Sunday, October 28, 2012


Sherry ad from an old Gourmet magazine.

Needing to clear some closet space in the spare room (which is no longer spare), I started pulling out storage boxes full of papers and sorting through 25 years worth of—stuff.

First to go—no need even to sort—were thousands of pages of cookbook manuscripts and  printers’ page proofs. I’ve written eight cookbooks (five are still in print; read about the books here). How many compressed trees was I saving here?

The most recent books went back and forth to editors digitally, via e-mail. But, ten years ago, my editor at HarperCollins-New York wanted the whole printed manuscript shipped to her. It came back to me once with the copy editor’s notes and was returned to me after publication. I also received a set of page proofs. All this went to the recycle bin.

The next couple of crates I pulled down contained, roughly speaking, “files.” In the pre-Google days, when I was researching for a book, article or travel guide, it meant writing or phoning to tourist offices and collecting travel brochures about the regions I intended to visit. Along with yet more material picked up on my travels are hundreds of maps, including dozens from little towns of La Mancha, where I spent a month or more traveling around, talking to people and collecting recipes, for COOKING FROM THE HEART OF SPAIN—FOOD OF LA MANCHA

I had enough travel brochures to open a tourist office. These all went to trash, though, I have to confess, I enjoyed looking through them and remembering places I’d been. Nowadays, anything I need to know, no matter how obscure, can quickly be located on the internet. But I love printed stuff.

There were also clipping files—reviews of my books; tear sheets of articles I wrote for various magazines and newspapers; articles by other writers pertinent to my subjects; printed menus from restaurants all over Spain. One file contained clippings from Gourmet magazine of articles only about Spain. I got rid of the magazines-- dating back to 1964!—but not before first cannibalizing them for “keepers.”

That picture at the top was a keeper—an ad in Gourmet from unknown year. There is also a marvelous four-page color spread, “Three Spanish Dinners,” from January 1966 (the very month I arrived in Spain), with some excellent recipes. And, a wonderful article from July 1964, “Málaga, Mi Málaga,” by Frederick S. Wildman, Jr. Málaga is “mi Málaga” also.

Here’s what Wildman (I never met him, although our paths might have crossed) wrote about the food of my region: “The food of the province of Málaga is as original as the face of its countryside.” He made note of the fruits and vegetables, almonds, olives, pork sausages, serrano ham. “But the glory of Málaga is certainly its fish.” One of his recipes is for “Sopa de Rape de Málaga.” Although poorly translated as “skate soup,” (rape, pronounced rah-pay in two syllables, is monkfish, not skate), it is a typical Málaga recipe.

Sopa de rape--monkfish soup, a Málaga specialty.
Here is my version. You could use dry Sherry, such as Tio Pepe, or white wine.

Monkfish Soup
Sopa de Rape

Whole monkfish.

Monkfish (also known as angler fish) is one of the least attractive specimens in the market, but very, very good eating. A grey color and without scales, the monkfish has a huge head and slim tail, a little like an enormous tadpole that  never got around to turning into a frog. It is easy to cut fillets off the center spine. The flesh is firm and sweet-flavored and can readily be substituted in recipes that call for lobster. Firm-fleshed, It doesn’t disintegrate when cooked in soup. Slices from the tail are very good grilled or braised with sauce.

This recipe calls for a whole fish—the head is used for making stock. If this is not possible, use any prepared fish stock and monkfish fillets. Shrimp can be added as well.

Serves 4.

1 monkfish, 3 to 4 pounds
8 cups water
Bay leaf, oregano, thyme, parsley and celery
Salt and pepper
1 onion, cut in half
4 tablespoons olive oil
1/3 cup almonds, blanched and skinned
3 cloves garlic
2-3 slices bread, crusts removed
1 sprig parsley
Pinch of saffron, crushed
¼ cup dry Sherry or white wine
2 tomatoes, peeled and chopped
2 teaspoons salt

Have the angler fish cleaned and the head separated. Remove the back bone, leaving two fillets. Cut them into bite-size pieces. Cover and refrigerate.

Put the water to boil in a pot with the herbs, half of the onion and salt and pepper. Add the head, bones and any trimmings from the fish and bring again to a boil, skimming off froth that rises. Cook for 30 minutes. Strain the stock and reserve it. Pick any flesh off the head and bones and discard head and bones.

Heat the oil in a soup pot or heat-proof casserole and in it fry the almonds, peeled garlic, sliced bread and sprig of parsley, just until almonds, garlic and bread are toasted. With a skimmer, remove them to mortar, blender or mini food processor.

Chop the remaining half onion. Sauté the onion in the remaining oil. Add the tomatoes and fry for 15 minutes. (This sofrito can be used as is or puréed in a blender or passed through a sieve.)

In the mortar or blender, grind the toasted almonds, etc., with the saffron, and salt, adding the Sherry or wine to make a smooth paste. Stir this into the tomato mixture, add 6 cups of the reserved stock. Bring to a boil and simmer for 15 minutes. Add the pieces of monkfish and simmer another 10 minutes until fish is cooked.

Monkfish soup is thickened with ground almonds.


  1. Thank you for sharing the keepers! The sherry ad is very striking, and I can't wait to try the soup, and look forward to more of your finds.

    I, too, love printed stuff, and never leave a tourist office empty-handed. But it's true -- when I need information, I almost never turn to the files, but to Google. It's still hard to resist a lovely brochure, though...

    1. Ansley: I squirreled away some of those brochures--just for the fun of discovering them again next time I clear out files! And, I just recycled leftover monkfish soup (we ate all the fish, but still had the soup left), thickening it slightly as a sauce for merluza (hake).