Saturday, December 27, 2014


The brightest spot on a winter’s day is the sunny glow of clementines dangling from the tree in my garden. I’ve picked off all the low-hanging fruit, a few every day, to eat out of hand. Now I need to get my tall son to pick what remains from the higher branches.

Clementines are a cultivar of the citrus fruit, mandarin. They are easy-to-peel, fairly free of seeds and have a perfect balance of sweet and tangy juice.

Looking for an elegant dish for a dinner party, I latched on to my clementines as a stand-in for oranges in duck a l’orange. Instead of the old-fashioned gloppy sauce, I made a bright, sweet-sour sauce with clementine juice and PX wine.

PX is a gorgeous dessert wine produced from grapes of the Pedro Ximenez (PX) variety that are sun-dried before pressing, which concentrates the fruit and sugars. The wine tastes like liquid raisins with a subtle bitter-coffee aftertaste. It is produced in Jerez/Sherry, Málaga and in the region of Montilla-Moriles (Córdoba), where the PX variety is the principal grape (also used for dry, fino type wine). Serve PX wine with fruit and pastries for dessert, with cheese, spooned over ice cream or sponge cake. Reduce it to a syrup to glaze duck or pork tenderloin.

Remove peel and pith.
I wanted perfect clementine segments to finish the sauce, but I wasn’t so successful in cutting them into membrane-free segments. It’s easy to do with oranges or grapefruit, but this fruit is too small and delicate. I suggest peeling the clementines by slicing off the tops and bottoms, then cut down around the circumference of the clementines, removing skin and pith. Then, simply divide into segments, leaving the remaining membranes in place.

You’ll need 6 to 8 ounces boneless duck breast per serving.The half-breasts that I bought weighed about 12 ounces each, but you may find them considerably larger.

Scoring the layer of skin and fat helps to render out the fat while cooking, producing a nice crisp skin. Duck breast (also called magret) is usually served rare or medium rare, so it takes very little time to cook. It needs to rest 10 minutes before slicing. I served it with rice and sauteed pumpkin, a vegetable which goes very nicely with citrus. (Keep the reserved duck fat, refrigerated, to fry potatoes in on another day.)

Duck breast with clementine sauce--an elegant dinner.

Magret de Pato con Salsa de Clementinas
Duck Breast with Clementine Sauce

Serves 6

3 pounds boneless duck breast halves (3-4)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Sprigs of fresh thyme
1 tablespoon olive oil
3 shallots, finely chopped
½ cup PX wine
1 cup chicken stock
1 tablespoon Sherry vinegar
1 teaspoon anisette liqueur (optional)
5 clementines

With a sharp knife, score the skin and fat on the duck in a crosshatch, without cutting into the flesh. Sprinkle the duck breasts with salt, pepper and chopped thyme. Allow to come to room temperature.

Heat the oil in a saucepan and sauté the shallots until they are browned. Add the PX wine, stock, vinegar and anisette, if using. Season with ½ teaspoon salt, pepper and a sprig of thyme.

Remove the zest (peel without any white pith) from one of the clementines and add the zest to the saucepan with the juice of one clementine. Bring the sauce to a boil, then simmer until reduced by half, about 15 minutes. Taste for salt and add more, if needed. Discard the zest and sprig of thyme and set the sauce aside.

Peel the remaining clementines and divide into segments, removing as much of the membrane as possible.

Heat a heavy skillet and place the duck breasts, fat side down, in it. Cook them until fat is browned and crisped, about 5 minutes. Very carefully, pour or spoon off all the fat in the pan into a heatproof bowl.

Turn the duck breasts and cook the reverse side until browned, about 3 minutes for rare meat or longer for medium rare. Remove the breasts to a cutting board and allow to rest 10 minutes before slicing.

Reheat the sauce. Add 1 tablespoon of reserved duck fat to the sauce. Immediately before serving, add the clementines to the sauce.

Serve the sliced duck with sauce spooned over it.

Citrus and sweet wine make a delicious sauce for duck breast.

An elegant dish for a New Year's Eve dinner party.


Saturday, December 20, 2014


Chef Samuel Perea

While shopping this week at El Corte Inglés , Spain’s largest department store chain, looking for ideas for holiday meals, holiday gifts, I chanced upon a special event in the local store’s restaurant-cafeteria. La Cocina con Sabor a Málaga was a celebration of Málaga foods, interpreted by Chef Samuel Perea , a Malagueño who, as a sort of culinary ambassador, also cooks in Israel.

Chef Samuel was cooking a special menu featuring foods of Playas, Montes y Huertas—beaches, mountains and fields of Málaga. From the fields, an intensely flavored olive dip; from the sea, an escabeche of fresh anchovies with bitter orange; from the hills, roast baby kid-goat (and many more dishes). Chef Samuel, a self-taught cook, told me his dishes are mostly interpretations of the food he remembers from his childhood.

“When I was working in Cairo,” Samuel explained, “I missed my mother’s cooking and asked her to send me some recipes. That’s when I started cooking.” But, recipes, he said, are like a music score. They provide the “notes,” but each individual lends the interpretation—the sentiment,  experience and emotion—that makes them original.

He has worked in restaurants in Madrid and Málaga and, notably, with María José San Román  of Restaurante Monastrell in Alicante. With Chef María José, Samuel said, he made a qualitative culinary jump, putting together techniques, vision and food memories.

Samuel first went to Israel in the 1980s, sent by his Spanish company to do a course in border security. There, he set up a company commercializing skin products made with minerals from the Dead Sea. Returning frequently to Israel—including every Christmas to carry Christmas cards to the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem for blessing—Samuel made many friends, including in the culinary world. Collaborating with Israeli restaurateur Victor Bloger, he founded Cocina por la Paz, Cooking for Peace, an NGO to foment convivencia,  “living together,” amongst Jews, Muslims and Christians in Mediterranean countries. (Chef Samuel Perea will be at Restaurant Chloélys in Tel Aviv, Israel, cooking with Victor Gloger December 30 and 31.)

When peoples of various faiths sit down to share a meal at their special gatherings, Samuel said, they drink a toast to friendship and peace with olive oil.

Creamy olive dip, molturado de aceitunas.

Molturado de Aceitunas
Milled Olives

Chef Samuel said this smooth olive paste was inspired by the powerful aroma of fresh olives being molturado, crushed, at the mill. The resulting olive pulp is then pressed (or, in modern mills, put through a centrifugal extractor) to release the extra virgin olive oil.

I decided this olive oil dip would be the perfect dish to serve at a Hanukkah dinner this week. After all, Hanukkah is a celebration of olive oil. The holiday marks the victory in the 2nd Century BC of the Jewish Maccabees over an occupying force and the re-lighting of the menorah in the Temple. The olive oil for the menorah, enough for a single day, lasted for eight days and nights.

Adapted from the recipe by Samuel Perea.

Pitted Manzanilla olives.

Chef Samuel’s recipe calls for Aloreña Manzanilla olives (Álora is a town in Málaga province; Manzanilla is a variety of olive.). I used my own home-cured Manzanillas. Spanish brine-cured olives are usually whole, split open, and flavored with garlic and herbs. It’s easy to remove the pits—just squeeze them out or press them with the side of a knife on a cutting board. Brine-cured olives usually have enough salt that it’s not necessary to season them.

The original recipe by Chef Samuel calls for huevina (powdered egg), avoiding the issue of using raw eggs. As I couldn’t get powdered egg, I substituted whole raw egg in the recipe.

Serve the olive paste as a dip, a sandwich smear, a sauce. It's a wonderful accompaniment to grilled tuna, roast lamb, leftover turkey.

Grind in processor.

1 cup, packed, drained and pitted brine-cured olives
1 egg
½ tablespoon water or olive brine
1 cup extra virgin olive oil (Verdial, Hojiblanca or Arbequina variety) plus additional to serve
Regañas (crisp crackers), if desired

Set aside a few olives for garnish. Puree the rest in a food processor until smooth.

Place the egg, water and olive oil in the container of an immersion blender. Blend at high speed without lifting the blender until the mixture emulsifies. Then raise the blender wand and blend to incorporate any oil that is still unmixed.

Separate ½ cup of the oil/egg emulsion (this is olive oil mayonnaise) and reserve for another use (season with salt and lemon juice). Add the olive puree to the mayonnaise in the blender and blend until smooth. Chill the puree before serving.

Serve on a dish with additional olive oil and garnished with a few olives. Accompany with regañás crackers for dipping.

The sauce and the reserved mayonnaise keep, covered and refrigerated, up to one week.

Fresh anchovies in escabeche marinade with saffron and zest of bitter orange.

Manojitos de Boquerones en escabeche de Naranjas Cachorreña
Anchovy Bunches Marinated in Bitter Orange Escabeche

Chef Samuel’s recipe calls for the dried skin of a “cachorreña” orange. Cachorreña is a Málaga name for the bitter orange, the sour orange, beloved for marmalade and used also for sauces and soups. The fresh skin is mouth-numbingly bitter—so I chose to blanch it first. The juice is sour—a wonderful condiment in dressings for vegetables such as asparagus and artichokes. Look for bitter oranges in Latin markets at this time of year. If not available, substitute sweet orange and/or lemon.

Small, fresh anchovies are ideal for this dish, but if not available, try sardines or fillets of mackerel, herring or trout.

Serves 4.

½ pound small fresh anchovies (about 20)
Flour for dredging the anchovies
Olive oil for frying
1 bay leaf, lightly toasted in a skillet
3 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
6 peppercorns
1 strip zest from a bitter orange, blanched
Pinch of saffron, crushed
¼ cup white wine vinegar
Olive oil for frying plus additional to serve
Water (about ½ cup)
Lettuce, to garnish
Sliced orange or lemon, to garnish

Clean the anchovies, removing heads and guts (it is not necessary to fillet them). Rinse and drain well. Sprinkle with salt.

Heat the oil to a depth of 1 inch in a medium skillet. Gather 4or 5 anchovies together by the tails, dredge them in flour and, pinching the tails together, lay them in into the hot oil. Turn the anchovies when they are golden on one side and fry on the reverse side. Remove and drain on paper towels. Continue with remaining anchovies, making bunches, flouring and frying.

Place the anchovy bunches in a single layer in a shallow bowl.

In a small bowl combine the bay leaf, crushed garlic, peppercorns, blanched and chopped orange zest, saffron and vinegar. Add 1 tablespoon of the hot oil in which the anchovies were fried. Add 1 teaspoon salt. Pour this marinade over the anchovies with enough water to just barely cover them. Cover and marinate 2 hours or, refrigerate, and marinate up to 12 hours.

Lift the anchovies out of the marinade and place on serving plates with lettuce and sliced orange to garnish. Drizzle with additional olive oil to serve.

© Janet Mendel
Marinated anchovies--nice starter for a holiday meal.

Olive oil lamp for Hanukkah or Christmas. HAPPY HOLIDAYS.

Saturday, December 13, 2014


Ready for a party! (Photo © Michelle Chaplow)

Let the festive season begin! Time for glittering parties and cozy fireside dinners with friends. Here’s how to plan all your party menus, around Spanish tapas. 

Tapas, almost by definition, are bar food. Nevertheless, many of them translate very nicely to home entertaining. A spread of salads and cold dishes is very nice for a buffet dinner. Trays of finger foods--bites on bread or speared on toothpicks, fritters and croquettes—can be passed as hors d’ouevres at a drinks party. Many tapas can become starters, side dishes or main dishes, making them adaptable to any dinner party or even Christmas dinner. You only need to add dessert to complete the menu plan.

My cookbook, TAPAS—A BITE OF SPAIN, with photographs by Michelle Chaplow, has a whole chapter on how to plan a tapas party, including tips and complete menus for several kinds of parties, and all the recipes you need to execute the plan.

A really simple party plan for a big party is to choose one tapa from each chapter of the  book—“La Tabla / Sausage, Ham and Cheese”; “Montaditos y Tostadas / Bites on Bread” (see recipe below for Ham and Eggs on Toasts); Pintxos / Bites on a Pick”; “Platos Fríos / Salads and Cold Dishes (see recipe below for Shellfish Cocktail); “La Tortilla y Más / Potato Tortilla and More Egg Dishes”; “A la Plancha / Foods on the Grill”; “Cazuelitas / Saucy Dishes” (see recipe below for Piquillo Peppers Stuffed with Prawns); “Fritos / Out of the Frying Pan”; “Salsas y Aliños / Sauces, Dressings, Dips and Spreads,” and “Y Para Beber / What to Drink with Tapas”.

How many bites? For a drinks party (not dinner), figure on at least four different tapas to serve six to eight people. Each person will eat three or four of each one. Plan six to eight tapas for eight to 12 people. A guest will eat two or three of each. For big parties, more than 12 people, serve as many as 12 different tapas and expect each person to eat two or three.

Serving tips. Don´t put out all the tapas at once. Serve them two-by-two. Provide a clean ramekin, small dish or even paper plate for each tapa so that your guests don’t have to pile them on a plate together.

In Spain, you can buy inexpensive little cazuelitas, pottery dishes, for individual tapas, or use any ramekins, small bowls or, now that no one smokes anymore, recycled ceramic ashtrays for tapa dishes. If you don’t have enough individual small dishes to go around, plan tapas that can be picked up from a tray and don’t require dishes. Do provide napkins, as even finger foods and pintxos (bites on a pick) can be messy.

Here’s a sample menu taken from the Tapas book. All the recipes appear in the book.

Buffet dinner for a celebration.
This is perfect for a New Year’s Day open house or any grand celebration. You can adapt the menu to serve from 15 to 40. Choose a main dish to center the buffet, such as pre-cooked ham, turkey, roast pork or whole salmon, and add tapas to accompany it. Some can be passed as hors d’oeuvres. Most will be served as side dishes on the buffet table. Provide dinner plates, with knives and forks, as needed.

Cava cocktail                                 Lollipops of Quail in Escabeche
Sliced Serrano or Ibérico Ham   Shellfish Cocktail (recipe below)
Quince Paste with Cheese           Málaga Salad with Oranges and Olives
Partridge Pâté                                Cauliflower Salad
Fried Empanadillas with Tuna      Potato Casserole

Fry the tuna empanadillas before party time. Reheat them in the oven shortly before serving. The potato casserole, a wonderful side dish, can be prepared in advance and reheated in the oven before serving.

Shellfish cocktail. (Photo © Michelle Chaplow)

Salpicón de Mariscos
Shellfish Cocktail

This makes a lovely starter for a dinner party. Turn it into a luxury version by substituting chunks of cooked lobster for the prawns and mussels.

Makes 12 tapas or 6 starters.

½ kilo / 1 lb mussels, scrubbed and steamed open
250 g / ½ lb peeled prawns (shrimp)
3 ripe tomatoes, chopped
½ onion, chopped
1 green bell pepper, chopped
2 hard-boiled eggs, yolks separated from whites
1 clove garlic, crushed
6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
5 tablespoons wine vinegar
3 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley
1 teaspoon salt
Lettuce leaves, to garnish
Sliced avocado, to garnish

Remove mussels from shells, discarding any that have not opened. Save a few on the half-shell for garnish. Cook the peeled prawns in boiling salted water for 1 minute and drain.

In a bowl combine the chopped tomatoes, onion, green pepper and chopped egg whites.

In a small bowl mash the egg yolks with the crushed garlic. Whisk in the oil, vinegar, parsley and salt.

Add the prawns and mussels to the tomato mixture. Stir in the dressing and chill, covered, until serving time. Serve on a platter garnished with lettuce, avocado and reserved mussels on the half-shell.

Fried quail egg on toasts. (Photo © Michelle Chaplow )
Ham and Eggs on Toasts

How did this tapa get the name cojonudo? Well, those teensy quail eggs are just so ballsy. To crack the small eggs, give them a sharp tap with the blade of a knife, then break onto a saucer. Slip the egg from the saucer into hot oil in the frying pan. Fry four or five at a time. They cook in jiffy, so have the toasts and ham waiting when you start the eggs.

Makes 10.
10 slices baguette, brushed with olive oil and toasted in the oven
2 tablespoons olive oil
100 g / 3 ½ oz thinly sliced serrano ham
10 quail eggs
2 piquillo peppers (from a tin)
Coarse salt
Hot pimentón (paprika) or cayenne
Place the toasts on a serving dish. Brush a frying pan with a little oil and heat it. Lay the slices of ham in the pan, turn them quickly and remove. Divide the ham between the toasts.

Add remaining oil to the pan on medium heat. Break eggs, one at a time, into a saucer and slide them into the pan. Cook until whites are set but yolks still liquid, about 40 seconds. Lift the eggs out of the pan and place one on top of each toast.

Cut peppers into strips and lay one strip alongside each egg. Sprinkle with salt and pimentón. Serve immediately.

Stuffed piquillo peppers. (Photo © Michelle Chaplow )
Pimientos de Piquillo Rellenos con Gambas
Piquillo Peppers Stuffed with Prawns

Piquillo peppers are small, triangular-shaped red peppers. They are famous in Navarre, where they are roasted, skinned and tinned. Sweet and slightly piquant piquillos are lovely stuffed with seafood. The classic stuffing is bacalao, salt cod. In this version, which you might find in the taverns of San Sebastian, the filling is prawns in a creamy béchamel sauce.

The traditional way to prepare the peppers calls for an extra step—before baking with sauce, the peppers are coated in egg and quickly fried, giving them a sort of outer skin that holds peppers and stuffing together. 

Makes 6 tapas or 4 starters.

4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
2 tablespoons finely chopped onion
2 cloves garlic, chopped
2 tablespoons plain flour
1 tablespoon dry Sherry
230 ml / 8 fl oz / 1 cup less 1 tablespoon milk
½ teaspoon salt
150 g / 5 ¼ oz uncooked, small, peeled prawns (shrimp)
2 (185-g / 6 ½ -oz) tins piquillo peppers (16 to 20 peppers), drained
4 tablespoons white wine
Flour for dredging peppers
1 egg, beaten
Olive oil to fry the peppers
50 g / 1 ¾ oz grated cheese

Heat 2 tablespoons of the oil in a saucepan on medium heat. Sauté the onion and 1 clove of the garlic, 2 minutes. Stir in the flour and cook 1 minute. Whisk in the Sherry, milk and salt. Cook, stirring constantly, until sauce is thickened, 5 minutes. Stir in the prawns and cook 2 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat.

Select 12 of the drained peppers. Carefully spread them open and spoon prawn filling into them. Place them in a single layer on a shallow pan or tray. When all are filled, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 1 hour to allow the mixture to thicken.

While the prawn mixture is chilling, prepare the sauce. Combine remaining 2 tablespoons oil, 1 clove of garlic, white wine and remaining piquillo peppers in a blender and blend until smooth.

Preheat oven to 180ºC / 350ºF.

Place flour and beaten egg in two shallow bowls. Heat oil in a frying pan on medium heat. Dip the open end of the stuffed peppers into flour, then dredge the peppers in flour. Roll in beaten egg and fry until lightly golden. Remove the peppers from the frying pan and place them in a baking dish or individual cazuelitas. Spoon the sauce over the peppers and top with grated cheese.

Bake the peppers until cheese is melted and sauce is bubbly, 15 minutes. Serve hot or room temperature.

Recipes and text © Janet Mendel
Photos © Michelle Chaplow


Tapas—A Bite of Spain shows you how to translate Spanish tapas from tasca to your own table. The book includes guides to Spanish ham, cheeses, olives, olive oil and wines; a handy Spanish-English glossary, and 140 recipes for favorite tapa dishes. Full-color photos are by Michelle Chaplow, professional hotel and travel photographer ( Design is by Cheryl Gatward.

Measurements for ingredients are given in three standards, metric, British and American, so the recipes are usable on any continent.

Saturday, December 6, 2014


Diego Velázquez, An Old Woman Cooking Eggs, 1618, Oil on canvas, 39 ½ x 47 inches
Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh
© Trustees of the National Galleries of Scotland
 Masterpieces from the Scottish National Gallery, at The Frick Collection in New York City, through February 1.

You don’t need a recipe to learn how to fry an egg—the painting by Velázquez tells it all. Start with very fresh campo ("country", eg, free-range) eggs. Heat olive oil in an earthenware cazuela (or small skillet). Use plenty of olive oil, to a depth of about 1 inch. Break an egg (or two) into the hot oil. Use a wooden spoon (or espumadera, skimmer) to ladle a little oil over the top of the egg.

Fry egg in cazuela
or in a skillet.

When whites are cooked, yolk still runny, skim the egg out. Immersed in oil, the egg cooks very quickly, so take it out before it looks done. It’s fine if the egg whites get a lacy brown edge—puntilla. The yolk should have a filmy white top, cooked by the hot oil spooned over it.

After removing the egg, you can add onion, garlic or peppers to the oil, if desired. Or, drain off the oil and fry some chorizo sausage to go with the egg.. Crush some dried sweet red pepper in a mortar—or just use a sprinkle of pimentón (paprika). Serve the fried egg with bread. Ya está. A comer. Not breakfast. Could be lunch. The perfect supper.

Fried egg, chorizo and fried peppers, a perfect supper.

Fried eggs also go with migas, fried breadcrumbs (migas recipe) and with pisto, a splendid dish of mixed vegetables (pisto recipe).

Migas, fried breadcrumbs, topped with fried egg.
Pisto--mixed vegetable stew--with fried egg.

Huevos Rotos
“Broken” Eggs (Fried Eggs and Potatoes)

Huevos rotos--fried eggs broken over fried potatoes--a classic tapa.
This simple combination of fried eggs and potatoes is a classic tapa, famous at Casa Lucio in Madrid. The potatoes can be sliced or cut in strips, as for fries. Fry the potatoes in abundant olive oil.
I measured out 1 cup of olive oil to fry the potatoes (in an 11-inch skillet). After frying the sliced potatoes, I put them in a strainer to drain off the oil (which can be used again). Then I measured the oil again. I had used less than 1/8 of a cup. So, the potatoes soak up very little oil.
Serves 2 (allowing 1 or 2 eggs per person) or 4 tapas.

3 medium potatoes
3 cloves garlic
1 cup olive oil
2 ounces thinly sliced serrano ham
2-4 eggs
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Peel the potatoes, cut them in half lengthwise, then slice crosswise about ¼-inch thick. Pat the potatoes dry. Lightly crush the garlic cloves with the side of a knife, but do not peel them (skins keep them from burning).

Heat all of the oil in a medium skillet. Add the potatoes and garlic to the oil. Turn them in the oil to coat them. When potatoes just begin to brown, turn down the heat, and turn them again. Cook on medium heat until the potatoes are tender, stirring frequently, about 10 minutes. They do not need to brown or crisp.

Place a heat-proof strainer over a heat-proof bowl. Carefully pour the contents of the skillet into the strainer and allow all of the oil to drain off. Spread the potatoes on a serving dish. Sprinkle them with salt. (Potatoes can be kept warm in a low oven.)

Once the oil is drained off, add the slices of ham to the hot skillet. Give them a quick turn (30 seconds total) and remove. Place the ham around the potatoes on the platter.

Pour enough of the oil into a small (8-inch) skillet to come to a depth of ½ inch. Heat until shimmering. Break 1 egg into a saucer or cup and carefully pour it into the hot oil. Use a spoon or edge of a skimmer to spoon oil over the top of the egg. Use the skimmer to remove the egg when the white is set but yolk still runny. Place the fried egg on top of the potatoes.

Continue frying eggs, one by one, and place them on the potatoes. Use two spoons to break open the yolks, letting them run onto the potatoes. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and serve immediately. 

Fried eggs, ham and potatoes.
Fried egg with pisto--a melange of eggplant, zucchini and pumpkin.


Saturday, November 29, 2014


Chicken chilindrón, with a heap of sweet red peppers.

Very large red peppers.
I’m still harvesting from the summer garden! We had a bumper-crop of pumpkins (Thanksgiving pies) and the green beans are still producing. At long last, my bell peppers are ripening. These are big red, thick-fleshed, sweet peppers, bigger than market-size bell peppers. They’re perfect for stuffing or for roasting and skinning.

In Spain, the regions of the Ebro river valley—La Rioja, Navarra and Aragón (inland north-central Spain)—are famous for sweet peppers. Here the best-known dish made with peppers is chilindrón, peppers stewed with chicken or lamb. I made chicken in chilindrón to celebrate my harvest-season peppers.

 Pollo al Chilindrón
Chicken with Sweet Red Peppers

Chicken stewed with red and green peppers, tomatoes, onion and wine.

Use a whole, cut-up chicken or all legs and thighs for this recipe. You will need 3 or 4 roasted bell peppers. Roast your own or substitute store-bought flame-roasted peppers. Patatas fritas—potatoes fried in olive oil—are the usual accompaniment. But rice or wide noodles would be great to soak up the sauce.

Serves 4-6.

3-4 red bell peppers
2 ½ pounds chicken pieces
Salt and pepper
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 green pepper, cut in 1-inch pieces
2 onions, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, chopped
3 ounces serrano ham, cut in thin strips (optional)
½ teaspoon sweet pimentón (paprika)
Red chile flakes (optional)
4 tomatoes, grated (about 2 cups tomato pulp)
1/3 cup white wine

Roast peppers over gas flame.

Roast the peppers on a grill over hot coals, over a gas flame or under the broiler, turning them until charred on all sides. Remove the peppers to a bowl, cover and allow them to cool. Discard stems and seeds and rub off the charred skin. Cut or tear the peeled peppers into strips.

Rub off the charred skin.

Sprinkle the chicken pieces with salt and pepper and allow to come to room temperature. Heat the oil in a cazuela or deep skillet and brown the chicken pieces on all sides. Remove them as they are browned.

Add the cut-up green pepper, onions, garlic and ham, if using, to the pan and sauté until onion begins to brown, 6 to 8 minutes. Stir in the pimentón and chile flakes, if using. Add the grated tomato pulp and cook on high for 3 minutes. Stir in the wine, ½ teaspoon salt and freshly ground pepper. Return the chicken pieces to the pan. Cover and let the chicken simmer 30 minutes. Turn the chicken pieces, add the reserved red pepper strips and uncover the pan. Cook until chicken is tender, another 20 minutes.

Chicken chilindrón, a dish famous in Aragón.

The sauce of sweet peppers is good with potatoes, rice or noodles.
Sweet bell peppers, roasted, peeled and cut in strips. Add olive oil, a splash of vinegar and heap them on toasts. Top with strips of anchovies for a delicious tapa.

Sunday, November 23, 2014


As promised last week, here is the recipe for the luscious almond torte—Torta de Santiago—that we made on the cooking course for Hanna’s birthday.

For me, this cake is special for the harvest season, when I pick basketsful of almonds. It’s perfect for Thanksgiving or other holiday meals.

Santiago de la Compostela is a town in Galicia in northwest, green Spain, where the pilgrimage site of the shrine of St. James is located. (Curiously, almonds do not grow in this region of Spain.) The torte usually is decorated with the cross of St. James picked out in powdered sugar, as pictured on the cover of the cookbook in the photo. If you are thinking that's an odd way to spell cocina, you're right--the book is in the Galician language, not castellano Spanish. After I bought the book, I had to order a Spanish-Galician dictionary in order to translate the recipes. For our version, we used a fig leaf for the template instead of the pilgrims' cross.

Hanna pegs a fig leaf to the top of the baked torte, then dusts the top with powdered sugar. When the leaf is carefully removed, it leaves a pattern on the torte.

For the holidays, I accompany the torte with quince sorbet that’s easy to prepare from dulce de membrillo, ready-made quince paste or quince jelly. It’s also delicious with fruit puree or compote. Nothing wrong with a dollop of whipped cream either.

Almond torte.

Almond Torte from Santiago de la Compostela
Torta de Almendras de Santiago

Buy ground almonds—unsweetened almond meal. Spread them in a baking sheet and toast them in a preheated 375º oven, stirring frequently, until they are lightly colored.
The recipe calls for a 10- or 11-inch springform mold. If you use a smaller pan, the torte will require longer baking time.

My tastes have changed since I tested this recipe for a cookbook some 10 years ago. This time, I reduced the sugar, from 2 3/4 cups to 2 cups, and liked the torte every bit as much.

Serves 10-12, cut in thin wedges.

500 g / 1 lb almonds, blanched, skinned and finely ground (or about 6 cups ground almonds)
150 g / 5 ¼ oz (2/3 cup) butter
500 g / 1 lb 2 oz (2 ¾ cups) sugar
7 eggs
150 g / 5 ¼ oz (1 ¼ cups) plain flour
1 tablespoon lemon zest
icing (confectioners’) sugar

Spread the ground almonds in an oven tin and toast them in a moderate oven, stirring frequently, until they are lightly golden. Take care they do not brown. Cool.

Cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs one at a time, then stir in the flour, ground almonds and grated lemon zest. Pour into a 10-inch buttered spring-form mold and bake in a preheated moderate oven (180º C / 350ºF) until a skewer inserted in the center comes out clean, about 45 minutes.

Cool the torte 10 minutes, then remove from the mold and cool on a rack. Before serving dust the top with icing sugar. If desired, place a template of the Santiago pilgrim’s cross on the torte, sprinkle with sugar, brush sugar off the template and remove it.

Almond torte and quince sorbet, a lovely combination.
Quince sorbet

Quince Sorbet
Sorbete de Membrillo

Quince is a full-flavored, old-fashioned fruit that looks like an over-sized, knobbly apple. Somewhere between apple and pear in flavor and texture, the quince has a leathery skin rich in pectin. Cooked with sugar, the fruit sets up as a stiff jelly (also called quince paste) that can be cut into slices.

Quince paste
Quince paste (look for it in the cheese section of your grocery store or gourmet shop) is an easy starting point for this sorbet. Although the fruit has a pleasing graininess, the pectin makes a creamy ice without any fat.

Serves 8.

1 ½ cups quince paste (14 ounces/400 grams)
2 ½ cups water
¼ cup sugar
1 teaspoon grated orange zest
2 tablespoons lemon juice
Pinch of ground cloves

Allow the quince jelly to come to room temperature.

In a saucepan combine the water with the sugar. Bring to a boil and simmer 2 minutes. Add the quince jelly to the water and stir over low heat until it is dissolved. Stir in the orange zest, lemon juice, and cloves.

Cool the quince mixture, stirring occasionally, then puree it in a blender. Chill the quince mixture. Place in an ice-cream maker and process according to manufacturer’s directions. Or, freeze the quince mixture, then beat it until smooth and return to the freezer.

Place the frozen quince sorbet in a container with a tight seal and freeze at least 2 hours.

Soften the sorbet before serving.

Saturday, November 15, 2014


Chad and Hanna  prepare meatballs for a tapas party.

“Great meatballs,” says Chad, stirring them into the saffron-almond sauce. “I’ll make these at home using moose meat with a little pork.” Moose meat? “Well, I wouldn’t buy beef if I’ve got the freezer full of moose.”

Chad and Hanna live in Whitehorse, Yukon (Canada), where moose is more common than beef. Somehow, via many Google searches, they have found their way to my kitchen in Spain for a four-day cooking course. The meatballs (here, a mixture of ground beef and pork) are part of our grand finale tapas party.

The kitchen sojourn is part of Chad and Hanna’s first-ever trip to Spain. Chad is a Canadian federal fishery officer (sort of like the salmon police) for Yukon and northwest British Columbia. Hanna is a big game outfitter ( who operates a hunting camp in northern British Columbia. A world away from the Mediterranean.

Nevertheless, they are pretty savvy about olive oil. (Hanna wonders if her bottle of olive oil, left in the kitchen at base camp, will still be good after being frozen during the winter. Not a question I can answer.) They have heard of smoked pimentón (paprika) and saffron. But, it’s for me to introduce them to many more Mediterranean foods.

Pine cones bearing pine nuts.
We pick almonds from the tree to crack, to use in the almond sauce and to toast for snacking—perfect with Sherry. I show them where the pine nuts come from—the Mediterranean stone pine that towers over my patio (pine nuts go into the chard with raisins side dish). Hanna gathers some of the pine cones bearing the tiny nuts to take home to her kids.

Home-cured olives with herbs.
They taste my home-cured olives. I show them which trees I picked them from (fat manzanilla variety) and describe the simple process of soaking in water then placing in a brine with garlic, thyme and fennel. For our cooking, I fill a bottle with new olive oil from the mill, received in payment for the 50 kilos of olives I picked.

Málaga raisins.
At the market Chad and Hanna buy Málaga moscatel raisins still on the stems, local dried figs (we’ll use them in a pumpkin-quince compote). I introduce them to membrillo—quince fruit and delicious quince jelly made from the fruit that we use to make an autumnal sorbet. From the spice vendor we get a mix of spices for our Moorish pinchitos (mini kebabs), saffron (unfortunately, this is not the finest La Mancha saffron), pimentón, and nutmeg, from Indonesia, but essential in Spanish meatballs. Hanna has never seen whole nutmegs before.

At the fish monger’s, Chad, who monitors wild salmon runs on Yukon rivers, is not too impressed with the Atlantic farmed salmon on sale here. We buy squid, shrimp and mussels for paella. He’s pleased to see that shrimp come with their heads on, which we’ll use to make a simple stock for cooking the paella.

Sizzling shrimp pil pil.
Later, Chad says the shrimp they trap off their trawler in southeast Alaskan waters is so much sweeter than the ones we have bought here. “No comparison.” But, he is crazy for gambas al pil pil, shrimp sizzled in olive oil with garlic in small cazuelas. “That’s amazing. I can’t wait to try it with our shrimp. We have to get some proper cazuela dishes for the boat.”

Gazpacho for a sunny fall day.
Back in the kitchen, on a sunny fall day, we decide to make gazpacho as well as a hearty chickpea, chard and pumpkin soup. Hanna suggests adding sliced radishes from the garden to garnish the gazpacho. Nice.

Hanna chops pumpkin for soup.
Chard and pumpkin go into a hearty fall soup with chickpeas.

Chad shows expertise in flipping his first real Spanish potato tortilla. We finish lunch with a sampling of several Spanish cheeses, all with denominación de origen.

A selection of Spanish cheeses to sample.
Olive oil lights.

For Hanna's birthday we have a gorgeous almond torte (recipe next week), bubbly cava and "candles." Hanna is charmed by the floating wicks of my olive oil lamps.

Links to recipes that are mentioned in this blog :
Soup with chickpeas, chard and pumpkin (berza de acelga).
Paella with Chicken and Shellfish
Sizzling shrimp (gambas al pil pil).
Meatballs in almond sauce (albóndigas en salsa de almendras).
 Moorish mini-kebabs(pinchitos morunos).
Pumpkin-quince compote (arrope con calabaza).
Chard with raisins and pine nuts (acelgas con pasas y piñones).