Saturday, May 28, 2016


The garden is in transition stage right now—kale and chard are long gone, peas and favas have finished and tomatoes, peppers and green beans are still many weeks away.

But, I’ve got a basketful of sweet onions and some green garlic, lots of lettuce, some fugitive arugula and a few artichokes. Sounds like salad to me, fresh from the garden. 

Ingredients from the garden for a spring salad.

Salad fits right in with the healthful Mediterranean Diet (this is International  Mediterranean Diet Month), which places fruits, vegetables, grains, olive oil and nuts at the very base of the pyramid, the starting point for healthy eating.

Pull up the lettuces before hot weather causes them to bolt.

Arugula escapes from captivity! Planted once, now it comes up from seed, like a weed. I love it.

Today in the garden--green garlic, artichokes, arugula and romaine.
A spring salad of fresh artichokes and celery with a romesco dressing.

I’m making a Tarragona style artichoke salad. The name, “Tarragona style” has nothing to do with the herb tarragon. Rather, Tarragona is a city in Catalonia that is famous for its exceptional romesco sauce, made with dried sweet peppers and nuts. The romesco is the dressing for the artichokes and salad greens.

This is actually a quickie romesco—made with pimentón (paprika) instead of the classic ñora peppers. Use ordinary sweet pimentón, not smoked, plus a little hot pimentón or cayenne. You can marinate the vegetables in the romesco or spoon the sauce over the salad at serving time. 

Dried red peppers, ground almonds, garlic, parsley and olive oil make the romesco sauce. Use it as a marinade for the vegetables or a dressing, spooned over right before serving.

If time is short or fresh artichokes are not available, canned artichoke hearts or canned cardoons, cardos, another vegetable in the thistle family, can be used instead. Cardoons look like celery and taste like artichokes, which explains why I’ve used celery in this salad. The sauce is brilliant with all vegetables—green beans, cooked cabbage, potatoes—so make your own variations on Tarragona style. In fact, a little tarragon might be very nice!

Artichoke Salad, Tarragona Style
Ensalada Tarragonense

Serves 6 as a starter.
Snap leaves off at base.

6-8 small artichokes or 4 large ones
3 stalks celery, cut diagonally into 2-inch pieces
2 teaspoons sweet pimentón
½ teaspoon hot pimentón
2 dozen skinned almonds
¼ cup olive oil
¼  cup chopped parsley
3 cloves garlic
½  teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons wine vinegar
3 cups torn romaine or escarole
1 hard-boiled egg
1 teaspoon chopped fresh mint leaves or tarragon
1 tablespoon chopped scallions or green garlic

Use a serrated knife to slice.
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Meanwhile, snap off the outer leaves of the artichokes.  Then cut them crosswise just above the heart, discarding upper leaves. (A serrated bread knife works well to cut through the artichokes.) Cut the artichokes in half, if small, or quarters, if large.

Remove fuzzy choke.
Use the tip of a knife to nip out the fuzzy choke in the center. Rub artichoke pieces with a cut lemon. Add the pieces to the boiling water and cook until the artichoke pieces are just tender, about 10 minutes. (The artichokes are done when an outer leaf pulls off easily.) Drain. 

Blanch the pieces of celery in boiling salted water for 6 minutes. Drain and refresh under cold water. (Use a vegetable peeler to strip off the strings from the celery before blanching.)

Combine the two kinds of pimentón in a small bowl and mix with ¼ cup of water until smooth.

In a small pan toast the almonds in 2 teaspoons of the oil until golden. Remove from heat. (If you like, save a few almonds to garnish the finished salad.)

Sauce is easy in processor.

In a blender or food processor, chop the parsley, then add the garlic and process until finely chopped. Add the toasted almonds and process until fine. Add the salt, vinegar and ½ cup of water and continue to process until the mixture is quite smooth. Then add the pimentón paste and the remaining oil. This makes 1 cup of dressing.  (The dressing can be served with other vegetables and salads.)

Place the artichokes and celery pieces in a bowl and pour over the dressing. Allow to marinate for one hour at room temperature.

On a large platter prepare a bed of romaine or escarole. Arrange the artichokes and celery on top. Garnish with sliced egg, chopped mint and chopped onion. 

Serve the salad as a starter.

Artichokes marinate in romesco dressing.

Saturday, May 21, 2016


Happy International Mediterranean Diet Month!  Created in 2009 by Oldways and the Mediterranean Foods Alliance, Med Diet Month celebrates the delicious foods and wide-ranging health benefits associated with the Mediterranean Diet. (Oldways is a nonprofit food and nutrition education organization, with a mission to guide people to good health through heritage.)  

The Mediterranean Diet is a way of eating based on the traditional foods of the countries surrounding the Mediterranean Sea. The “poor” diet of the people of the southern Mediterranean, consisting mainly of fruits and vegetables, beans and nuts, healthy grains, fish, olive oil, small amounts of dairy, and red wine, proved to be most likely to lead to lifelong good health. It has been studied and noted by scores of leading scientists as one of the healthiest in the world.

Seafood--one of the ingredients of a healthful Mediterranean diet. In the center are fillets of hake and on the left, the hake's head for the stock pot. Above the hake is a rascasse, also for the stock. Jumbo shrimp are at the top. At the bottom are cigalas, aka sea crayfish, scampi or Dublin Bay prawns. These are so small, I'm putting them in the stock pot. Squid, cut in rings is on the left. Some small clams in the center, mussels on the right. Not visible are fillets of sea bass and slices of monkfish.

I celebrate the Mediterranean diet just about every day! In fact, I’m a gold medalist! (Take the Oldways quiz here and find out “How Mediterranean is your diet?”)

But it wasn’t always so. When I came to live on the shores of the Mediterranean, more than 40 years ago, I was disappointed to learn that you can’t eat olives straight off the tree (they have to be sweetened in brine first). In those days, olive oil was so raunchy I refused to use it. I stuck to butter and margarine for a very long time. I wasn’t crazy about garbanzos and lentils, either. Whole grains were not part of the heritage of this Mediterranean village! I got wheat ground at a local mill, took home the whole wheat flour and made my own bread.

But, from the very first day that I landed on these shores, as I devoured a whole grilled red mullet for lunch, I was a convert to Mediterranean fish and shellfish. Growing up in Midwest America where I rarely ate seafood, there was something deeply lacking in my diet.

Here, with a fishing port only a few miles from where I lived, I could indulge myself with fresh shrimp. I came to love fresh anchovies fried in olive oil and fresh sardines roasted on skewers. I experimented with ugly monkfish, scaly gurnards, awesome swordfish, oily mackerel and squishy squid. (A 1972 Penguin edition of Alan Davidson’s Mediterranean Seafood was my guide.)

Zarzuela--a seafood "operetta," in all its glory.

Serve each person a piece of each fish, a few squid, shrimp, clams and mussels.
 My personal Mediterranean Diet is still slanted towards seafood. To celebrate the month, I’m cooking an old-favorite, zarzuela de pescados y mariscos, a classic Catalan seafood stew. I first ate zarzuela in Tarragona (a Mediterranean port city south of Barcelona) on a road trip along the Mediterranean coasts of Spain and France (where I also tasted my first-ever bouillabaisse in Sêtes).

Besides a variety of seafood, the recipe calls for tomatoes, almonds, hazelnuts and plenty of virgin olive oil, all important items in the healthful Mediterranean diet.

Seafood Operetta
Zarzuela de Pescados y Mariscos

Zarzuela is operetta, a genre of popular musical theater that developed in the 17th century. Why this Catalan seafood stew has the same name is a mystery to me. It’s a lavish but simply staged production if all the ingredients are prepared before starting to cook.

The dish is usually cooked in a shallow earthenware cazuela or a paella pan. A separate skillet is used to sauté all the ingredients first. They are then combined to finish cooking in the cazuela.

Use at least two and as many as four different fish in this recipe. Examples are “meaty” fish such as monkfish, conger or lobster; flaky fish such as bass, grouper, bream or rascasse, and delicate fish such as hake, sole or turbot. (I used monkfish, hake and sea bass.) The servings can be cut into fillets or steaks of about 4 ounces. Ideally, you are going to serve each person one piece of each fish plus shellfish.

You can use fish heads, bones, trimmings and crustacean shells to make fish stock (that recipe follows the recipe for zarzuela) or use store-bought stock. The stock can be prepared a day before cooking the zarzuela.

You’re going to be making a sofrito (fried onion and tomato) and a picada (paste of ground almonds and hazelnuts) to add to the fish. Both of these can be prepared in advance. Clams and mussels can be steamed open in advance as well. Strain their cooking liquid and add it to the fish stock. Discard empty half-shells.

Zarzuela is usually served with strips of bread fried in olive oil as an accompaniment. Some people wish for potatoes or pasta or rice to go with it, but, personally, I like the intensity of the seafood with nothing more than bread. 

Serves 4—or more.

Pieces of fish, ready to cook.
4 (4-ounce) servings each of  2 or 3 different fish
Flour for dredging fish
Extra virgin olive oil (about ½ cup)
½ pound cleaned squid, cut in rings
8 jumbo shrimp
8 mussels, cleaned and steamed open
½ pound small clams, scrubbed and steamed open  
1 onion, finely chopped
1 cup grated tomato pulp (2 large tomatoes)
¼ cup brandy, rum or aguardiente (anisette)
1 bay leaf 
Pinch of crushed saffron
Pinch of crushed red pepper
1 ½ cups fish stock (recipe below)
¼ cup picada (recipe follows)
Chopped parsley to serve
Triangles of fried bread to serve

Shake off excess flour in a sieve.

Salt the pieces of fish and allow them to stand 30 minutes. (Do not salt fish that has been frozen.) Working with one type of fish at a time, dredge the pieces in flour, patting off excess.

Heat enough oil in a skillet to cover the surface. Fry each of the floured pieces of fish, starting with skin-side up, until lightly golden (about 1 ½ minutes per side). They do not need to cook through. Remove them as they are browned and place in a large (12-inch) cazuela or paella pan.  Add additional oil to the skillet as needed.

Place all the seafood in the cazuela in more or less a single layer.

Flour the pieces of squid and fry them until golden. Place them around the pieces of fish in the cazuela. Sauté the shrimp without flouring them and place in the cazuela. Place the mussels and clams around the fish.

Grate tomatoes to make pulp.
Wipe out the skillet and add 2 tablespoons more oil. Sauté the chopped onion, stirring frequently, until it begins to brown, about 8 minutes. Add the tomato pulp and fry, stirring frequently, until it is thick and jam-like and slightly caramelized. Add the brandy and cook until the alcohol is cooked off. Add the bay leaf, saffron, crushed red pepper and fish stock. Cook 5 minutes. Stir in the picada. Taste for salt (if stock was well-salted, you may not need any additional salt).

Pour the sofrito-picada over the fish and shellfish in the cazuela. Either cook over a medium flame, shaking the cazuela to prevent fish from sticking on the bottom, or place in a preheated 375ºF oven until sauce is bubbling and fish is completely heated (about 20 minutes).

Sprinkle with chopped parsley and serve with triangles of bread that have been fried crisp in olive oil.

Almond-Hazelnut Sauce

Picada is a flavoring paste that is stirred into soups, stews, rice dishes during cooking. This makes more sauce than you need for the zarzuela. Refrigerate what’s left and try it dolloped over plain grilled fish or chicken as a serving sauce.

Ingredients for picada--olive oil essential!
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 slice bread, crusts removed
 2 cloves garlic
¼ cup skinned and toasted almonds
¼ cup toasted and skinned hazelnuts
¼ cup chopped parsley
½ cup water or fish stock

Heat 1 tablespoon of oil in a small skillet and fry the slice of bread until browned on both sides. Remove.

Place the bread, garlic, almonds, hazelnuts and parsley in a blender or mini-processor and process with 2 tablespoons oil until it makes a smooth paste. Dilute the paste with water or stock. Add a pinch of salt. 

Fish Stock
Caldo de Pescado

This version of fish stock starts out with a sofrito of fried vegetables and tomato. You need about 2 cups of the stock for the zarzuela. Freeze the remaining for use in fish soups.

This "cute" little fish is a rascasse, a Mediterranean fish essential for bouillabaisse. I'm putting this one in the stock pot along with the hake head and small crustraceans.

Makes 10 cups.

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, chopped
1 carrot, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
2 tomatoes, chopped
2 pounds small fish, fish bones and trimmings, crustacean shells, small crabs, etc
½ cup white wine
1 tablespoon salt
1 slice lemon
Sprig of thyme
Parsley stems
12 cups water

Heat the oil in a large soup pot and sauté the onion, carrot and garlic until onions begin to brown, 8 minutes. Add the tomatoes and continue frying until tomatoes begin to caramelize. Add any crustaceans and sauté.

Put in the remaining fish, bones, trimmings.Add the wine, salt, lemon, thyme, parsley and water. Bring to a boil, skim away froth. Partially cover and cook 40 minutes. Let set 10 minutes.

Carefully strain the broth, first through a colander, then through a fine sieve. Discard the solids. Refrigerate the stock, covered, until ready to use.

Fry triangles of (whole grain) bread in olive oil to accompany this fish stew. Make lots--it's delicious.
Mediterranean flavors--a seafood stew from Catalonia.

Saturday, May 14, 2016


I thought grilled asparagus had gone out of style, but there it was on the menu at a restaurant where we had lunch on the way to Ronda. Fat, green and juicy, that asparagus was so delicious that I’ve been on a vegetable-grilling kick ever since.

A mixed grill of all vegetables.

It was in La Mancha, a few years back, that I first had a mixed-grill of vegetables served as a starter. Not just asparagus, but sliced eggplant, zucchini, peppers and onions as well, cooked on a plancha, grill pan, or on a parrilla, over coals. Sometimes it was served with sliced serrano ham or salchichón, a dry-cured sausage similar to salami. Sometimes it came with alioli, garlic mayonnaise.

Serve the grilled vegetables as a starter.

A springtime treat! Asparagus grilled on a plancha.

Pan-Grilled Vegetables
Verduras a la Parrilla

Some of the vegetables suitable for pan grilling.

This assortment of pan-grilled vegetables makes a good starter, in place of a salad. Sliced, the grilled vegetables make a great stuffing for a bocadillo (sandwich on a crusty roll), pita or tortilla wraps.

Use a plancha grill pan or---

Use a ridged grill pan, a flat griddle (plancha) or a cast-iron skillet. Cooking time will vary for each vegetable, depending on thickness, but all should cook in 10 minutes or less. Grill the eggplant very tender, but allow asparagus and onion to stay somewhat crisp.

The vegetables, hot or room temperature, are delicious with nothing more elaborate than extra virgin olive oil and a squeeze of lemon. However, if you like, serve them with alioli, garlic mayonnaise (recipe below).

---a cast-iron skillet.

Serves 4.

1 medium eggplant (about ¾ pound)
1 medium zucchini (about ¾ pound)
Coarse salt
¼ cup olive oil
1 red bell pepper
8 asparagus spears
1 onion
4 mushrooms, such as portabella, oyster, or porcini
2 firm plum tomatoes, quartered
4 cloves unpeeled garlic
4 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil
Parsley or basil sprigs to garnish
Lemon wedges, to serve

Peel the eggplant and cut off the stem end. Cut lengthwise into ¾-inch thick slices. Place in a shallow pan. Trim ends of zucchini and slice it lengthwise into ½-inch thick slices. Place in a single layer in the pan. Sprinkle eggplant and zucchini on both sides with salt. Let them stand 1 hour. Drain the eggplant and zucchini in a colander 15 minutes. Pat dry.

Wipe out the shallow pan. Spread the eggplant and zucchini slices in it. Brush them on both sides with oil. 

To peel or not to peel?
Cut the pepper into quarters, discarding stem and seeds. Use a vegetable peeler to shave outer skins from asparagus. (I tried asparagus both ways--actually prefer unpeeled, although they need a little longer on the grill.)

Cut onion in quarters. Spread pepper, asparagus, onion, mushrooms, tomato, and garlic in another shallow pan and brush them with oil.

Brush a ridged grill pan, flat griddle or cast-iron skillet with oil and heat very hot. Cook each of the vegetables until tender, turning slices with tongs to grill both sides. Eggplant will need about 8-10 minutes; zucchini, 6; asparagus, 8; onion, 5; mushrooms, 8; tomato, 3.

Arrange slices of each vegetable on 4 plates. Sprinkle with coarse salt and drizzle 1 teaspoon of extra virgin olive oil over each serving. Garnish with parsley or basil. Serve warm or room temperature.

Slice the grilled vegetables and layer them in a sandwich or wrap in a tortilla.

It's a wrap! Yummy.

Alioli with Smoked Pimentón

Garlic mayonnaise with a touch of smoked pimentón--good with all vegetables.

You can use the grilled garlic and a piece of grilled red pepper in this sauce. Use

¾ cup mayonnaise
1-2 cloves garlic
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
½ teaspoon smoked pimentón
Pinch of hot pimentón or cayenne
1/8 teaspoon cumin
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon chopped parsley

Combine the mayonnaise and garlic in a blender. Add the oil, pimentón, hot pimentón, cumin and lemon juice and blend until smooth. Stir in the parsley. Add salt to taste.

Pan grilling adds so much flavor to vegetables.

Saturday, May 7, 2016


Lined up by my front door, they are a stumbling block. A dull orange eyesore. These butane tanks, bombonas, have been part of my life in Spain forever. Now, I’m phasing them out. Replacing, first, the butane-gas hot water heater that took up space in my kitchen with a solar hot water installation. 

I used to haul these gas bottles in my car from the village and hump them down the steps to the house. Now they are delivered to my door. But, as I get older, I really don't need to be moving these tanks around anymore. So, I'm making changes--first, solar hot water heater, next, perhaps an electric stove. (I have no idea when the butane became propane, as is printed right on the bottles.)

Next to the stove, a butane hot water heater that was installed when I built the house 44 years ago. It's a "demand" heater, that heats the water as it moves through the tube (no deposit tank). It's worked just fine all these years--but I am tired of hauling those heavy tanks. The orange gas tank--just visible next to the stove--fuels both the stove and water heater. Will that ancient Magic Chef stove be the next to go? I don't really want to cook on electric cook-top---
Kitchen is topsy-turvy as crew begins installation of cables and tubes for solar hot water system. I won't be cooking dinner tonight.

Up on the roof--it takes four guys to place the water deposit cylinder. The solar panels, facing south, will be mounted in front of it.  Broken roof tiles get replaced the next day by a separate crew. Note: overcast skies--will there be enough sun to heat my water? (Yes, plus a back-up electric boosts the temperature.)

Selfie! My reflection in one of the solar panels being carried up to the roof.

The two-day installation has left my kitchen pretty topsy-turvy, as a work crew knocked out the old heater, installed cables and water tubes through the wall and across the roof to connect to the solar panels and storage tank.

With the gas bottle temporarily out of the kitchen, I couldn’t use the stove. Son Ben brought home one of those delicious rotisserie chickens and a heap of fries. I made pisto—a vegetable mélange much like ratatouille—in the microwave to go with the chicken. We cleared a place at the table among the stacks of ceramic plates that were removed from the kitchen shelf. Oh yes, there was plenty of hot water to wash up after dinner!

No cooking tonight. Dinner take-out--rotisserie roast chicken and a heap of fries.

Eat those fries while they're hot.

Dinner's served. Exceptional roast chicken by la gallega (Galician woman). Liberally salted before being threaded on the rotisserie, the chicken is stuffed with fresh bay leaves, sprigs of thyme, whole cloves of garlic and a quartered lemon. Why do these taste better than roast chicken cooked at home?

This is the company that installed my solar hot water system

Next on the agenda--trenches under the olive trees to lay new cable so that I can contract for more kilowatts from the utility company and, maybe, put in an electric stove.