Saturday, June 29, 2019


While most of you are frantically searching for ways to use the season’s bounty of zucchini, I am, once again, bemoaning the fact that I can’t grow zuccchini. The plants flower beautifully and produce infant squashes. But, when they get about thumb-sized, they turn yellow and fall off the vine. Not enough water? Too much water? Why do I even bother to plant them, year after year?

Not to worry. The markets are heaped with zucchini these days. I can afford to go through my whole repertoire of zucchini recipes. Here’s one I haven’t made in a while—batter-dipped and fried zucchini slices. They’re good as a side or, with a dipping sauce, as aperitif.

Sliced zucchini is dipped in batter and fried until golden. Serve it as an aperitif with a dipping sauce such as mojo picón, red chile sauce.

Fried zucchini is crisp on the outside, soft in the center.

Batter-Fried Zucchini
Calabacín Rebozado

One egg makes enough batter for two medium zucchini. Or, make just one and refrigerate the remaining batter for another use. Fish sticks?

Regulate the heat when frying the zucchini slices so that they don’t brown too quickly before the centers are cooked. The fried zucchini is best served immediately, as the coating loses its crispness if left to set. However, the leftovers are terrific recycled, layered in a gratin dish with sliced tomatoes, basil leaves and grated cheese and baked. 

1 ½ pounds zucchini (2 medium)
1 cup flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 egg, beaten
1 cup milk
Olive oil for frying

Combine the flour, baking powder and ¼ teaspoon salt in a mixing bowl. Add the egg and milk and stir to blend well. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour.

Slice 3/8 inch thick.

Slice the (unpeeled) zucchini crosswise into 3/8-inch thick rounds. 

Heat oil in a heavy skillet to a depth of 1 inch. Dip slices of zucchini into the batter, letting excess drip off. Carefully place them in the hot oil. Fry on medium-high, turning once, until zucchini is golden on both sides. Remove and drain on a rack. Sprinkle with salt. 

Drain fried slices on a rack and serve them immediately.

Recycling leftover fried zucchini: layer the slices in a gratin dish with sliced tomato, basil leaves and grated cheese. Bake until cheese is melted and zucchini is bubbling.

Another way to fry zucchini:

Some more dipping sauces:

Saturday, June 22, 2019


Pisto--a summertime stew with pork and vegetables.

Stew doesn’t have to be a slow-cooked, cold weather dish. Make it with summer vegetables and quick-cooking meat such as pork or chicken and it’s great for summer. You don’t need to serve it piping hot, either. 

Pisto is that perfect summertime stew. You might recognize this vegetable dish—a medley of tomatoes, peppers, zucchini and eggplant—as Provençal ratatouille. Or, confuse its name with pesto or pistou, a garlic-pine nut sauce. But pisto is authentically Spanish. Its origins are Moorish, although in that epoch it was a stew with eggplant and meat juices, no tomatoes or peppers, which are New World vegetables.

The pisto I learned to make in Andalusia is a strictly vegetarian dish that can be served hot, often topped with a fried egg, or cold, like a salad. But in La Mancha (central Spain), pisto usually has only zucchini, peppers and tomatoes—no eggplant. Often it has meat or poultry cooked with the vegetables, making a more substantial meal.

You can watch a very young Pedro Almodóvar making his mother’s recipe for pisto manchego and talking about life and film-making on a 1985 episode of "Con las Manos en la Masa" on TVE1. At one point he phones his mother to double-check the recipe. Her version has neither eggplant nor zucchini, only tomatoes, lots of green pepper and chunks of pork.

In hot weather, serve the stew slightly warmed, not hot. The meatless version of pisto is often served cold, with a spritz of vinegar, much like a salad or relish. It makes a nice side with fish or grilled chicken.

You'll definitely need some bread for dunking in the savory juices of this stew.

Pork and Vegetable Stew
Pisto con Magro de Cerdo

"Magro" means "lean"--as opposed to fat. But some fat keeps the pork juicy. Choose a juicy cut from the shoulder of pork for this stew. After browning, the pork needs only about 20 minutes cooking with the vegetables. 

If you’re using fresh tomatoes, grate them, saving the pulp and juices and discarding the skins. Canned tomate triturado, sieved tomatoes, can be used instead. 

Traditional pisto has no added spices or herbs. Which is not to say that you can’t season the stew to suit yourself—parsley, oregano, basil, cumin, chile. I have a prolific pepper plant on the patio, producing skinny green chiles (guindillas). I chopped a few of those and added to the medley. 

The usual accompaniment to pisto is bread, essential for sopping up the delicious juices, and often patatas fritas, fries. It’s also good served over rice or pasta or wrapped in a flour tortilla. Sure, go ahead and grate some Manchego cheese over it. This could become your favorite summer dish.

Ingredients for pisto, plus cubes of pork.

Serves 4.

1 ¼ pounds pork shoulder, cut in 1-inch cubes
Freshly ground black pepper
1/3 cup olive oil
4 cups eggplant cut in ¾-inch cubes (about 1 pound)
1 cup chopped onion
1 cup chopped green pepper
1 cup chopped red bell pepper
Fresh green chiles, chopped (optional)
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 ½ cups grated tomato pulp or canned sieved tomatoes
3 cups diced zucchini (about 1 pound)
Chopped parsley, to garnish

Sprinkle the pork with salt and pepper and allow it to come to room temperature.

Heat the oil in a heavy skillet. Add the pieces of pork and allow them to brown 1-2 minutes before turning them to brown the other side. Use a slotted spoon to remove the pork to a plate.

The vegetables and pork don't need additional liquid while cooking. After sauteeing, cover the pan to keep juices in.

Add the eggplant, onion, green and red pepper, chile, if using, and garlic to the remaining oil. Sauté, stirring, until onion is softened, 5 minutes. Add the tomato and zucchini. Return the pork to the pan with any accumulated juices. Season with salt and pepper. Cover the pan and simmer until pork and vegetables are tender, 15-20 minutes. 

Allow the stew to rest 15 minutes before serving. Garnish with chopped parsley.

These chiles, known as guindillas or piparras in Basque, are slightly hot. They're usually pickled in vinegar, but the fresh ones are a great addition to this vegetable stew.

More versions of pisto:

Saturday, June 15, 2019


I tuned in to a new cooking show on TV and watched a three-star chef peeling potatoes. Yep, on one of the first episodes of Hacer de Comer on TVE-1, Dani García, chef of the eponymous starred restaurant in Marbella, was peeling potatoes. No tricks to it and, after the first time, he got his pinche to do the menial peeling and chopping. But, he was making a point, that you, too—me, too—can cook like a three-star chef. 

Dani García, three-stars Michelin, cooks good food for a TV audience. I've already learned a few tricks.

While there was no trick to peeling potatoes, the chef did have some professional tips for making fries—patatas fritas. Chef García insisted that, after cutting into strips, potatoes for frying should be washed and dried. And he likes to par-boil them—exactly 2 minutes—drain, dry and freeze them before frying in olive oil.

I tried the method and I’m a convert. First, there’s the convenience of having ready-prepped potatoes in the freezer. Plus, they fry up beautifully in only 5 minutes.

Dani García’s show takes over the midday slot on channel 1 from Torres en la Cocina, with the cute Torres twins. Over on Antena 3, the granddaddy of cooking show chefs, Karlos Arguinaño, still holds forth with jokes and good cooking from his Basque kitchen. (On a recent show, he was making tuna tataki and advised home cooks to put the fresh tuna in the freezer for an hour if it’s to be served raw or rare—in order to kill any possible parasites in the fish.)

Enrique Sánchez cooks traditional Andalusian recipes with a lot of flair. Local produce is the feature on these programs.

But my favorite TV cooking show is, undoubtedly, Cómetelo on Canal Sur, the Andalusian regional TV network. On the daily program, Chef Enrique Sánchez works with traditional recipes and local products, often adding simple cheffy touches—a swirl of sauce—to give professional presentation to a dish your Andalusian abuela might have made. I especially enjoy the “on location" segments with visits to where a local cheese is made, a fishing port where the day’s catch is on the recipe ingredient list, an orchard where fruit is being picked.

Over the years (the show has been running nine years) I’ve picked up lots of tricks from Chef Enrique. For example, how a trusty vegetable peeler works for peeling tomatoes or stringing green beans. Now I use it to strip the strings off celery stalks. And, how to cleanly remove the seeds from a green frying pepper by pushing the stem inwards till the cap pops loose, then pulling it out with all the seeds attached.

A few days ago, Chef Enrique was making stuffed eggs with pickles and salicornia. Say what?
The salicornia, also known as “sea asparagus,” “marsh samphire,” or “sea beans,” was harvested in Isla Cristina (Huelva province). It’s a salty herb that he used as a green, crunchy garnish for the eggs. Something new to look for! (His tip for perfect hard-cooked eggs: put the eggs in boiling water for exactly 12 minutes, then plunge them in ice water to stop the cooking.) The egg yolks he mixed with home-made mayonnaise.

But, this mayonnaise contained no eggs. It was made with milk! I had to try it.

The trick for perfect fries--par-boil the cut potatoes 2 minutes and freeze them before frying in olive oil.

Do you like mayo with fries? This version from Cómetelo is made with milk instead of eggs.

Spanish Fries
Patatas Fritas

How much oil you need depends on what size skillet you use to fry the potatoes. The oil needs to be only about 1-inch deep. If you’re using a medium pan, fry the potatoes in two batches. Olive oil, obviously. These are "Spanish" fries, not French fries!

Serves 4.

Ready to par-boil.
1 ½ pounds mature potatoes
Olive oil for frying

Peel the potatoes and cut them in strips a little under ½ inch thick. Wash the strips and drain. Bring a pot of water to a boil. Add the cut potatoes and cook 2 minutes. Lift the potatoes out of the water with a slotted spoon and drop them into a bowl of ice water.

Frozen, ready to fry.

When potatoes are cool, drain them, pat them dry and spread on rimmed sheets that will fit in the freezer. Place in the freezer until potatoes are frozen. Remove the frozen potato strips from sheets and place in a plastic bag. Return to freezer until ready to fry them.

Heat oil in a heavy skillet to a depth of 1 inch. Remove potatoes from the freezer. Carefully add potato strips to the oil. The oil will splutter at first as the frost releases moisture. Lower heat slightly (medium-high) and fry the potatoes, turning them once or twice, until they are golden and cooked through. This takes 4-5 minutes.

Put frozen potatoes right into hot olive oil. They're done in about 5 minutes.

Remove the fries from the oil with a slotted spoon and drain them on a rack. Sprinkle them with salt. Serve immediately.

No-Egg Mayonnaise
Mayonesa sin Huevo

The TV chef did not add vinegar or lemon juice to his milk-mayonnaise, so I wasn’t sure if it would work or not. I made the mayo, photographed it, then returned it to the blender and beat in vinegar. No problem. The vinegar did not curdle the milk mayo.

This is quick and easy to make with an immersion blender. Use whole or 2-percent milk. Let milk come to room temperature before blending. If preferred, the mayonnaise can be made with a bland oil such as sunflower instead of olive oil. 

No-egg mayonnaise: You need only about 2-fingers of milk.

½ cup milk
½ teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon mustard powder (optional)
¾ cup extra virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons Sherry vinegar

Place milk in the container of a blender with the salt and mustard powder, if using. With motor running, add oil in a slow steady stream. Keep adding oil without moving the blender up and down until the mayonnaise begins to thicken. 

Once emulsified, move the blender wand up and down to incorporate any remaining oil. Beat in the vinegar.

Use the mayonnaise immediately or refrigerate, covered, up to 5 days. It thickens somewhat when chilled.

Watch these cooking shows on-line.

Saturday, June 8, 2019


Friends were coming for lunch and I needed to put out something for them to nosh on while I cooked the rice and reheated the stuffed cabbage. I opened the cupboard to see what I could conjure up.

What can I conjure up from the cupboard? Canned piquillo peppers, tuna, anchovies are a good starting point.

A can of piquillo peppers. That sounds like a starting point for a dip or schmear. I’ll just add a can of melva (frigate mackerel) and some anchovies canned in olive oil. I put them all in a blender with some soft goat cheese (queso fresco de cabra) and a dash of Tabasco sauce. When it was smooth and creamy, I tasted. It needed a pinch of salt and a spoonful of Sherry vinegar to give it some pizazz. Not bad. I served it with crackers, toasts and endive leaves for dipping.

Out of the cans and into the blender along with some soft goat cheese. This version is garnished with chopped egg, but you could use chives or, maybe, caviar. The dip is good served with toasts and crackers -- 

or, with vegetable dippers such as endive leaves.

Dip would make a good sandwich spread too.

The recipe for this dip can be freely varied, depending on what’s in your cupboard. No piquillo peppers? Use a jar of flame-roasted red peppers. Use canned tuna or sardines in place of the mackerel; cream cheese or ricotta instead of queso fresco. Add chopped herbs, mixed into the dip or sprinkled on top. Chives are perfect. Hot it up with cayenne or a squeeze of harissa (Moroccan red pepper paste). Garnish the top with chopped egg or, maybe, lumpfish caviar.

The dip can be served immediately or refrigerated for later use. It firms up if chilled and may need a little water whisked in to thin to dipping consistency. It also makes a good sandwich filling. Spread it on bread and add crunchy sprouts or greens.

Piquillo Pepper Dip or Spread

1 can (185 g/ 6.5 oz) piquillo peppers, drained
¼ cup chopped onion
1 clove garlic (optional)
½ cup queso fresco or cream cheese
1 can (120 g/ 4 oz) tuna, mackerel or sardines, drained
6-8 fillets anchovies packed in oil, drained
2 teaspoons Sherry vinegar
Salt to taste
Chopped herbs, as desired
Garnishes, as desired
Crackers, toasts or vegetable dippers, to serve

Place the piquillo peppers, onion, garlic if using, and cream cheese in the container of a blender or food processor and process until smooth. Add the tuna, anchovies and vinegar. Process until smooth. Taste the blend and add salt if needed. Season with chopped herbs to taste. 

Serve immediately or refrigerate, covered, up to 2 days.

The start of something good--canned roasted piquillo peppers. Piquillo peppers are sweet and slightly piquant. A good thing to have in the cupboard.

I seem to have conjured up quite a few dishes using piquillo peppers:

And, more recipes using canned seafood here.

Saturday, June 1, 2019


I’m having a gluten-free month. No wheat bread, no pasta, no flour or crumbs to bread the cutlets or fish fillets. (No other grains and cereals either.) However will I survive?

Turns out, I’ve got a magic ingredient that fills the wheaten gap nicely (except for leavened bread). It’s ground almonds, almond meal, unsweetened almond flour. Crushed almonds are used in many Spanish dishes—think, ajo blanco, white gazpacho, and pepitoria, a saffron sauce thickened with ground almonds for chicken or meatballs.

Extrapolating, I’ve used almond flour for “breading” chicken breasts, sliced eggplant and fish fillets, dipping them first in beaten egg, then almonds before pan-frying, and for thickening “gravy.”

A cake made with almond flour, unsweetened cocoa and prunes for sweetness.

Now I’m making myself a really elegant dessert, a gluten-free, no-sugar chocolate cake. It’s delicious with strawberries or other fruit. Or, maybe, a dollop of whipped cream? Oh, wait, I’m having a dairy-free month too.

Ground almonds keep the cake moist; beaten egg whites make it light.

Because it's not too sweet, the cake goes well with fresh fruit.

Chocolate-Almond Cake
Tarta de Chocolate con Almendras

Prunes give sweetness to the cake but are not really discernible. Add additional sweetener, artificial or sugar, as you like. The ground almonds provide enough natural oil to keep the cake moist. Beaten egg whites make it light. Double the recipe to make two layers.

Bring eggs to room temperature before separating them—they will yield a larger volume of whites for whipping.

Ground almonds--a magic ingredient for gluten-free cooking and baking.

6-8 servings

5-6 pitted prunes
½ cup boiling water
3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa
3 eggs, separated
Pinch of salt
½ teaspoon Sherry vinegar
½ teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon liquid stevia or 2 tablespoons sugar (optional)
1 ½ cups ground almonds (4 ½ ounces)

Put the prunes in a heat-proof bowl and pour over the boiling water. Let the prunes soak 15 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350ºF. Line an 8-inch cake pan with baking parchment and oil the sides of the pan.

Place the prunes and water in a blender container with the cocoa and blend until smooth. Add the egg yolks, salt, vinegar, baking powder and stevia, if using. Blend.

Stir in almond flour.
Fold in egg whites.

Place the prune-chocolate mixture in a mixing bowl and add the ground almonds. Mix well.

Beat the egg whites until they hold stiff peaks. 

Stir 3 spoonfuls of the whites into the cake batter, mixing well. Fold remaining whites into the batter. Scrape the batter into prepared cake pan.

Bake the cake until a tester comes out clean, 20-25 minutes. Allow cake to cool on a rack before removing from the pan.

More gluten-free recipes with almonds:

More recipes with ground almonds (not gluten-free):