Saturday, May 25, 2019


I bet you didn’t know that Almería is this year’s Capital of Gastronomy in Spain. Do you even know where Almería is? It’s a province of Andalusia that shares a Mediterranean coast with Málaga and Granada and, to the east, Murcia and Alicante. But, while those provinces are on the beaten track of tourism, Almería is better known for its tomatoes.

Little flatbreads called torticas are the essence of Mediterranean foods--fresh fish, vegetables, olive oil--baked in a cornmeal shell.

Tomatoes and melons and peppers. Pink shrimp, red mullet, octopus. Fine lamb and baby kid. The city of Almería and the surrounding province have all the raw ingredients for fine gastronomy. This is the region of hothouse-grown vegetables, providing fresh produce all winter long to the rest of Spain and Europe. It’s a major fishing port. Yes, there are beautiful beaches, too. And, Hollywood film locations at the inland “badlands” (all those Clint Eastwood “spaghetti westerns” were made here).

During the gastronomy year, Almería is featuring different themes and products every month. May has been “melones, sandías y cremas frías” (melons, watermelons and cold cream soups). Next month, June, the theme is  “la cocina de vanguardia” (vanguard cuisine). (More information about events here. )

Today I’m making a specialty from the Almería town of Vera, Torticas de Avío, sometimes called Almería “pizza.” It’s a flatbread made of cornmeal, topped with those quintessential Mediterranean ingredients, anchovies, tomatoes, onions and peppers. The topping is flavored with oregano and a good bit of cumin. My only addition to the traditional recipe is capers, which I think add a nice punch. The next time I make the torticas, I might use some wheat flour with the cornmeal. If you can't find fresh anchovies, try using oil-packed ones or even canned sardines.

The flatbread can be made any shape or size. These small ones make nice appetizers or starters.

Small flatbreads are like tarts. The filling bakes right in the shells.

Oregano and cumin flavour the filling mix.

Eat these "pizzas" out of hand, a grab and go snack.

Or serve them plated as a starter. They are best served room temperature.

Almería “Pizza” (Cornmeal Flatbreads with Anchovies)
Torticas de Avío

Fresh anchovies have been filleted.

Makes 8 (4-inch) tarts.

For the filling:
1 pound fresh anchovies
1 cup chopped tomatoes
1 cup chopped onion
1 cup chopped green pepper
3-4 cloves garlic, chopped
2 teaspoons oregano
½ teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon coarse salt
Freshly ground black pepper
3 tablespoons olive oil
Capers (optional)

For the cornmeal crust:
3 cups yellow cornmeal
2 teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 ½ cups hot water

Clean the anchovies. Cut off the heads and pull out the guts. Use thumb or knife point to lift the spine and pull it down to the tail. Cut off and discard the spine, leaving two fillets attached at the tail. Wash and drain the anchovies and pat them dry with paper towels.

Macerate anchovies with the vegetables.

In a mixing bowl combine the tomatoes, onion, green pepper, garlic, oregano, cumin, salt, pepper and 2 tablespoons of the oil. Add capers, if using. Add the anchovies to the vegetables. (Cut them into pieces, if you prefer.) Let the mixture macerate while preparing the dough for the crusts.

Place the cornmeal in a bowl and mix in the salt. Drizzle with the 1 tablespoon of oil. Add 1 cup of the water and stir to combine well. Add enough of the remaining water to make a soft dough that can be gathered into a ball. Divide the dough into 8 balls and set them aside.

Preheat oven to 325ºF.

Press ball of dough into a round, make a rim. 
Line a baking sheet with baking parchment. Space the balls of dough on the sheet (use 2 sheets, if necessary). Use fingertips to flatten the balls into 4-inch rounds, about ¼ inch thick. Pinch around the edges to turn up a rim to contain the filling.

Spoon the anchovy-vegetable mixture into the tart shells. Drizzle the remaining 1 tablespoon of oil over them. 

Bake the tarts 25 minutes. Raise the oven temperature to 400ºF and bake 10 minutes more. Cool the tarts on a rack. Serve them room temperature.

Food and travel writer, Gerry Dawes, says the best food he ate on a recent trip to Almería was cooked to order at a café-bar within the Mercado Central, or central market. Read his report here.

More recipes from Almería:

More pizza and flatbread recipes:

More recipes with fresh anchovies:

Saturday, May 18, 2019


Congratulations to my friend, Donna Gelb, co-author of Saladish, by Ilene Rosen, which just won a James Beard book award for Vegetable-Focused Cooking. 

Ilene Rosen is chef and co-owner or R&D Foods, a Brooklyn shop, where she makes every salad herself every single day. She previously was a chef at City Bakery in New York, where her flair with salads earned her cult following. The innovative recipes in Saladish are hers. Donna worked closely with Ilene in recipe development and testing, following her on the job to get a feel for her work.

I´m always looking for inspiration in putting together salads and this book has it, cover to cover. They’re salads that can serve as light starters, sides or full meals. The recipes are mostly vegetarian (even vegan), but they are easy to embellish with meat, poultry, fish or cheese, according to your personal tastes.

Don’t expect a cliché tuna salad, nor a generic pasta salad. While there are four variations on potato salad, none of them is your old-fashioned sort with mayo (new potatoes with herbs and a yogurt dressing; potatoes and cucumbers with caraway-mustard dressing; jazzed-up potato salad with olive oil and pickled carrots, and, one I can’t wait to try, red potatoes with chorizo and roasted grapes.
Saladish opens with chapters packed with hints, “How to Assemble a Salad,” “The Saladish Pantry,” and “The Saladish Tool Kit.” Recipes (most beautifully photographed by Joseph De Leo) are divided into Spring, Summer, Fall and Winter chapters.

I’m working my way through "Spring," starting with snap peas, the last from my garden, with olive oil and lavish quantities of chives and mint. Easy-peasy. It’s too late for the Baby Carrots with Carrot-Top Pesto, as I pulled up the last of the carrots weeks ago. “Every-Leafy-Green-You-Can-Find Salad,”with an orange marmalade dressing (what a terrific idea) is coming up soon. The rice noodle salad with Asian herbs and smoked tofu salad with chive buds both sound like my kind of hot-weather dish. Spring brunch? Smoked trout and pumpernickel bread in a salad with cucumbers, apples and, yes, dill.

The recipe I chose to make this week is called “It’s All Green.” It consists of several different (green) vegetables cooked crisp-tender to be served with four different dips plus a sweet lime salt.

Many of these recipes are Asian-inflected, calling for rice vinegar and “flavorless vegetable oil.” I considered “flipping” them to Mediterranean, using my usual extra virgin olive oil, but decided that wasn’t a fair test. So I bought a bottle of sunflower oil. Pretty exotic for me!

It’s All Green
(Todo Verde)

These recipes are excerpted from Saladish by Ilene Rosen with Donna Gelb (Artisan Books; copyright © 2018). I’ve added recipe titles in Spanish and my comments in italic. The photos are mine.

Serve a selection of green vegetables for dippers with these unusual dips. The dips, clockwise from the top left. are cucumber shallot, cilantro cumin, avocado mint and, at the bottom, pumpkin seed hummus. They are accompanied by celery sticks, snap peas, asparagus, zucchini slices, Belgian endive, green beans and wedges of fennel.

You want approximately 3 to 4 pounds of whole vegetables for six people, and two or three dips to serve on the side, more if you are feeling green.

Serves 6 to 8.

Kosher salt
8 ounces green beans and/or sugar snap peas, trimmed, any strings removed
8 ounces asparagus, trimmed, tough stalks peeled
6 ounces zucchini, ends trimmed
2 large celery stalks
6 ounces Belgian endives
6 ounces fennel bulbs

1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a rolling boil and ready a large bowl of ice water.
2. Add the green beans and/or snap peas to the boiling water and blanch just until they turn bright green. Remove them with a slotted spoon and transfer to the ice water. Return the water to a boil and repeat with the asparagus, blanching just until tender, about 2 minutes, before transferring to the ice water. Set aside.
3. Cut the zucchini lengthwise in half, lay flat on a cutting board, and slice on the diagonal into ½ -inch pieces.
4. Trim off and discard the ends of the celery stalks and cut the stalks crosswise into thirds. Cut the thirds lengthwise into thin sticks.
5. Trim the bottoms of the endives and separate the leaves.
6. Trim the root ends of the fennel and cut off the stalks, reserving any nice fronds to decorate the platter. Cut the bulbs lengthwise in half, then cut the halves into thin wedges.
7. Arrange all the vegetables on large platters or trays and serve with the dips. 

Cucumber Shallot Dip
(Pepino con Chalota)

This cucumber salad with a touch of Asian fish sauce and rice vinegar would make a terrific side dish with grilled fish.

Makes about 1 ½ cups.

1 cup diced seedless cucumber
1 ½ teaspoons fish sauce
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
2 teaspoons fresh lime juice
2 tablespoons chopped fresh Thai basil, or regular basil
½ cup finely minced shallots
2 tablespoons minced fresh chives

Combine the cucumber, fish sauce, vinegar, oil, lime juice and basil in the bowl of a food processor or in a blender and pulse to puree, scraping down the sides as necessary. Transfer to a small serving bowl and fold in the minced shallots and chives. Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.

Pumpkin Seed Hummus
(Hummus de Pepitas de Calabaza)

This savory dip makes a great spread too.  Mix any leftovers with boiled new potatoes and beans.

Makes about 2 cups.
Toasted pumpkin seeds.

2 cups pumpkin seeds, toasted
2 large garlic cloves
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
½ cup rice vinegar
¾ cup vegetable oil
¼ cup hot water, or more if necessary
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

1. Put the pumpkin seeds and garlic in the bowl of a food processor or in a blender and pulse until uniformly ground, scraping down the sides as necessary. The mixture will be rough and sandy looking.
2. Add the mustard and vinegar and pulse to combine. With the motor running, slowly drizzle in the oil, stopping to scrape down the sides of the bowl. Drizzle in the hot water, processing until it is the consistency of thick hummus. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Transfer to a small serving bowl. Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.

(Note: The pumpkin seeds I bought were dark green, not beige like the ones shown in Saladish. If you need to toast the seeds, here's how. Cook 2 cups pumpkin seeds in boiling water for 10 minutes. Drain well and pat dry. Combine the seeds with 1/2 tablespoon olive oil. Spread them on a rimmed sheet pan and roast them in a 300ºF oven, turning once or twice, for 30 minutes. Cool.)

Avocado Mint Dip
(Aguacate con Hierba Buena)

Chopped mint with smooth avocado is sensational.

(Note: Mint with avocado! Radical. Did the authors intend to omit salt? I made the recipe as given—no salt—and loved it. A perfect dip with those leaves of Belgian endive.) 

Makes about 1 ¼ cups.

1 large ripe avocado
5 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
3 tablespoons chopped fresh mint leaves
A pinch of cayenne pepper
5 tablespoons water

Pit the avocado and scoop the flesh into the bowl of a food processor or into a blender. Add the lemon juice, mint and cayenne and pulse to puree, pouring in the water as you go. Transfer to a small serving bowl. Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.

Cilantro Cumin Dip
(Salsita de Cilantro y Comino)

The cilantro-cumin combo is sort of Middle Eastern, but rice vinegar makes it completely different. I used leftover dip to marinate chicken thighs and roasted them on a sheet pan at high temperature.

Makes about 1 ½ cups.

½ cup vegetable oil
5 teaspoons cumin seeds
2 ½ cups chopped fresh cilantro leaves
3 tablespoons rice vinegar
1 tablespoon seasoned rice vinegar
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard

1. Pour the oil into a small saucepan and add the cumin seeds. Bring to a simmer over medium heat and simmer gently for 10 minutes. Let cool.
2. Put the cilantro, vinegars, and mustard in the bowl of a food processor or in a blender and pulse to combine. With the motor running, drizzle in the cumin oil and seeds until the mixture is emulsified. Transfer to a small serving bowl. Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.

Ilene Rosen (left) and Donna Gelb at the James Beard awards presentation. Their book Saladish won for best vegetable-focused cookbook.

I’ve cooked with Donna Gelb, in my kitchen and in hers, and she's helped me with recipe testing. Here are some earlier blog posts featuring her:
Mistress of the Fire.
Eating Around America.
Paella Made in the USA.
Shopping Organic.
Taste of Spain in New York.

Saladish (Ilene Rosen with Donna Gelb; Artisan, 2018, New York) is available here.

Saturday, May 4, 2019


A stew of potatoes in all their glory.  I used both cloves of "old" garlic (top right) and, for garnish, chopped stems of green garlic (pictured on the left of the bowl).

If I asked you to name the single most important ingredient in Spanish cooking—after olive oil—what would you choose? Rice, as in paella? Tomatoes, peppers or garlic, as in sofrito? Pork/ham/sausage? Fish? 

The answer, by my count, is potatoes. In my first collection of Spanish recipes, COOKING IN SPAIN, there are 12 recipes for potatoes in the Vegetable chapter, plus another 16 to 20 recipes that include potatoes. While the Fish and Shellfish chapter is considerably longer than Vegetables, no single variety of seafood matches potatoes.

In the (almost) 10 years I’ve been blogging about the food of Spain, I have managed to feature potatoes month after month as either main ingredient or garnish. (Links to some of those recipes are below.) Here’s another traditional recipe from that first cookbook, Ajoharina.

Thickened with flour, sauce is the consistency of gravy. 

New potatoes plus asparagus and chopped green garlic give this dish a springtime flavor.

Serve, like soup, as a starter or main lunch dish.

“Ajoharina” means “garlic-flour.” It consists of potatoes stewed in a garlicky sauce that is thickened with flour. The dish traditionally is served, in place of soup, as a primer plato, first course. In poor households, it makes a sturdy, filling meal when nothing else is to follow. Ajoharina is typical of the Andalusian province of Jaén and of parts of La Mancha.  It can have scraps of pork fat added or, for Lent, salt cod. In the fall, wild mushrooms called níscalos (Lactarius deliciosus or saffron milk cap) might be cooked with the potatoes; in spring, spears of wild asparagus.

From my huerta--freshly-dug potatoes.

Onions, too, are ready to harvest. 

I’m using freshly-dug spring potatoes for this dish. Cut into 1-inch pieces, they needed hardly 10 minutes cooking time. Mature potatoes or red-skinned varieties will need longer cooking. Cook the potatoes until tender before stirring in the flour. Once thickened, the sauce should be the consistency of smooth gravy.

This recipe is usually completely vegan, but, if you like, add scraps of ham or bacon to punch up the flavor. The color and flavor come from pimentón (paprika). Normally, this is ordinary unsmoked pimentón, but, if you like, use some smoked pimentón de la Vera as well. Hot pimentón is completely optional; it does perk up potato stew quite a lot.

Garlicky Potato Stew

Serves 6. 

2 pounds potatoes (about 8 medium), peeled
1/3 cup olive oil
½ cup chopped onions
½ cup chopped green peppers
½ cup chopped red bell pepper
1 ounce diced serrano ham, pancetta or bacon (optional)
4 (or more) cloves garlic, peeled
1 tablespoon pimentón (paprika)
Pinch of hot pimentón or cayenne (optional)
½ cup grated tomato pulp
1/8 teaspoon cumin
1 bay leaf
4 cups water
1 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground black pepper
12 asparagus spears, cut in pieces and blanched (optional)
4 tablespoons flour
Chopped green garlic, chives or scallions to garnish

Cut the potatoes in 1-inch chunks. Heat the oil in a cazuela or deep skillet. Add the potatoes and sauté them 1 minute. Add the onions, green and red peppers and ham, if using. Sauté them 4 minutes.

Flatten the garlic cloves with the side of a knife and chop them finely. Add them to the sauté. Stir in the pimentón. Add the tomato pulp, cumin, bay leaf and 3 cups of the water. Season with salt and pepper. Cook until potatoes are just tender, 10-15 minutes. Add the blanched asparagus, if using, during the last few minutes.

Shake flour and water.

Place the flour in a jar and add the remaining 1 cup of water. Close the jar tightly and shake it until flour is completely mixed with the water.  Pour the flour mixture into the pan with the potatoes and stir to mix well. Let cook 2-3 minutes longer until the liquid thickens. 

Thicken cooking liquid with flour. Stir to make a smooth gravy.

Serve the potatoes hot, sprinkled with chopped green garlic, chives or scallions to garnish.

The story of potatoes in Spain here.

More recipes with potatoes:

Saturday, April 27, 2019


As I was rolling out matzo balls earlier this week, it occurred to me that, if they were cooked in caramel syrup instead of chicken soup, they might be rellenos dulces, a dessert typical for this time of year in La Mancha (central Spain). 

The rellenos are balls or blobs, sort of like dumplings, made with stale bread—definitely not allowed during the Passover holiday. But they can also be made of ground crumbs, much like matzo meal. Many small La Mancha towns have a repertory of foods—especially sweets—that derive from their Jewish heritage. So, it’s not so far-fetched to make the comparison. In any case, Passover ends at nightfall today, so these dumplings in caramel syrup can be enjoyed by all.

Dumplings made of bread crumbs are first fried, then poached in caramel syrup with cinnamon.

What makes rellenos different from most dumplings is that they are fried in olive oil before being poached. Because they are sweet, not savory, the poaching medium is caramel syrup inflected with cinnamon and orange zest.

In La Mancha, the rellenos are served as dessert. But, their similarity to French toast might make you happy to serve them at breakfast, as well.

This is the sort of homespun dessert that children love. And, it's a great way to use up stale bread.

To serve, sprinkle the dumplings in syrup with pine nuts. Add any fresh fruit.

Dumplings soak up the caramel syrup and become spongy-soft.

Sweet Dumplings in Caramel Syrup
Rellenos Dulces

Use a heavy pot to make the caramel syrup, preferably one with a light-colored surface so you can tell when the sugar becomes caramel-brown in color.

Add hot water to the melted and caramelized sugar very carefully, as it will splutter and foam.

Serve the dumplings chilled, spooning some of the syrup over them. A sprinkling of pine nuts or slivered almonds is typical. Ice cream, whipped cream or—my preference—unsweetened Greek yogurt—makes a lovely accompaniment.

Dumplings start with bread crumbs.
Makes about 20 dumplings.

For the bread dumplings:
10 ounces day-old bread (5-6 thick slices)
¼ teaspoon saffron, crushed (optional)
3 tablespoons hot water
¼ teaspoon salt
6 eggs
Olive oil for frying

For the caramel syrup:
2 cups sugar
2 tablespoons water
4 cups hot water
1 teaspoon orange blossom water (optional)
Zest of 1 orange
Zest of 1 lemon
1 cinnamon stick

To serve the dumplings:
2 tablespoons toasted pine nuts
Sliced oranges or other fruit to garnish
Whipped cream, ice cream or Greek yogurt to serve

Remove and discard crusts from the bread. Break into pieces and put in a food processor. Process to make coarse crumbs (3 ½ -4 cups). Put them in a mixing bowl.

Saffron for a golden touch.

If using saffron, dissolve it in the 3 tablespoons hot water. Dribble over the bread crumbs with the salt and mix. Add eggs, one by one. Stir to combine very well. Chill the mixture at least 30 minutes. 

Place oil in a deep skillet to a depth of 1 inch and heat on medium-high. Scoop up dough with a tablespoon. Use a second spoon to smooth the dough into an oval shape and slide it into the hot oil.  Continue shaping and frying dumplings, turning them once. When dumplings are golden-brown, remove them.  (Dumplings can be fried up to a day before finishing them in the syrup.)

Fry spoonfuls of the dough in oil.

Dumplings can be made in advance, simmered in the syrup later. They don't need to be crisp.

Sugar melts and gradually turns caramel-brown.

To make the syrup, combine the sugar and 2 tablespoons water in a heavy pan large enough to hold all the dumplings. Cook the sugar on a medium heat, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon until the sugar is completely melted and turns an even golden-brown color. 

Remove the pan from the heat. Gradually add the 4 cups of hot water. The molten sugar will sputter and foam at first. Return the pan to the heat and stir until the sugar is completely dissolved in the water. Add the orange blossom water, if using, the strips of orange and lemon zest and the cinnamon. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and let the syrup bubble gently, uncovered, until reduced, about 20 minutes. Skim out and discard the zest and cinnamon.

After frying, the dumplings are poached in caramel syrup.

Add the fried dumplings to the syrup. Bring again to a boil, reduce heat to medium and simmer them 15 minutes. Let the dumplings cool in the syrup, then chill them before serving.

Serve dumplings and syrup sprinkled with toasted pine nuts. Garnish as desired with sliced oranges or other fruit. Serve with whipped cream, ice cream or yogurt if you like.

Puffy dumplings in sweet syrup go nicely with a spoonful of unsweetened yogurt.

Recipes for savory dumplings (rellenos):

More desserts made with bread:

Saturday, April 20, 2019


Grelos are leafy greens similar to broccoli raab. They are the emblematic vegetable of Galicia in northwest Spain. I bought this bunch at a supermarket near my home in southern Spain

Finding a big bundle of leafy greens—grelos—at a local supermarket transported me back to Galicia where I first encountered grelos years ago. Here are some excerpts from my trip.

Galicia, which occupies the northwest corner of the Iberian peninsula, a chunk of Spain set above Portugal, is like another country altogether. Green pastures, Atlantic mists and grey stone remind you more of Brittany or Wales, perhaps. Certainly not of Mediterranean Spain, which is where I live.
   We drove through rolling countryside where spumes of mist floated over the green of vineyards, in and out of chestnut forests, through small villages. Interior Galicia is intensely rural. Small garden plots are tended by women, who seemed everywhere to be digging in the dirt—hoeing, sowing, weeding, plowing behind a team of oxen.
    Around lunch time we stopped at a village shop that doubled as a bar and restaurant, and bought cheese, ham, tomato, and the local wine, intending to put together a picnic. But the shop had no bread. The shopkeeper, a woman, who also tended the bar and two small children, directed us through a village backstreet, past hórreos, to the panadería or bread bakery.
    We bought a simple wheaten loaf; admired a roscón, a sponge cake baked in a ring mold. The village baker, having sold most of the morning’s loaves and banked the oven’s fires, was disposed to chat with a couple of foreigners. Turns out he was also the postman, so could tell us local lore.
    We pointed across the road. What are those plants growing in that garden? We had seen them in fields everywhere—stalks, about knee-high, with big leaves. He said it was grelos, a member of the turnip family. The stems and leaves are cooked with pork and potatoes. The root of the plant, a knobby turnip, goes for animal fodder.

My bunch of grelos inspired me to try some Galician recipes. The two most typical are caldo gallego, a soup with pork, potatoes, white beans and grelos, and lacón con grelos, greens cooked with cured pork shoulder, plus the essential potatoes.

Galician soup, caldo gallego, has chunks of cured pork, chorizo, potatoes, white beans and grelos.

An adaptation of lacón con grelos--roast pork hock with grelos and potatoes. Serve this meal with a red wine from Ribeira Sacra.

I had my grelos, but now I needed the lacón.

Lacón is the Galician term for the front leg of a pig, fresh or cured. Cured lacón is more like American southern country ham than like Spanish serrano ham. It’s salt-cured and air-dried, sometimes smoked. After curing, lacón has to be soaked in water to remove the salt, then fully cooked, either by simmering in water or roasting, before eating.

Once upon a time in a bar in Orense. A van pulled up at the curb and the baker’s boy got out carrying a huge tray, squeezing past us to deliver it to the bar. The tray held a whole lacón (front leg) of roast pork. The barman poured off the juices into a pitcher. Then he sliced the pork, put it on a split bread roll, crossed it with strips of roasted peppers and dribbled some of the juice over. And served us a free tapa. Delicious.
I found packets of cooked and sliced lacón—perfect for sandwiches or adding to soup—I couldn’t find a big joint. Nor a whole bone-in fresh shoulder cut. I finally settled on codillo, pork hock or knuckle, in salmuera, brine.

The traditional way of cooking lacón (a bone-in piece of about 4 pounds), once it has soaked 48 hours, is to put it in a big pot, cover with fresh water and cook with sliced onion and bay leaf until completely tender (30 minutes per pound), about 2 hours. You add potatoes and chorizo during the last 30 minutes, then the grelos at the very end (10 minutes).

The same caldo, or broth, can be used to make caldo gallego, soup with white beans, potatoes, chorizo and grelos.

I used one of the pork hocks to make the soup and, following a recipe for lacón asado, roast fresh pork shoulder, in a Galician cookbook, Cociña Galega by Álvaro Cunqueiro, I roasted the second hock and served it with grelos, chorizo and potatoes from the caldo.

Traditionally, the lacón and accompanying potatoes and grelos are served with nothing more complicated than extra virgin olive oil to dress the vegetables. Nevertheless, I served mine with sharp mustard and a tangy salsa verde.

To accompany the food, try a red Mencia wine from Ribeira Sacra, the Galician wine that’s not Albariño.

“Ribeira Sacra” means “the banks of a holy river”--so-called because the River Sil is on the pilgrims’ route to Santiago de Compostela. A string of Romanesque monasteries, dating from between the eighth and twelfth centuries, occupies spectacular sites along this river bank.
    We caught our first glimpse of the River Sil, which cuts a canyon through the highlands, on the steep descent to the Monastery of San Esteve, which nestles into the forest over the river far below. The river is wide and twists in S-curves through green banks. If the sun is shining, the water is blue. If not, it can appear grey or even black.

Leaving the car, we could hear only the twitter of birds and, somewhere nearby, the rhythmic sound of somebody hoeing in the garden. We imagined a monk tending the herbs and vegetables, but, in fact, the monastery is long in disuse. On our visit we encountered no one at all.
    A Romanesque church, flanked by a tiny graveyard, adjoins the monastery, where we wandered through the cloisters. Gargoyles keep an eye on all that passes through these silent courtyards, while deep naves lead to solitary niches where one can contemplate the beauty of the valley. We visited on a day of sparkling sunshine, but frequently the valley fills with swirling mists that drift up to the monastery’s portals. On such occasions, you might feel transported back to medieval times, when this isolated monastery was a center for the meditative life. (The monastery has since been converted to a Parador Nacional, a beautiful hotel.)
    The steeply terraced land is planted in vineyards right down to the banks of the river. The wines of Ribeira Sacra date from Roman times, but became renowned during the medieval era, when vineyards were tended by monks in the several monasteries. Today they are small family holdings, cultivated on a very local scale.

Roast pork hock (not actual lacón) served with traditional accompaniments of grelos, potatoes and chorizo, with olive oil to drizzle on the vegetables.

Roast Pork with Greens
Lacón Asado con Grelos 

Use soft, cooking chorizo, preferably smoked Galician or Asturian chorizo. Use either ordinary sweet or smoked pimentón (paprika). If grelos or broccoli raab are not available, try turnip greens, kale, chard or collards in their place. 

If you are using fresh pork, brine it before roasting. If you have a (cured) picnic ham or authentic lacón gallego, prepare it for cooking according to package directions. 

Serves 4-6.

Pork hocks after brining.
For the pork:
4 ½  pounds bone-in pork hocks, picnic shoulder or Boston butt
6 cups water
½ cup kosher salt for brining
12 cloves garlic
10 peppercorns
2 cloves
3 bay leaves
2 tablespoons oregano
½ teaspoon pimentón (paprika)
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon wine vinegar
1 cup white wine
Water or meat stock

Two days before roasting the meat, prepare the brine.

Bring the water to a boil. Add the salt and stir to dissolve it. Remove from heat and add 6 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed; peppercorns, cloves and bay leaves. Let the brine cool completely.

Place the pork in a non-reactive container and pour the cooled brine with spices and herbs over it. Place a plate on top of the meat to keep it submerged. Cover and refrigerate at least 24 hours or up to 48 hours. Turn the meat once a day.

Drain the pork, discarding the brine.

In a small bowl combine the remaining 6 cloves of crushed garlic, oregano, pimentón, pepper, oil and vinegar. Spread this mixture on all sides of the pork. Place the pork in a roasting pan and allow it to come to room temperature.

Preheat oven to 350ºF.

Roast the pork for 30 minutes. Pour over the wine. Roast 60 minutes more. Add additional liquid (wine, water or meat stock) as needed, so there is always some liquid in the pan.

Raise heat to 450ºF. Roast the pork until the skin is browned and crispy, about 15 minutes.

Remove pork from the oven and place on a cutting board. Reserve pan juices. Allow the meat to stand 10 minutes. Remove skin and slice the meat off the bone. Arrange it on a platter with the cooked greens, potatoes and chorizo.

This is the pork hock that cooked with beans to make caldo, soup. Pieces of the pork went back into the soup with the beans, potatoes and grelos.

To accompany the pork:
1 ½ pounds grelos or other greens
4-6 medium potatoes, peeled and cut in half
2 chorizos
Extra virgin olive oil, to serve

Cut off and discard thick, fibrous stem ends from the grelos. Discard any yellowing leaves. Fill a basin with cold water and wash the greens very well. Twist and snap the stalks into three or four pieces. Drain the grelos.

Grelos after blanching in boiling water.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the grelos and blanch them 3 minutes. Drain in a colander and refresh in cold running water.

Bring a pot of salted water to a boil. Add the potatoes and cook 10 minutes. Add the grelos and the whole chorizos. Cook until potatoes are tender, about 15 minutes longer.

Remove potatoes and greens with a slotted spoon and place on serving platter with the sliced meat. Remove the chorizos to a plate. Use scissors to cut them into smaller pieces. Place the chorizo on the platter. Drizzle oil over the greens, potatoes and meat.

The recipe for Caldo Gallego is here.

About Lacón Gallego.
About Grelos de Galicia IGP.

Parador (hotel) de San Estevo.

Saturday, April 13, 2019


Te conozco, bacalao, aunque vengas disfrazao,” is an old Spanish saying, meaning “I know you, codfish, even if you come in disguise.” It’s roughly the same as “pull the wool over your eyes,” deceive someone to prevent them from discovering something. Considering the thousand-and-one ways of preparing salt cod during the Lenten period, it’s also a sly way of saying, “you can’t fool me, no matter how you doll it up!”

But, here’s a recipe for salt cod that might fool anyone! It’s a garlicky, creamy dip or schmear that might remind you of hummus or Greek skordalia or taromosalata. This one, from the Axarquía region east of Málaga, is somewhat like Catalan brandada and atascaburras or ajoarriero from La Mancha. But, it has, besides salt cod and garlic, a big dose of pimentón (paprika) that gives the mixture a ruddy hue. 

Ajobacalao is a dip or spread made with salt cod blended into a creamy mixture of garlic, bread and olive oil. Pimentón (paprika) gives it a reddish color.

Spread the ajobacalao on crusty bread for a satisfying snack.

A tasty spread for canapés. In Málaga, local green olives are typical, but the black ones make nice contrast.

Use breadsticks as dippers.

The resulting thick spread can be slathered on bread or toasts for a satisfying snack, spread on crisp crackers as a canapé or dipped with breadsticks. Serve it as a luncheon entrée with artichokes, quartered hard-boiled egg and lettuce. 

Salt cod is to fresh fish as cured ham is to fresh pork. The process of salting and curing changes both flavor and texture. Salt cod has to be soaked in several changes of water before being incorporated in any recipe. It needs very little cooking on gentle heat. 

In Spain, it’s easy to find bacalao in many different cuts. I used a packet of bacalao desmigado, scraps of cod with no skin or bones. The small pieces needed only 12 hours soaking. If you have a thick, loin cut of bacalao, it may need as long as 48 hours to soften and lose excess salt. 

And, if you’re really, truly not into bacalao, disguised or otherwise, try making this spread with canned, water-pack tuna, well-drained. You can tell folks it´s bacalao---

Salt Cod-Garlic Spread

In bygone times, this traditional dish was made in a lebrillo, a large clay bowl, or a wooden mortar, the ingredients mashed together with a pestle. Nowadays, a food processor makes quick work of it. It's important to mix very well to emulsify the oil and bread.

Use extra virgin olive oil. In the Málaga area where this is a popular dish during Lent (Cuaresma) the local oil is made from the Verdial variety of olive. The pimentón is normal, sweet paprika, not smoked. Use additional hot pimentón or cayenne to taste.

Bacalao desmigado.
6-8 ounces dry salt cod
1-2 cloves garlic
8 ounces day-old bread (4-5 slices)
2 teaspoons pimentón (paprika)
Pinch of hot pimentón or cayenne
Cod cooking liquid
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons lemon juice
Salt, if necessary
Bread, toast, breadsticks or crackers to serve

Wash the pieces of cod and place them in a bowl. Cover with cold water. Refrigerate, covered, 12 hours, changing the water twice. 

Drain and rinse the pieces of cod. Place them in a pan and cover with water. Bring the water to a simmer (bubbling gently) and cook 1 minute. Drain, saving the cod cooking liquid. When the cod is cool, flake it with the fingers, discarding any skin or bones. Reserve cod and liquid.

Ingredients for ajobacalao--day-old bread, extra virgin olive oil, pimentón, garlic, cod that has been de-salted, cooked and flaked and lemon juice.

Finely chop the garlic in a food processor.

Remove crusts from the bread. Break it up and add to the processor with the garlic. Add the two kinds of pimentón. Grind the bread into fine crumbs. Add ½ cup of the reserved cod cooking liquid and process until it is absorbed by the bread. With the processor running, slowly add the oil. Process until the oil is completely absorbed and mixture is very smooth. Add the lemon juice and 2 or 3 tablespoons more of the reserved liquid to make a smooth, thick cream. 

Add the flaked cod and process a few seconds more to combine well. The cod does not have to be completely pureed. Taste and add salt if necessary.  

Cover and refrigerate the cod until serving time or up to 3 days. Serve with bread, toasts, breadsticks or crackers.

Feliz Semana Santa.

Recipes for similar salt cod spreads: