ibérico, in the US from La Tienda , The Spanish Table or De España .

While I locate a ham stand and sharpen my knives, I am planning who to invite over to share my wonderful ham. Maybe Pilar will come and give me some expert tips.

Saturday, December 8, 2012


This cookbook's a classic!
It’s that time of year again, when newspapers, magazines, websites and opinionated bloggers publish their lists, Best Cookbooks of 2012. Cookbooks are big for the holiday season, both for gift-giving and for consulting recipes for holiday parties. So, let me tell you about a special cookbook, a real keeper.

2012 marks the 25th anniversary of the publication of my first-ever cookbook, COOKING IN SPAIN, still going strong after all these years!

COOKING IN SPAIN was published in 1987 by Lookout Publications. The book and recipes grew out of a monthly cooking column that I wrote for Lookout, an English-language magazine published in Spain. (I wrote food and other features for 30 years, until the magazine eventually folded.) Lookout Publications morphed into Santana Books, the current publisher.

I wrote COOKING IN SPAIN with expats like myself in mind, for people who needed to find their way around Spanish markets—what is that weird fruit? how do you cook that kind of fish? what are all these cheeses? sausages?—and, having tasted Spanish food in restaurants and tapa bars, wanted to try some of the dishes in their own kitchens. A Spanish-English glossary of ingredients, a cook’s tour of regional cuisines, shopping tips and more than 400 recipes made this the “bible” of Spanish cooking.

Years back, COOKING IN SPAIN was one of the very few books about this, at the time, almost unknown cuisine. Although the book was never distributed in the US, American tourists in Spain bought it to take home. It's a real pleasure to meet people, both here and in the US, who tell me how much they love the book and to talk to Spaniards who marvel that a "foreigner" could possibly know so much about authentic Spanish cuisine.

New edition, new look.

The new edition, which came out in 2006, has all the market and kitchen info of the original edition, but with a fresh format and new color photographs by Jean Dominique Dallet and Jerónimo Alba. You can order the new edition of this book, shipped direct from the publisher, Santana Books.

People frequently ask me, “what is your favorite recipe?” I couldn’t possibly pick just one! But, over many years of sampling Spain’s regional cooking, I have several recipes that I return to over and over.

Berza--vegetable pot (Photo by JD Dallet)

Quite a few of these have already appeared in previous blogs: berza (Andalusian vegetable and sausage stew); gazpachuelo (Mediterranean seafood chowder); meatballs in almond sauceFideuá (seafood pasta paella). Here’s another of my favorites, Basque-style hake. I love the simplicity of the dish—garlic, olive oil and wine complement the delicate fresh fish.

Merluza a la Vasca, Hake, Basque Style
Merluza a la Vasca
Hake, Basque Style

Hake is a wonderful fish, flaky and delicate in flavor. (Restaurant critic Jeffrey Steingarten once called it “rich-man’s cod.”) For this dish it’s important to use fresh, not frozen, fish. Fresh cod or haddock might be substituted if hake is not available.

Serves 6.

Hake steaks.
3 pounds hake, cut into 6 crosswise steaks 1 ½ inch thick
2 tablespoons flour
1/3 cup olive oil
6 cloves garlic, sliced crosswise
2/3 cup white wine
1 dozen clams (Manila or littlenecks)
1 dozen small peeled shrimp
3 tablespoons chopped parsley
6 cooked or canned spears of asparagus

Salt the fresh fish steaks and let them sit for 15 minutes. Pat them dry and dust with the flour.

Heat the oil in a cazuela or skillet. Add the garlic and the pieces of fish. Let them cook, without browning for 2 minutes on each side. Sprinkle with any remaining flour. Then add the wine, ½ teaspoon salt, clams and shrimp.

Cook the fish, shaking and rocking the casserole, until the fish is just flaky and clam shells opened, 10 to 12 minutes. The sauce should be slightly thickened.

Add the parsley and asparagus. Serve in the same cazuela.

Saturday, December 1, 2012


Fresh goat cheese.
I’ve just made fresh goat cheese, start to finish. I attended a workshop where a master cheesemaker showed us all the steps, from curdling the milk to pressing the curds.

Well, everything but the goat. The cheesemaker, Juan José Ocaña Mateo of Quesos Sierra Crestillina ( , brought 31 liters of fresh, pastereurized goat’s milk from his dairy farm in the Sierra Crestellina, near Casares in Málaga province (southern Spain).

My little cheese is a bit lumpy, but it tastes wonderful. Fresh and sweet, with just a light salting. It keeps up to two weeks, refrigerated. I love fresh goat cheese for breakfast, with toast “buttered” with olive oil, maybe a slice of tomato. It’s also delicious drizzled with honey and sprinkled with walnuts as a dessert.

I learned a lot about the cheese making process and about how different types of cheeses are made.

Fresh cheese is made with pasteurized milk to insure that it has no nasty bacteria (such as brucellosis, a disease that can be transmitted in raw milk). Pasteurization also destroys good bacteria, those that give matured cheeses their particular aroma and flavor. For cheeses that are to be aged, various fermenting agents and molds are reintroduced to the milk. For our fresh cheese, no additions are necessary.

Juan José Ocaña, master cheesemaker.
Juan measures out a tiny amount of liquid cuajo, rennet, a substance taken from the stomach of suckling animals. The type and quantity of rennet influence the cheese’s characteristics. Diluted with distilled water, the rennet is stirred into milk that has been warmed to 38ºC (100ºF).

Then we wait, about an hour and a half, while the milk curdles. Juan shows us a Power Point presentation about the dairy and cheesemaking. It is a family business going back several generations. He describes himself as a cabrero, a goatherd, but, in fact, he does everything from milking goats to marketing cheese. The family has 450 goats of the Payoya breed, autochthonous to the Sierra. A goat produces an average of 1.8 liters (just under 2 quarts) of milk daily, but not all are producing milk at a given time. Pipes carry the milk directly from the milking barn to the cheesemaking facility.

Cutting the curds with a lyre.
We return to our cheese making. After everyone washes hands, Juan tests the curds by cutting them with scissors. Then we take turns cutting the curds with a lira, a lyre-shaped paddle. Clumps gradually separate into smaller and smaller “beads.”

The suero, or whey, is drained off, leaving the curds. On the farm, the whey is fed to pigs that are raised for meat or made into requesón—ricotta cheese—by heating the whey until the protein coagulates into a smooth cheese.

Next step, to mold and press the curds. Cheesemakers, both artisanal and industrial, today use hygienic plastic forms, but in former times, they used strips of woven esparto grass to shape the cheeses. That’s what we are using for this workshop.

We twist the strips into small circles and place them on top of a grooved cheese board that allows the whey to drain into a bucket. Using our hands, we fill the molds with milky curds and gently press and compact them, gradually tightening the cinch. When the cheese holds its shape, it’s ready.

 Cheeses to be cured are submerged in salmuera, a brine, for a period of time. Ours are lightly sprinkled with salt, wrapped and ya está—ready to eat.

Semi-cured goat cheese.

Our workshop finishes with a cata, a tasting, of aged cheeses from the Sierra Crestellina farm. The semi-cured (aged two months) is creamy with a mild lactic tang, a natural rind, perfect for a cheese sandwich. Juan said it’s a good melting cheese. 

Good melting cheese.

The cured cheese is matured five months. It has a stronger aroma, is fattier and drier in consistency. The third cheese is a raw milk añejo, aged eight months. (Raw milk cheeses aged more than 60 days are safe.) It has a thick moldy rind, is saltier, drier, more pungent than the less mature cheeses. It is my favorite. It seems to be calling out for a copita of fino Sherry.

Raw milk añejo cheese has a thick rind, sunken shape.

Friday, November 23, 2012


Choose several apple varieties for making this dessert.

I can’t believe there’s NO butter! Cakes, pastries, cookies—all made with extra virgin olive oil as the only fat. Yes!

For several years now, the only fat I use in my kitchen is olive oil. No butter, no vegetable oils, no lard. Why? For me, it’s a way of affirming my Mediterranean lifestyle. I pick my own olives, bring home the oil. Plus, I know how healthful olive oil (a mono-unsaturated fat) is. And, personally, I love its flavor.

At the beginning of my conversion, it was easy to switch to olive oil in cooking. Olive oil is splendid in sauces, drizzled on vegetables (or popcorn), for sautéing, for stir-frying, for deep frying. But, when it came to baking—birthday cakes and Christmas cookies—I reverted to butter.

Spanish cuisine—especially that of Andalusia, southern Spain, where olives are cultivated—has a long and respected history of preparing pastries with olive oil. But, I wanted to bake the American pastries that I grew up with (I’m from midwest America).

Olive oil, flour and oats for apple crumble.
One day, making an old favorite recipe for Carrot Cake, which calls for “vegetable oil,” I realized I had no vegetable oil other than olive. I made the cake with olive oil and it was so delicious nobody noticed anything unusual. Since then, I’ve elaborated on the recipe only slightly—I add grated orange zest and grated fresh ginger along with the usual cinnamon to complement the fruitiness of the oil. Even though Carrot Cake is one of the most ubiquitous of cakes, people ask me for my recipe because it has something special.

Next, I experimented with olive oil pie crust. It has a crisp and crackly texture, very appetizing, although different from a “flaky” one. Best of all, it is easy, easy and exceptionally good with fruit pies. Here too, I might add an inflection of aniseed or sesame as a complement.

Since then I’ve substituted olive oil for butter in all sorts of recipes for baked goods. I like it best with anything with fruit, especially citrus, or spice or chocolate. The basic substitution is ½ cup olive oil for 1 stick of butter. But, in fact, because olive oil is liquid and butter congeals, it’s better to use less oil in proportion to butter in any recipe.

Sweet apples and a crumbly topping with almonds, good hot or cold.

Here’s an interpretation of old-fashioned Apple Crumble, using olive oil. I made this for dessert on Thanksgiving and it was a hit. The apple crumble is good served hot or cold, accompanied by ice cream. I served it with leche merengada, cinnamony iced meringue milk. That recipe can be found here.

Crumbly almond-oat topping with sweet apples and cinnamony ice cream.

Apple-Almond Olive Oil Crumble

Use two or more varieties of apples, such as Gala, Granny Smith, Fuji, Pink Lady.

If you’re preparing this as part of an oven meal, the crumble can bake alongside a roast chicken at 350º or by itself at 425º. Adjust the baking time up or down.

You may like this dessert more or less sweet, so taste the apples as you add the sugar. Personally, I like it less sweet.

For the topping:

1 cup flour
½ cup rolled oats
1/3 cup sugar (white or brown), or to taste
½ teaspoon cinnamon
Pinch of ground cloves
¼ teaspoon salt
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
½ cup chopped almonds

Combine the flour, oats, sugar, cinnamon, cloves and salt in a bowl. Add the olive oil and stir with a fork until the mixture is crumbly. Stir in the chopped almonds. Stir to break up clumps to pea-size bits.

For the apples:

2 ½ pounds apples (about 6)
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
4 tablespoons lemon juice
1 tablespoon flour
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon allspice
½ teaspoon ground ginger
½ cup sugar (white or brown)
, or to taste

Peel and core the apples. Slice them thinly. Combine in a bowl with the lemon zest, juice, flour, cinnamon, allspice, ginger and sugar.

Preheat oven to 350ºF.

Spread the apple mixture in an oiled 12-inch baking dish. The apples will shrink as they bake.  Use the fingers to crumble the topping mixture on top. Pat it down gently.

Bake until apples are bubbling and topping is golden around the edges, about 50 minutes. Serve hot or cold.

Sunday, November 18, 2012


Crunchy sesame-wheat crisps with blue cheese dip.

Got your Thanksgiving menu figured out? This year I have guests who are vegetarian, so I’m not serving turkey. (Have you noticed that vegetarian is the trend this year?)

Most of the dishes will be classic North American (minus fresh cranberries, which I cannot find in Spain). Sweet potato “soufflé,” roasted Brussels sprouts and little onions; chestnut stuffing; apple pie. But, I couldn’t prepare a holiday meal without a little Spanish flavor.

If Thursday is a sunny day, the starter will probably be a Spanish-inflected salad with jewel-like pomegranate and clementines picked from my own tree. If it’s rainy and chill (like today), I’ll opt for a soup, perhaps pumpkin (prepared with oregano and a touch of vinegar, as in this recipe).

Crispy crackers with sesame and olive oil.
For sure, I’ll serve fino Sherry or Montilla-Moriles as an aperitif, along with my home-cured manzanilla olives. And, I’ve just made a batch of regañás, sesame-wheat crisp crackers, to serve with Cabrales blue cheese dip.

Sesame-Wheat Crisps

These crispy crackers, popular at tapa bars in Sevilla and Cádiz, are seriously addictive! They’re good all by themselves or as dippers for sauces. They keep well stored in an air-tight container.

In Spain, I can buy regañás in packets. But they are ever-so-easy to make. Get the kids to knead the dough and roll them out. Because the crackers keep well, you can make them days before the holiday.

Roll the dough as thinly as possible. After rolling it out and cutting, pop the trays right in a preheated oven. If you leave them to set, the dough will rise again and the crackers will not be so crisp.

Makes about 200 small crackers.

1 teaspoon active dry yeast
½ teaspoon sugar
1 cup + 1 tablespoon hot water, divided
1 ¾ cups whole wheat flour
2 ¼ cup plain flour plus additional for rolling out dough
2 teaspoons salt
4 tablespoons sesame seeds
Pinch of dried thyme or rosemary (optional)
2 tablespoons olive oil plus additional to oil bowl

Combine the yeast and sugar in a small bowl. Add 4 tablespoons of the hot water and stir to dissolve. Allow to stand until bubbly.

Combine the two kinds of flour in a bowl with the salt , sesame seeds and herbs, if using. Make a well in the center and add the yeast, oil and remaining hot water. Use a wooden spoon to mix the dry ingredients with the wet.

Dough starts out really rough and shaggy.
Turn out on a board and knead the dough. It will be rough and shaggy at first and gradually become smooth and glossy, about 4 minutes.

Clean out the mixing bowl and oil it generously. Gather the dough into a ball and turn it in the bowl to coat with oil. Cover with a damp cloth and place in a warm place until doubled in bulk, about two hours.

Preheat oven to 425ºF.

Punch down the dough. Divide it in four pieces. Place one piece on a lightly floured board. Roll it out very thinly into a roughly rectangular shape. Transfer the dough to a baking sheet. Prick the dough all over with a fork. With a pastry wheel or sharp knife, cut the dough into strips 1 inch wide. Cut the strips crosswise into 2 inch- pieces.

Bake the strips until browned on the edges, 10 to 12 minutes. Repeat with remaining dough, rolling out, placing on baking sheet, cutting.

Allow the crisps to cool completely before storing in an air-tight container.

Salsa Cabrales
Cabrales Blue Cheese Sauce

Cabrales cheese.
Cabrales is a distinctive blue cheese from Asturias—sharp, but remarkably creamy in consistency. It makes a delightful dressing or dip when thinned with wine or, in the Asturian style, dry cider. Serve the sauce with endive leaves for dipping; with charcoal-grilled steaks or spooned  over a salad of frisée, sliced pears and toasted almonds. Other blue cheese can be substituted.

Makes  2/3 cup of sauce.

5 oz Cabrales (Asturian) blue cheese
2 tablespoons chopped onions
¼ cup white wine, cider, cava (sparkling wine) or dry Sherry
Pinch of cumin seed
Smoked pimentón (paprika) as garnish

Place the cheese in a blender or mini processor with onions, wine and cumin seed. Blend until smooth. Serve immediately or keep, covered and refrigerated, up to 3 days. Serve garnished with a pinch of pimentón.

Endive with Cabrales blue cheese dip.

Saturday, November 10, 2012


Favorite blog is about cooking in cazuela.

Raise a glass of cava (Spanish bubbly) with me to toast an anniversary—it’s three years since I started this blog, MY KITCHEN IN SPAIN.

My first couple of posts were experimental, as I learned how to use the Blogger template and wrestled with uploading photos. My “official” “Welcome to My Kitchen in Spain” blog appeared November 28, 2009.

Finding a voice, choosing subjects that interest first me, then you, the readers; testing and formatting recipes, and, especially, learning to take photos of food all continue to challenge me, engross me every week.

The fun part is doing what I’ve always enjoyed about food writing—cooking and tasting and talking to people about what they eat and how they cook it. I’m a reporter at heart and blogging is a great way to keep a hand in.

After years of writing about Spanish food, I’ve gathered a lot of information and thousands of recipes. Here’s where I can share that knowledge with many more people than those who read my cookbooks or magazine articles.

Traffic to MY KITCHEN IN SPAIN has grown steadily over three years., Google UK, Google Canada, Google Australia and Google España account for far and away most of the referrals. Top links were from Stumbleupon, the Los Angeles Times after my stories appeared in the food pages of the paper (thanks Russ Parsons), and LeitesCulinaria.

Where are you, the audience? The US leads readership by a lot, Spain is second. After that it’s other English-speaking countries—UK, Canada and Australia. But, then, Russia. I cannot fathom why I have such wide readership in Russia! Then Germany, France, India and the Philippines.

I am fascinated by the “search keywords” category on the stats page. Here are the all-time most searched: “Spanish cocktails,” “avocado tree,” “grelos” (use “Search” at the upper left of the blog if you want to know what grelos are), “pimentón,” “white watermelon” (yes, I wrote about white watermelon here, but why so many searches?), “cazuela,” “piquillo pepper seeds” and “Spain seafood.”

And now for the top five blog posts: in fifth place, Bitter Oranges--Mouth-Puckeringly Delicious ; fourth,  This Gazpacho Is Hot; third, How to Lower Your Cholesterol WithoutMedication, which doesn’t really have much to do with Spanish cooking; second, Five Star Seafood Soup; and, drum roll, please, número uno, Clay Pot Cooking, Cazuela Edition. My welcome page also gets a lot of traffic (link to it by clicking on the photo of me at the left).

I welcome your comments and questions. I'm fascinated to know what you, the readers, want to know about cooking in Spain.

To celebrate this anniversary, here’s another post on clay pot cooking, cazuela edition. Refer to the original post for everything you need to know about cooking in earthenware.

Rice, pork, seafood and vegetables cooked in a cazuela.

Cazuela de Arroz a la Malagueña
Rice with Pork and Seafood, Málaga style

It’s a paella if you cook it outdoors in a metal paella pan. It’s un arroz, merely a rice dish, if you cook it in the kitchen in a cazuela.

If possible buy unshelled shrimp, as the shells and, especially, heads add flavor. Use Spanish round-grain rice for this dish. If not available, Italian arborio is a possible substitute.

Serves 4 to 6.

Saffron and pimentón flavor the rice.

½ pound small clams (such as Manila clams)
¾ pound large shrimp in their shells (or ½ pound shelled shrimp)
4 tablespoons olive oil
½ pound pork, cut in cubes
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 green bell pepper, cut in strips
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 teaspoon sweet pimentón (paprika), not smoked pimentón
1 tomato, peeled and chopped
Pinch of saffron, crushed
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
10 ounces asparagus stalks
1 small artichoke
½ pound monkfish fillets, cut in cubes
4 cups water or stock
2 cups round-grain rice

Wash the clams in several changes of water. Put them in a pan with ½ cup of water. Cover and cook the clams just until shells open. Remove from heat. Reserve clams. Strain the broth and reserve it.

Shell the shrimp, reserving the shells. You can use the shells to make a stock, along with any fish trimmings. Or else sauté them in hot oil to flavor the oil.

Heat the oil in a 12-inch cazuela. Add the shrimp shells and sauté them until they turn color. The shells flavor the oil. Scoop them out with a skimmer and discard the shells. Now sauté the shrimp in the same oil. Remove them when they are pink and reserve them.

Add the pork to the pan and fry it until browned on all sides. Stir in the onion, green pepper and garlic. Sauté 5 minutes. Stir in the pimentón, then add the tomato. Mix the crushed saffron in ¼ cup hot water. Pour into the cazuela. Add salt (about 2 teaspoons, unless you have heavily salted the stock) and pepper.

Trim ends off asparagus, cut stalks into 1-inch pieces and add to the cazuela. Remove outer leaves from the artichoke and cut it into quarters immediately before adding to the pan. Add the pieces of monkfish.

Combine the reserved clam broth with water or stock to make 4 cups liquid. Add to the cazuela and bring to a boil. Stir in the rice. Bring again to a boil, then reduce heat so liquid bubbles gently until rice is al dente tender, about 18 minutes. Arrange the clams and shrimp on top.

Remove cazuela from heat and allow to set for 5 minutes before serving.

Saturday, November 3, 2012


Chestnuts on the tree. (Photo by Kenton Smith at )
Such a cheery sight on a dreary evening—the guy in the plaza roasting chestnuts over hot coals. When a batch is ready, he scoops the fragrant nuts into paper cones and hands them to you. You pick up a chestnut and warm your hands, before peeling and eating the toasty nut.

Chestnuts are a seasonal pleasure. Appearing just in time for the November 1 holiday of Todos Los Santos, when families visit cemeteries to pay respect to the dead, chestnuts are sold by vendors outside the cemetery gates.

Chestnut trees grow in northern Spain and in mountainous regions of the south, such as the Serranía de Ronda, Sierra de Aracena and the Alpujarra.

I heard from my friend Ann Larson in Yunquera, in the Serranía de Ronda,  that it has been a bad year for chestnuts in southern Spain. “The chestnut crop in our whole area was awful!” she wrote. “We are harvesting ours this week, but only expect to get 50 kilos or so, if we're lucky. Due to the lack of rain at critical growing times, the chestnuts are few, and small. Of course, as the crop is poor, the price is high! Ah, the life of the farmer.” (Read more about Ann’s farm here.)

On the tree, chestnuts are encased in a prickly outer husk. Each chestnut has a smooth brown shell and an inner light brown skin. The nut meat is an ivory color. For roasting on an open fire, cut a slit into the shell of each and place them on a grill over coals. In Spain, they use a cooking pot with holes punched in its bottom to set over coals. To eat them, use your fingers to pull away the shell and the skin.

Looking for a different way to prepare chestnuts, I went to a Galician cookbook, as Galicia (northwest Spain) is real chestnut country. The classic book, Cocina Gallega, by Álvaro Cunqueiro (I mistakenly bought the book in the Galego language, different enough from castellano, Castillian Spanish, that I had to buy a dictionary in order to use it), lists 17 different chestnut recipes, about half sweet and half savory.

In this recipe for pork ribs, the chestnuts take the place of potatoes alongside the meat.

Juicy ribs and toasty chestnuts for a warming fall meal.

Roast Pork Ribs with Chestnuts
Costelar de Porco con Castañas

Raw chestnuts, shells removed.
Shelling chestnuts is more like peeling an orange than cracking a nut. Cut into the outer shell then peel it away in strips. The chestnuts are cooked, then the inner skin peeled off while they are still warm.

This adobo is an aromatic rub for the pork ribs.

Serves 4.

Herb-rubbed ribs roast until tender.
2 ½ pounds pork spareribs
1 teaspoon salt
4 cloves garlic
2-3 crushed bay leaves
½ teaspoon dried thyme
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
½ teaspoon sweet pimentón (paprika), preferably smoked
 Pinch of fennel seeds
5 tablespoons olive oil
½ cup white wine
1 ½ pounds fresh chestnuts
Butter and/or olive oil

Place the ribs in a pan large enough to hold them. In a mortar or blender, grind together the salt, garlic, bay, thyme, pepper, pimentón and fennel. If using a blender, add the olive oil with the spices. If using a mortar, stir the oil into the spice blend.

Spread this mixture on all sides of the ribs. Allow to stand at room temperature for 1 hour or, covered and refrigerated, up to 8 hours. Bring to room temperature before proceeding.

Preheat oven to 350ºF. Place the ribs on a rack in a roasting pan or on a broiler pan. Mix the wine with ½ cup of water and pour into the bottom of the roaster. While meat is roasting, add more water from time to time so that there is always enough liquid to cover the bottom of the roasting pan. Roast until ribs are tender, about 1 ½ hours.

While meat is roasting, shell the chestnuts. Cook them in boiling water for 30 minutes. Drain. While still warm, remove the brown skin. Shortly before serving, heat the butter and/or oil in a skillet and brown the chestnuts.

Remove ribs to a cutting board and slice them. Serve on a platter with the browned chestnuts. Pour over any pan juices.

Tender ribs and chestnuts.
Browned chestnuts substitute for potatoes alongside roast meat.