Saturday, May 25, 2019


I bet you didn’t know that Almería is this year’s Capital of Gastronomy in Spain. Do you even know where Almería is? It’s a province of Andalusia that shares a Mediterranean coast with Málaga and Granada and, to the east, Murcia and Alicante. But, while those provinces are on the beaten track of tourism, Almería is better known for its tomatoes.

Little flatbreads called torticas are the essence of Mediterranean foods--fresh fish, vegetables, olive oil--baked in a cornmeal shell.

Tomatoes and melons and peppers. Pink shrimp, red mullet, octopus. Fine lamb and baby kid. The city of Almería and the surrounding province have all the raw ingredients for fine gastronomy. This is the region of hothouse-grown vegetables, providing fresh produce all winter long to the rest of Spain and Europe. It’s a major fishing port. Yes, there are beautiful beaches, too. And, Hollywood film locations at the inland “badlands” (all those Clint Eastwood “spaghetti westerns” were made here).

During the gastronomy year, Almería is featuring different themes and products every month. May has been “melones, sandías y cremas frías” (melons, watermelons and cold cream soups). Next month, June, the theme is  “la cocina de vanguardia” (vanguard cuisine). (More information about events here. )

Today I’m making a specialty from the Almería town of Vera, Torticas de Avío, sometimes called Almería “pizza.” It’s a flatbread made of cornmeal, topped with those quintessential Mediterranean ingredients, anchovies, tomatoes, onions and peppers. The topping is flavored with oregano and a good bit of cumin. My only addition to the traditional recipe is capers, which I think add a nice punch. The next time I make the torticas, I might use some wheat flour with the cornmeal. If you can't find fresh anchovies, try using oil-packed ones or even canned sardines.

The flatbread can be made any shape or size. These small ones make nice appetizers or starters.

Small flatbreads are like tarts. The filling bakes right in the shells.

Oregano and cumin flavour the filling mix.

Eat these "pizzas" out of hand, a grab and go snack.

Or serve them plated as a starter. They are best served room temperature.

Almería “Pizza” (Cornmeal Flatbreads with Anchovies)
Torticas de Avío

Fresh anchovies have been filleted.

Makes 8 (4-inch) tarts.

For the filling:
1 pound fresh anchovies
1 cup chopped tomatoes
1 cup chopped onion
1 cup chopped green pepper
3-4 cloves garlic, chopped
2 teaspoons oregano
½ teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon coarse salt
Freshly ground black pepper
3 tablespoons olive oil
Capers (optional)

For the cornmeal crust:
3 cups yellow cornmeal
2 teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 ½ cups hot water

Clean the anchovies. Cut off the heads and pull out the guts. Use thumb or knife point to lift the spine and pull it down to the tail. Cut off and discard the spine, leaving two fillets attached at the tail. Wash and drain the anchovies and pat them dry with paper towels.

Macerate anchovies with the vegetables.

In a mixing bowl combine the tomatoes, onion, green pepper, garlic, oregano, cumin, salt, pepper and 2 tablespoons of the oil. Add capers, if using. Add the anchovies to the vegetables. (Cut them into pieces, if you prefer.) Let the mixture macerate while preparing the dough for the crusts.

Place the cornmeal in a bowl and mix in the salt. Drizzle with the 1 tablespoon of oil. Add 1 cup of the water and stir to combine well. Add enough of the remaining water to make a soft dough that can be gathered into a ball. Divide the dough into 8 balls and set them aside.

Preheat oven to 325ºF.

Press ball of dough into a round, make a rim. 
Line a baking sheet with baking parchment. Space the balls of dough on the sheet (use 2 sheets, if necessary). Use fingertips to flatten the balls into 4-inch rounds, about ¼ inch thick. Pinch around the edges to turn up a rim to contain the filling.

Spoon the anchovy-vegetable mixture into the tart shells. Drizzle the remaining 1 tablespoon of oil over them. 

Bake the tarts 25 minutes. Raise the oven temperature to 400ºF and bake 10 minutes more. Cool the tarts on a rack. Serve them room temperature.

Food and travel writer, Gerry Dawes, says the best food he ate on a recent trip to Almería was cooked to order at a café-bar within the Mercado Central, or central market. Read his report here.

More recipes from Almería:

More pizza and flatbread recipes:

More recipes with fresh anchovies:

Saturday, May 18, 2019


Congratulations to my friend, Donna Gelb, co-author of Saladish, by Ilene Rosen, which just won a James Beard book award for Vegetable-Focused Cooking. 

Ilene Rosen is chef and co-owner or R&D Foods, a Brooklyn shop, where she makes every salad herself every single day. She previously was a chef at City Bakery in New York, where her flair with salads earned her cult following. The innovative recipes in Saladish are hers. Donna worked closely with Ilene in recipe development and testing, following her on the job to get a feel for her work.

I´m always looking for inspiration in putting together salads and this book has it, cover to cover. They’re salads that can serve as light starters, sides or full meals. The recipes are mostly vegetarian (even vegan), but they are easy to embellish with meat, poultry, fish or cheese, according to your personal tastes.

Don’t expect a cliché tuna salad, nor a generic pasta salad. While there are four variations on potato salad, none of them is your old-fashioned sort with mayo (new potatoes with herbs and a yogurt dressing; potatoes and cucumbers with caraway-mustard dressing; jazzed-up potato salad with olive oil and pickled carrots, and, one I can’t wait to try, red potatoes with chorizo and roasted grapes.
Saladish opens with chapters packed with hints, “How to Assemble a Salad,” “The Saladish Pantry,” and “The Saladish Tool Kit.” Recipes (most beautifully photographed by Joseph De Leo) are divided into Spring, Summer, Fall and Winter chapters.

I’m working my way through "Spring," starting with snap peas, the last from my garden, with olive oil and lavish quantities of chives and mint. Easy-peasy. It’s too late for the Baby Carrots with Carrot-Top Pesto, as I pulled up the last of the carrots weeks ago. “Every-Leafy-Green-You-Can-Find Salad,”with an orange marmalade dressing (what a terrific idea) is coming up soon. The rice noodle salad with Asian herbs and smoked tofu salad with chive buds both sound like my kind of hot-weather dish. Spring brunch? Smoked trout and pumpernickel bread in a salad with cucumbers, apples and, yes, dill.

The recipe I chose to make this week is called “It’s All Green.” It consists of several different (green) vegetables cooked crisp-tender to be served with four different dips plus a sweet lime salt.

Many of these recipes are Asian-inflected, calling for rice vinegar and “flavorless vegetable oil.” I considered “flipping” them to Mediterranean, using my usual extra virgin olive oil, but decided that wasn’t a fair test. So I bought a bottle of sunflower oil. Pretty exotic for me!

It’s All Green
(Todo Verde)

These recipes are excerpted from Saladish by Ilene Rosen with Donna Gelb (Artisan Books; copyright © 2018). I’ve added recipe titles in Spanish and my comments in italic. The photos are mine.

Serve a selection of green vegetables for dippers with these unusual dips. The dips, clockwise from the top left. are cucumber shallot, cilantro cumin, avocado mint and, at the bottom, pumpkin seed hummus. They are accompanied by celery sticks, snap peas, asparagus, zucchini slices, Belgian endive, green beans and wedges of fennel.

You want approximately 3 to 4 pounds of whole vegetables for six people, and two or three dips to serve on the side, more if you are feeling green.

Serves 6 to 8.

Kosher salt
8 ounces green beans and/or sugar snap peas, trimmed, any strings removed
8 ounces asparagus, trimmed, tough stalks peeled
6 ounces zucchini, ends trimmed
2 large celery stalks
6 ounces Belgian endives
6 ounces fennel bulbs

1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a rolling boil and ready a large bowl of ice water.
2. Add the green beans and/or snap peas to the boiling water and blanch just until they turn bright green. Remove them with a slotted spoon and transfer to the ice water. Return the water to a boil and repeat with the asparagus, blanching just until tender, about 2 minutes, before transferring to the ice water. Set aside.
3. Cut the zucchini lengthwise in half, lay flat on a cutting board, and slice on the diagonal into ½ -inch pieces.
4. Trim off and discard the ends of the celery stalks and cut the stalks crosswise into thirds. Cut the thirds lengthwise into thin sticks.
5. Trim the bottoms of the endives and separate the leaves.
6. Trim the root ends of the fennel and cut off the stalks, reserving any nice fronds to decorate the platter. Cut the bulbs lengthwise in half, then cut the halves into thin wedges.
7. Arrange all the vegetables on large platters or trays and serve with the dips. 

Cucumber Shallot Dip
(Pepino con Chalota)

This cucumber salad with a touch of Asian fish sauce and rice vinegar would make a terrific side dish with grilled fish.

Makes about 1 ½ cups.

1 cup diced seedless cucumber
1 ½ teaspoons fish sauce
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
2 teaspoons fresh lime juice
2 tablespoons chopped fresh Thai basil, or regular basil
½ cup finely minced shallots
2 tablespoons minced fresh chives

Combine the cucumber, fish sauce, vinegar, oil, lime juice and basil in the bowl of a food processor or in a blender and pulse to puree, scraping down the sides as necessary. Transfer to a small serving bowl and fold in the minced shallots and chives. Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.

Pumpkin Seed Hummus
(Hummus de Pepitas de Calabaza)

This savory dip makes a great spread too.  Mix any leftovers with boiled new potatoes and beans.

Makes about 2 cups.
Toasted pumpkin seeds.

2 cups pumpkin seeds, toasted
2 large garlic cloves
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
½ cup rice vinegar
¾ cup vegetable oil
¼ cup hot water, or more if necessary
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

1. Put the pumpkin seeds and garlic in the bowl of a food processor or in a blender and pulse until uniformly ground, scraping down the sides as necessary. The mixture will be rough and sandy looking.
2. Add the mustard and vinegar and pulse to combine. With the motor running, slowly drizzle in the oil, stopping to scrape down the sides of the bowl. Drizzle in the hot water, processing until it is the consistency of thick hummus. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Transfer to a small serving bowl. Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.

(Note: The pumpkin seeds I bought were dark green, not beige like the ones shown in Saladish. If you need to toast the seeds, here's how. Cook 2 cups pumpkin seeds in boiling water for 10 minutes. Drain well and pat dry. Combine the seeds with 1/2 tablespoon olive oil. Spread them on a rimmed sheet pan and roast them in a 300ºF oven, turning once or twice, for 30 minutes. Cool.)

Avocado Mint Dip
(Aguacate con Hierba Buena)

Chopped mint with smooth avocado is sensational.

(Note: Mint with avocado! Radical. Did the authors intend to omit salt? I made the recipe as given—no salt—and loved it. A perfect dip with those leaves of Belgian endive.) 

Makes about 1 ¼ cups.

1 large ripe avocado
5 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
3 tablespoons chopped fresh mint leaves
A pinch of cayenne pepper
5 tablespoons water

Pit the avocado and scoop the flesh into the bowl of a food processor or into a blender. Add the lemon juice, mint and cayenne and pulse to puree, pouring in the water as you go. Transfer to a small serving bowl. Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.

Cilantro Cumin Dip
(Salsita de Cilantro y Comino)

The cilantro-cumin combo is sort of Middle Eastern, but rice vinegar makes it completely different. I used leftover dip to marinate chicken thighs and roasted them on a sheet pan at high temperature.

Makes about 1 ½ cups.

½ cup vegetable oil
5 teaspoons cumin seeds
2 ½ cups chopped fresh cilantro leaves
3 tablespoons rice vinegar
1 tablespoon seasoned rice vinegar
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard

1. Pour the oil into a small saucepan and add the cumin seeds. Bring to a simmer over medium heat and simmer gently for 10 minutes. Let cool.
2. Put the cilantro, vinegars, and mustard in the bowl of a food processor or in a blender and pulse to combine. With the motor running, drizzle in the cumin oil and seeds until the mixture is emulsified. Transfer to a small serving bowl. Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.

Ilene Rosen (left) and Donna Gelb at the James Beard awards presentation. Their book Saladish won for best vegetable-focused cookbook.

I’ve cooked with Donna Gelb, in my kitchen and in hers, and she's helped me with recipe testing. Here are some earlier blog posts featuring her:
Mistress of the Fire.
Eating Around America.
Paella Made in the USA.
Shopping Organic.
Taste of Spain in New York.

Saladish (Ilene Rosen with Donna Gelb; Artisan, 2018, New York) is available here.

Saturday, May 4, 2019


A stew of potatoes in all their glory.  I used both cloves of "old" garlic (top right) and, for garnish, chopped stems of green garlic (pictured on the left of the bowl).

If I asked you to name the single most important ingredient in Spanish cooking—after olive oil—what would you choose? Rice, as in paella? Tomatoes, peppers or garlic, as in sofrito? Pork/ham/sausage? Fish? 

The answer, by my count, is potatoes. In my first collection of Spanish recipes, COOKING IN SPAIN, there are 12 recipes for potatoes in the Vegetable chapter, plus another 16 to 20 recipes that include potatoes. While the Fish and Shellfish chapter is considerably longer than Vegetables, no single variety of seafood matches potatoes.

In the (almost) 10 years I’ve been blogging about the food of Spain, I have managed to feature potatoes month after month as either main ingredient or garnish. (Links to some of those recipes are below.) Here’s another traditional recipe from that first cookbook, Ajoharina.

Thickened with flour, sauce is the consistency of gravy. 

New potatoes plus asparagus and chopped green garlic give this dish a springtime flavor.

Serve, like soup, as a starter or main lunch dish.

“Ajoharina” means “garlic-flour.” It consists of potatoes stewed in a garlicky sauce that is thickened with flour. The dish traditionally is served, in place of soup, as a primer plato, first course. In poor households, it makes a sturdy, filling meal when nothing else is to follow. Ajoharina is typical of the Andalusian province of Jaén and of parts of La Mancha.  It can have scraps of pork fat added or, for Lent, salt cod. In the fall, wild mushrooms called níscalos (Lactarius deliciosus or saffron milk cap) might be cooked with the potatoes; in spring, spears of wild asparagus.

From my huerta--freshly-dug potatoes.

Onions, too, are ready to harvest. 

I’m using freshly-dug spring potatoes for this dish. Cut into 1-inch pieces, they needed hardly 10 minutes cooking time. Mature potatoes or red-skinned varieties will need longer cooking. Cook the potatoes until tender before stirring in the flour. Once thickened, the sauce should be the consistency of smooth gravy.

This recipe is usually completely vegan, but, if you like, add scraps of ham or bacon to punch up the flavor. The color and flavor come from pimentón (paprika). Normally, this is ordinary unsmoked pimentón, but, if you like, use some smoked pimentón de la Vera as well. Hot pimentón is completely optional; it does perk up potato stew quite a lot.

Garlicky Potato Stew

Serves 6. 

2 pounds potatoes (about 8 medium), peeled
1/3 cup olive oil
½ cup chopped onions
½ cup chopped green peppers
½ cup chopped red bell pepper
1 ounce diced serrano ham, pancetta or bacon (optional)
4 (or more) cloves garlic, peeled
1 tablespoon pimentón (paprika)
Pinch of hot pimentón or cayenne (optional)
½ cup grated tomato pulp
1/8 teaspoon cumin
1 bay leaf
4 cups water
1 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground black pepper
12 asparagus spears, cut in pieces and blanched (optional)
4 tablespoons flour
Chopped green garlic, chives or scallions to garnish

Cut the potatoes in 1-inch chunks. Heat the oil in a cazuela or deep skillet. Add the potatoes and sauté them 1 minute. Add the onions, green and red peppers and ham, if using. Sauté them 4 minutes.

Flatten the garlic cloves with the side of a knife and chop them finely. Add them to the sauté. Stir in the pimentón. Add the tomato pulp, cumin, bay leaf and 3 cups of the water. Season with salt and pepper. Cook until potatoes are just tender, 10-15 minutes. Add the blanched asparagus, if using, during the last few minutes.

Shake flour and water.

Place the flour in a jar and add the remaining 1 cup of water. Close the jar tightly and shake it until flour is completely mixed with the water.  Pour the flour mixture into the pan with the potatoes and stir to mix well. Let cook 2-3 minutes longer until the liquid thickens. 

Thicken cooking liquid with flour. Stir to make a smooth gravy.

Serve the potatoes hot, sprinkled with chopped green garlic, chives or scallions to garnish.

The story of potatoes in Spain here.

More recipes with potatoes: