Thursday, December 26, 2013


Deeply flavorful quail broth with wild mushrooms and sautéed quail breast.

In Spain, New Year’s Eve is an occasion for la cena de noche vieja, a late supper with the whole family. After the midnight bells, when it’s customary to swallow 12 grapes to assure good fortune in the new year, the younger ones go out to party until the wee hours.

The festive menu might include a platter of mariscos, shellfish such as shrimp, crayfish, crabs, clams; a special soup, such as a consommé or a crema, cream soup; a meat dish such as pork tenderloin; a tart or parfait for dessert, and, of course, more turrón, almond nougat and marzipan, accompanied by cava, Spanish bubbly.

This deeply flavorful quail and mushroom consommé just might fit the bill for your party menu. I have served it as a welcoming libation for a holiday buffet party on a blustery winter day. In lieu of canapés, I passed the soup in demitasse cups with the sautéed breast meat and mushrooms speared on toothpicks. I’ve also served the soup as a starter for a smaller dinner party. It’s satisfying without being filling and you can vary the garnishes.

Serve consommé in cups as an apperitif.

Begin preparations for the consommé at least one day and up to 3 days before serving. Any wild or cultivated mushroom can be used—cêpes are divine, oyster mushrooms are fine. “Clarifying stock” maybe sounds like a cheffy thing to do, but it’s pretty simple and the results are really satisfying. A short-cut, if you don’t want to bother, is to bring the carcasses to a boil, drain them and rinse in running water to remove impurities that will cloud the broth, before putting them to cook.

Boning out the quail breasts is fast and easy. Use a small sharp knife to slit down along the ridge of the breastbone. Cut through the skin at the neck and release the half-breast where the wing is attached. Cut away the other half-breast in the same manner. Leave the skin attached to the breasts.

Brandy de Jerez (brandy aged in Sherry casks in Jerez de la Frontera where Sherry is made) lends a deep, mellow flavor to the soup. Dry fino or amontillado Sherry could be used instead. Sherry is the perfect wine to accompany the consommé.

Vary the garnishes--here with a poached quail's egg.

Consommé of Quail and Wild Mushrooms
Caldillo de Codorniz y Setas

Serves 12-16 as an appertif or 6-8 as a soup course.

Quail--easy to remove breasts.
6-8 quail (2 ¼-2 ½ pounds), breasts removed
2 teaspoons olive oil
½ yellow onion, unpeeled
12 ounces wild or cultivated mushrooms
12 cups chicken stock
1 sliced leek
2 sliced carrots
1 stalk celery
½ cup chopped tomato
1 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Sprig of thyme or ½ teaspoon dry thyme
2 bay leaves
Sprigs or stems of parsley
2 egg whites and crushed egg shells to clarify the broth
Freshly ground black pepper
¼ cup Brandy de Jerez
1 ½ tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
Optional garnishes
1 cup shredded baby spinach leaves
Poached or hard-cooked quail eggs
Chopped scallions

Preheat oven to 400º.

Wrap the boned quail breasts in plastic wrap and refrigerate them until shortly before serving. Spread the remaining quail carcasses in a roasting pan and drizzle with olive oil. Place the unskinned onion in the pan with the quail and roast, turning quail occasionally, until well browned, about 45 minutes.

Transfer quail and onion to a large soup pot. Add ¼ cup water to the roasting pan and scrape up all the drippings. Add them to the soup pot.

Set aside 2 ounces (about 1/3 cup) of mushroom caps or slices to finish the soup. Chop the remainder and add them to the soup pot with the chicken stock, leek, carrots, celery, tomato, salt, pepper, thyme, bay leaves, and parsley. Bring to a boil and skim off any foam that rises to the top. Cover and simmer the broth 1 ½ hours. Remove and cool slightly.

Strain the broth in a colander, pressing on the solids to extract all the liquid. Discard the solids. (You may want to separate the legs and serve them with vinaigrette.) Cool the broth, then refrigerate, covered, at least 12 hours or up to 2 days.

Skim off and discard the fat from the top of the broth. Strain the broth into a clean soup pot and add the egg whites and crushed eggshells.  Place on a medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the broth begins to simmer. Lower heat so it barely simmers for 15 minutes, without stirring, rotating the pot a quarter of a turn at intervals. Keep a close watch so the broth never boils. As the egg white cooks and floats to the top it will carry along solids that cloud the broth. Remove from heat and allow to stand 10 minutes.

Line a colander with 4 thicknesses of damp cheesecloth and place it over a clean pot. Gently push the egg-white froth to one side and carefully ladle the broth into the colander. Discard the foam.

Shortly before serving, place the pot of clarified broth on a medium heat and add the brandy. Bring to a simmer.

Sprinkle the quail breasts with salt and pepper. Heat the virgin olive oil in a skillet and sauté the breasts, skin side down, on a medium heat until browned, about 1 minute. Turn and sauté 1 minute on the other side. Breasts will be pink in the center. Remove and keep them warm.

Sauté the reserved mushroom caps or slices in the same oil, about 1 minute on each side.

When the broth begins to boil, lower heat so that it simmers and add the shredded spinach. Cook 2 minutes until spinach is wilted.

Serve the consommé in small (½-cup) cups with the breast and mushroom cap speared on a toothpick or in shallow soup bowls with the sliced breast and mushroom placed in the bowls. Add poached or hard-cooked and peeled quail eggs, if desired.

Saturday, December 21, 2013


Cardoons for Christmas. (I should have tied a big red bow on it!)

Not cartoons! Cardoons, a vegetable that turns up at the festive Christmas Eve meal in Spanish homes. Known as cardo in Spanish, the cardoon and its close relative, the artichoke, are thistles. Of the artichoke, it is the flower bud that is eaten; of the cardoon. it is the tall stalks. The first time I ever saw cardoons was in the still-life paintings by Juan Sánchez Cotán (early 17th century). Structurally interesting, but are they edible?

Cardoons are grown in the northern regions of Aragón, La Rioja and Navarra, so that is where this vegetable is most popular at Christmas. But, last week when I spied the stately stalks at a local grocery store, I couldn’t resist having a go.

Remove strings from stalks.
Like artichokes, cardoons require quite a lot of prepping—stripping off prickly leaves and trimming away fibrous strings (much like celery). Next time I want to serve this unusual side dish, I’ll buy the cardoons en conserva, in jars, cleaned and cooked, ready for saucing.

Cardoons are delicious in almond sauce; in bechamel sauce with cheese gratin, with clams, wine and parsley in “green sauce.”

Another traditional vegetable at the Spanish Christmas table is col lombarda, red cabbage. Years ago, when I was doing a magazine article about how Spaniards and foreigners celebrate the holidays, I interviewed a Danish woman married to a Spaniard. With Christmas customs, she said, red cabbage was their only point of convergence—traditional for Christmas dinner both in Denmark and at her Madrid mother-in-law’s table. This vegetable is easy to prepare and adds festive color as well. Red cabbage goes especially well with roast pork, venison or goose.

Red cabbage adds festive color.

Cardoons with almond sauce, a side dish for Christmas.
Cardos en Salsa de Almendras
Cardoons with Almond Sauce

Serves 6-8.

2 lemons
1 ½ tablespoons flour
2-3 pounds cardoons
3 tablespoons olive oil
½ cup skinned almonds
2 cloves garlic
1 ½ cups chicken stock
Pimentón (paprika) or saffron to finish

Place the juice of 1 lemon in a bowl with about 4 cups of water. Cut the other lemon in half. Stir 1 tablespoon of the flour into ½ cup of water and add it to a large pot with 8 cups of water and 1 ½ teaspoons salt. Squeeze ½ lemon into the pot of water and add the lemon too.

To prepare the cardoons: Discard hard outer stalks. Separate all the stalks from the base. Use a knife or vegetable peeler to remove the strings on the outside of each stalk of cardoon and the thin skin on the inside of the stalks. Rub each stalk as it is peeled with the cut lemon. Cut it into 3-inch pieces and drop them into the bowl with lemon juice.

When the cardoons are prepared, bring the pan of water with the flour and lemon juice to a boil. Add the cardoons, cover and simmer until the cardoons are tender when pierced with a knife, 45 to 60 minutes.

Remove from heat and allow to cool in the cooking liquid. If cooking the cardoons in advance, refrigerate them with the cooking liquid. Drain well before proceeding with the recipe.

Heat the oil in a skillet and fry the almonds and garlic until they are lightly toasted and golden. Skim them out. Set aside a dozen almonds to use as garnish. Place the remainder in a blender with the garlic and some of the chicken stock. Blend until smooth.

Stir the remaining ½ tablespoon of flour into the oil in the skillet and let it cook for 2 minutes. Stir in the drained cardoons, the almond mixture from the blender, the remaining stock and ½ teaspoon salt, or to taste (if stock is salty, take care not to over-salt the sauce).

A few threads of saffron top the dish.

Cover and cook the cardoons gently about 30 minutes. Place in a serving bowl and scatter the reserved almonds on top. Serve hot sprinkled with pimentón (paprika) or, for an opulent touch, a few threads of golden saffron.

Red cabbage with prunes, another good side dish for a holiday meal.

Lombarda a la Castellana
Red Cabbage, Castillian Style

Red cabbage needs an acid ingredient—wine, citrus or vinegar—to keep its vibrant color while cooking. Adding sweet fruit such as raisins or prunes balances the acidity.

Serves 6.

½ red cabbage (1 ½-2 pounds)
2 tablespoons olive oil
½ cup finely chopped onion
½ cup white wine
4 prunes, pitted and sliced
1 cup water
1 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground black pepper

Cut out and discard the core. Shred the cabbage and set aside.

Heat the oil in a pan and sauté the onion for 3 minutes. Stir in the shredded cabbage and let it sauté 1 minute. Pour over the wine and mix well. Add the prunes, water, salt and pepper. Cover and simmer, stirring occasionally, until cabbage is cooked to taste—20 minutes for slightly crunchy, 40 minutes for very tender.

Good with turkey, goose, pork or venison.

Looking for more about what Spaniards eat for Christmas? Have a look at Kaley’s blog. She’s a young American married to a Spaniard and living in Madrid.

¡Felices Fiestas! Happy Holidays. I hope you enjoy all the wonderful foods during this festive season.

Saturday, December 14, 2013


Just when I was supposed to be slaving over a hot stove, preparing a recipe for this week’s blog, I got a phone call from Shawn Hennessey, “tapas queen,” my guide to tapas in Sevilla  (see her web site and also my recent  blog post from Sevilla). She has been visiting Málaga and revisiting her favorite tapa bars there.

“I’m coming to Mijas! Can we meet at lunch for tapas?” I’m so excited that Shawn is meeting me on my own turf! (I live in Mijas.) So, of course, I drop everything.

Mijas is a small hill town overlooking the Mediterranean on Spain’s southern coast. It once had a dozen tapa bars in the casco antiguo, the old center. Of those, only two remain. But it has a dozen new bars, some mainly serving the day tourists, but others with ambitious wine lists and menus.

Bar Porras in the central plaza of Mijas.
We meet at the Bar Porras, on the Plaza de la Libertad, smack-dab in the center of town. Bar Porras is one of the original bars, where I learned Spanish cooking some 40 years ago.This is where I have coffee and read the newspaper most mornings after my aerobics class.

Shawn arrives with Victor Garrido, an independent tour guide who does in Málaga what Shawn does in Sevilla ( ).

A plate of ham to begin our tapas lunch tour.
Having learned the tapa-tour-guide plan from Shawn, I immediately order a plate of ibérico ham and glasses of Manzanilla (fino Sherry). We are off to a good start.

We continue on to the Museo del Vino, just a short stroll up Calle San Sebastian. A historic village house was converted to be an enoteca, a wine museum, shop and bar with wine tastings. Seated at a big wooden tasting table, we are cozy on a nippy December day. In summertime, the little enclosed patio is the cool place for sipping. ( )

Cheese and a glass of Botani.

Shawn is delighted to find here her favorite white wine, the light and floral Botani, from Bodegas Jorge Ordoñez. The Museo del Vino specializes in wines from Málaga province. The wine pairs perfectly with a nutty, semi-cured cheese. We are served bread rolls and bread sticks and a dish of organic olive oil for dipping.

Grilled scallops and cherry tomatoes.

We share a tapa of grilled scallop brochettes with cherry tomatoes. A sprinkling of pimentón (paprika) and olive oil complements the sweetness of the shellfish. Likely the scallops are frozen—but they are, nevertheless, delicious.

A last stop before Shawn returns to Málaga to catch her train back to Sevilla. We perch on stools (not very comfortable) at Bodega El Placer, just off the central plaza. Touted as a “wine bar,” it seems to specialize in red wines and does not have Shawn’s favorite whites. 

Black squid croquette.

We sample several tapas here. I love the squid croquettes with a squid-ink alioli sauce. They are black and crispy on the outside, creamy on the inside. Think I will try this recipe myself one of these days.

Solomillo (pork tenderloin) is—in my opinion—too sweet with a fruit compote. The crispy langostinos tempura—jumbo shrimp, crisply fried—are divine, but again, a little too sweet in the saucing. Morcilla (blood sausage) doesn’t show any evidence of the raisins and pine nuts that  supposedly accompany it. The bacalao—salt cod—gratin is, uh, interesting, with its dusting of curry and turmeric, but again, with a layer of sweet compote that overwhelms the other flavors. What's with all the sweet sauces? They are not really traditional in Spanish cooking.

Ham, egg and crispy fried potatoes. Terrific!
The best dish of all? A perfect—perfect—fried egg. Estrellado—crispy around the edges, with straw potatoes, hot and crispy, and some meltingly tender scraps of fine ham. How to share this amongst three? Shawn, with enormous experience, proceeds to mix the egg, ham and potatoes all together.

Oh my god, that is so good. Thanks Shawn. Come back soon.

And, here's "tapas in Mijas" from Shawn's angle:

Starting the tapas tour (photo by Shawn Hennessey)

Saturday, December 7, 2013


Exoticica--sweet cherimoyas, ready to eat.
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. Olive, fig, both orange and lemon, peach, pear and apricot, all those I could identify. Others, such as the pomegranate with its flamboyant red flowers, were new and exotic to me.

Photo ©Pilar Esteban Ordorica
One tree with broad, swishy leaves in early winter produced large green, heart-shaped fruit with a faceted surface that made them look like hand grenades. My neighbor, who pointed out the fruit to me, said they were chirimoyas. Eventually, I learned that the fruit actually comes from South America and that, in English, it is called cherimoya or custard apple.

Highly perishable and with a short season—November to January—cherimoyas are not widely commercialized. Best to enjoy them where they grow. And, where they grow is right here, the southern coast of Spain, from Gibraltar to Almuñecar (Granada). Cherimoyas from the Granada coast have DOP—protected designation of origin—Chirimoya Costa Tropical.

Inside the thin green skin, the flesh is creamy-white with shiny black seeds throughout. It tastes like a really sweet and creamy lemon-pineapple pudding. The aroma is “tropical”—banana, papaya, mango, all rolled into one, but subtle. The texture, like some pears, is slightly grainy. Did I say? really sweet.

When ripe, the skin and flesh darken.

Buy (or pick) cherimoyas when they are still firm and allow them to ripen until the green skin begins to darken in patches and the fruit, when gently squeezed in the palm of the hand, shows a little give (just like you test an avocado for ripeness).Small ones, as shown at left, ripen very quickly (two to three days).

Spoon the flesh from the skin.
The best way to eat this fruit is to cut it in half and spoon it right from the shell. The tongue and teeth easily deal with seed removal. Just spit the seeds out. Nothing simpler.

Yet, such a fabulous fruit certainly deserves something fancier. And, so, this season, I began seeking the perfect cherimoya dessert.  I’ve done sorbet, I’ve done mousse. Looking through online recipes, I liked the ideas of Pavlova with Cherimoya (meringue layers filled with fruit puré and whipped cream); Cherimoya Smoothie; Cherimoya Soufflé. The chef on Cómetelo (Canal Sur TV) made a scrumptious looking cherimoya flan  with white chocolate sauce. I loved his clever idea of dipping almonds in melted dark chocolate and scattering them around the finished dish so that they looked like shiny black seeds from the fruit.

I wanted a festive dessert in which the fruit could shine all on its own. A creamy tart? As the cherimoya pulp is so smooth and creamy, I needed something crunchy or crisp as contrast. How about a crumb crust? Yes! And some melted chocolate to dribble over the top to add a luxurious touch for the holidays.

Seeds are not easy to remove.

Now, about those seeds again. Each one is enclosed in a fleshy cell and does not easily separate from the flesh. I tried rubbing them through a sieve and that didn’t work either. You pretty much have to use a knife or fingers to extract each seed. Yeah, that’s a drag. But, once a year, worth the trouble. I did find that, the riper the fruit, the easier to squeeze out the seeds. Add lemon juice to the fruit pulp to prevent its oxidizing.

Because the cherimoyas are so very sweet, you will need very little sugar to make the tart filling. I used none at all. Taste the pulp and add sugar to suit yourself.

Cherimoya tart, a festive holiday dessert.

Tarta de Chirimoya
Cherimoya Tart

The tart filling, which is set with gelatine, can be made a day in advance of serving. It also freezes well. If frozen, allow to stand at room temperature at least 15 minutes before slicing and serving.

Serves 6 to 8.

2 pounds ripe cherimoyas
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
¼ teaspoon crushed cardamom seeds
1 tablespoon medium Sherry
½ cup Greek yogurt
¼ cup sugar, or to taste
¼ cup milk
2 ½ teaspoons unflavored gelatine
1 cup whipping cream
Baked crumb crust
Dark chocolate, melted over hot water (optional)

Cut the cherimoyas in half and scoop out the flesh. Remove and discard all the black seeds. Puré the flesh in a blender or food processor with the lemon juice. Place in a bowl and stir in the lemon zest, cardamom, Sherry, yogurt and sugar.

Put the milk in a small bowl and sprinkle the gelatine into it. Allow to soften for 5 minutes. Dissolve the gelatine in a microwave or by placing the bowl in a pan of hot water and stirring. Whisk the gelatine into the fruit mixture.

Beat the cream until it holds soft peaks. Fold the cream into the fruit mixture. Pour the mixture into the spring-form mold lined with baked crumb crust. Refrigerate the tart for at least 8 hours.

Run a knife around the edges of the pan and remove the sides from the pan. Carefully loosen the crust from the bottom and place the tart on a serving dish.

If desired, dribble melted chocolate over the top.

Chocolate adds a luxurious touch to cherimoya tart.

Almond Crumb Crust

Use any favorite crumb crust recipe. I invented this one because I had some leftover pieces of marzipan (almond-sugar paste).

1 ½ cups crushed crumbs
4 ounces marzipan
1 egg white

Preheat oven to 350ºF.

In a food processor, grind the crumbs finely. Add the marzipan and process until combined. Add the egg white and process to a paste.

Spread the mixture in the bottom of a spring-form pan that has been lightly greased with almond or olive oil. Bake the crust until golden around the edges, 10 minutes. Remove and allow to cool completely before adding the filling.

Cherimoyas make good stocking-stuffers!

Saturday, November 30, 2013


Níscalos--a wild mushroom found in autumn.

This week I bought wild mushrooms at my local village market. They were níscalos, Lactarius deliciosus (saffron milk cap), a distinctive orange-fleshed wild mushroom found in many regions of Spain after fall rains. Their heady, forest aroma reminded me of the time I went wild-mushroom-hunting, many years ago.

Our expedition was to a small pine forest right off the main coastal highway (southern Spain). The previous week, my foraging companions had picked four different kinds of mushrooms here.

On this particular autumn day the sandy soil was soft underfoot from rains a few days before. We started off into the woods, adults and children. Within seconds, Salvador, head of the expedition, had pulled up two, three, four, five boletos (one of the boletus varieties). He stopped long enough to show them to me and off he went.

The smallest were twice the size of ordinary cultivated mushrooms, with a tawny cap and an underside of a decidedly poisonous yellow. Broken open, the mushrooms revealed a pale, creamy-yellow flesh.

I headed off slowly, eyes on the ground, dodging low-hanging pine branches which snagged my hair and scarf (a case of not seeing the forest for the mushrooms.) The eye is at first too quick, too far-ranging to spot these sly, secret growths. It takes a certain myopic concentration to begin to apprehend their mysterious presence.

Stopping to turn and search under each pine, I saw right at my feet, a rise in the thick springy carpeting of pine needles. I brushed off the needles and there it was, a big boleto. I squatted beside it, pondering its awesome, underworld power. Gestating in darkness, it chooses its particular moment to push up through heavy, damp earth and dense layer of pine needles to shine in the light of day, as if to take a look around. Unlike other plants, fungi contain no chlorophyl, and are not nurtured by the process of photosynthesis. Light and air are, to them, a mere curiousity.

I suspect them of ulterior motives. It is as if they wait until they hear you coming to reveal themselves. Pockets here and there in the forest covering indicated the ground was well picked over. But this one, my first mushroom, had waited for me.

I picked it and wandered on, farther and farther from the group, holding my talisman before me. After a while that little piece of pine forest, within earshot of the highway, seemed to become enchanted. A heavy silence swallowed the sounds of traffic. At one point, just as a light rain began to fall, I could have sworn I saw an elf, some tiny being sitting on one of those toadstools. I did, for certain, see a rabbit and a snake.

The boletos were not the only mushrooms I discovered. There was an incredible variety—tiny, tiny white ones, like underground pearls, popping up through the pine needles to encircle a tree. Brown, shiny ones, like chocolate drops, and amongst them, pale, beige and white “flowers,” presumably the same mushroom fully opened, a delicate spiral that looked as if it would waft away in a breeze, until I touched it and found it had the same spongy density as its neighbors.

I left undisturbed the many varieties I couldn’t identify. Even armed with a book, which provided descriptions and photos, I felt a little chill of terror at the thought of confusing a possibly deadly poisonous fungi with the edible ones.

When we regrouped, the morning’s catch was spread out on a big tarp for inspection. They were all boletos this time, except for a few big white field musrhooms, which looked just like the cultivated ones at the grocery store. They were of all sizes, the biggest as broad as a six-year-old’s face. Salvador, his hands black from picking them, sorted through the mushrooms and pitched the wet and soggy ones, a rotting stew of spores. The rest were cleaned of dirt and pine needles, then divided among three families.

At home, I sautéd the mushrooms with olive oil and garlic, parsley, salt and pepper, and, once they had exuded all their liquid, some dry Sherry.

They tasted only vaguely like cultivated mushrooms. The texture was like a cross between snails and raw oysters--chewy and slippery at the same time. The flavor was darker, duskier, muskier, woodsier, the opposite of ethereal. An appealing taste, evocative. Elves and fairies, cushions of pine needles, raindrops, teardrops, sighing winds, downy blankets made of mist, and the smell of damp earth. All mushrooms are a little magic.

Meaty mushrooms and potatoes.
 Today, in the kitchen, although I missed the thrill of the hunt, I was delighted to be cooking wild mushrooms. The níscalos are an exceptionally meaty mushroom and inspired me to make a guiso de patatas y níscalos, a mushroom and potato stew.

White cultivated mushrooms in Spain are known as champiñones. Edible wild mushrooms in general are called setas. Hongo means fungus and can be applied to edible mushrooms as well as toadstools or even fungus infections.

A few tips for cooking with mushrooms: Place mushrooms in a basket or loosly wrapped in paper until ready to use. Don’t wrap them in plastic or refrigerate or they will begin to get slimy. Use a damp cloth or soft brush to clean the mushrooms. Don’t wash them in water. Cut them or pull them into segments immediately before cooking.

Wild mushroom and potato stew, a delicious fall dish.

Guiso de Patatas y Níscalos
Potato and Wild Mushroom Stew

To serve 2:

½ pound wild mushrooms such as níscalos
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
½ cup chopped red bell pepper
½ cup chopped green pepper
½ cup chopped onion
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 teaspoon pimentón (paprika)
Crushed red pepper (optional)
¾ pound potatoes, cut in pieces
¼ cup white wine
½ cup water or stock
½ teaspoon salt
Sprig of thyme or rosemary (optional)
Chopped parsley to garnish

Use a damp cloth to clean the mushrooms. Cut or tear them into pieces. Heat the oil in a pan and sauté the red and green pepper, onion and garlic until softened. Add the mushrooms and continue to sauté until they lose some of their liquid and begin to brown. Stir in the pimenton and red pepper flakes, if using.

Add the potatoes, wine, water, salt and thyme or rosemary. Cover and simmer until potatoes are very tender, about 30 minutes.

Serve hot, garnished with parsley.

"Grow bag" with oyster mushrooms.
The wild mushrooms whetted my appetite for more funghi. A few days later, at a local garden shop, I spied a mushroom “grow bag,” (filled with mulch and straw, it is inoculated with mushroom spores) already sprouting oyster mushrooms. I couldn’t resist bringing it home and harvesting a pile of them to cook with regular cultivated white mushrooms.

Mushrooms sauteed with garlic, a favorite tapa dish.

Champiñones al Ajillo
Mushrooms Sautéed with Garlic

This is a favorite tapa in Spanish bars. Some tapa bars specialize in seasonal wild mushrooms—chanterelles, boletus and more. The recipe can be adjusted to use any wild or cultivated mushroom, although the timing will differ depending on the variety. For instance, boletus give out a lot of water and need longer sautéing than cultivated white mushrooms.  Serve the mushrooms as a tapa, with bread or heaped on toasts; or as a starter, piled into vol-au-vent pastry shells, or as a side dish (sensational alongside steak). Leftovers? Add cream, reheat and serve with rice or pasta

Makes 6 tapas or sides.

2 pounds mushrooms
6 tablespoons olive oil
6 cloves garlic, sliced crosswise
2 ounces chopped bacon or fatty serrano ham
Red chili flakes (optional)
1 teaspoon salt
½ cup dry Sherry
½ cup chopped flat-leaf parsley

Clean the mushrooms immediately before cooking. If they are large, cut them in half through the stems, then slice them thickly. Very small mushrooms can be quartered.

Heat the oil in a large frying pan. Add the garlic, bacon or ham and chili and sauté 2 minutes. Add the mushrooms and continue sautéing, about 6 minutes. Add the salt and Sherry and cook 6 minutes longer. Stir in the parsley. Serve the mushrooms hot.

Freshly "harvested" oyster mushrooms.

Saturday, November 23, 2013


Two kinds of sweet potatoes, orange and white.
In the US, Christmas has to wait, at least, until after the Thanksgiving holiday. In Spain, without that cut-off date, Christmas decorations and foods begin to appear early in November. Already the boxes of special sweets are stacked in shops, hams (serrano and ibérico) are stocked and awaiting the buyers, glittery decorations and lights gleam in shop windows. And, my village neighbors are already making empanadillas—fried turnovers with sweet potato filling, a Christmas treat.

Sweet potatoes, grown in southern Spain (called batata or boniato), appear in the market in time for All Saints’ Day (November 1), when they are roasted and eaten with chestnuts, and last through Christmas. (Sweet potatoes are not yams. Real yams, ñames, a starchy root, somewhat resembling sweet potatoes, are grown and eaten in the Canary Islands, much the same as in West Africa.)

Both orange-fleshed and white sweet potatoes are found in Spanish markets. The orange ones are sweeter and have a more pasty flesh; the white ones are mealy, somewhat like regular potatoes.

My kids, when they were in primary school in the village, ate lunch with a Spanish family (no school lunchroom in those days). This time of year, they often had boiled sweet potato for dessert or snack—no added sugar, just the sweet flesh spooned out of the skin.
Although I’ve lived 40 years outside of the United States, I still like to celebrate Thanksgiving, an occasion for feasting, for getting together with friends and family, for enjoying harvest foods.

Jugs of new olive oil.
This week I am celebrating the bringing home of the new olive oil! I took five sacks of my olives to the mill and came home with 10 liters of extra virgin olive oil. (I picked all those olives, with help from my son Ben, who cut down high branches for me.)

As it happens (once in a thousand years or so), this Thanksgiving (Thursday, November 28) is also the first night of Hanukkah, the Jewish festival of lights, when it is customary to eat fried foods. So. Let’s bring this all together now! Sweet potatoes, olive oil, Thanksgiving, Hanukkah! Good times! Celebrate!

Frying caramelizes the sugars in sweet potatoes.

Sweet Potato Fries

Serve these sweet-savory fries alongside a hamburger dolloped with some harissa-ketchup. Or, how about a turkey-burger and cranberry ketchup for a casual take on traditional Thanksgiving foods?

Burger and sweet potato fries.

Peel the sweet potatoes, cut them as for “french” fries. Heat olive oil in a skillet to a depth of 1 ½ inches. Fry the potatoes until they are golden-brown and tender (about 8 minutes). Drain on paper towels. Sprinkle with salt and ground cumin.

Fried turnovers are filled with sweet potatoes.

Turnovers with Sweet Potato Jam
Empanadillas Rellenas con Batatas

These small fried pies could definitely fill in for good-ole pumpkin pie. And, take a flavor hint—aniseed, clove and cinnamon are marvelous with sweet potatoes.

Makes about 28 small turnovers.

Spread filling on dough.

1 recipe for dough for fried pastries (below)
1 ½ cups sweet potato jam (recipe follows)
Oil for deep frying (olive or sunflower)
2 tablespoons sugar

Roll out the dough very thinly on a lightly floured board. Prick the dough all over with a fork. Use a 4 ½ -inch cookie cutter or the rim of a glass to cut circles.

Working with one disk at a time, place a spoonful of jam on one half. Moisten the edges of the dough with water, then fold the circle in half, enclosing the filling. With fingers or the tines of a fork, crimp the edges together firmly to seal the turnover. Place on a tray.

Continue filling and shaping the remainder of the dough.

Heat oil in a deep skillet to a depth of at least 1 ½ inches. Fry the turnovers, four or five at a time, until they are golden brown on both sides. Remove and drain on paper toweling. Sprinkle them with the sugar.

Filled turnovers are fried in oil.

Dough for Fried Pastries
Masa Para  Empanadillas

¾ cup olive oil
1 strip lemon peel
1 tablespoon sesame seed
1 tablespoon aniseed
½ tablespoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
½ cup white wine
1 tablespoon brandy or anise brandy
2 tablespoons orange juice
¼ teaspoon salt
3 ¼ cups all-purpose flour plus additional for flouring board

Heat the oil in a small skillet with the lemon peel. Remove from heat, cool for 1 minute. Remove and discard the lemon peel. Then stir in the sesame seed and aniseed. Pour into a mixing bowl and allow to cool.

Add the cinnamon, cloves, wine, brandy, orange juice and salt to the oil. Using a large wooden spoon, stir in the flour to make a soft dough. Turn out on a lightly floured board and knead very briefly, just to combine well.

Let the dough rest, refrigerated, for at least 1 hour or up to 12 hours.

Roll out very thinly (less than 1/8th inch) on a lightly floured board. Shape and fry as in the following recipe.

Fried pies are filled with sweet potatoes and sprinkled with sugar.

Sweet Potato Jam
Polvo de Batatas

This sweet paste, used to fill the turnovers, can also be rolled into balls and served as a “candy.” You will need about 2 ½ pounds of sweet potatoes to obtain 2 cups of cooked pulp. Cook them until tender, drain well, then mash or put through a sieve. Pumpkin or other squash can be used instead of sweet potatoes.

Makes about 2 ¾ cups of jam.

2 cups sweet potato purée
2 ¼ cups sugar
1 teaspoon minced lemon peel
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
3-inch cinnamon stick

Place the purée, sugar, lemon peel, cloves and cinnamon in a heavy pan. Place on heat, partially covered to prevent splattering, until mixture is bubbling. Reduce heat and cook, stirring frequently with a wooden spoon, until the purée is thickened to jam consistency, 20-25 minutes. (A heat disperser is useful to prevent the purée from scorching.)

Place in clean jars and seal. Cool completely, then refrigerate. Keeps for several weeks.

Saturday, November 16, 2013


Mano a mano.
Years ago, before my kids were born, I lived in a rustic mill house in the country, with no electricity and no running water. Or, I should say, the running water came from a rushing stream, carried to the house in buckets. When I eventually built a new house in a small olive grove, I installed both water and electricity. No more kerosene lamps! No bucket showers!

I immediately went out and bought myself an electric blender, a Braun Minipimer. A hand-held immersion blender, it was at that time a “revolutionary” new design.

After twenty-five years—and much gazpacho, baby-food purée and mayonnaise—my blender finally gave out. I was right in the middle of testing gazpacho recipes for the cookbook, My Kitchen in Spain. So I went right out and got another, basically the same Braun blender, 300 watts. But this one came with an additional attachment—a mini-processor for chopping.

I found I used that chopping gadget quite a lot—much handier than pulling out the food processor (Moulinex, 400 watts). In fact, in 13 years, I seem to have used it so much that I eventually wore out the gears or whatever it is that  connects the motor to rotate the blade. The blender still works, although it’s making a funny buzzing noise when it’s in operation. (A blender in Spanish is a batidora; a food processor is called a robot de cocina.)

Meanwhile, my good friend Charlotte was having her own blender dilemma. She was devoted to an old Osterizer (600 watts), brought from the US and run with a transformer on Spanish current. When the glass container broke, she was devastated. She had a practically new Braun immersion blender hanging in her kitchen. Even though I raved about it, she resisted using it, claiming nothing was as good as the Osterizer.  

So I went blender shopping. I found a new Osterizer for Charlotte, manufactured for European current. Although she was heard to say, “well, they don’t make them the way they used to” (plastic where the old one had metal), she seems delighted.

My new kitchen tool--a Bosch blender and mini-processor.
And, for myself, I found on sale a Bosch combo immersion blender, mini-processor/chopper plus whip attachment. With a whopping 750 watts, it will even grind ice.

I’m putting the new tool through it’s paces—blending last week’s pumpkin soup (see that recipe in the previous blog post); finely chopping onions for meatballs; making a quickie basil-walnut pesto using the chopper;

Puréeing beans for bean-kale soup.
puréeing beans for Tuscan bean-kale soup (the recipe by Nancy Harmon Jenkins is on the Saveur web site); coarsely chopping nuts for a cookie recipe;

Mini-processor for chopping nuts.

Puréeing mangos with yogurt for ice cream.
 puréeing mangos with yogurt for “ice cream” (recipe).

I still haven’t tried out the whipping attachment. Are meringues coming up next? Oh, in my appliance nook are also a standing mixer, a Sunbeam Mixmaster that is more than 40 years old, which I pull out whenever a birthday cake is on the horizon, and a hand-held mixer which I never use.

I’m pleased with my new equipment, although I don’t really need such high wattage (300-400 watts is adequate for making gazpacho and most purées).

Shredded zucchini for savory flan.
So, it looks like it’s retirement for the good old Braun. But, the old Moulinex processor, with its cracked food bowl repaired with strapping tape, stays, as I like the grating disk—perfect for shredding zucchini and grating cheese for a zucchini flan (recipe ).

Zucchini flan.

I’m hoping that the life expectancy of the new blender is at least as long as the one it replaces. In my kitchen, it gets almost daily use. Or, is there a Thermomix in my future?

Sunday, November 10, 2013


Pumpkin soup with chopped apple.

A plethora of pumpkins! I’ve got some green pumpkins with orange flesh raised in the garden by son Ben and grandson Leo and some butternut squash brought to me by my gardener, Juan. So, I’m flipping through my files, searching for pumpkin recipes.

Leo with pumpkins.

Some I will steam until tender, then puree and freeze the flesh for making pumpkin pie and pudding for holiday meals. I’ll be making some more alboronía, a pumpkin and chickpea stew (that recipe I posted only a few weeks ago). And, calabaza frita, “fried pumpkin,” an old-fashioned Andalusian recipe.

But, here’s a great rendition of pumpkin soup. This recipe is adapted from one given to me by Carlos Falcó, Marqués de Griñón, who makes superlative vino de pago, single-estate wine, at Dominio de Valdepusa, in Toledo province.

The Marqués pours wine at lunch.
A few years ago when I was researching the foods and wines of La Mancha (central Spain), I had the good fortune to be invited by Don Carlos to a wine tasting and lunch at the estate on the first day of the vendimia, or grape harvest. (My interview with him about wine appears in COOKING FROM THE HEART OF SPAIN, FOOD OF LA MANCHA; William Morrow, 2006.)

This soup makes an elegant starter for a holiday dinner. You can change its basic personality by swapping the finishing garnishes. Add color with a swirl of red pepper puree. Add  texture with pomegranate seeds or toasted almonds. Make it richer with a dollop of Greek yogurt or cream. Turn it into a delightful vegetarian main-course meal by adding cooked brown rice and grated cheese.

Swirl cream into the pumpkin puree.

Red pepper puree and chopped chives to garnish the soup.

I used butternut squash for the soup. Squash, carrots, red bell pepper and leeks make a very sweet soup. A touch of Sherry vinegar balances the flavors. Homemade chicken stock is best, but canned broth can be substituted. My stock was made with the addition of a chile pepper, which, I must say, added a lot to the finished soup. How much salt you will need depends on how much salt in the stock.

Roasting the pumpkin and bell pepper before incorporating them in the soup adds an extra dimension of flavor and makes it easy to peel them. This step is optional.

I use an immersion blender to purée the soup. Passing the purée through a chinois sieve makes it especially smooth and creamy.

Pomegranate seeds add color and crunch to a smooth soup.

Cream of Pumpkin Soup
Crema de Calabaza

Serves 6.

3 tablespoons olive oil
1 leek, chopped
1 diced carrot
1 ½ cups chopped red bell pepper
2 cloves chopped garlic
1 ¼ pounds pumpkin, peeled, seeded and cut in 1-inch cubes (2 ½ cups)
1 medium potato, diced
5 cups chicken stock
1 tablespoon Sherry vinegar
1 strip orange zest
Sprig of fresh thyme
1 bay leaf
Dash of cloves
¼ teaspoon cumin
½ teaspoon salt or to taste
1 cup milk or light cream (optional)
Diced apple to garnish

Heat the oil in a soup pot and sauté the leek, carrot, and pepper on medium heat for 5 minutes. Add the garlic and pumpkin and sauté 5 minutes more.

Add the potato, stock, vinegar, orange zest, thyme, bay leaf, cloves, cumin and salt. Bring the soup to a boil, cover, and simmer until pumpkin is very tender, 25 minutes.

Remove the orange zest, thyme and bay leaf. Purée the soup in a blender. Sieve it, discarding any solids. Taste for salt. If desired, thin the soup with milk or cream.

To serve, reheat the soup without allowing it to boil. Garnish with diced apple.