|Annie pours Sherry in the kitchen.|
This is fish day at Annie B’s cooking class in the white village of Vejer de la Frontera (Cádiz province, Andalusia). Annie B is Anne Manson, who left her corporate catering company in London to move to Spain. She fell in love with an 18th century house in Vejer, turned the salon into a big kitchen and has been hosting cooking courses and Sherry tasting classes ever since.
|Market orientation with Annie, in Barbate.|
At another stall we buy boquerones, fresh anchovies, and at yet another, clams. At a fruit and vegetable stand, Annie buys bunches of skinny asparagus spears to roast as a side dish and strawberries grown in nearby Conil to serve with cake. The vendor cuts open a small yellow melon and hands out samples to our group. So sweet. I buy one for the next day’s breakfast.
|Local produce at the Barbate market.|
“This cake is the only thing I make that’s not with olive oil,” says Annie, as she creams butter and sugar in a blender. One of us whizzes almonds, cocoa and chocolate in a food processor.
|Mixing up a flourless chocolate-almond cake.|
Once the cake is in the oven (Annie sets a timer, but she advises, “You’ll know it’s done when you press it, it springs back like the tip of your nose.”) we are introduced to a classic Andalusian dish, ajo blanco, a white garlic cold soup made with almonds. Annie’s version is made without bread. Lots of almonds and, a secret ingredient, apples, gives the soup consistency.
|Take the center out of garlic cloves.|
|Chopping apples, garlic, to blend with almonds for soup.|
We taste the soup. Wow! that’s a powerful wallop of garlic! Although only two cloves were used, the flavor is biting. Then Annie adds a spoonful of salt and a splash of Sherry vinegar. Another taste. The vinegar balances the sweetness of the apples and tames the sharpness of the garlic. Annie has her vinegar in a spray bottle and gives us a squirt on the back of our hands to taste. What a good idea, the spray bottle.
The ajo blanco goes into the fridge to chill. It will be served garnished with frozen grapes, a nice touch.
We whip up a quick salsa verde (green sauce) to serve with our main fish dish. Extra virgin olive oil into the blender, then spinach, parsley, mint, oregano, capers, Dijon mustard and a squirt of lemon. “Always start by blitzing the olive oil,”says Annie, “then add the herbs gradually to the oil. That way you’re extracting the herbs’ flavor, not their bitterness.”
|Annie shows how to fillet an anchovy.|
|Preparing fresh anchovies.|
Annie keeps aside some of the anchovies, dusts them lightly with flour and pan-fries them in an instant. Along with mojama, thinly sliced air-dried tuna, we enjoy our first nibbles served with the manzanilla, a Sherry from Sanlucar de Barrameda.
Annie, who is a qualified Sherry educator (she also has a cooking and Sherry course), tells us a little about this famous Andalusian wine. “If you go into a bar and ask for a “Sherry,” they’ll just look at you blankly. You have to be specific—a manzanilla, a fino, an amontillado, a palo cortado.”
The first pour is La Guita Manzanilla from Sanlucar de Barrameda, followed by fino Domecq la Janda from Jerez and Gutierrez Colosia Fino from El Puerto de Santa María. We have triangulated the Sherry region nicely.
|Jenny samples the clams with Sherry.|
While we are sipping, Annie’s assistant, Pepi, prepares her version of almejas a la marinera, clams in wine sauce. Instead of diced ham, this version has a spoonful of pimentón de la Vera, smoked paprika. The wine, of course, is Sherry. The sauce is so delicious that Annie relents and gives us some chunks of bread to mop up the juices.
|Glistening fresh sea bass, one of four fish to be baked in salt.|
Now, it’s on to the plato principal! Four fish baked in salt. Annie does the first one, showing how to place it on a bed of coarse sea salt, then cover it with salt, leaving a fin sticking up and an eye uncovered. “They are your thermometer,” she explains. “If you can easily pull out the fin, it’s done. If the eye is white and opaque, the fish is cooked.”
|Hands-on, patting sea salt on the fish. (From left, Jenny, Geraldine, Helen and Sue.)|
|View from the roof terrace--Vejer spreads out, the Atlantic coast beyond.|
|Crack the salt crust to spoon out moist fish. (From left, Carol, Annette, Geraldine, Jenny.)|
|Scooped off the bones, moist fish.|
To finish, we have the chocolate-almond cake with Sherry-soaked raisins spooned over, a dollop of crème fraiche and the sweetest strawberries ever. Gorgeous with a copita of PX, a liquid raisin wine.
|Carol enjoys cake and PX wine.|
|Streets of Vejer.|
Chilled White Garlic and Almond Gazpacho
½ medium apple, peeled, quartered and cored
100 grams blanched almonds (3 ½ ounces)
2 medium peeled garlic cloves, center stalk removed
300 ml bottled water (1 ¼ cups)
75 ml fruity extra virgin olive oil (1/3 cup)
1 ½ tablespoons Sherry vinegar
Wash and cut the grapes in half, de-seed and freeze.
Put the almonds, garlic and half the apple in a blender and whiz until paste is formed.
With the motor running slowly, add the water. Add the oil and vinegar. Finally add the remaining apple to allow for some crunchy texture. Season with salt.
Transfer to pitcher or bowl and chill for 2 hours.
Serve with frozen grapes.
Flourless Chocolate and Almond Cake
This dense chocolate cake is served topped with raisins that have been soaked in sweet PX Sherry. Annie keeps a jar of them macerating all the time, adding more wine or raisins as they are used.
50 grams cocoa powder ( ½ cup + 1 tbsp)
100 grams dark chocolate (3 ½ ounces)
120 grams peeled almonds (4 ounces)
100 grams butter (3 ½ ounces)
100 grams sugar (9 tablespoons)
½ teaspoon vanilla essence
Raisins macerated in Pedro Ximenez Sherry
In a food processor, blend the chocolate and cocoa with the almonds into a grainy mixture. Pour into a bowl.
In the same blender, cream the butter and the sugar for a few minutes until light and fluffy. Add one egg at a time and mix in the chocolate almond mixture until well combined.
Coat a 20-22cms (8-9 in) spring tin with bakewell paper. Fill with the chocolate mixture.
Bake for 30 minutes.
Turn onto a serving dish, cool and sprinkle with icing sugar before serving.
Serve with crême fraiche and PX soaked raisins.