Friday, March 29, 2013


Cinnamon and lemon flavor springtime rice pudding.

In Spain, the days of Holy Week leading up to Easter are marked by vigilia, abstinence, when observant Catholics abstain from eating meat. But, adding a touch of sweetness to the season are several milk puddings, such as flan (recipe ); natillas, a creamy custard, and arroz con leche, milky rice pudding.

Milk puddings are typical for the season because in the springtime dairy animals are producing plenty of milk. In Asturias (northern Spain), rice pudding is made with cow’s milk and enriched with butter or cream. It is the dessert de rigueur following fabada beans (recipe ). In Andalusia (southern Spain), where I live, rice pudding is traditionally made with goat’s milk. 

Cinnamon stick and lemon peel flavor the milk. The pudding is sprinkled with additional ground cinnamon after it is ladled into bowls.

Use medium-short grain rice—the same Valencia rice used for paella—to make the pudding. Let it cook until very tender.

Arroz con Leche
Milky Rice Pudding

Serves 4.

4 cups water
¼ teaspoon salt
½ cup medium-grain rice
4 cups milk
Peel from 1 lemon
1 cinnamon stick
½ cup sugar
Ground cinnamon

Bring the water and salt to a boil in a heavy pan. Add the rice and cook for 5 minutes. Drain the rice.

Place the milk, lemon peel and cinnamon stick in the pan. When it begins to bubble (take care the milk does not boil over), stir in the par-boiled rice. Reduce heat so the rice simmers. Cook, partially covered, 12 minutes.

Stir in the sugar. Let rice simmer, uncovered, until thick and creamy, about 15 minutes. Stir frequently to prevent the milk from scorching (a heat diffusor is useful). Discard the lemon peel and cinnamon stick.

Ladle hot pudding into 4 bowls. Sprinkle liberally with ground cinnamon. Allow to cool, then refrigerate until serving time. The pudding will thicken as it cools.

Saturday, March 23, 2013


The chef called it cazuela de fideos, a seafood and noodle casserole that belongs to Malaga’s traditional kitchen. But, hoo boy, this was nothing like any cazuela I’d seen before.

"Noodles" with sea bass.
The chef concocted a saffron-tinged shrimp fumet, thickened it with agar-agar, inserted it with a plunger into a plastic macaroni tube (sort of like the drip tubes used in hospitals). Once it had set, he extruded the “noodle” onto a plate, snipped it into short lengths that looked a lot like handmade pasta. Topped with olive oil-poached sea bass and a green pea puree, the dish was a riff on the traditional.

Another pair of chefs spun off variations on Málaga’s traditional boquerones fritos, fried fresh anchovies. In one version, the fresh fish were marinated with orange, lime, bay leaf and Sherry vinegar, then dipped in tempura batter before frying.

Anchovy tempura.
In another, the anchovies were combined with finely chopped onion and peppers, added to batter and dropped by spoonfuls into oil to make buñuelos, fritters. The one traditional ingredient that tied them all together was extra virgin olive oil as the frying medium.

These were several of the demos I attended at a three-day gastronomy forum, Foro Gastroarte, that took place in Málaga last week. The Gastroarte collective is made up of a group of 23 top chefs and culinary professionals from Andalusia (southern Spain). Among them is Málaga’s own Dani Garcia, whose Restaurante Calima in Marbella has two Michelin stars. Dani recently opened Manzanilla Spanish Brasserie in New York City .

I enjoyed the “show cooking” and marveled at the modernist appliances and clever use of ingredients. I especially liked the wit and humor of these chefs, who are using the basic products from the sea, farms and pastures of Andalusia to create wondrous new dishes. But, I am not likely to whip up any “air” of plankton, nor cook my sea bass sous vide nor freeze beef marrow in a PacoJet.

Luckily, I found that Chef Dani Garcia's modernist genius is grounded in the traditional kitchen--that of his mother. His recently published (in Spanish) EN LA COCINA DE MI MADRE, In My Mother’s Kitchen—Recipes and tips recalling timeless flavors, has recipes that are easily made in the home kitchen.

“I seek ideas and new concepts framed by my memory,” writes Dani. "Lentils with cheese, cuttlefish roe, rice with a rabbit that my father hunted. A family legacy, a mixture of tradition and improvisation, fusion and necessity.”

Thick-skinned mature lemons are almost sweet.
The book is divided into chapters by season. I turned to springtime and found an unusual recipe for Ensalada de limones cascarúos, Salad of Thick-skinned Lemons. Dani writes that he remembers as a child,  when his parents took him into the center of Málaga for Holy Week processions, that street vendors sold fat, thick-skinned lemons, peeled and sprinkled with salt. “With low acidity and a marvelous touch of sweetness.” From the memory, he invented the salad. “I close my eyes and I see myself walking through Málaga streets with my lemon, peeled, with just the right amount of salt, in my hand.

“Ah ha,” says I. “So that’s what to do with those huge, thick-skinned lemons still on the tree.” I went out to the garden and picked a few of the “old” lemons, cut into one and tasted. Absolutely, the sharpness has receded, so the fruit tastes almost sweet. Brilliant. (The tree has huge mature fruit, thin-skinned green lemons and fragrant blossoms, all at the same time.)

Salad of lemons, salt, olive oil and mint.

Dani’s recipe is simplicity itself—peel the lemons, cut them in sections, sprinkle with salt and plenty of extra virgin olive oil. His mom suggests sprigs of mint to garnish. And, if the lemons should be very tart, a pinch of sugar.

Ajetes are baby garlic shoots.
I added some chopped ajetes, green garlic shoots from the garden to the lemon salad. How about adding some sliced avocado and cooked shrimp? No special equipment needed.

Saturday, March 16, 2013


“I say it’s spinach and I say to hell with it.” That’s more or less what old man Vega said the first time he tasted broccoli. This was back in the early 70’s when broccoli was unknown in local Spanish markets. In our small garden plot, we were growing just two vegetables, broccoli in the winter and sweet corn in the summer.

Broccoli did very well in our sun-baked huerta (garden). (Sweet corn did not.) I took a basketful of it to Maria who did the cooking at the tapas bar where Vega was a regular. Vega farmed an irrigated plot below the village and regaled us with his tomatoes and peppers. I had visions of becoming a broccoli entrepreneur--Vega would grow it and I would market it.

María had never eaten broccoli before, either. She gamely prepared it, sautéed and mixed with eggs in a tortilla, pretty much the way she made spinach tortilla for the tapa bar. But, for Vega, that was the beginning and the end of the broccoli campaign.

We should have stuck with it! By the 1990s, broccoli began appearing in Spanish markets. Now it’s a cash cow in the agri-business. More than 60 percent of the broccoli grown in Spain, mostly in the province of Murcia (eastern Spain), is exported.  My guess is that the other 39 percent that stays in Spain is being consumed by expats like me, who love this veggie, because I still don’t see Spaniards eating it.

Maybe that’s about to change, with a current PR and marketing campaign (see the article at Foods From Spain). Thirty-five restaurants around Spain are including broccoli on their menus. Top Spanish chef, Rodrigo de la Calle, even cooked broccoli at Madrid Fusión, the big gastronomy event in January.

And if, after all these years, broccoli is trending, can kale be far behind? 

While there aren’t any traditional Spanish recipes for broccoli, recipes for other vegetables, such as cauliflower, can be easily adapted for broccoli. As a side, I like broccoli straight-up, with just extra virgin olive oil and lemon juice. I use leftover cooked broccoli scrambled with mushrooms and eggs for a revuelto. Here are two more ways to get broccoli talking Spanish.

Broccoli with a quick sauce of olive oil, garlic, almonds and pimentón.

Broccoli, Mule-Driver’s Style
Brócoli al Ajo Arriero

Before there were trucks and trains, muleteers once transported wool and wheat from inland regions to the seaboard for shipping abroad and carried salt-fish and other imports to the interior. En route, they stopped at rustic wayside inns, where the wine was rough and the food was simple. You can expect to find garlic in any dish prepared “mule-driver’s style.” This simple hot dressing is added to cooked vegetables or salt cod. The almonds in this version are a bit of a refinement. Using smoked pimentón (paprika) gives an extra dimension to the broccoli.

Serves 6 to 8.

1 ¾ pounds broccoli
3 tablespoons olive oil
4 cloves garlic, sliced crosswise
1 tablespoon slivered almonds
Red pepper flakes (optional)
1 teaspoon sweet pimentón (paprika, smoked or unsmoked)
1 tablespoon vinegar
3 tablespoons water
1 tablespoon chopped parsley

Cut broccoli into 2-inch florets. Peel the stem, cut in half lengthwise, and cut crosswise into 2-inch pieces.

Cook broccoli in boiling salted water until tender, 6 to 8 minutes. Drain and place in a warm serving bowl.

While broccoli is cooking, heat the oil in a small skillet. Add the sliced garlic and almonds and fry them until they begin to turn golden, about 30 seconds. Remove the skillet from the heat.

Stir in the red pepper flakes and pimentón and immediately the vinegar and 3 tablespoons of water. Add the chopped parsley.

Spoon the garlic and almond dressing over the broccoli. Serve immediately.

Broccoli gratin with garlicky-lemon alioli.

Broccoli with Alioli Gratin
Brócoli Gratinado con Alioli

For the alioli (garlic mayonnaise)
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 egg, at room temperature
¾ cup extra virgin olive oil
½  teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

Put the garlic and egg in a blender and pulse until garlic is finely chopped. With the motor running, pour in the oil in a slow trickle, allowing it to be absorbed by the egg before adding more. Blend in all the oil. The sauce will emulsify and thicken. Blend in the salt and lemon juice.

The sauce will keep, refrigerated, for up to 2 days. Makes 1 cup of sauce.

For the broccoli gratin.
1 pound broccoli, cut in florets and stems in 2-inch pieces
½ cup alioli
1 tablespoon fine dry bread crumbs
Pimentón (paprika)

Cook the broccoli in boiling salted water until crisp-tender, 4 minutes. Refresh in ice water (this keeps the broccoli bright green) and drain well. Spread the broccoli in a single layer in an oiled oven-safe pan. Pour the alioli over the top of the broccoli. Sprinkle with bread crumbs and a little pimentón.

Place the pan under a preheated broiler until the top is golden, about 5 minutes. Serve hot.

Sunday, March 10, 2013


Chicken cooks with shellfish in a rich sauce for Spanish surf 'n turf.
Years ago when I started collecting recipes around Spain, I came across one in Cataluña (northeastern Spain) that struck me as really exotic, “Chicken with Lobster.” Chicken cooked with shellfish seemed pretty strange, until I recalled the American steakhouse specialty, surf and turf—lobster with steak.

When I first tasted the dish, also known as mar y montaña, sea and mountain, I assumed adding chicken was a way to extend the pricey lobster. A single lobster plus chicken could feed six or more. I have since read in Coleman Andrews’ CATALAN CUISINE that its origin was exactly the opposite, the lobster was to extend the chicken: “Chicken was expensive, taking time to raise and money to feed, while every cast of the net brought up shrimp and spiny lobster,” wrote Andrews. (Langosta, by the way, is spiny lobster, which has no claws. The kind with claws is called bogavante in Spanish.

I have come across many variations of mar y montaña (or mar i muntanya in Catalan). The three in Coleman Andrews’s book are chicken and shrimp; rabbit with snails, monkfish, cuttlefish and shrimp, and rabbit with pork, sole and mussels. The most elaborate version I found, Ampurdan style, calls for jumbo shrimp (langostinos), sea crayfish (cigalas), cuttlefish, mussels, sausage, pigs’ trotters, rabbit, chicken, snails and mushrooms!

What all of these land and sea combos have in common is the addition of a picada. Picada is a paste made of ground nuts, garlic and bread that both thickens and seasons the sauce. The picada for mar y montaña usually also contains chocolate. Now, that really is exotic! Unless, of course, you’ve already savored Mexican mole, also a sauce with ground nuts and chocolate.

Cuttlefish, cleaned and ready to cut up.
Cuttlefish, like squid and octopus, is a cephalopod. It has eight short tentacles, an interior cuttlebone and ink sac. The medium-sized cuttlefish (jibia or sepia) shown in the photo is cleaned and ready to cut up. The thick flesh needs slow cooking (about an hour) to become tender. Tiny ones can be grilled or flash-fried.
Over the years, I have adapted mar y montaña to suit myself, as lobster is not readily available or affordable. (Although, the last time I shopped at HiperCor, El Corte Ingles’s supermarket, I saw lobsters, the kind with claws, imported from Canada at a reasonable price.) I usually make the dish with free-range chicken and cuttlefish (jibia or sepia). Meaty cuttlefish has such a deep-sea flavor. If cuttlefish is not available, squid or monkfish could be used instead, although they do not require such long cooking. 

Typically, a braised dish such as this is served on its own, with only crusty bread or triangles of fried bread as an accompaniment. But, because the picada-enriched sauce is so delicious, I like to serve rice as a side to soak it up. Yesterday, instead of rice, I served mar y montaña with creamy polenta. Wonderful.

Chicken cooks with cuttlefish and shrimp in a sauce of almonds and chocolate.

Mar y Montaña
Surf and Turf (Chicken with Seafood)

Serves 4 to 6.

2 tablespoons olive oil or lard
1 slice bread, crusts removed
3 cloves garlic
30 almonds, blanched and skinned
Parsley sprig
4 jumbo shrimp
2 pounds chicken in serving pieces
Salt and pepper 
1 chicken liver (optional)
1 onion, chopped
1 cup chopped tomatoes (3 medium)
1 pound cleaned cuttlefish, cut in bite-size pieces
2/3 cup dry Sherry or white wine
1 tablespoon dry anisette or brandy 
2/3 cup water or stock
Strip of orange zest
1 bay leaf
½  teaspoon saffron, crushed 
1 ounce dark chocolate, chopped
Pinch of cinnamon
Fried bread to serve (optional)           
Chopped parsley to garnish

Heat the oil or lard in a large cazuela or deep skillet. Fry the bread, 2 cloves of the garlic, almonds and a sprig of parsley until bread and almonds are golden. Skim out and reserve.

Sauté the jumbo shrimp in remaining oil until they are pink and just cooked through. Remove and set aside.

Season the chicken pieces with salt and pepper. Brown them in the fat with the chicken liver, if using. Remove the chicken pieces and liver when browned. Add the chopped onion and remaining clove of garlic, chopped. Sauté 5 minutes until onion begins to brown. Add the tomatoes and cook a few minutes over medium-high heat. Add the cut-up cuttlefish, Sherry, anisette, water, orange zest and bay leaf. Cover and simmer 15 minutes.

Return the chicken pieces (but not the liver) to the cazuela. Continue cooking until both cuttlefish and chicken are tender, about 40 minutes longer.

Meanwhile, prepare the picada. In a mortar, food processor or blender, grind together the fried bread, almonds, 2 cloves of garlic and parsley, chicken liver, saffron, chocolate and cinnamon. Mix with about ½ cup of sauce from the cazuela and blend to make a smooth paste.

Stir the picada into the cazuela. Cook 15 minutes longer. Place the shrimp on top and garnish with chopped parsley. Serve with strips of fried bread, if desired.

Chocolate is a secret ingredient in the sauce.

Sunday, March 3, 2013


Fabada--maybe the best bean dish in the world.
Just when I thought spring was around the corner, a cold front moving across southern Spain dumped snow on the nearby mountains and left me again huddling by the fire. Perfect weather to cook up a pot of beans, which keeps the kitchen windows steamed up and fills the house with its aroma.

I like all kinds of beans, but possibly my favorite bean dish is fabada asturiana, beans and sausages cooked in the style of Asturias. Asturias, in the chill northern Cantabrian coast, is noted for its cheeses (such as blue Cabrales), its fabulous seafood and this singular bean dish. Fabada is so popular that it turns up all over Spain. Sort of as Boston baked beans are not limited to Boston.

Fabes beans.

The proper beans for fabada are Asturian-grown fabes. These are extra-large white kidney beans that cook up creamy and tender. (They can be ordered in the US from If these are not available, however, I suggest substituting butter beans or cannellini beans.

Asturian smoked morcilla.
Fabada may be one of the few dishes in Spanish cuisine that contains no olive oil. Panceta, ham bone and two kinds of sausages provide the flavor package. Asturias, with its damp maritime climate, produces chorizo and morcilla (blood sausage) that are, unusually in Spanish charcuteria, smoke-cured. If these traditional sausages are not available, use regular cooking chorizo and morcilla, but add a spoonful of pimentón de la Vera (smoked paprika) to the beans as they cook.

For an insider's view of Asturias, the sausages and fabada, have a look at this site, with a video clip, produced by Jeffrey Weiss, whose book, CHARCUTERIA--THE SOUL OF SPAIN--comes out in the fall.

 The beans need to be soaked for 12 hours (or overnight) before cooking. I have extremely hard water, so I use a pinch of baking soda in the water or else bottled water with low mineral content to correct the hardness. Otherwise, the beans never get really tender. Drain the soaked beans and put them to cook in fresh water.

Fabada is best cooked in a cazuela, a wide earthenware casserole, but any shallow pan will work. Add water to a depth of two fingers above the beans. Keep the beans barely covered with liquid so that the skins don’t split.

Savory beans with sausages.

Fabada Asturiana
Asturian Beans and Sausages

Serves 4 to 6.

Soaking swells the beans (left).
1 pound dried large white beans, soaked 12 hours
8 ounces lean bacon or panceta, in one piece
Ham bone or a chunk of cured ham
8 ounces chorizo sausage (preferably smoked Asturian)
8 ounces morcilla sausage (preferably smoked Asturian)
2 bay leaves
Pinch of crushed saffron
Salt and pepper

Drain the beans and put them in a cazuela. Blanch the bacon in boiling water for 2 minutes and drain. Add it to the beans. Add water to cover. Bring to a boil and skim off the froth.

Add the piece of ham, chorizo, morcilla and bay leaves. Bring to a boil and skim again. Add saffron, dissolved in a little liquid.

Cover and cook until beans are tender, 1 to 2 hours, adding cold water as necessary so beans are always covered with liquid. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Don’t stir the beans, but shake the casserole from time to time. Let the fabada rest 15 minutes before serving. Use scissors to cut the bacon, ham and sausages into bite-sized pieces.

©Janet Mendel