Saturday, February 9, 2019


Seated next to a roaring fire, with a brazier of hot coals at our feet and a heavy table cloth tucked around our legs, we sipped fino from Montilla-Moriles, nibbled local olives and waited for soup to be served. We were lunching at Arte de Cozina, a restaurant in Antequera (Málaga) that specializes in traditional and local foods.

Spoons at the ready! One of Andalusia's many traditional potajes, beans with fennel and pork belly. This is adapted from a dish sampled at Arte de Cozina in Antequera (Málaga).

It turned out to be a four-spoon lunch, as we sampled our way through the sopas, guisos and cazuelas on the menu. Known as “platos de cuchara,” or “spoon foods.” these are the sort of soups, stews and soupy-stews that you eat with a spoon in one hand and a chunk of crusty bread in the other. Hearty, heart-warming and heart-healthy, they are a mainstay of Spanish home cooking.

Charo Carmona, chef and owner of Arte de Cozina, bought a village tapa bar 23 years ago. She began collecting and recovering traditional recipes of the region (Antequera is an inland town in the province of Málaga), starting with those learned from her mother and mother-in-law. Today her menu features many historical dishes as well as those of popular home cooking.

First of the spoons: porra blanca, a thick "porridge" of bread, Hojiblanca extra virgin olive oil, garlic and vinegar. This is a dish related to the original gazpacho. 

Puchero de tagarninas--a soup-stew with wild thistles. 

Galipuche--a soup with chunks of egg tortilla made with bitter wild asparagus (esparragos trigueros). 

My companion on the spoon food trail, Lars Kronmark, professor of culinary arts at the Culinary Institute of America in St. Helena, CA. Chef Lars comes to southern Spain once or twice a year to visit his mother who lives here. We usually get together for culinary explorations or just to have lunch.

Bean Pot with Fennel and Pork Belly 
Olla de Habichuelas Blancas con Hinojos y Panceta Ibérica

This is my rendition of one of the soup-stews served at Arte de Cozina--pot of beans with fennel and ibérico pork belly.

A traditional plato de cuchara--spoon food. Many are complete meals, with legumes and vegetables.

Chef Charo explained that she makes this filling stew with fennel bulb (not the stems of wild fennel). Cultivated fennel gives the stew a very subtle anise flavor. I added wild fennel fronds to make the flavor more pronounced. Her version is made with fresh panceta ibérica, pork belly from the ibérico breed of pig. If not available, any fresh pork belly could be used (uncured pancetta). She sprinkles salt-cured panceta that has been crisply fried on top of the finished soup, almost as a seasoning. Bacon is a fine substitute.

Put the beans to soak a day before cooking them. If you have very hard water, add a pinch of baking soda to the soaking water. Drain beans after soaking and cover them with fresh water to cook them.

The diced panceta is fried and the crisped bits of meat and fat—torreznos—are added to the beans. The fat is used to make a sofrito that flavors the stew.

Serves 4-6.

Fennel bulb, trimmed and diced.
16 ounces dry white beans (such as cannellini)
1 bay leaf
Sprig of wild fennel (optional)
¼ onion in one piece
6 ounces fresh pork belly (panceta)
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 fennel bulb (16 ounces)
1 cup chopped onion
½ cup chopped green pepper
½ cup chopped red bell pepper
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 cup chopped tomato
¼ cup (1.5 ounces) diced bacon
Fennel sprigs, to garnish

Put the beans in a pot and add twice their volume of water. Soak beans overnight (8 hours).

Drain beans and return to the pot. Add enough fresh water to cover them by 2 inches. Add the bay leaf, wild fennel, if using, and quartered onion. Bring the beans to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, covered, 30 minutes.

Fry diced pork belly.

While beans are cooking, cut the pork belly into ½ -inch dice. Place in a skillet with the oil and heat until fat is rendered and the bits begin to brown. Skim the pieces of pork belly out of the skillet and add to the pot of beans. Save the fat that has been rendered in the skillet.

Trim the fennel bulb of tough outer layers and core. Cut into ½ -inch dice. Add the fennel to the beans with the pork belly. Cook the beans until they are nearly tender, about 30 minutes longer.

Heat the fat remaining in the skillet and sauté the chopped onion, green and red peppers and garlic until softened, 5 minutes. Add the tomato and continue frying until the tomatoes are somewhat reduced, 10 minutes.

Puree the sofrito in a blender with ½ cup of beans from the pot. Push this puree through a sieve, discarding the solids.

Pour the sieved sofrito into the pot of beans. Continue cooking, uncovered, until beans are very tender (about 20 minutes).

Fry the diced bacon until very crisp. Ladle the beans into bowls (discard bay leaf and cooked  wild fennel sprig). Top each with a spoonful of crisp bacon. Garnish with a sprig of green fennel.

My variations: I added kale and sausage to the bean and fennel stew.

Charo Camona, chef of Arte de Cozina in Antequera. (Photo from the Arte de Cozina website.)

Arte de Cozina tables are in the (enclosed) courtyard of a 17th century house. A roaring fire and braziers beneath the tables keep diners warm even in cold weather. 

More recipes with fennel;
Fennel Soup with Chickpeas, Wheat and Sausage.
Pear and Fennel Salad with Walnuts.

More ideas for “spoon food.”
Andalusian Vegetable Stew.
Broth with Fish and Clams (Caldillo de Pintarroja)
Chicken Soup with Mint.
Andalusian Garlic Soup (Maimones).
Clams with Butter Beans.
Lamb and Bean Stew.
Spinach with Chickpeas.

Restaurante Arte de Cozina, Antequera (Málaga). The restaurant Arte de Cozina is situated in a 17th century house in the center of Antequera. There is an adjoining tapas bar and guest rooms on upper levels. Besides the soups and stews mentioned here, the menu includes main course dishes such as marinated pork loin, baby goat, pigs' trotters and wild partridge and desserts such as bienmesabe and almojábanas.


  1. Thank You Janet,
    Perfect restaurant for the cooler weather,
    with warm potaje,,,
    Will visit soon, lucky to be in Malaga at the moment!

    1. SweetBasil: And, if you miss Arte de Cozina in cold weather, expect a new menu for spring and summer, featuring seasonal dishes. Enjoy!

  2. I was really impressed by Arte de Cozina. Wish I had joined you, but we decided that we were chilling out in Western Andalucia and I did not want to get on the same old hectic pace running from place to place. Next time, we will go. I love Charo Carmona's cooking and her ideas.

    1. Gerry: We missed you. Missed hearing all about Madrid Fusion from you. Yes, Charo's cooking is my kind of food. I hope to get back.