Sunday, June 29, 2014


Great sandwiches!

The reign in Spain. I’ll admit, this is a bit of a stretch—to rope the coronation of a new king into a food blog—but, I’ll try.

Last week, King Juan Carlos I, who has reigned in Spain since 1976, abdicated the Spanish throne. His son, Felipe, swore fealty to the constitution and was proclaimed King Felipe VI at a ceremony before both houses of parliament. It wasn’t, actually, a coronation, as the symbolic crown is never set on the monarch’s head, but never mind. (For pictures of the ceremony, go to the official page of the Casa Real . )

And, so, as the Walrus said, “The time has come to talk of many things,” among them, cabbages and kings. Hah! Now we’ve got food and kings on the same page! (The poem comes from Through the Looking Glass, by Lewis Carroll.)

Shortly, the Walrus and Carpenter manage to lure several dozen oysters out of the briny sea.

"A loaf of bread,” the Walrus said,
“Is what we chiefly need.
Pepper and vinegar besides
Are very good indeed—“

A loaf of bread! This is shaping up nicely. Let them eat sandwiches!  Oyster sandwiches would be a treat, but, lacking those, how about tuna, sardines, cheese, ham, chorizo, pork loin, egg?

In Spain, two words are used to mean sandwich. "Sandwich," as in English, means thinly sliced loaf bread, usually with the crusts removed, between which is sandwiched sliced ham, cheese, chicken, etc. It may or may not be grilled. A bocadillo, however, is more akin to a whole meal. It’s made by splitting a bollo, a roll, small baguette or even a whole crusty loaf and spreading or filling it.

A real bocadillo must be firmly grasped in both hands and the mouth opened very wide. The filling can be simple—sliced chorizo, salchichón, cheese, canned tuna—or more substantial—a thick slab of potato tortilla, for example.

Salchichón on a whole wheat roll.

“The best thing about a bocadillo is that it’s fresh,” said one sandwich maven. “The bollo is the whole point. It’s gotta be crunchy on the outside, soft on the inside. The fillings are infinitely permutable.” But, he added, the bread should be cut and the meat, cheese or other filling ingredients should be added immediately before serving.

If bread is not radically fresh, toasting it on a grill pan definitely improves it.

Serrano Ham and Pork Loin Sandwich

Un Serranito--pork loin, serrano ham, fried pepper.

Easy marinade for pork loin.

Marinate thinly sliced pork loin with salt, chopped garlic, chopped parsley, a pinch of pimentón (paprika) and a squeeze of lemon for 30 minutes. Quickly fry the slices in olive oil. Use the oil and drippings in the pan to dribble on the bread rolls.

Use thin green frying peppers, one per sandwich. Fry them, whole, in olive oil until browned and limp. Remove the stem and seeds and lay a pepper on each sandwich. (More about frying peppers here .) 

For 1 sandwich:
Bollo or baguette, split open lengthwise
Sliced tomato
Slices of fried pork loin
Thinly sliced serrano ham
Fried green pepper
Alioli (optional)

To assemble, place sliced tomatoes on the bottom slice of bread which has been drizzled with oil from the frying of the pork.. Add a layer of fried pork loin, then serrano ham. Top with fried green pepper. Add a few blobs of alioli, if desired.

Capote con Atún
Tuna and Roasted Pepper Sandwiches

Chunks of tuna, roasted peppers and a garlicky sauce.

Chapata is the Spanish version of ciabatta, a slightly flattened loaf with a light, airy crumb. 

Short cut: Buy ready-roasted peppers.

Makes 6 sandwiches.

1 large green bell pepper
1 large red bell pepper
1 (9 oz) jar light tuna in olive oil
½ cup mayonnaise
1 tablespoon finely chopped spring onion
2 cloves minced garlic
1 tablespoon drained capers
2 tablespoons lemon juice
Pinch of cayenne
3 small chapatas (ciabattas)

Place the peppers on a pan and roast them under the broiler until charred on all sides, about 25 minutes total. Remove, cover the pan and allow to stand until cool. Peel the peppers and discard stem and seeds. Cut the peppers into wide strips.

Drain the tuna, saving 2 tablespoons of the oil.

Place the mayonnaise in a small bowl and whisk the reserved tuna oil into it. Add the chopped onion, minced garlic, capers, lemon juice and cayenne.

Split the chapatas in half. Toast them lightly, one side only, on a grill pan. Spread the bottom slices with the mayonnaise. Divide the chunks of tuna between the three sandwiches. Top them with strips of peppers. Cut each sandwich in half to serve.

Split chapatas in half to make two sandwiches.

Emparedados de Jamón y Queso
Fried Ham and Cheese Sandwiches

These ham and cheese sandwiches are dipped in egg and fried.
These are a dream version of a cheese toastie, fried instead of grilled. Use cooked ham, serrano or ibérico—your choice—and Manchego or smoked Idiazábal cheese for superb flavour.

Makes 4 sandwiches

6 ounces thinly sliced serrano ham
6 ounces sliced cheese
8 slices day-old sandwich loaf
1/3 cup milk
1 egg, beaten
1/3 cup fine dry breadcrumbs
Olive oil for frying

Layer the ham and cheese on four of the bread slices. Top each with a slice of bread and press them together. Trim off the crusts and cut the sandwiches diagonally in half.

Dip each piece into milk, then beaten egg, then breadcrumbs. Heat enough oil in a frying pan to cover the bottom and fry the sandwiches, a few at a time, until browned on both sides. Serve hot.

Oh, and for the cabbage, try this version of slaw. Fit for a king.

Cole Slaw with Toasted Garlic
Ensalada de Col

Pour hot dressing over raw, shredded cabbage for an unusual cole slaw. The smoked pimentón makes this especially good with grilled foods. In the early fall, when pomegranates are in season, their ruby-red seeds are used to garnish this salad. Otherwise, use a little chopped apple.

Serves 6.

½ cabbage, finely shredded (4 cups)
¼ cup chopped red onion
1 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons olive oil
3 cloves garlic, sliced
¼ teaspoon cumin seed
½ teaspoon smoked pimentón (paprika)
3 tablespoons vinegar
1 tablespoon water
Pomegranate seeds or chopped apple to garnish

Place the cabbage and onion in a salad bowl and sprinkle with salt. Mix well and allow to stand for at least 30 minutes

Heat the oil in a small skillet and sauté the sliced garlic and cumin just until garlic is lightly golden. Remove from the heat and stir in the pimentón. Add the vinegar and water. Bring the dressing to a boil and pour it over the cabbage. Toss well.

Let the cabbage marinate at least 30 minutes before serving or cover and refrigerate and serve the following day. Garnish with pomegranate or apple

Saturday, June 21, 2014


During my first year living in a small village in southern Spain,  shopping and cooking were a daily adventure. I hung out in the kitchens of local tapa bars. I  collected recipes from Spanish neighbors. In search of recipes, I would be sent off to talk to someone’s grandmother in the barrio at the end of the village, or to a tia way out in the country.

I scribbled notes, filling many notebooks with recipes—I’ve lost count of how many versions of gazpacho I gathered! I borrowed recipe notebooks from friends and transcribed their family dishes, handed down from grandmother to mother to daughter, to try in my own kitchen. 

Through the cooking, I learned much about the people, culture and way of life of my adopted village. I made lifelong friends. My cooking articles, cookbooks and, now, this blog have all grown from those early forays into the village kitchen. (Read about my experiences in My Kitchen in Spain, the cookbook.)

Cookbook by Debbie Jenkins. The dish pictured on the cover is Gachasmigas, fried bread crumbs with sausage.

So, it was with much interest that I opened SPANISH VILLAGE COOKING—Over 150 simple, family recipes from a rural village in Spain, by Debbie Jenkins and the Chefs of La Murta (NativeSpain; Great Britain, 2014).  Debbie, who is from Birmingham, England, moved to Spain with husband, Marcus, in 2005.

“We wanted to find a place to live away from the touristy areas, with some land and close to a Spanish village - that's how we found La Murta,” says Debbie. La Murta is a village in the province of Murcia, south-eastern Spain, about halfway between the city of Murcia, to the north, and the seaport, Cartagena, to the south. The village has just slightly more than 100 inhabitants. Debbie and Marcus live on 6 ½ acres of land outside of the village,  in the campo, countryside.

“One of our main plans when moving to Spain was to properly integrate, not to live in an urbanization and converse only with English speakers. So we offered to be on the village fiesta committee.

”Being part of the fiesta organizing gang means you get intimately involved in village life - we cook for a village fund raiser every month and have bigger parties a couple of times a year. We quickly realized that our village likes their food! It's probably the most important part of our village identity. We have three bakeries that supply restaurants in the city. To put that into perspective, 100 people in the village, 3 bakeries producing 600kg of bread per day that gets driven into the city every day by 3 bread vans. That's 200 tonnes per year! We also have our own sausage-making shop, a cake-making shop and our own wine!”

Just as I did all those years ago, Debbie gathered traditional recipes from her neighbors in La Murta. In spite of the words “chefs” in the book’s title, none of the collaborators is a professional cook. Most of the recipes, which are published in both Spanish and English, are extremely local.

In fact, it seemed to me that I could “read” the region’s geography in the recipes. So many called for pine nuts. Yes, confirmed Debbie, there are pine forests in the Sierra de Carrascoy. Almond and olive trees grow on surrounding hills. Huertas—Murcia is known for its market gardens—lead down across the Campo de Cartagena to the sea.  The locals also farm sheep, goats and pigs.

The book opens with a recipe for Michirones—no translation provided! This is a rustic dish peculiar to the Murcia region, made with dried fava beans stewed with ham, pork fat, chorizo and sobrasada, a soft sausage. I think I’ll save that one for cold weather.

The book has a good selection of arroces—rice dishes, not called paella—many with the local vegetables. Rice with rabbit; rice with snails, artichokes and peas; rice with beans, sweet potatoes, artichokes and peas; rice with spare ribs and pork; rice with market garden vegetables; rice with fish and seafood; rice with cod.

Recipes for fish croquettes, meatballs, stuffed squid, rabbit, lamb stew, roast lamb and cabrito, kid-goat, all call for pine nuts. All sound delicious.

The cooks of La Murta seem to be specialists in all types of sweets—puddings, desserts, cookies and cakes—for this section of the book is the longest of all.

There are photos of many of the recipes by Marcus Jenkins. These are especially helpful in picturing how a dish should appear.

I chose two recipes from the book to try out in my kitchen, both using seasonal vegetables.  I’ve left the recipes in metric measures that Debbie uses in the book, but added helpful conversions in parentheses.

Scrambled Eggs & Vegetables

Zarangollo, a Murcia dish of eggs scrambled with vegetables.
I love this typical Murcian dish. Debbie says that in La Murta it is usually served as a light supper. “We also eat it as a side dish at fiesta lunches - but it's more usual for supper. They put all sorts of vegetables in the dish - basically whatever is in season or left over!”

My kitchen notes: I used 4 tablespoons of olive oil to fry 1 ¼ pounds chopped potatoes, 1 cup chopped onion, 4 cups chopped zucchini (1 pound) and 1 teaspoon salt. I couldn’t resist adding a little chopped red bell pepper, definitely a seasonal addition.

Serves 4.

3 potatoes, sliced thinly
1 onion, finely chopped
1 courgette (zucchini), finely chopped
2 eggs
Olive oil
Salt to taste

Slowly fry the potatoes, onion and courgette in olive oil. When softened add the eggs and mix well. Continue cooking until the eggs are firm. Add a little salt to taste.

Pastel de Berenjena
Aubergine (Eggplant) Terrine 

Fried eggplant, ground pork and cheese--a delicious casserole.
My kitchen notes: Use 4 good-sized eggplants, about 3 ½ pounds. You will need quite a lot of olive oil to fry this quantity of sliced eggplant. I tried the recipe both with fried eggplant and with slices that were brushed with oil and baked until soft. The authentic version really is better--frying makes for a juicy and delicious final dish. You will also need about 2 tablespoons of olive oil to make the frito of onion, pork and tomatoes. I used 6 slices of cheese (about 4 ounces) between the layers.

Serves 4-6.

2 kg aubergines (eggplants)
500 g (1 ¼ pounds) minced (ground) pork
1 large onion
500 g (1 ¼ pounds) tomatoes
Slices of cheese
100 g (4 oz) grated cheese
1 egg
Knob of butter
Pinch of salt

Cut the aubergines into finger-thick slices. Fry them in olive oil and set aside. Make a frito by frying the minced pork, finely chopped onion and chopped tomatoes until they are softened and reduced, about 20 minutes.

Now make the terrine: place a layer of aubergines(half of them) in a deep oven pan, followed by a layer of the frito (about half of it) and the slices of cheese. On top of that the rest of the aubergines followed by the rest of the frito.

Mix the egg and grated cheese and pour on top with a knob of butter. Cook in the oven for about 30 minutes at 180ºC (350ºF).

A satisfying dish.

Debbie blogs about life in Spain at  The cookbook, Spanish Village Cooking, is available from Amazon.

Murcia is known for its market gardens.

Saturday, June 14, 2014


My nine-year-old grandson, Leo, is staying with us this week. He recently announced himself as “vegetarian.” Although he’s not a strict fundamentalist about it, he’s mainly not eating meat, poultry or fish. So, I planned the week’s menus to honor his inclinations.

Here’s what I’m cooking. Most of these entrees are by no means Spanish (the quesadillas are made with Mexican tortillas), but they are all made using Spanish ingredients—olive oil instead of other vegetable oil, pimentón (paprika) as a favored seasoning, Spanish cheeses (semi-cured Manchego is an all-round good one), piquillo peppers.

Quesadillas--smoked pimentón stands in for chorizo flavor.
 Monday. Quesadillas and guacamole. The recipe for quesadillas on the package of (Mexican) "tortillas with corn" calls for onion, chopped potato, chorizo and seasoning. I swapped canned pinto beans for the chorizo, threw in some finely chopped zucchini as well. While I was frying the onions and potatoes, I added a spoonful of smoked pimentón. Leo’s dad appeared in the kitchen and asked, “Are you cooking chorizo?” Smoked pimentón is what gives chorizo such a distinctive aroma. Grated semi-cured Manchego topped the filling before folding it into a tortilla and browning in a little olive oil. Cooking for a kid, I served chilies on the side and kept the cilantro out of the guac. This meal was a great success!

Melted cheese, oregano, give a pizza flavor to stuffed zucchini.
Tuesday. Courgette “Pizza.” Not really pizza, but lots of pizza flavors. Courgette is another name for zucchini. This was an enormous one from a friend’s garden. I cut it in half lengthwise, scooped out the seeds and baked the shells for about 15 minutes. I made a sofrito with chopped onions, mushrooms, chard, carrots and tomatoes, seasoned it with garlic and lots of oregano. I mixed the sofrito with cooked brown rice, an egg beaten with a spoonful of cream cheese and diced cheese (Mahón). I stuffed the zucchini shells with this mixture and topped them with grated mozzarella. Into the oven again until the cheese was melted and lightly browned. On the side were marinated cucumbers (Leo adores these) and a green salad. We all enjoyed this meal.

Huevos fritos, patatas fritas--a kid favorite.

Wednesday. Huevos fritos, papas fritas y pisto. Fried eggs, potatoes and vegetable pisto, a Spanish kid’s favorite supper. My son Ben did the cooking. I gotta say, he makes the best fries in the world, crisped in olive oil. We had huevos del campo, free-range country eggs. Pisto is a vegetable medley, a sofrito, with zucchini, onions, peppers, garlic and tomatoes fried in olive oil.

Rava dosas--crêpes--and curried vegetables.
Thursday.  Rava Dosas with Potato and Chickpea Masala. This recipe comes from Gourmet Weekday: All-Time Favorite Recipes (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), but I found it on Leite's Culinaria.  Rava dosas are thin crêpes, made with rice flour, semolina and plain flour. The masala is a vegetable curry. I omitted the jalapeño and cut down the quantity of curry powder to make it kid-friendly. (Chilies on the side.) With a side of chana dal (yellow lentils), this made a delicious vegan meal. Or, you could choose, as I did, to add a raita of chopped cucumbers, yogurt and mint. Leo loved it!

Best burger--it's juicy, with "meaty" texture.
Friday. Best Burgers. I have tried dozens of veggie burger recipes, and finally came up with this one. I think it’s the best of all. The rice makes it all stick together, so it doesn’t need egg. The mushrooms contribute the necessary umami whammy. Olive oil keeps the burgers juicy. Smoked pimentón adds that char-grilled essence. Carrots give some texture. I use TVP (textured vegetable protein, a soy product) in this, but coarse, dry breadcrumbs can be substituted.

Serve the burgers on toasted buns with eggplant fries (dust eggplant strips with flour and fry until golden in olive oil) and cole slaw with olive oil dressing. Leo likes his burger and fries with brand-name mayonnaise and ketchup. I like them with sauces such as mojo verde, green chili sauce, recipe here, and salsa de piquillos, piquillo pepper "ketchup" (recipe below).  Without the mayo, this is another vegan menu.

Best-Ever Veggie Burgers

Makes 6 burgers.

3 tablespoons olive oil
½ cup finely chopped carrots
½ cup finely chopped onions
2 cloves garlic, chopped
2 cups chopped mushrooms
½ cup TVP or coarse, dry breadcrumbs
1 cup drained, cooked or canned pinto beans
2 cups cooked brown rice
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon smoked pimentón
Additional olive oil to fry the burgers

Heat the oil in a skillet and sauté the carrots, onions, garlic and mushrooms until softened. Stir in the TVP. Set aside to cool.

Use a food processor to grind together the beans and rice with the salt and pimentón. Transfer to a bowl and add the vegetables from the skillet. Use the hands to mix all together.

Divide the mixture into 6 equal portions. Flatten them into patties and place on a baking sheet. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour or, covered with plastic wrap, up to 6 hours.

Brush a pan with oil and fry the burgers until they are browned and crisped on both sides and heated through.

Salsa de Pimientos de Piquillo
Piquillo Pepper “Ketchup”

Piquillo "ketchup."
1 can (185 grams) piquillo peppers, drained
2 cloves garlic
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 teaspoons wine vinegar
¼ teaspoon cumin
Pinch of cayenne or pimentón picante
½ teaspoon salt

Put all of the ingredients in a blender and whirl until smooth and creamy.

Saturday. That’s today! Falafel with pita bread, tahina sauce, roasted eggplant purée (baba ganoush) and tabouleh made with cous cous grains. Another vegan menu—although I sometimes add a fresh yogurt-cucumber sauce.

Sunday. Broccoli quiche with a starter of fresh artichokes with mayonnaise
—Leo’s favorite. I use store-bought pastry dough for the quiche, so it’s easy to assemble. However, as the temperature tomorrow is supposed to soar over 30ºC (90ºF), I may change my mind about turning on the oven. Perhaps it will be a crustless microwave “quiche.”

Sunday, June 8, 2014


Clams, almejas.

 So many kinds of clams. How to choose? Spin the wheel and see what comes up. I lucked out with coquinas. Tomorrow it’s cockles, then those big shiny ones. Luck of the draw—no razor shell clams today.

Five kinds of clams at today's market--clockwise from the left: Manila clams, often cultivated; big conchas finas, or smooth Venus shells; coquinas or wedge-shells; chirlas, a small Venus clam, very common in Andalusia; and berberechos, cockles, rounded and deeply ridged.

The biggest clams pictured are conchas finas, smooth Venus shells. They have glossy, mahogany-colored shells. Conchas finas figured in my early adventures at the village fish market, when I, a midwesterner bewildered by the variety of seafood, was still learning what was what. A lady fish vendor reached out and took my arm. “Señora, mire, las conchas buenas, finas.”  “Look at these fine clams!” I looked. Beautiful glossy shells. As I watched, feeling them, turning them over, the things began to move. Shells opened slowly, just a peek and a pink tongue oozed out.

I jerked my hand away, squealing, “But, they’re alive!” Well, of course they’re alive, she assured me. She smacked her lips to indicate how delicious. She didn’t say anything about slitting their necks, so I bought a few dozen.

At home I rinsed them off and left them by the sink while my guests and I sipped chilled white wine. We heard little clacking sounds, then, clank, clackety, clack. I ran to look and the lot of them had thrown themselves off the counter and were humping it across the kitchen floor. Back to the sea! Back to the sea! We’re outta here!

I gathered them up, put the water on to heat and threw them in. A few clacks and all was still. Shells opened silently.

Concha fina, opened raw.
They were not good. They were tough and rubbery, those big Venus-shell clams. I later took instruction at a tapa bar. These clams must be pried open and served raw on the half-shell with, perhaps, just a squeeze of lemon. You know they’re fresh when the drop of lemon causes them to shudder, just before you pop them into the mouth.

Buy live clams. How do you know they’re alive? The shells are tightly closed. Discard any that don’t close when tapped. Wash clams well in running water. Even “farmed” clams are likely to be sandy. Put them in a bowl of salt water to soak and disgorge sand, a few hours on the table. Lift them out of the water, rinse again and they’re ready to cook.

If you need to keep the clams, wrap them in a bowl covered with a wet towel and refrigerate. Don’t store clams in plastic bags. Better yet, steam them open immediately, and refrigerate, covered, with the strained broth poured over them.

Clams, Fishermen’s Style
Almejas a la Marinera

Almejas a la marinera--clams, fishermen's style, with garlic, wine, parsley.

This clam dish is a tapa bar favorite. While tapas are usually served individually, this one is perfect as a shared plate. Everybody helps himself from the communal platter and dunks pieces of bread into the delicious, garlicky juice. Use littlenecks, Manila clams, tiny coquinas, wedge-shells. Not everybody adds flour to this dish. The flour thickens the liquid, so you can make lots of the sauce. Be sure to serve with lots of bread for sopping it up!

Makes 8 tapas or 3-4 starters.
Same recipe, with coquinas.

2 pounds clams
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons chopped onion
2 cloves garlic
1 tablespoon flour
½ cup dry white wine or dry Sherry
½ cup water
Red pepper flakes (optional)
½ teaspoon pimentón (paprika), optional
1 bay leaf
2 tablespoons chopped parsley

Wash the clams in running water. Discard any shells that are opened or cracked.

In a deep skillet heat the oil and sauté the onion and garlic until onion is softened. Stir in the flour, then add the clams. On a high heat, add the wine, water, pepper flakes and pimentón, if using, and bay leaf. Cover the skillet and shake the pan until the clam shells open. This takes 3 to 10 minutes, depending on the type of clam.

Remove from heat when most of the shells have opened. Discard any that do not open. Pour the clams into a serving dish and top with chopped parsley. Serve with chunks of bread.

These are razor clams, called navajas--pen knives--in Spanish. They can be prepared as in the above recipe for almejas a la marinera, or opened on a plancha or even on a charcoal grill, then drizzled with best olive oil, chopped garlic and parsley.
 Clams  with Beans
Almejas con Faves

Clams and beans, a spin on Asturian fabada.

This is a version of Asturian fabada, typically made with faves, extra-large kidney beans. Rather than slow-cook the beans, I have used a jar of small white lima beans. The clams are steamed open, then added to the beans, with or without shells. Personally, I love the look of clam shells in the bowl and I don’t mind getting fingers messy to fish them out. Clams and clam liquid are quite salty, so taste the beans before adding additional salt.

Serves 4 as a starter.

1 pound Manila or littleneck clams
½ cup water
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 cloves garlic, chopped
½ cup fresh breadcrumbs
Pinch of saffron or pimentón
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
1 ounce sausage, such as chistorra or chorizo, chopped
1 tablespoon chopped onion
20-ounce can or jar of white beans
1 bay leaf
Sprig of fresh thyme
Salt and pepper, to taste

Scrub the clams and put them in a pan with the water. Cover and steam them open over a high heat, shaking the pan until the clam shells open. Remove from heat. Strain the liquid and reserve it. If preferred, shell the clams, discarding the shells.

Heat 2 tablespoons of the oil in a small skillet. Add the garlic and breadcrumbs and sauté until crumbs are golden. Add the saffron or pimentón. Remove from heat and add the chopped parsley. Set aside.

Heat the remaining 1 tablespoon of oil in a cazuela or pan. Add the sausage and onion and fry for a few minutes. Add the beans, along with their liquid and ½ cup of liquid from the clams.  Add the bay leaf, thyme and salt and pepper to taste. Simmer the beans 10 minutes.

Immediately before serving, stir in the reserved breadcrumb-parsley mixture.

Arroz con Almejas
Rice with Clams

A simplified paella--savory rice cooks with clams and vegetables.

 Some paellas are truly baroque extravaganzas, with a sumptuous assortment of everthing from sea, land and sky. Others, such as this dish of rice with clams, show an almost Zen-like simplicity.  “Un arroz”—“a rice”—is the name for such a rice dish. Often, 'un arroz' is any rice dish cooked by a housewife in the kitchen, whereas, 'una paella' is a grand event, cooked outdoors by guys. 'Un arroz' may be served as primer plato—first course—and followed by a meat, chicken or fish dish. It can be seco, dry, like paella; meloso, creamy-juicy, somewhat like risotto, or caldoso, soupy.

I used berberechos, cockles, in this rice dish. They are cooked with the rice, providing a lot of flavor, so it’s not necessary to make a stock.  Use medium grain round rice for this dish (arborio is a substitute for authentic Valencian paella rice). If saffron is not available, substitute pimentón (sweet paprika, not smoked). A simple rice like this can be served with a dollop of alioli, garlic-oil or garlic mayonnaise.

Serves 6 as a starter.

Cockles flavor the rice.
1 pound cockles or other medium-sized clam
¼ teaspoon saffron
¼ cup boiling water
3 tablespoons olive oil
1/3 cup chopped green pepper
1/3 cup chopped onions
1 clove garlic, chopped
½ cup chopped tomatoes
1 cup cut-up asparagus
1 cup rice
½ teaspoon salt
2 ½ cups hot water
1/3 cup frozen peas, thawed

Alioli to serve, if desired

Wash the cockles or clams and leave them in a bowl of salt water to rid them of sand.

Crush the saffron and place it in a small bowl. Pour over the boiling water. Allow to steep for at least 10 minutes.

Heat the oil in a small (12-inch) paella pan or skillet. Sauté the green pepper, onions and garlic until softened. Add the tomatoes and asparagus and cook 4 minutes. Stir in the rice and let it cook with the sofrito for a few minutes. Add the salt, saffron water and hot water. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat somewhat and cook, uncovered, for 10 minutes.

Add the drained clams to the rice, stirring to distribute them evenly. Continue cooking until rice is nearly done al dente, about 8 minutes more. Sprinkle the peas on top. Remove the rice from the heat and allow to settle 5 minutes before serving. 

This rice dish makes a good starter.

Sunday, June 1, 2014


A Sherry to accompany every cheese.
I got a little carried away, I think, getting ready for International Sherry Week, June 2-8. Every day is a fine time to enjoy a copita of Sherry. For me, that usually means a fino Jerez or fino manzanilla. But the occasion of a worldwide celebration seems a good excuse to branch out a bit.

Classic consommé with Sherry.
Sherry goes with absolutely everything, from soup to nuts, from aperitif to dessert. So, my week-long, intensive Sherry week was going to have to cover all bases.

I encountered an unexpected problem, however. I couldn’t find a range of Sherry types! Two supermarket chains in my area had only fino and manzanilla plus the sweet ones, oloroso, cream and PX. They did not sell a single amontillado, oloroso seco, palo cortado, or raya. (Note to you Sherry marketing guys—better placement in stores if you want to sell more wine.)

I eventually found a good selection of Sherry styles (though only from a couple different bodegas) at a dedicated wine shop. I dithered between amontillado and oloroso seco and finally chose the oloroso seco after tasting each. I already have fino, manzanilla and sweet PX. So, I’m all set for a grand week!

From soup to nuts. Sherry is a classic addition to consommé. Use either fino or amontillado. It's also a superb addition to cream soups, such as lobster bisque or mushroom.

Sherry is the original tapas wine.
Serve Sherry--fino, manzanilla, amontillado or oloroso seco--with Spanish tapas. Toasted almonds, thinly sliced ham, olives, sausages, pâté, grilled shrimp, oysters, salt cod, smoked salmon, stuffed eggs.

 Dry fino Sherry flavors tender lamb kidneys in a velvety sauce. See the recipe below.

Mellow oloroso seco Sherry glazes these succulent chicken wings. (Recipe below.) Here, served with a copa of fino.

Tipsy cakes--luscious sweet Sherry syrup soaks into squares of sponge cake. An easy dessert (recipe below). PX, a sweet dessert wine, is the perfect accompaniment.

Want to know more about the different styles of Sherry? See my post from last year’s International Sherry Day. . And, to learn more about events worldwide during International Sherry Week, visit this site.

Riñones al Jerez
Kidneys in Sherry Sauce

Tender bites of kidneys in a velvety, Sherry sauce, this is a classic tapa bar dish. It can be prepared with lamb, pork or veal kidneys. (I used lamb kidneys, which only need about 12 minutes cooking.) The dish needs gentle cooking so as not to toughen the kidneys. Serve with chunks of bread to soak up the sauce. Chicken livers can be prepared in a similar manner.

Serves 4.

8 lamb kidneys, about 1 pound
Salt and pepper
1 tablespoon flour
4 tablespoons olive oil
½ pound small mushrooms, quartered
2 tablespoons finely chopped onions
1 clove chopped garlic
½ cup fino Sherry
½ cup meat stock
1 bay leaf
Chopped parsley, to garnish

Cut the kidneys in half and remove the core of fat. Slice or quarter the kidneys. Place them in a bowl and add enough milk to cover. Refrigerate for 1 hour. Drain, discarding the milk.

Sprinkle the kidneys with salt, pepper and flour. Heat the oil in a skillet and brown the kidneys on medium heat. Add the mushrooms, onions and garlic. Stir in the Sherry and meat stock. Add the bay leaf. Cover and simmer until kidneys are tender. Sprinkle with chopped parsley to serve.

Pollo al Ajillo
Chicken With Garlic

The standard version of this dish is made with fino (dry) Sherry. But, use a mellow amontillado,  oloroso seco or even a slightly sweet Sherry and it becomes even better. The Sherry somewhat caramelizes and glazes the chicken pieces. The garlic is lightly crushed, but not peeled, and sauteed with the chicken. It flavors the sauce. Those who wish can squeeze out the soft garlic flesh to eat as well.

Makes about 24 pieces.

2 pounds chicken wings
1 head garlic
¼ cup olive oil
1 bay leaf
½ cup medium-dry Sherry
Salt and pepper
Chopped parsley

Cut off the wing tips and discard (or save for stock). Divide each wing into two joints. Lightly smash the garlic cloves to split the skins.

Heat the oil in a deep skillet. Add the chicken pieces to the oil and fry them slowly, adding the unpeeled cloves of garlic.

When chicken is browned on all sides, add the bay leaf, Sherry, salt and pepper. Continue cooking until the liquid is cooked away and the chicken begins to sizzle again. Serve immediately garnished with parsley.

Tipsy Cakes

This is a great way to use up stale sponge cake or you can also make the tipsy cakes with store-bought sponge. You may need to cut the cake crosswise so the layers are about 1 ½ inches thick.

The cakes can be cut into small squares and placed in fluted paper cups for easy serving to a crowd. Or, place slices on individual dessert plates and garnish with fresh fruit and a dollop of whipped cream.

Makes 12 cakes.

1 pound sponge cake, cut into 1 ½-inch thick slabs
1 cup sugar
1 cup water
Strip of orange zest
1 cup dry Sherry
Toasted slivered almonds

Place the slabs of sponge in a flat dish or tray and prick them all over with a skewer.

Combine the sugar, water and orange zest in a saucepan. Bring to a boil and simmer for 5 minutes. Remove from the heat. Strain out and reserve the orange zest. Add the Sherry to the sugar syrup.

Spoon half of the Sherry syrup over the cake. Leave to stand for 30 minutes.

Cut the sponge into 1 ½-inch squares. Put a few slivered almonds on top of each square. Cut some of the reserved orange zest into fine slivers and place them on top of the cakes. Spoon over the remaining Sherry syrup. When the sponge has absorbed most of the syrup, place the squares in fluted paper cups.