Saturday, January 23, 2010


I have a delightful new cookbook, MEDITERRANEAN CLAY POT COOKING, by Paula Wolfert. Paula is friend, mentor and inspiration. She and I share a love for Mediterranean flavors and I am honored that she credits me in her book with a version of the Spanish tapas dish, Sizzling Shrimp with Garlic and Hot Pepper. She writes that she first prepared the shrimp for a party back in the late 1950s, attended by, amongst others, poet Allen Ginsberg and novelist Jack Kerouac. Kerouac, who enjoyed the shrimp, told Paula: “You’ve got great legs.”  

Paula’s book includes recipes from all round the Mediterranean (I’m trying out some of the Turkish dishes).  She gives a good description of various types of earthenware pots, crocks, casseroles, daubières, cazuelas and tagines. 

Cazuelas are Spain’s contribution to clay pot cooking.  They are wide, flat casseroles of low-fired clay, glazed on the inside, so liquids don’t escape through the porous clay, and unglazed on the bottom. Cazuelas come in many sizes, though they generally are not very deep. Rarely do they come with lids.

I use my cazuelas directly on a gas stove burner.  I don’t have any experience with electric or ceramic cooktops, so I suggest you follow Paula’s advice and always use a heat diffuser when cooking in earthenware on these types of stovetops.

You can use a cazuela in place of a skillet, a paella pan (a paella becomes “rice cazuela”), a sauté pan, an oven casserole. Earthenware holds a slow, steady heat, allowing foods to cook gently and evenly. Earthenware holds the heat, so food continues to cook even after you remove it from the stove. You can even sauté and brown foods in a cazuela—add enough oil to cover the bottom surface and heat the oil until very hot. Don’t crowd the pan with the foods to be browned.

New cazuelas taste of raw clay. Soak them in water for 24 hours. Dry well, then coat the inside with olive oil and place in a medium-low oven for 40 minutes. Frequent use is the best method for seasoning cazuelas.

Never heat an empty cazuela. Take care not to set a hot one down on a cold surface, as it might crack. Really big cazuelas are heavy and not easy to manoeuvre in and out of the oven. Small cazuelitas are fine for microwave cooking and reheating. 

Here in Spain, cazuela is both the name of the cooking vessel and of foods cooked in it. Most cazuela dishes start with a sauté, or sofrito, and finish braising with liquid.

My recipe for monkfish, clams and potatoes in almond sauce is a good example of cazuela cookery. The almonds both flavor and thicken the sauce. Monkfish is a sweet-fleshed, toothsome fish, easy to fillet, as it has no small bones. If you can get the whole fish, use the head to prepare a simple fish stock, which will add flavor to the finished dish. I cooked this recipe (as pictured below) in a 30-cm/ 12-in cazuela.

Cazuela de Rape y Patatas
Monkfish and Potatoes in Cazuela

Serves 4.

3 tablespoons olive oil
1 slice bread, crusts removed
3 cloves garlic
25 almonds, blanched and skinned
½  cup chopped green pepper
½ cup chopped onion
½ cup chopped tomato
½ cup white wine
Pinch of crushed saffron
½ teaspoon pimentón (paprika)
1 pound potatoes, peeled and cut in chunks
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup fish stock
1 pound boneless monkfish, cut in chunks
1 pound scrubbed clams
chopped parsley

Heat the oil in an earthenware cazuela. Fry the bread, garlic and almonds until golden. Skim out. Add the green pepper and onion to the cazuela and cook on medium heat until onion is softened, 10 minutes. Add the tomato and continue frying. Add the potatoes.

Combine the bread, garlic, almonds, wine, saffron and pimentón in a blender (or crush in a mortar). Blend to make a smooth sauce. Pour the sauce over the potatoes. Add salt and fish stock. Cook on a medium heat, stirring occasionally, until potatoes are tender, about 20 minutes. Add more stock or water if necessary to keep the sauce from scorching. 

Turn up the heat and add the chunks of monkfish and clams. Cook, stirring occasionally, until fish is cooked and the clam shells open, about 10 minutes. Sprinkle with chopped parsley and serve. 

Sunday, January 17, 2010


A few miles outside the village where I live is a small shrine in the countryside dedicated to San Antón Abad, St. Anthony Abbot, the patron saint of pigs and other farm animals. January 17 is San Anton´s festival day.

When the weather is fine (and often it is brilliant winter sunshine), the locals make a day’s outing to the shrine, to attend a late morning mass. In bygone times it was an occasion for the blessing of farm stock. Now, people bring their household pets to receive the priest’s benediction. Horses and ponies, giant mastiffs and wee chihuahuas, cats, rabbits, birds, turtles, a ferret. Nevertheless, it is really the day of the pig.  

St. Anton is usually depicted with a pig at his heels and he is said to be the pig’s protector. However, the occasion falls in the coldest time of the year, traditional season for the matanza, or hog butchering. It is also one of the last festivals before the beginning of Lent, when “pigging out” will be forbidden.

The ladies of the San Antón society cook up huge vats of traditional potaje de callos de San Antón, a stew with chickpeas, sausages and all the parts of the pig—tripe, ears, ribs, trotters, tail and fatback. This is real stick-to-your-ribs fare. Requires some lively folk dancing to work off the caloric input! 

The small image of San Antón inside the chapel now has a protective glass screen. That’s because of a long-standing local tradition, which says if an unmarried girl manages to hit the saint’s image with a pebble, she will find a novio, a suitor, before the year is out. Today, the women aim their missles at an image of San Antón outside the shrine.  


Tripe Stew for St. Anton’s Day
Potaje de Callos de San Antón

This version of tripe stew is made with pork rather than veal tripe. I have omitted the ear, trotter and tail from this recipe. Should you be starting from scratch, scrub the tripe with salt and vinegar, blanch it in boiling water, then cook in fresh water for 1 hour. If using trotter, remove bones. Cut tripe, ear, tail, trotter into small pieces.

The recipe calls for roasted garlic. To roast a whole head of garlic: Spear the head of garlic on a fork or grasp  it with tongs and hold over a gas flame (or put under the broiler), turning, until it is charred. Peel the garlic cloves, rinse in running water and add them to the stew.

Serves 6 to 8.   

1 pound chickpeas, soaked overnight
1 pound cooked pig’s tripe, cut in 1-inch squares (4 cups)
1 pound fresh pancetta or lean pork belly, cut into dice
1 head garlic, roasted
3 bay leaves
2 sprigs parsley
1 small chili pepper
1 onion, coarsely chopped
1 tomato, quartered
¼  teaspoon black pepper
¼  teaspoon ground cloves
½  tablespoon pimentón (paprika)
a few threads of saffron, crushed
½  tablespoon salt
¼  teaspoon ground cumin
2 cloves garlic, crushed
¼  pound chorizo sausage
½  pound morcilla (blood sausage) 

Drain the soaked chickpeas and put in a deep pot with fresh water to cover. Bring to a boil and skim off froth. Add the pieces of cooked tripe, pancetta, roasted garlic, bay leaves, parsley, chili, onion and tomato. Bring again to a boil. Cover and simmer for 1 hour.

Combine the pepper, cloves, pimentón, saffron, salt, cumin and crushed garlic. Dissolve in some of the liquid from the pot. Stir the spices into the pot. Cook slowly 1 hour more. If necessary, add additional boiling water.

Remove and discard the chili. Add the chorizo and morcilla. Cook 30 minutes longer. Use scissors to cut the sausages into small pieces. Let rest 10 minutes before serving. (Stew can be prepared in advance and reheated.) 

Monday, January 11, 2010


Tagarninas are stems of wild thistle.
Today at the village market I found big bunches of tagarninas, the tender stems of a wild thistle that makes its appearance in frosty January. Related to the artichoke, this thistle (Scolymus hispanicus) is foraged in upland areas of Andalusia and Extremadura.

I first tasted it in Extremadura, where it was cooked in a delicate vegetable flan. But, country folk who gather it usually fold the chopped stems into scrambled eggs. So that’s what I had for lunch today.

My first encounter with tagarninas in the wild was in the hills around the mountain town of Ronda, where I had gone to interview a goatherd. The goatherd showed me the plants growing. The first leaves appear after winter rains, forming a flat rosette about two feet across. Later in the summer the plant sends up tall stalks on which bloom yellow flowers. My guide pulled the whole plant up by the roots and, with bare hands, stripped off the prickly leaves, leaving the slender stems. These are chopped and blanched before cooking with eggs in a revuelto, a soft scramble. 

Eggs Scrambled with Wild Thistles
Revuelto de Tagarninas

Here’s how. Cut away the root ends and chop the stems. (Twelve ounces of tagarninas will make about 2 ½ cups chopped greens, serving two.) Blanch them in boiling, salted water for 5 minutes. Drain well. Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a skillet. Add 2 cloves sliced garlic, ¼ cup chopped serrano ham, a pinch of red pepper flakes and the greens. Sauté on medium heat for 4 minutes. 

 Break 4 eggs into the skillet. Let them set for 1 minute. Use a wooden spatula to push the egg whites around and combine with the vegetable and ham. Then, gently, turn the yolks over, letting them break up and mix with the greens. Turn the eggs and greens out onto heated plates before the yolks are completely set. Add salt and pepper to taste. Serve with toast “buttered” with olive oil.

You could substitute skinny green asparagus for the tagarninas in this recipe. You won’t need to blanch asparagus more than a minute. But should your foraging turn up wild thistles, by all means try them. 

Wild greens scrambled with eggs and ham.

Sunday, January 10, 2010


When I got a call from a culinary friend, inviting me to a tapas lunch, I dumped what I was doing (picking olives), changed my olive-stained pants and drove down the hill to the coast town.

The friend is Lars Kronmark, a chef-instructor at the Culinary Institute of America, Greystone, in St. Helena, Calif. I met him when I was a seminar presenter and workshop moderator at the CIA’s Worlds of Flavor conferences in 2002 and 2006 (read an interview with me). Lars was my section chef on my first trip to Greystone. He calmed my stage fright at finding myself for the first time in a professional kitchen and made sure all my Spanish recipes were prepared to perfection. In chatting, we discovered that his mother lives not far from where I live on the sunny Costa del Sol. He visits her on vacations and sometimes calls me when he’s in town.

Lars and his mother were lunching at El Tostón, a tapas and wine bar right in the center of seaside Fuengirola. What Fuengirola lacks in charm it makes up with chutzpah. The town has lively street markets on Tuesdays (an “everything” market—food to underwear to children’s toys to household stuff) and Saturdays (rastro flea market with crafts, antiques and junk) that attract tourists and locals alike. Fuengirola also is a great beach town, with chiringuitos, beach shacks, where you can eat espetones, fresh sardines grilled on the beach.

The tapas lunch started with carabineros, enormous, bright red shrimp cooked on the plancha grill. You peel them yourself, suck the delicious juices from the heads, eat the sweet flesh and finish with finger bowls for clean-up. Next came chunks of tuna, cooked rare and accompanied by two sauces, encebollado, onion confit, and a slash of red romesco looking rather lurid, but tasting of garlic, sweet peppers and a hint of vinegar.

Most delicious of all was shoulder of baby goat, a Málaga specialty, cooked sous vide, so that it was meltingly tender and juicy. Is it time for me to try sous vide in my home kitchen? With grilled baby vegetables, this was an outstanding dish.

Bodega el Tostón has a list of more than 500 wines. It started out specializing in Ibérico ham and Manchego cheese, but has expanded the tapas list over the years. Other great dishes to try are morcilla, blood sausage, from Ronda; fried eggplant with honey and any of the versions of bacalao, salt cod.

Now, it’s back to picking olives—

This recipe for grilled tuna and onion confit comes from my book, TAPAS—A BITE OF SPAIN.

Atún Encebollado
Grilled Tuna with Onion Confit

Both in Andalusia and in the Basque Country, atún encebollado is a favorite tapa. It consists of tuna braised with lots and lots of onions. This is a modernized version. The tuna is flash-cooked on a grill pan and served with a deeply flavorful onion sauce. Pedro Ximénez, aka PX, is a grape varietal producing wines with alluring caramel and figgy flavors. If you can´t find PX wine, use a medium Málaga Muscatel or oloroso Sherry.

Makes 10 tapas or 2 main dishes.

2 onions
3 tablespoons olive oil plus additional for the grill
1 clove garlic, chopped
Grated orange zest
2/3 cup PX wine
1 tablespoon Sherry vinegar
12 oz tuna steak, 1 inch thick
Salt and pepper
1 tablespoon orange juice

Cut the onions in half, then slice them thinly crosswise. Heat the oil in a skillet and add the onions and garlic. Cook very slowly, stirring frequently, until onions are dark brown, 40 minutes. Do not let them scorch.

Add the orange zest, PX wine and vinegar. Simmer another 10 minutes, until the sauce is syrupy. Reserve.

While onions are cooking, season the tuna with salt and pepper and sprinkle with orange juice. Allow to stand at room temperature 30 minutes.

Heat a ridged grill pan and brush with oil. Grill the tuna steak 1 to 2 minutes per side, or until browned on the surface but still pink on the inside. Remove and let rest 5 minutes.

Use a sharp knife to remove and discard skin and dark section of tuna meat. Cut into 10 squares, approximately 1 ½ in. Stick each piece on a pick and spoon over the onion confit. Serve warm or room temperature.

Friday, January 1, 2010


Are you needing a morning-after cure? Spain—a great land for partying—takes very seriously the day-after resaca, hangover. The prescription begins with churros y chocolate, fried fritters and thick, dark hot chocolate, to finish the late-night revelry before heading home to bed.

The next day, several robust soups are touted as sure-fire cures for what ails you. One is sopa de picadillo, an enriched chicken-ham broth with chopped bits of ham, egg and croutons. But nothing works as well as sopa de ajo, garlic soup.   

Garlic soup starts where French onion soup leaves off. Huge flavor, simple to prepare, rustic and real. Although every region has its rendition of garlic soup, the Castillian one is the best known.

From the Puerta del Sol in Madrid to the village plaza, the custom on New Year’s Eve is to eat twelve grapes, one at each of the twelve midnight bells, thus guaranteeing a year of good fortune.

I didn’t go to town last night to join revelers in the plaza to welcome in the new year. I enjoyed a quiet dinner at home by the fire with friends and a bottle of cava. Charlotte brought grapes picked from her vines, still sweet. A movie on cable TV. So, today, the first day of 2010, I’m feeling just fine, but still thinking about that great garlic soup.


Castillian Garlic Soup
Sopa de Ajo Castellana

Serves 4.

½  pound baguette, sliced ½  inch thick (18-20 slices)
1/3 cup olive oil
2 ounces diced ham or bacon (optional)
6 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
1 tablespoon pimentón (paprika)
¼  teaspoon ground cumin
6 cups chicken broth
Salt to taste
4 eggs

Toast the bread and set aside.

In a large cazuela (earthenware casserole) heat the olive oil. Add the diced ham and chopped garlic and sauté until the garlic begins to take on color, about four minutes. Stir in the pimentón and cumin and immediately add the broth. Add salt to taste.

Add the toasted bread to the cazuela. Bring the broth to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for five minutes. The bread should begin to break up in the broth.

With the soup bubbling, break each egg into a saucer and slide it onto the top of the soup. Cover and let the eggs poach until the whites are set and yolks still liquid, about 4 minutes. Serve the soup in the same cazuela.