Sunday, October 28, 2012


Sherry ad from an old Gourmet magazine.

Needing to clear some closet space in the spare room (which is no longer spare), I started pulling out storage boxes full of papers and sorting through 25 years worth of—stuff.

First to go—no need even to sort—were thousands of pages of cookbook manuscripts and  printers’ page proofs. I’ve written eight cookbooks (five are still in print; read about the books here). How many compressed trees was I saving here?

The most recent books went back and forth to editors digitally, via e-mail. But, ten years ago, my editor at HarperCollins-New York wanted the whole printed manuscript shipped to her. It came back to me once with the copy editor’s notes and was returned to me after publication. I also received a set of page proofs. All this went to the recycle bin.

The next couple of crates I pulled down contained, roughly speaking, “files.” In the pre-Google days, when I was researching for a book, article or travel guide, it meant writing or phoning to tourist offices and collecting travel brochures about the regions I intended to visit. Along with yet more material picked up on my travels are hundreds of maps, including dozens from little towns of La Mancha, where I spent a month or more traveling around, talking to people and collecting recipes, for COOKING FROM THE HEART OF SPAIN—FOOD OF LA MANCHA

I had enough travel brochures to open a tourist office. These all went to trash, though, I have to confess, I enjoyed looking through them and remembering places I’d been. Nowadays, anything I need to know, no matter how obscure, can quickly be located on the internet. But I love printed stuff.

There were also clipping files—reviews of my books; tear sheets of articles I wrote for various magazines and newspapers; articles by other writers pertinent to my subjects; printed menus from restaurants all over Spain. One file contained clippings from Gourmet magazine of articles only about Spain. I got rid of the magazines-- dating back to 1964!—but not before first cannibalizing them for “keepers.”

That picture at the top was a keeper—an ad in Gourmet from unknown year. There is also a marvelous four-page color spread, “Three Spanish Dinners,” from January 1966 (the very month I arrived in Spain), with some excellent recipes. And, a wonderful article from July 1964, “Málaga, Mi Málaga,” by Frederick S. Wildman, Jr. Málaga is “mi Málaga” also.

Here’s what Wildman (I never met him, although our paths might have crossed) wrote about the food of my region: “The food of the province of Málaga is as original as the face of its countryside.” He made note of the fruits and vegetables, almonds, olives, pork sausages, serrano ham. “But the glory of Málaga is certainly its fish.” One of his recipes is for “Sopa de Rape de Málaga.” Although poorly translated as “skate soup,” (rape, pronounced rah-pay in two syllables, is monkfish, not skate), it is a typical Málaga recipe.

Sopa de rape--monkfish soup, a Málaga specialty.
Here is my version. You could use dry Sherry, such as Tio Pepe, or white wine.

Monkfish Soup
Sopa de Rape

Whole monkfish.

Monkfish (also known as angler fish) is one of the least attractive specimens in the market, but very, very good eating. A grey color and without scales, the monkfish has a huge head and slim tail, a little like an enormous tadpole that  never got around to turning into a frog. It is easy to cut fillets off the center spine. The flesh is firm and sweet-flavored and can readily be substituted in recipes that call for lobster. Firm-fleshed, It doesn’t disintegrate when cooked in soup. Slices from the tail are very good grilled or braised with sauce.

This recipe calls for a whole fish—the head is used for making stock. If this is not possible, use any prepared fish stock and monkfish fillets. Shrimp can be added as well.

Serves 4.

1 monkfish, 3 to 4 pounds
8 cups water
Bay leaf, oregano, thyme, parsley and celery
Salt and pepper
1 onion, cut in half
4 tablespoons olive oil
1/3 cup almonds, blanched and skinned
3 cloves garlic
2-3 slices bread, crusts removed
1 sprig parsley
Pinch of saffron, crushed
¼ cup dry Sherry or white wine
2 tomatoes, peeled and chopped
2 teaspoons salt

Have the angler fish cleaned and the head separated. Remove the back bone, leaving two fillets. Cut them into bite-size pieces. Cover and refrigerate.

Put the water to boil in a pot with the herbs, half of the onion and salt and pepper. Add the head, bones and any trimmings from the fish and bring again to a boil, skimming off froth that rises. Cook for 30 minutes. Strain the stock and reserve it. Pick any flesh off the head and bones and discard head and bones.

Heat the oil in a soup pot or heat-proof casserole and in it fry the almonds, peeled garlic, sliced bread and sprig of parsley, just until almonds, garlic and bread are toasted. With a skimmer, remove them to mortar, blender or mini food processor.

Chop the remaining half onion. Sauté the onion in the remaining oil. Add the tomatoes and fry for 15 minutes. (This sofrito can be used as is or puréed in a blender or passed through a sieve.)

In the mortar or blender, grind the toasted almonds, etc., with the saffron, and salt, adding the Sherry or wine to make a smooth paste. Stir this into the tomato mixture, add 6 cups of the reserved stock. Bring to a boil and simmer for 15 minutes. Add the pieces of monkfish and simmer another 10 minutes until fish is cooked.

Monkfish soup is thickened with ground almonds.

Sunday, October 21, 2012


Rabbit cooks in a wine marinade.

Awakened at dawn by the pop of a shotgun on the hillside, I realized that hunting season has opened. The local take is small feathered and furred game, primarily partridge and rabbit.

I don’t hunt, but, as I enjoy eating game, I don’t disapprove of those who do. In fact, I’d gladly invite a hunter to dinner if he (they are mainly guys) would take out the wild boar that is digging up my garden. I’ve got just the marinade---.

While they’re not the same as wild, farm-raised rabbit and even partridge are much easier to come by and don’t require a gun. Inspired by a TV cooking program ("Cómetelo" on Canal Sur, with chef Enrique Sánchez), I bought rabbit to make conejo al salmorejo, rabbit cooked in a wine marinade. If you understand Spanish and would like to watch the show, it is here )

This is different from the salmorejo I wrote about here, which is a thick “gazpacho cream,” and here, which is a salad with oranges, onions and salt cod. They all have as a root, sal, or salt. Beyond that, they are completely different preparations.

This salmorejo, or marinade, is much like an adobo (that recipe is  here). Meant to tame the gaminess of wild rabbit or hare, it also serves to punch up the flavor of mild-flavored farm-raised rabbit.

Whole rabbit, cut into serving pieces.
Farm-raised rabbit, by the way, deserves to be called “the other white meat.” It’s lean and low in saturated fat.

Andalusian style, this dish would be served with patatas fritas, fries (Spanish fries, of course, fried in olive oil). But it is very nice with wide noodles or rice to soak up the tasty sauce.

Tender rabbit, braised in herb-inflected marinade. 

Rabbit in Wine Marinade
Conejo al Salmorejo

Serves 3 or 4.

1 farm-raised rabbit, about 2 ¼ pounds
Salt and pepper
Sprigs of fresh thyme or 1 tablespoon dried thyme
2 bay leaves
5 cloves garlic
1 tablespoon oregano
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 tablespoon pimentón (paprika)
¾ cup white wine
¼ cup Sherry vinegar
1/3 cup + 2 tablespoons olive oil
½ cup water
1 rabbit liver or chicken liver
1 tablespoon flour

Cut the rabbit into 6 serving pieces. Reserve the liver, if included. Sprinkle the rabbit pieces with salt and pepper. Place the pieces of rabbit in a bowl (glass, plastic or earthenware) with the thyme and bay leaves.

In a blender combine the garlic, oregano, cumin, pimentón, wine, vinegar, olive oil and ¼ cup of the water. Blend until smooth. Pour this marinade over the rabbit. Cover and refrigerate at least 2 hours and up to 24 hours.

Drain the rabbit in a colander set over a bowl to catch the marinade. Discard the bay leaves and thyme.

Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a cazuela or deep skillet. Cut the liver into four pieces and brown them in the oil. Remove and set aside.

Sprinkle the rabbit with the flour. Add the rabbit to the cazuela and brown the pieces on all sides. Pour over the strained marinade. Cover and simmer until rabbit is very tender, about 40 minutes.

Meanwhile, blend the liver with the remaining ¼ cup water until smooth. Stir this into the rabbit and cook 5 minutes longer to thicken the sauce.

Saturday, October 13, 2012


Many years ago, on a trip through the Sierra of Ronda, in Andalusia, we stopped at the mountain village of Grazalema for lunch. It was autumn and clouds swirled around pine-clad peaks, obscuring wondrous views, but closing us into the intimacy, immediacy, of watching that the edge of the road didn’t dissolve into oblivion. It was raining steadily in the village and no one was in the streets. We found a small inn where meals were served. We were the only guests.

The young man who served us asked if we were antropólogos. After a minute to transcribe the word into “anthropologists,” we said, “no, why do you ask?” Turns out, this village was the subject of an anthropological study a number of years before. Ever since, anthropologists keep reappearing and asking questions. (The study, which I had read, but never identified as Grazalema, was The People of the Sierra by Julian Pitt-Rivers, first published in 1954.)

My questions, though, were only about the food, which was stupendous. One of us had wild rabbit—brought in that morning from traps—and cooked in a wine sauce. The other main dish was pork tongue—two tongues served whole, braised tender in a slightly sweet sauce.  For dessert we were served dulce de membrillo, quince jelly, still slightly warm and quivery, a rosy color. The young man said his mother had made it that morning and it still wasn’t set.

Quince is a wonderfully old-fashioned fruit, like an oversized knobbly yellow apple, with a spicy fragrance and a slightly grainy texture. It is rock-hard, even when ripe, and must be cooked to be edible. It has an abundance of pectin, which allows the fruit when cooked with sugar to set up as a solid jelly or paste. (I used to add some quince when making orange marmelade to speed up the setting.)

Quince jelly with chevre.
Quince jelly with aged sheep's milk cheese.
Quince jelly with queso fresco, fresh goat's milk cheese.
Quince jelly with blue cheese.
In Spain, quince (membrillo) is almost always a sweet, either as jelly or arrope, a compote of fruit cooked in sweet grape must (that recipe is here).

Quince jelly is served with aged cheese as an hors d’oeuvre or with queso fresco, fresh cheese, as a dessert.

Quince jelly also can be turned into a sauce that goes well with duck, pork or cheese croquettes (that recipe is here).

I haven’t prepared my own quince jelly in years—it’s easy to buy in Spain. In US supermarkets, look for it in the cheese section. It's probably called "quince paste," rather than quince jelly.

I wanted a savory dish with quince. The only recipe I found in my collection that included quince was olla gitana, gypsy pot, a variation on potaje with chickpeas and vegetables, which included chunks of quince or pears, the wayfarer’s pickings.

So, I looked beyond Spain and found that quince is cooked in savory dishes in several Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cuisines. In Paula Wolfert’s Moroccan cookbook (the original) was Lamb with Quinces. From Claudia Roden’s The Book of Jewish Food, I took Poulet aux Coings (chicken with quince), an Algerian dish; from Maideh Mazda’s In a Persian Kitchen came Koreshe Beh, lamb with quince, and from George Moudiotis’s Traditional Greek Cooking came pork with quince and red wine. I put together several of these to prepare my dish of braised lamb with quinces.

Lamb neck with quince slices.

Braised Lamb with Quinces

I used lamb necks (about 2 1/2 pounds) an economical cut. You could use lamb shanks, ribs, or boneless shoulder.

Cut quinces into quarters, but do not peel.
 To prepare the quinces: Use 2 or 3 quinces for 4 servings. Wash the fruit. Place them on a cutting board and use a sharp knife to cut them into quarters. Place the quartered fruit in a pan with water to cover, juice of ½ lemon (to prevent quince from darkening), pinch of salt and (optional) cinnamon stick. Bring to a boil and simmer, covered, until quince can easily be pierced with a skewer.

Drain, saving the liquid. Allow the quinces to cool, then cut out and discard the cores. Cut into wedges. They do not need to be peeled.

For the lamb. Finely chop a large onion (mini food processor works well). Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a heavy pan. Add the onions, 1 teaspoon of cinnamon, 1 teaspoon of powdered ginger, ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper and 1 teaspoon salt. Place the pieces of meat on top of the onions. Cover and let the lamb sweat for 15 minutes.

Stir in 1 cup of reserved quince cooking liquid; 2 large carrots, halved lengthwise, and a pinch of saffron (optional). Cover and simmer until meat is fork-tender, adding additional liquid if necessary.

In a skillet, heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Sauté the sliced quince, turning to brown on all sides. This caramelizes the fruit’s sugar.(If desired, add a spoonful of honey or sugar.) Add the quince to the lamb and cook 10 minutes longer.

Serve immediately or refrigerate overnight and remove congealed fat before reheating. Accompany with rice or couscous.

Dulce de Membrillo
Quince Jelly

The traditional recipe for quince jelly calls for cooking the quinces, putting them through a food mill, weighing the pulp and adding the same weight of sugar.

5 pounds quinces (5-6 large fruits)
3 pounds sugar (6 ¾ cups)
Cinnamon stick

Wash the quinces, cut them in half and put them in a deep pot with water to cover. Bring to a boil and cook them until they are tender if pierced with a skewer, about 45 minutes. Remove the quinces and cool them. Reserve the liquid.

Peel and core the quinces. Puree the fruit in batches in a blender or food processor with 1 cup of the reserved cooking liquid. You should have 6-7 cups of puree.

Combine the quince puree in a heavy pot with the sugar and cinnamon and let set for 30 minutes.

Bring the fruit and sugar mixture to a boil, stirring constantly, then reduce the heat so it gently simmers. Cook the quince puree until it is reduced to a thick jam. As it cooks down, you will have to stir constantly so that it doesn’t scorch. The puree becomes glossy and translucent and begins to stick to the bottom of the pot—about 30 minutes. A test spoonful on a cold plate solidifies immediately. Remove cinnamon.

Have ready a mold (4X12X3 inches) lined with plastic wrap, letting it extend beyond the edges. Spoon the quince puree into the mold. Rap the mold to settle the mixture. Let it cool overnight.

Unmold the solidified puree. Cut into slabs and wrap to conserve.

Sunday, October 7, 2012


All hail! Summer is a-goin’ out. Autumn, cummin in, brings cauliflower, broccoli and cabbage to local markets. I love these cool season vegetables.

The one season I planted cauliflower in my garden, I wound up with a dozen heads all ready at the same time. Since a single cauliflower can last me for days, this was overkill. Now I buy it at the market, one every two or three weeks. (Broccoli is a different matter, as it goes on and on and on in the garden.)

Compared to cabbage, cauliflower is rather the aristocrat in Spanish cooking. It is a favorite for the Christmas Eve dinner, la cena de nochebuena, when it is prepared in a rich almond sauce. Home cooks might serve coliflor al ajo arriero, “mule drivers’" style, with lots of golden garlic and pimentón (paprika). In tapa bars, cauliflower is dipped in saffron-colored batter and fried until crunchy.

Tapas of cauliflower salad.
Another tapa bar fave is this cold dish, a salad of cauliflower with a lemony-parsley dressing.

The salad is an easy make-ahead side dish to serve with a buffet dinner or barbecue party. The cauliflower can marinate overnight in the dressing, but don’t add the tomatoes until shortly before serving.

You definitely can vary the basic recipe. Some additions you might like: chopped ham, bacon bits, anchovy snippets, toasted almonds, olives, red pepper flakes, diced cheese, oregano or dill. Vinegar can be substituted for the lemon juice.

Tonight I am serving the salad as a starter for a vegetarian meal. I used quail eggs instead of regular egg and added some purply-black Aragonese Marcida olives.

Cauliflower salad makes a good side dish for a buffet meal.

Cauliflower Salad
Coliflor Aliñada

Serves 6.

1 ½ pounds cauliflower
¼ cup chopped parsley
1 green onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
¼ cup fresh lemon juice
½ teaspoon salt
1 tomato, chopped, or handful of cherry tomatoes
Lettuce to garnish
1 hard-boiled egg, sliced, or a dozen quail eggs, halved

Separate the cauliflower into florettes. Cook them in boiling salted water until just crisp-tender, about 5 minutes. Drain and refresh under cold water.

When cauliflower is cool, place it in a large bowl. Add the parsley and onion.

In a small bowl combine the garlic, oil, lemon juice and salt. Stir to combine. Spoon the dressing over the cauliflower and stir gently. Cover the cauliflower and refrigerate at least 2 hours or overnight.

Shortly before serving add the chopped tomato and salt to taste. Spread the salad on a serving platter and garnish with lettuce leaves and sliced egg.