Saturday, August 31, 2019


You may be celebrating summer’s end with the Labor Day holiday, but here in southern Spain, I’m celebrating the end of the high season for tourists (hopefully, more parking spaces will be available in the village). And, I’m having a field day with garden vegetables.

A friend handed us a bag of cherry tomatoes from his garden. And my green beans are finishing, so it’s time to pick them all before they get too woody. The pods become progressively more fibrous and stringy as the “bean” inside the pods matures.

I’m making an old-fashioned Spanish vegetable dish, judías verdes con tomate—beans slow-cooked in tomato sauce—except that I’m cooking the beans just until crisp-tender and using cherry tomatoes for a quick “sauce.”

Cherry tomatoes make a savory sauce for snappy green beans. 

Served with crisp-fried potatoes and garnished with egg, the beans and tomatoes make a great lunch.

The beans I grow are similar to what in the U.S. are called “Romano,” wide, flat pods. (One Spanish variety is the Garrofal, the bean added to classic Valencian paella.)  But this recipe will work with all green beans—round-podded “string” beans, skinny haricots, wax beans as well as the flat ones. Any degree of mature is fine. Remove strings, if necessary. Cook them crisp-tender if they’re still small, but don’t be ashamed to cook big ole mature beans a long time, until completely tender.

Cooking time will depend on the variety and maturity of the beans. I find that round-podded snap beans take longer to cook than the flat Romano variety. Taste them while they’re cooking and take them off the heat when they’re done to your taste. Plunging the beans quickly into ice water will help keep their bright green color.

This dish can be served as a starter, side or light lunch dish. Turn it into a vegetarian entrée by omitting the optional bacon or ham. (If you're using ibérico ham, don't sauté it, but toss with the beans when you remove them from the heat.) Serve the beans hot, room temperature or cold. Cold, theyt are improved with a splash of vinegar or lemon juice right before serving.

Sauté of Green Beans and Cherry Tomatoes
Judías Verdes Salteadas con Tomates Cherry

Serves 4-6.

1 ¼  pounds green beans
¼ cup olive oil
2 cloves garlic, chopped
½ medium onion, cut in julienne
2 ounces diced bacon, pancetta or ham
8 ounces cherry tomatoes, halved
Freshly ground black pepper
Red pepper flakes (optional)
Pinch of cumin
Quartered hard-cooked egg, to serve (optional)
Fresh herbs to garnish

Use a peeler to remove strings!
Get your beans in a row.

Remove strings from the beans, if necessary.  

Cut off tops and tails. Cut the beans into 2-inch lengths. Bring a pot of salted water to a boil. Have ready a bowl of ice water. Add the beans to the boiling water and cook them to the desired degree of doneness--5-6 minutes for crisp beans, 10-12 minutes for well-cooked.

Lift the beans out with a slotted spoon or skimmer and drop them into the ice water. Allow the beans to cool. Drain them.

Tomatoes release their juices.

Heat the oil in a large sauté pan or cazuela. Add the garlic. Before it browns, add the sliced onion and diced bacon. Sauté on medium heat until the onions begin to soften, 5 minutes. Add the tomatoes to the sauté pan. Fry them until they begin to release their juices, 3 minutes.
Add the beans to the pan and toss them with the tomatoes. Cook a few minutes so the flavors combine. 

Serve hot, room temperature or cold, garnishing with quartered egg, if desired, and sprigs of fresh herbs.

Add any fresh herb to garnish the beans. I'm loving the purple basil.

More recipes with green beans:

Saturday, August 24, 2019


From the garden--paraguayos--flat peaches, a summer delight.
On the steep embankment below our house, we have carved out small, stair-stepped plots for planting, shored up with stones and rubble. (“We” doesn’t actually include me—my son, Ben, and a hired hand did the work.) On several levels are pumpkin and tomato patches, an avocado tree and a paraguayo tree, which this year produced its first crop of fruit.

The paraguayo, as it is known in Spanish, is a flattened peach. In spite of the name, it has nothing to with Paraguay, the South American country. In fact, this variety of peach originates in China and has gradually become known everywhere in the world. In English, it’s known as “donut peach” or “Saturn peach,” for its shape.

Like a peach, it has a slightly fuzzy skin, yellow blushed with red, and pale yellow or white flesh. The paraguayo peach is exceptionally sweet.

We have been cutting them up in fruit salad. But to celebrate, I’ve made a luscious caramel and cream sauce to serve with these lovely peaches.

Caramelized sugar and cream--a lovely sauce to serve with fresh fruit.

Spoon the sauce over sliced peaches. Luscious.

Peaches with Caramel Sauce
Paraguayos con Salsa de Caramelo

The easiest way to peel the flat peaches is to scald them in boiling water. The skins slip off easily. 

Even with lemon juice stirred into the sliced peaches, they will oxidize (turn dark) in overnight chilling. They’re at their best when freshly peeled and sliced. But, that caramel sauce nicely masks the off-colored fruit—which taste every bit as good as freshly-sliced ones.

When making caramel, I like to use a light-colored pan so I can watch the sugar as it turns golden. 

For flavoring, in place of the vanilla, you could use a strip of orange or lemon peel.

2 pounds donut peaches
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons sweet Sherry (optional)

1 ¼ cups heavy cream
1 vanilla pod
½ cup sugar
2 tablespoons water

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Have ready a large bowl of ice water. Drop the peaches into the boiling water for 30 seconds. Skim them out and place in the ice water. Peel the peaches.  

Slice the peaches and discard pits. Place sliced peaches in a bowl and add the lemon juice and Sherry, if using. Cover and refrigerate, if not serving immediately.

Immediately before making the caramel, place the cream in a small pan with the vanilla pod. Bring to a boil and remove from the heat. Remove the vanilla (wash and save it for another use).

Place the sugar and water in a heavy saucepan. Heat, stirring, until sugar is dissolved and begins to boil. Continue cooking, without stirring, swirling the pan, until sugar turns golden. This takes only about 1 minute. Remove from heat.

Sauce bubbles.

Very carefully pour in the warm cream. The cream will splutter and foam up when it hits the hot caramel. Return the pan to the heat and stir up any caramelized sugar on the bottom of the pan, Continue cooking, stirring frequently, until sauce is reduced by about half, 6 to 8 minutes.

Cool the sauce. Refrigerate sauce if it is not to be used immediately. It becomes very thick after chilling.

To serve, spoon the sauce over sliced peaches.

After picking--paraguayo tree at the bottom of the garden.

More recipes with summer fruits:

Saturday, August 17, 2019


Peppers in the garden.
Picking a basket of tomatoes and a few red and green bell peppers from the garden, I was inspired to look a little further than gazpacho for ways to use them. I recalled titaina, a Valencian dish, that’s basically a sauce of tomatoes and peppers with the addition of tuna.

I first tasted titaina at Restaurante la Matandeta in Alfafar (Valencia), where it was served as a starter before the main course of wood-fire-cooked paella with chicken, rabbit and duck (that's right, no seafood).

Traditional titaina is made with tonyina de sorra, salt-cured, air dried tuna belly. Tuna belly, ventresca or ijada, known as “toro” in sushi restaurants, is the fattiest, juciest part of the tuna. The dry salt tuna, needs to be soaked in water eight hours before incorporating in this dish (unlike mojama, dry salt tuna from the lean side cuts, which is served, like ham, thinly sliced and dressed with olive oil).

Salt tuna, which can be found in the Mercat Central of Valencia, is not likely available elsewhere.

However, titaina can also be made with fresh or canned tuna. I had both canned ventresca and a piece of fresh yellow-fin tuna and decided to go with the fresh tuna.

Serve the tuna-tomato-pepper melange, cold or room temperature, as a starter.

Toasted pine nuts add crunch to the dish.

Heap the titiana on a small roll to make a pepito sandwich.

How to serve titaina? Room temperature or cold, like a salad, as a starter or light lunch dish. Serve it accompanied by bread for dipping and scooping. It’s also good heaped on a toasted bun or roll as a pepito sandwich. In Valencia, titaina is used as a topping for coca, a pizza-like flatbread, and as a filling for empanadillas. We liked it spooned over rice and tossed with penne. You can also cook the pepper-tomato mixture without the tuna and serve it as a sauce for tuna steaks grilled rare.

Tomatoes and Peppers with Tuna
Titaina Valenciana

Basically, the dish is a sofrito of tomatoes, peppers and garlic.

Peeling tomatoes!

There’s more than one way to skin a tomato! 1.)Drop it into boiling water for 30 seconds, drain, and slip off the skin. 2.)Roast on a grill (wood or gas-fired) just until the skin splits. 3.)Grate the tomato. 4.)Use a vegetable peeler. I can peel a dozen tomatoes with a peeler in the same time it takes to bring a big pot of water to a boil. 

You can also peel bell peppers with a vegetable peeler! Or roast them until charred and remove blackened skin. Skinning peppers is completely optional. 

Chop the peppers and tomatoes into very small dice so the cooked sauce has texture, but is not lumpy with big pieces of the vegetables. 

Cut tuna into dice.
Fresh tuna can be cut into medium dice, unless it will be used for sandwich filling, in which case it needs to be cut up smaller. Canned tuna can be chunked or flaked.

Serves 4 as a starter or side.

5 tablespoons olive oil
¼ cup pine nuts
2 cloves garlic, chopped
10 ounces fresh tuna, cut in ½-inch dice
1 cup finely chopped red bell pepper (1 or 2 peppers)
1 cup finely chopped green bell pepper (1 or 2 peppers)
2 pounds fresh tomatoes, peeled and chopped (3 ½ cups)
Sugar (optional)
1/8 teaspoon cinnamon
Grating of fresh nutmeg
Freshly ground black pepper
½  teaspoon salt

Heat 2 tablespoons of the oil in a cazuela, deep skillet or large saucepan and sauté the pine nuts and garlic until golden, 1 minute. Pat the diced tuna dry and add to the pan. Fry on medium high until lightly browned on all sides, 3 minutes. Skim out the pine nuts, garlic and tuna and reserve.

Cook the pepper-tomato sofrito until thick and liquid is reduced.

Add remaining 3 tablespoons of oil to the pan. Add the chopped red and green peppers and sauté them 3 minutes until they begin to soften. Add the tomatoes. If the tomatoes are very acidic, add a spoonful of sugar. Season with cinnamon, nutmeg, pepper and salt. Cook on high heat for a minute, then lower heat and cook, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until the mixture is very thick and most of the liquid has cooked away, about 20 minutes. 

Add the reserved tuna, pine nuts and garlic to the pan and cook 10 minutes more.

Once cooked, sauce is very thick.
Remove from heat and allow to cool. Serve room temperature or chill the mixture, covered, up to 2 days, and serve cold. 

Restaurante la Matandeta. in Alfafar (Valencia).

How to serve mojama  (salt tuna).

More recipes for pepito sandwiches.

Saturday, August 10, 2019


Last summer we had a grand family reunion on the Gulf Coast, USA. This year we convened close to my home, on the Mediterranean, at a beachside restaurant called a chiringuito. 

A typical chiringuito on the Costa del Sol, a few steps from the Mediterranean Sea.

Here's our gang. We've reserved a table, although on this weekday, the beach was not too crowded.

An old fishermen's custom on the Málaga coast--grilling fish on espetos, or skewers, stuck in the sand. Here a beached fishing boat is filled with sand to contain the fire. 

Our lunch! Fresh, locally-caught sardines and a whole lubina, sea bass. 

We start with plates of fried boquerones (fresh anchovies) and calamares (squid), tiny wedge-shelled clams (coquinas) and, of course, salad. Grown-ups are drinking tinto de verano, red wine with lemon soda and lots of ice. I noticed at a nearby table, three ladies of a certain age, ordering the second bottle of chilled vino rosado, rosé.

A squeeze of lemon on the calamares? Of course! My grandsons, from left, Lucas, 14; Nico, 10, and Leo, 15. 

Fresh anchovies, locally caught, crisply fried.

These coquinas (wedge-shelled clams) were superlative!

Mixed salad. The chiringito's thatched roof makes for curious lighting effects. But, the shade is sure welcome.

We ordered a small paella as a side dish and shared it all around. Good idea. 

Grilled sardines! This is what I came for! 

And, the whole sea bass, roasted to perfection.

On the Beach, Part 1, the Gulf Coast.
Another chiringuito lunch on the Mediterranean.
Lunch and Roman ruins on an Atlantic beach.

Recipes for some of the pictured food:
Fishermen-Style Wedge-Shell Clams.
Fried Squid (Calamares) and Fresh Anchovies (Boquerones).
Grilled Sardines.
Mixed Salad.

Saturday, August 3, 2019


Summer's perfect fruit.

While my house was full of family, we went through almost a watermelon a day. Kids love watermelon almost as much as ice cream. Now we’re down to only three at table, so a watermelon seems to go on and on. I found some other ways to enjoy this fruit that seems to be summer’s perfect complement—or antidote.

First, a simple watermelon ice—sort of a pink snowball—and then a watermelon salad with turkey that makes a light but satisfying main dish.

Though labelled “seedless,” this variety of watermelon actually has small white “seeds” throughout. They're not actual seeds. Soft and tasteless, they can be consumed along with the watermelon flesh.

Watermelon Ice
Helado de Sandía

5 pounds seedless watermelon (½ medium melon)
2 cups Greek yogurt
1/3 cup fresh lemon juice
Sugar or non-caloric sweetener
2 tablespoons sweet Sherry (optional)
Mint leaves to garnish

Cut the watermelon into cubes, discarding the rind. Place the cubes in a large bowl and freeze them.

Working in batches, process the frozen watermelon in a food processor. Mix the slushy ice with yogurt, lemon juice, sweetener and Sherry, if using. Return the mixture to the freezer until it begins to freeze.

Break the partially frozen watermelon into chunks. Turn them into slush in food processor or blender. Spoon the mixture into individual cups or popsicle molds. Freeze.

Remove cups from the freezer about 10 minutes before serving to allow the ice to soften slightly. For the popsickles, dip them in a cup of warm water and remove from molds. Serve immediately.

Watermelon ice can be fancy or fun. 

Serve the ice in crystal dessert coupes or--

freeze it in popsicle molds.

Turkey and Watermelon Salad
Ensalada de Pavo con Sandía

Cool salad for summer--chunks of turkey and watermelon in a simple vinaigrette.

Pink wine--vino rosado--is the season's cool drink. I like Tempranillo rosado best--bright, fruity, crisp.
I’ve taken to buying boneless turkey breast, putting it in an adobo marinade, then roasting it. Once chilled, I slice it thinly for use in sandwiches and salads. It’s cheaper and ever so much tastier than packaged “lunch meat.” (There’s a recipe for the microwave version here. )

Use leftover roast turkey, smoked turkey or delicatessen turkey for this salad. 

Serves 4

4 cups diced watermelon (about 2 ½ pounds)
2 cups cubed cooked turkey (10 ounces)
¼ cup chopped scallions, including some of the green part
¼ cup blueberries
¼ cup white wine vinegar
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper
Purple basil or mint leaves
Salad greens to serve

Chill the diced watermelon.

In a mixing bowl, combine the turkey, scallions and blueberries. In a small bowl whisk together the vinegar and mustard. Whisk in the oil and season with salt and pepper. Pour the dressing over the turkey.

Immediately before serving, using a slotted spoon, scoop the watermelon into the turkey and combine. Stir in basil leaves. 

Line salad plates with salad greens. Spoon the turkey and watermelon salad on top. Garnish with basil sprigs.

More recipes with watermelon: