Saturday, December 26, 2015


Planning a dinner party menu, I surveyed the possibilities at the supermarket. This time of year, the choices are amazing. I decided to pass by the wee suckling pigs, great hunks of beef roasts, haunches of brined pork, whole salmon, lobsters. 


It was the poultry display that roped me in. There were several types of boned and stuffed birds—whole turkey, breasts, chickens. I like the ease of boned-out roasts, but I’ve never cared for the butcher’s stuffing mix, usually too much ground pork and too much salt for my taste. Nor did I want to spend time boning a bird myself.

Mini-chickens at top, center; partridge on the right; capon, duck.
A whole turkey would be way too much. Same for those gorgeous whole capons. Whole duck presented the opposite problem—not much meat on one duck (as the carcass is heavier, proportionately, than chicken or turkey) and it gets pretty expensive to buy two or three. (I did pick up a couple duck breasts, magret, to stash in the freezer for my own delectation.) 

In the small-bird section, I found partridges, quail and mini-chickens, called picantones. Weighing about 16 ounces/450 grams each, one bird would serve one or two persons. Stuffed with raisins, apricots and nuts, they would be special enough to serve to guests.

Small chickens, stuffed and roasted, make individual servings.

My recipe, actually, is for squab, which are young doves or pigeons, once a common bird in Castilla and La Mancha, where every farmyard had a dovecote. Besides providing an excellent source of guano fertilizer, it yielded tender young squabs for the stewpot. In fact, it’s what Don Quixote had for dinner on Sundays—"y algún palomino de añadidura los domingos"—"some squab on Sundays as well."

I prepared this recipe with four 1-pound small chickens. Squabs, if available, weigh slightly less, so figure 6 to 8 birds for the same quantity of stuffing. Cornish game hens (which are not wild game, but another sort of small chicken) weigh between 1 ¼ and 1 ½ pounds, so three birds would work for this recipe.

The recipe calls for a medium-dry Sherry, such as amontillado or oloroso seco . You only need a half cup—but the wine is so fantastic you’ll be delighted you sought out the bottle (serve it with toasted almonds, Spanish ham and sausage, mushroom croquettes). Otherwise, use dry fino Sherry.

Walnuts, dried apricots and raisins go into the stuffing for small birds.

Dinner serving, with roasted pumpkin and rainbow chard from the garden.

Squab or Small Chickens Stuffed with Raisins, Apricots, and Walnuts
Pichones Rellenos

Serves 4 as a main course or, if each bird is split in half, 8 as part of a larger menu.

4 1-pound chickens
Salt and freshly-ground black pepper
1 lemon
¼ cup seedless raisins
½ cup chopped, dried apricots
½ cup medium-dry Sherry, such as amontillado or oloroso seco
3 tablespoons olive oil
½ cup chopped shallots
¼ cup diced bacon
1 cup fresh bread crumbs
1/3 cup coarsely chopped walnuts
¼ cup chopped parsley
Pinch of thyme
½ cup white wine
1 cup chicken broth
¼ cup cream

Rinse the chickens and pat dry. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Grate some of the lemon zest into a bowl and reserve. Squeeze lemon juice into the cavities of the chickens. Allow them to come to room temperature, 30 minutes.

Combine the raisins and apricots in a mixing bowl with reserved lemon zest. Add 3 tablespoons of the Sherry. (Reserve remaining Sherry for the sauce.) Macerate the fruits 30 minutes.

Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a small skillet and sauté half of the shallots on a low heat until softened, 5 minutes. Add the diced bacon to the skillet and sauté 1 minute.

Add the shallots and bacon to the raisins and apricots. Add the bread crumbs, walnuts, parsley, ½ teaspoon of salt, pepper, and thyme. Combine well.

Bondage--truss the chickens.
Fill the cavities of the chickens with the stuffing mixture. Skewer the openings closed. Tie the legs together with kitchen twine.

Heat remaining 2 tablespoons oil in a large skillet. Slowly brown the birds on all sides, 8 to 10 minutes. (Brown them in 2 batches if necessary.) Remove when browned and place in a shallow roasting pan just large enough to hold them.

Preheat oven to 375ºF.

Ready for roasting.

Pour the white wine and ½ cup water over the birds and place them in the oven, uncovered, until they reach an internal temperature of 160º, 30 to 40 minutes.

While chickens are roasting, add remaining shallots to oil remaining in the large skillet and sauté 3 minutes. Add the broth and remaining Sherry. Bring to a boil, then simmer 10 minutes.

When chickens are roasted, remove them to a platter. Remove the skewers and twine. Tent the birds with foil and keep warm. If chickens are to be served in halves, place them on a cutting board and cut them through the breastbone and back.

Add ¼ cup of water to the roasting pan and scrape up any drippings. Add to the skillet with broth and Sherry. Bring to a boil. Carefully pour through a strainer into a saucepan. Add the cream. Cook gently 5 minutes.

Serve the squab accompanied by the sauce.

A stuffing of dried fruits and nuts, a sauce with mellow Sherry. Lovely for a dinner party.

Saturday, December 19, 2015


Roscos de vino--an Andalusian Christmas cookie.

It took me a long time to get to like Spanish Christmas sweets—the ring cookies heavily flavored with aniseed, fried pastries filled with a sort of pumpkin jam and tiny lard cakes that crumbled into bits in the hand. They were all so different from the buttery, icing-topped cookies I knew growing up in Midwest America.

When I began collecting recipes, I joined village women in their kitchens to make many of these beloved holiday cookies and pastries. Gradually, I came to love them.

Mantecados are melt-in-the mouth cookies made with lard, almonds, cinnamon and sesame.

Nowadays, in my village, a few women still make homemade sweets. But, more and more, these are produced industrially. The town of Estepa in the province of Sevilla is renowned for its mantecados, cinnamon lard cookies, which are said to have originated in the 16th century in the Santa Clara convent.

Mantecados are the first in the trinity of Andalusian Christmas cookies—the other two are  polverones, “powder” cookies, and roscos de vino, tiny, wine-scented doughnuts. Polvorones are made with virtually the same lard dough as mantecados. After baking, they are dusted heavily with powdered sugar to “powder” them.

The winter hog-butchering season coincides with the Christmas holidays. After the hams are salted and the sausages hung to cure, pork fat is rendered to make pure, white lard. Lard makes melt-in-the mouth cookies. Mantecados also are made with olive oil. However, butter or other shortening is definitely not a substitute. (Yes, I know that so-called "Mexican wedding cookies," with butter, were originally Andalusian mantecados and polvorones.)

I call my homemade cookies “artisanal” because I bought a hunk of ibérico pork fat, rendered and strained  it to make pure lard.  I picked the almonds, cracked them, blanched and skinned them, toasted them in the oven, then ground them to meal.

Pork fat for making lard.

Do not use packaged lard for these cookies, as it is a hydrogenated product. Either render your own or find a butcher who makes it. You will need about 1 ½ pounds of pork fat to make 2 cups of lard. Chop the fat and heat it gently until melted. Strain. Cool and refrigerate, covered. The rendered fat solidifies and turns white as it cools.

In both of these recipes, the flour is lightly toasted before mixing. If you are making both cookies, prepare enough flour for them both in one go. This can be done a day or more in advance. Stir the flour every 5 minutes while toasting to avoid scorching it. It should be a pale gold in color. Let it cool completely, then sift the flour.

You can make these cookies bigger or thicker than I specify in the recipes. But, remember, that will change both the baking time and the yield. 

The cookies keep well in a cool place. They stay firmer if kept refrigerated.

Cinnamon-Lard Christmas Cookes

Let the baked cookies cool 10 minutes on the baking sheet before lifting them with a spatula, otherwise they will crumble.

Makes about 30 cookies.

Toast flour and almonds.
2 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
1 cup ground almonds
2 teaspoons cinnamon
Pinch of salt
1 cup lard
1 cup confectioners’ sugar, sifted
1 tablespoon sesame seed

Preheat oven to 350º. Place the flour on a rimmed baking sheet and almonds on a shallow oven pan. Toast them in the oven, stirring every 5 minutes, until flour and almonds are lightly colored. The flour will be pale gold, not brown, in about 15 minutes. Ground almonds need only about 4 minutes.

Cool the flour and almonds completely. Sift the flour with cinnamon and salt.
Beat lard until fluffy.

Place the lard in a mixing bowl and, on medium speed, cream it until fluffy. Gradually add the confectioners’ sugar. Stir in the toasted flour, then the almonds.

Turn the dough out onto a board or marble work surface. Combine the dough by kneading it with a few squeezes. Gather it together in a ball and chill it for at least 1 hour or up to 24 hours.

Preheat oven to 350ºF.

Press sesame seed into the top of the dough.
Divide the dough in half. Keep one half refrigerated. Roll the other half out on an unfloured surface to a thickness of ¾ inch. Sprinkle some of the sesame seeds on top of the dough. With the rolling pin, press them into the surface of the dough.

Use a 2-inch biscuit cutter to cut rounds of the dough. Transfer them to a baking sheet lined with oven parchment. (Use a knife or offset spatula to lift them from the board.) Gather remaining dough, roll out and cut again.

Repeat rolling and cutting with the remaining half of dough.

Cool before lifting the cookies from baking sheet.

Bake the cookies for 20 to 25 minutes until they are lightly golden on top. Let them cool on baking sheet for 10 minutes. Use a spatula to lift them onto a rack to cool.

Once the cookies are cool, wrap each cookie individually in 7-inch squares of tissue paper, twisting the ends to enclose.

 Wine-Scented Ring Cookies
Roscos de Vino

There’s no sugar in this dough. The wine gives the cookies a slight sweetness. (Use Málaga muscatel, Pedro Ximenez or oloroso Sherry.) Once baked, the cookies are dusted with confectioners’ sugar.

Improvise--cut doughnut holes with cap from a marker.

Use a 2-inch doughnut cutter to cut the dough. If you don’t have one that small, use a 2-inch round cookie cutter to cut circles, then improvise with an apple corer or other tool to cut out the holes. (I used a champagne flute to cut the circles and the cap from a marker to cut out the holes.)

Makes 30 2-inch rings.

2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
½  cup (unsweetened) ground almonds
1 cup lard
½ cup sweet wine, such as Málaga muscatel,    Pedro Ximenez or oloroso Sherry
1 teaspoon cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
1 cup powdered sugar

Preheat oven to 350ºF.
Spread the flour in a shallow baking pan. Place the almonds in another pan. Toast the flour and almonds in the oven, stirring occasionally, until they are lightly toasted. Let the flour and almonds cool completely.

Sift the flour and combine it with the almonds.

Using a mixer on medium speed, beat the lard until fluffy. Beat in the wine, cinnamon and cloves. Add the flour-almond mixture in three additions, stirring in at low speed just until combined to make a soft dough. Refrigerate the dough for at least 45 minutes or up to 24 hours.

Preheat oven to 350ºF.

Divide the dough in half. Roll one half out on a board or marble work surface (you can cover it with baking parchment to avoid sticking) to a thickness of ½ inch. Use a 2-inch doughnut cutter to cut into rings. Place them on baking paper on a baking sheet. Gather up scraps of dough. Roll and cut remaining dough in the same manner. If dough becomes too soft and sticky, return it to the refrigerator to firm up.

When all of the dough has been cut, bake the rings until lightly browned, about 23 minutes. Allow the cookies to cool on the baking sheet for 5 minutes.

Place half the powdered sugar in a rimmed baking sheet. Use a spatula to transfer cookies to the sheet. Sift the remaining sugar over the cookies. Let them cool.

Once cool, the rings can be wrapped in tissue paper, as in the previous recipe.

Sweet wine in the cookies and a dusting of powdered sugar.
A basket of mantecados and roscos de vino, individually wrapped in tissue paper. (White is best.)

Cookie packets for giving to friends.

Another Spanish recipe with lard is here.

Here's a link to a Spanish TV chef making mantecados with extra virgin olive oil instead of lard (in Spanish)

Saturday, December 12, 2015


As the days grow shorter on the countdown to the winter solstice, I want bright candles, flickering flames in the fireplace, twinkling lights on a holiday tree and a pot of stew bubbling on the stove.

Spain has lots of stews and braised dishes that will fill the bill. Many are made with economical cuts of meat that need slow cooking to render them tender. In the process, they also take on flavor, of wine, herbs, vegetables and sausages with which they cook.

Chunks of lamb, braised till tender, in a sauce with dried red peppers.

I’m making a lamb stew that’s simmered in wine with four kinds of red peppers!

This dish from La Mancha derives from the rustic shepherds’ caldereta, or iron stew pot, in which meals were cooked over embers. At its most basic, the stew was eaten straight from the pot, with bread for sopping the gravy. Other versions use either the lamb liver, grilled and mashed, or ground almonds, pine nuts, or walnuts to thicken the sauce. I’ve used almonds, ground finely in the blender with the peppers to make a smooth gravy for the lamb.

If baby lamb is used, it’s usually hacked into chunks, bones and all. For larger cuts of lamb, use boneless pieces from leg or shoulder. Goat meat can be substituted for the lamb.

Keep the meat covered with liquid as it cooks and, if preparing it in advance, keep the cooked meat completely covered with liquid so that it doesn’t darken and dry out.

Dried ñora peppers and tomatoes go into the stew.

Ñoras are plum-sized, dried bitter-sweet chiles. After cooking, the soft flesh is scraped from the insides of the peppers. Mild California chile pods are a possible substitute, though they are not quite as fleshy as the ñora. Otherwise use a spoonful of sweet pimentón. Use a little hot chile in addition to the mild. A piece of red bell pepper adds to the ruddy-red color of the gravy. I like to add some smoky Pimentón de la Vera to make up for the shepherds’ wood fire smoke. (Count ‘em—that’s four kinds of peppers.) The recipe also calls for sun-dried tomatoes, an ingredient used in La Mancha. If they are not available, use a spoonful of tomato concentrate.

Serve the lamb and red pepper gravy with Mashed Potatoes with Green Garlic (that recipe is here), rice pilaf or cous cous.

Lamb stew with red pepper gravy--nice served with rice pilaf and a glass of red wine.

Lamb Stew with Red Peppers
Caldereta de Cordero

Serves 6.

2 ½ to 3 pounds boneless lamb cut from the leg or shoulder
Freshly ground black pepper
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, quartered and sliced
3 ñora peppers or 2 California chile pods, stems and seeds discarded
1 small hot dried chile, such as cayenne
4 sun-dried tomatoes, sliced
½ red bell pepper
¼ cup chopped flat-leaf parsley plus more to garnish
Sprig of thyme
2 bay leaves
2 heads garlic, char-roasted (see below for how-to), cloves peeled
1 cup dry white wine
3 cups water or lamb stock
¼ cup blanched and skinned almonds
1 teaspoon Pimentón de la Vera (sweet, bittersweet or hot)

Trim lamb of excess fat. Cut it into chunks of approximately 2 inches square. Sprinkle the pieces of lamb liberally with salt and pepper and allow to stand at room temperature for 1 hour.

Heat the oil in a large stew pot or lidded cazuela and sauté the sliced onions until lightly browned, 6 to 8 minutes. Put in the pieces of meat and turn them in the oil for a few minutes. They do not need to brown, only to lose their pink color.

Add ñoras or California chile pods with the whole dried chile, tomatoes, bell pepper, parsley, thyme, bay leaves, peeled garlic cloves and 1 teaspoon salt.

Add the wine and 3 cups of water or stock. Bring to a boil, then cover and simmer until meat is very tender, 1 to 1 ½ hours.

Lift the pieces of meat out of the cooking liquid with any vegetables clinging to them and set aside, covered tightly. Skim off fat from the top of liquid remaining in pot.

Place a strainer over a heatproof bowl and pour the liquid through it. Discard the cayenne chile and bay leaves. Lift out the pieces of ñora. Use a spoon to scrape the pulp from the inside of the ñoras or chile pods. Discard the skins and put the pulp in a blender or food processor. Scrape the pulp from the piece of bell pepper and discard the skin. Add the pulp to the blender with some of the onions, tomatoes and garlics remaining in the strainer.

Add the almonds to the blender with the Pimentón de la Vera and 1 cup of the strained liquid. Blend or process until the almonds are ground to a smooth paste.

Return the liquid to the stew pot and add the almond mixture. Bring to a boil, stirring. Return the lamb to the pot and cook gently 20 minutes longer.

 Allow the stew to settle 10 minutes. Serve garnished with chopped parsley. 

To Char-Roast a Head of Garlic

Spear the head of garlic on a fork or grasp it with tongs (protect hands with an oven mitt) and hold over a gas flame, or put under the broiler. Turn the garlic until it is charred on all sides. Peel the garlic cloves, rinse them in water, and add them to the stew to continue cooking.

Ground almonds thicken the stew's gravy.

Here are links to some other hearty winter stews.

Andalusian Vegetable and Sausage Stew (Berza Andaluza)

Potato and Wild Mushroom Stew (Guiso de Patatas y Níscalos)

Braised Lamb with Quinces (Guiso de Cordero con Membrillo)

"Altogether" Beef Stew  (Tojunto)

Saturday, December 5, 2015


It's a croquette party! Top are cheese-potato balls, bottom right are mushroom croquettes; bottom left are ham croquettes.

Golden-brown and crispy on the outside, meltingly soft on the inside and packed with flavor, a good croquette is a joy to bite into. Croquettes appeal to all the senses, they go with every drink. Genuine crowd pleasers, croquettes are perfect for holiday parties.

Oh joy! Jugs of new olive oil ! Let's fry!
 Spain being the great land of olive oil, it comes as no surprise to find that fried foods top the tapas charts. Although, because olive oil is expensive, truth be told, many cooks use lesser vegetable oils. Perhaps this is false economy, as foods fried in olive oil absorb less oil than if fried in other oils. That means the oil lasts longer and it makes for less greasy food. Another advantage: olive oil used for frying can be strained and reused four or five times, whereas other oils begin to break down and really shouldn’t be used more than twice.

Don’t use your delicate and most expensive extra virgins for frying, for the simple reason that many of their flavour qualities are lost at frying temperatures. Best are extra virgin oils from Andalusia made from the very stable Picual olive.

Fryer basket.
You can fry croquettes in either a deep-fat fryer or a deep skillet. I’ve just bought a frying pan with a basket, to make removing the fried food easier. You need enough oil to completely cover the croquettes while they are frying.

Fry food in small batches, without crowding, and allow the oil to return to frying temperature before adding a new batch.

Heat olive oil to a temperature of 180ºC / 360ºF. The oil will be shimmering, just beginning to waft a little smoke. At this temperature a crust forms on the surface of the croquette, so the oil doesn’t penetrate it, but it doesn’t brown too quickly, allowing the interior of the food to cook thoroughly.

Have ready a platter lined with paper towels. Skim croquettes out of the oil and allow them to drain a few minutes.

After frying, cool the oil, strain it and store in a dark place for using again. Olive oil, which is rich in antioxidants, can be used up to four times.

Crisp on the outside, molten inside.
Croquettes are best served straight out of the frying pan, so the golden-brown crust is crisp and the filling molten. While they require last-minute frying, the croquettes can be shaped and breaded well in advance. Put them in the fridge until ready to fry them or else freeze them on a tray. Once frozen, store the croquettes in plastic bags. Do not thaw before frying them.

Croquettes are sometimes served with a dipping sauce. I’ve got alioli (garlic mayonnaise) spiked with hot pimentón and a sweet-sour quince sauce. (Those recipes are at the end of this post.)

Here are three croquette recipes. Two start out with a thick béchamel-type paste, but made with olive oil instead of butter. The third one, with cheese, has a base of mashed potatoes lightened with whipped egg whites.

Three kinds of croquettes, with alioli and quince sauce for dipping.

Mushroom Croquettes
Croquetas de Setas

Use any wild or cultivated mushroom for these croquettes.

Makes about 5 dozen 1-inch croquettes.

Ingredients for mushroom croquettes.
2 cups milk
Sprig of rosemary or thyme
½ cup olive oil
1 cup finely chopped onion
2 cups chopped mushrooms (about 6 ounces)
¼ cup fino Sherry
1 cup flour
1 ½ teaspoons salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
2 eggs, beaten
2 cups fine dry bread crumbs
4 cups olive oil for frying

Heat the milk in a pan with a sprig of rosemary or thyme.

Heat the oil in a skillet and sauté the onion until softened, 5 minutes. Add the mushrooms and fry until the liquid is cooked off and they begin to sizzle. Add the Sherry and cook until liquid is cooked off. Stir in the flour and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes.

Pour half the hot milk through a strainer into the mushrooms (discarding the sprig of herb). Stir or whisk until it thickens. Stir in the remaining milk and season with salt, pepper and nutmeg. Continue cooking and stirring until thick and smooth, about 8 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the parsley.

Spread the mushroom mixture in a shallow oiled pan to a depth of about 1 inch. Cover with plastic wrap, pressing it lightly onto the surface of the mushroom mixture. Cool completely. (The paste can be refrigerated up to 2 days.)

Place beaten eggs in a shallow bowl. Spread half the crumbs in a shallow tray. 

Cut the mushroom paste into 1-inch squares. Roll them first in crumbs, then dip in beaten egg, then roll again in crumbs. Pat them gently to make rounded sides. Place on a tray. (Croquettes can be prepared to this point and chilled or placed on a tray and frozen.)

Place oil in a deep skillet and heat to 360ºF. Add croquettes in a single layer. Fry them until they are golden on the outside, about 2 minutes. Remove and drain on paper towels.

Serve croquettes hot.

 Ham Croquettes
Croquetas de Jamón

Chopped serrano ham.
Perhaps you’ve got a whole serrano or ibérico ham for the Christmas holidays. If, like me, you are hardly an expert in the fine art of slicing it (see for more about slicing ham) ), you probably have plenty of ham scraps. Here’s the perfect recipe for using them up.

Heating some of the ham fat in oil flavors the oil.

This recipe comes from my book, TAPAS—A BITE OF SPAIN. I’ve left the ingredient measurements in metric, British and American measures.

Makes approximately 4 dozen 2 ½ -inch croquettes.

1 liter / 1 ¾ pints / 4 ¼ cups milk
140 ml / ¼ pint / ½ cup + 1 tablespoon olive oil
Chopped ham fat (optional)
4 tablespoons chopped spring onion, including some of green
Pinch of thyme
110 g / 4 oz / 1 cup plain flour, sifted
125 g / 4 ½ oz/ 1 cup serrano or ibérico ham, chopped
1 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground black pepper
210 g / 7 ¼ oz / 1 ¾ cups fine dry bread crumbs
3 eggs beaten with 2 teaspoons water
4 cups olive oil for frying

Bring the milk to a boil and set aside. Heat the oil in a pan and sauté the ham fat until fat partially melts. Pour the oil through a sieve into a heat-proof bowl. Discard the bits of fat.

Return the oil to the pan and sauté the onion without letting it brown, 2 minutes. Add the thyme and stir in the flour. Cook 2 minutes without browning the flour. Whisk in the hot milk, stirring hard as the mixture thickens. Cook on low heat, stirring constantly, until the mixture is thick and smooth, 7 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in the ham, salt and pepper.

Spread the mixture in a large, shallow tray that has been lightly oiled. Cover with plastic wrap and allow to cool. Refrigerate at least 2 hours and up to 24 hours.

Cut the paste into cylinders.
Place half the bread crumbs in another shallow tray. Place the beaten eggs in a shallow bowl.  Working with part of the croquette mixture at a time (return the tin to the refrigerator), drop spoonfuls into the tray of breadcrumbs. Roll them in the crumbs to form 5-cm / 2 ½-in cylinders. (Use about 22 g / ¾ oz of the mixture for each croquette.)

Use 2 forks to dip each croquette in beaten egg, letting excess egg drip off, then drop the croquettes back into the crumbs. Sprinkle with some of remaining crumbs. Roll the croquettes in crumbs. Take care to completely coat the croquettes so that filling doesn’t leak out in the hot oil. As they are shaped and breaded, place them on a tray. Allow to dry for at least 30 minutes.

Place oil in a deep fryer or in a deep frying pan to a depth of at least 2 ½ cm / 1 in. Heat to 180ºC / 360ºF. Fry the croquettes in batches until they are golden-brown, about 3 minutes. Drain on paper towels. Serve hot.

Ham croquettes.

Cheese and Potato Croquettes
Croquetas de Queso

Cheese croquettes with quince sauce.
Fried in olive oil, these croquettes are a good trade-off (for a dairy meal) for latkes (potato pancakes), a favorite dish for Hanukkah, the Jewish festival that celebrates oil (starts at sundown December 6).

The recipe comes from La Mancha where it is made, obviously, with Manchego cheese. Today, instead, I’ve used a semi-cured goat cheese from Cádiz. In fact, any cheese could be substituted. I’m thinking a smoky Idiazábal from the Basque country would be good too.

Cooking the potatoes unpeeled prevents their absorbing a lot of cooking water. They will be almost as flaky as a baked potato. Unlike the other croquettes, these do not need to be chilled. They should be fried off within a few hours of preparing the mix so that the egg whites don’t lose their pouf.

The croquettes can be fried up to 4 hours in advance and kept at room temperature. Place them on a baking sheet and reheat them in preheated 400ºF oven until hot, 10 minutes. Fried croquettes can be frozen for up to 1 month. Remove them from freezer 15 minutes before heating. Place on a baking sheet and bake in a preheated 375º oven for 15 minutes.

Makes 50 (1 ½-inch) croquettes.

1 ½ pounds potatoes (3 medium)
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 ½ cups grated cheese (about 6 ounces)
1 tablespoon minced scallion
½ teaspoon cumin seed (optional)
¼ cup finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
½ teaspoon salt
Pinch of thyme
Pinch of hot pimentón or cayenne
4 eggs
1 teaspoon vinegar
1 cup fine dry bread crumbs
Olive oil for frying (about 4 cups)

Cook the potatoes, unpeeled, in boiling water until tender, about 30 minutes. Drain thoroughly. Split them in half and scoop the flesh into a bowl, discarding skins. Add 1 tablespoon of oil and mash the potatoes with a fork or potato masher until fairly smooth.

Stir the cheese into the potatoes. Add the scallion, cumin, parsley, salt, thyme, and hot pimentón.

Separate 2 eggs. Place 2 whites in a clean bowl. Stir 2 yolks into the potato mixture.

At high speed beat the whites until stiff. Beat in the vinegar.

Fold half of the egg whites into the potato mixture until thoroughly combined. Fold in remaining whites.

Beat remaining 2 eggs and place in a shallow bowl. Spread the bread crumbs in a tray.

Use a teaspoon to scoop up a mound of potato-cheese. Drop it into the beaten egg and roll it to coat all sides. Lift it out with the spoon and a fork, allowing excess egg to drain off. Place the croquette into the crumbs. Continue shaping croquettes until the tray is filled. Spoon some of the crumbs over the croquettes and, using a fork, roll them to coat all sides.

Lift the croquettes out of the crumbs, patting very gently to shape into a ball. Place them on another tray as they are shaped.

Place oil in a deep skillet or fryer. Heat the oil to 360º. Fry the croquettes in 4 or 5 batches, turning them once, until they are golden-brown, 1 ½ - 2 minutes. Skim out and drain briefly on paper towels. Serve hot.

More recipes suitable for Hanukkah can be found here.

Cheese croquettes are puffy balls of potato.
For the quince sauce, cook 1 or 2 quinces, peeled, cored and sliced in 2 cups water with 1 tablespoon Sherry vinegar and 1 tablespoon sugar until the quinces are fork tender. Drain, saving the liquid. Puree the quince in a blender with enough reserved liquid to make a smooth sauce. 

For the spicy alioli, whisk 1/2 cup mayonnaise with 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, 1 clove crushed garlic, 1/2 teaspoon hot pimentón (pimentón picante) and 1 tablespoon Sherry vinegar.

Saturday, November 28, 2015


I know, turkey day is past and, once you finish the leftovers, you’ll probably forget about the bird for a year. But before you put turkey back in the coop until next Thanksgiving, I want to tout its versatility as a year-round dish for home entertaining.

Thanksgiving is not a holiday in Spain (although “Black Friday,” called by its American name, has come to be “celebrated” here), so we had our special meal Thursday evening, on a school night. (We get school holidays on December 6, Constitution Day, and December 8, Immaculate Conception holiday, with a "puente," or "bridge," so kids are off school the weekend plus Monday and Tuesday).

Turkey with all the trimmings for a small gathering.
With few Americans around to invite for dinner, a whole turkey was not on the bill of fare. Instead, I prepared boneless turkey breast rolled around a filling of chopped spinach and walnuts. With gravy and accompanying dishes of bread-mushroom stuffing, sweet potatoes with mandarin juice and Sherry and glazed onions we had a properly festive dinner. (Pumpkin tartlets for dessert were not so successful.) The turkey leftovers are made-to-order for sandwich fixings today.

With a swirl of green, the turkey breast is also good served cold.

That turkey breast roulade is equally good served cold. For a summer buffet meal, I roasted two of the rolls a day in advance and served them accompanied by a cold sauce.

This rolled and stuffed turkey breast looks elegant with its swirl of green in the center, but it’s ever so easy to prepare. The food processor makes short work of chopping the spinach, which needn’t be pre-cooked. One turkey breast half serves 6 to 8 persons as part of a buffet. If serving a larger group, you only need to double the stuffing ingredients and divide them between two half-breasts.

The turkey can be roasted as much as 24 hours before serving. Leave it tied, wrap in foil, and refrigerate. At least one hour before serving, remove from the refrigerator, remove the twine, and slice it while still cold. Arrange on a serving platter and allow to come to room temperature.

As the season for entertaining is just getting started, I suggest you keep turkey on call.

Turkey Breast Roulade with Spinach-Walnut Stuffing
Rulo de Pechuga de Pavo con Espinacas

Pomegranate molasses is a thick concentrate of pomegranate juice with a decidedly sweet-sour flavour. Here it makes a beautiful glaze on the roasted turkey. Look for pomegranate molasses in the Middle Eastern food section of the grocery store.

If possible, ask your butcher to open the turkey breast, slicing through the thickest parts to create a rectangular slab of meat of more or less even thickness.

Serves 6 to 8.

1 clove garlic   
4 ounces fresh spinach, washed and stems trimmed   
¼ cup walnuts     
1 tablespoon chopped parsley or fresh dill     
1 tablespoon plain yogurt
1 egg white   
¼  cup fresh bread crumbs    
2 tablespoons olive oil     
Salt and freshly-ground pepper     
1 (2 ½  -pound) boneless, skinless turkey breast half
¼ cup pomegranate molasses
¼ cup white wine
Chicken or turkey stock (optional)
Cornstarch (optional)
Pomegranate seeds, to garnish (optional)

Preheat oven to 375ºF.

Mince the garlic in a food processor. Add the spinach leaves and process until they are chopped. Add the walnuts, parsley or dill, yogurt, egg white, bread crumbs and 1 tablespoon of oil and process until nuts are coarsely chopped. Season with salt and pepper.

Open up the turkey breast half by cutting horizontally through the thickest parts and folding open the meat to make a rectangle approximately 12 X 7 inches. 

Spread spinach-nut mix on the turkey.
Spread the spinach mixture on the turkey. Starting with a narrow end, roll up the turkey. Fasten with a skewer. Use kitchen twine to tie the roll at 2-inch intervals.

Place the turkey in an oiled baking pan. Brush the turkey with 1 tablespoon of oil and place in the oven. Lower oven temperature to 325ºF. Roast for 30 minutes.

In a small bowl combine the pomegranate molasses and wine. Pour half of it over the turkey breast.

I roasted some drumsticks and onions with the breast. Pomegranate molasses makes a luscious glaze.

Roast 30 minutes more and spoon remaining pomegranate and wine over the turkey. (Take care that the juices don’t completely cook off and burn.) Roast until turkey is done (internal temperature of 160ºF), about 1 ½  hours total. Remove the turkey to a cutting board and spoon some of the thickened pan drippings over it.

If meat is to be served hot, let it rest 10 minutes before removing string and carving. 

For gravy, add about 2 cups of chicken or turkey stock to the roasting pan and heat, stirring up all of the drippings. Combine cornstarch with a little cold water and stir into the stock. Cook, stirring, until thickened and smooth. Season with salt and pepper.

Garnish the sliced turkey with pomegranate seeds, if desired.

Rest the turkey roll before slicing.

With onions, sweet potatoes and dressing for a holiday meal.

Saturday, November 21, 2015


Last year we had a bumper crop of small pumpkins and butternut squashes. I’ve only just finished the last of the frozen puree from that harvest. This year we didn’t plant pumpkin at all.

A friend gave me a giant pumpkin from her garden, the kind with deeply ridged green skin and pale orange flesh. Once broached, it needs to be kept refrigerated and cooked promptly. I had just about finished it off (see below for links to other pumpkin recipes), when another one landed in my kitchen!

With such abundance, it seems only fitting that that New World squash make an appearance for the Thanksgiving feast. But, instead of the usual pumpkin pie, I’m making an easy pastry with a pumpkin filling. 

Squares of flaky pastry are filled with spiced pumpkin custard.

Pastry squares are easy to serve on a buffet table.

Serve the pastries with ice cream, if you like.

Little Mickeys” 
(Pastry Squares with Pumpkin Custard Filling)
Miguelitos con Crema de Calabaza

The little town of La Roda (Albacete province in La Mancha) is renowned for these delectable flaky pastry squares with a custard filling. They were invented by a local baker who named them after his appreciative friend, Miguelito, a name that translates as “little Mickey”. The original puff pastry is made, not with butter, but with lard, which produces a wonderfully flaky pastry. Easier is frozen puff pastry. I’ve changed the custard filling for one with spiced pumpkin.

You will need 2 ½ to 3 pounds of pumpkin or butternut squash to make 2 cups of puree. Steam, microwave or roast the pumpkin until tender, drain,  then puree it in a blender. Or, substitute a 29-ounce can of unsweetened pumpkin puree.

The usual flavoring for Spanish custards and creams is lemon zest and cinnamon, certainly good with pumpkin. Or you could use pumpkin pie spice. But, I’m on a cardamom kick, so I’ve used ground cardamom and powdered ginger.
Unfold the pastry dough, but don't roll it out.

The frozen puff pastry I’m using here is rectangular, so I cut each sheet into 8 rectangular pieces. In the US, you may find square sheets, which can be cut in 3-inch squares, making 9 pieces.

The pumpkin custard filling can be prepared a day or two in advance. The flaky pastry can be baked a day in advance. Split them and fill them only a few hours before serving.

Makes 16 to 18 pastry squares.

½ cup milk
¼ cup cornstarch
2 egg yolks
2 cups pumpkin puree
½ cup sugar
½ teaspoon ground cardamom
¼ teaspoon powdered ginger
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
1 (17-ounce) package frozen puff pastry, thawed (2 sheets)
2 tablespoons powdered sugar

Make the pumpkin custard filling. Combine ¼ cup milk with cornstarch in a small bowl and stir until smooth. Stir egg yolks in a bowl. Add milk and cornstarch mixture to the yolks.

Combine remaining ¼ cup milk, pumpkin puree, and sugar in a saucepan. Heat, stirring, until the mixture begins to bubble.

Stir some of the hot pumpkin mixture into the egg and cornstarch mixture, then whisk the egg into the pan with pumpkin.

Place the pan over boiling water and cook, stirring, until the custard thickens and is smooth, 5 minutes. Add the cardamom, ginger and lemon zest.

Thick pumpkin custard.

Cool to room temperature. (The cream can be prepared up to a day in advance and kept, covered and refrigerated. Bring to room temperature before spreading.)

Prepare the pastry squares. Preheat oven to 425ºF.

Use a sharp knife or pastry cutter to cut each sheet of puff pastry into 9 (3-inch) squares. Place them 1-inch apart on baking sheet and bake 5 minutes. Lower heat to 375ºF and bake until pastry is golden, 25 to 30 minutes.

Remove pastries to a rack to cool.

Split pastries, spread filling, close sandwiches.
When cool, split the pastries in half, using the tip of a knife to separate layers. Spread bottoms thickly with pumpkin cream and press tops lightly to sandwich the cream.

Sift powdered sugar over the tops of the pastries.

Need more pumpkin recipes? Follow these links for both sweet and savory ways with pumpkin.

And, if you’re making a more-or-less traditional pumpkin pie, try this recipe for an olive oil pie crust. 

Happy Thanksgiving to all!