Saturday, October 26, 2019


The vendimia finished, grape juice percolates in vats, magically turning into wine. Spain, third in wine production worldwide, has a deep tradition of foods associated with the vendimia. One is gachas de mosto, a traditional dessert made from mosto, grape “must,” the juice before it is fermented.

Gachas de mosto, a pudding made from grape juice.

Gachas is somewhere between a confection and a pudding. It is undoubtedly of Moorish origin and is somewhat similar to Turkish delight, which in turn is a variation on halvah, which, long ago, was also made with thickened grape juice.

The grape must is boiled down to a sweet syrup, then thickened with flour. Depending on the sweetness of the grapes, it needs no added sugar. (There is also a savory version of gachas that does not use grape juice.)

In Málaga province, region of famed muscat wines and raisins, the juice for this traditional dessert comes from Moscatel de Alejandria grapes. In Jerez, the Sherry varietal, Palomino, is used. In La Mancha, where the gachas are also called mostillo, the most common grape used to be the Airén, but now the sweet is made with Tempranillo (red). In Córdoba, where gachas de mosto is a typical sweet for the holidays of Todos los Santos (All Saints’ Day), November 1, and Fieles Difuntos (Day of the Dead), November 2, the Pedro Jiménez grape of Montilla-Moriles forms the base of the dessert.

Late-harvest muscatel grapes. As the skins begin to turn brown, the sweetness intensifies.

A friend gave us a basketful of Moscatel grapes, inspiring me to make juice. I picked off the stems and stalks, popping the grapes as I plopped them in a big bowl. I used my hands to knead them to release the juice (not a large enough quantity to bother getting my feet sticky). I strained out seeds and skins, pressing on the pulp to get as much juice as possible. Fruit flies began swarming almost immediately.

One pound of grapes made approximately one cup of juice. I had about three cups of juice. I bought bottled mosto, a pasteurized, unsweetened grape juice (nowadays made from concentrate) to combine with the fresh-pressed juice for making the dessert.

Typically, gachas is thickened to make a paste so stiff that, after cooling, it can be sliced or even cut into shapes. Some wine-country chefs have re-invented the whole concept, thickening the reduced grape juice very lightly and aerating it in a siphon to make “foam.”

I chose a version midway between—the following recipe makes a dessert like wobbly Jello. (But, with no gelatine, it is vegan.) Its sweet, winey flavor is delicious alongside baked apple or spiced pears. While not traditional, whipped cream or Greek yogurt goes nicely with it.

An autumnal dessert plate--grape juice pudding, baked apples, toasty almonds, cinnamon and a dollop of cream.

Pudding has the consistency of wobbly Jello.

Another way to serve--ladled into dessert cups.

Grape Juice Pudding
Gachas de Mosto

Skim off foam that rises.

Fresh-pressed mosto or grape juice will create a lot of froth as it comes to a boil. Skim off all the foam that rises to the top. 

If you don't have mosto, use any unsweetened grape juice.

The easiest way to calculate whether the juice has reduced by half, rather than measuring volume, is to measure the depth of juice in the pan before cooking (use a ruler). When it has reduced to half of that depth, it’s ready. 

I used as a mold a 8.5-inch X 6.5-inch Pyrex pan. Cut into 2-inch squares, the recipe makes 12 servings. The gachas mixture can also be ladled into individual dessert cups. 

I used blanched and skinned almonds, fried in olive oil, to garnish the pudding. Sesame seed or walnuts are also traditional. 

9 cups unsweetened grape must or juice
Strips of orange zest
Cinnamon stick
2 cloves
1 cup cake flour
Olive oil or almond oil to grease the mold(s)
Toasted almonds, sesame seeds or walnuts
Ground cinnamon (optional)
Whipped cream or Greek yogurt, to serve (optional)

Reserve 1 cup of the grape juice. Place the remaining 8 cups of juice in a large pot with the strip of orange peel, cinnamon and cloves. Bring to a boil, skimming off any froth that rises to the top. Lower the heat to medium-high and continue cooking the juice until it is reduced by half (4 cups). This can take from 50 to 60 minutes. Skim out and discard the orange peel, cinnamon stick and cloves. Let the juice cool slightly.

While the grape juice reduces, beat together the reserved 1 cup of juice and the flour until completely smooth (a blender works well for this). 

Reduced juice is thickened with flour.

Return the reduced juice to the heat. Whisk in the juice-flour mixture. Cook, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon or paddle until the mixture is thick and completely smooth, about 10 minutes. 

Have ready a mold or 12 individual cups lightly greased with olive or almond oil. If using sesame seeds, scatter them on the bottom of the mold. If pudding is to be served directly from the mold or cups, decorate the top with almonds or walnuts.

Pour the thickened juice into the mold or cups. Let set until completely cool. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 8 hours.

If pudding is to be served directly from the mold, stud the top with almonds.
To serve, loosen around the edges of the pudding with a knife. Place a serving dish on top of the mold and invert the mold so that the pudding releases onto the platter. Sprinkle the top with toasted almonds or walnuts. Cut into portions to serve. Sprinkle with cinnamon, if desired. Accompany with whipped cream or Greek yogurt, as desired.

Cut the pudding into squares to serve.

More recipes using grape juice (mosto):

To accompany the gachas:

Saturday, October 19, 2019


Gazpachuelo nine different ways was the special offer at a seaside Málaga restaurant, Balneario Baños del Carmen. We sampled four of them. Following on platters of sardines roasted on espetones (skewers) and accompanied by a crisp Albariño white wine, the gazpachuelo soups made up birthday lunch for my friend and colleague, Gerry Dawes, the expert on Spanish gastronomy, wine and travel, who does specialized custom tours for culinary luminaries (Rozanne Gold, chef and cookbook author, and Michael Whiteman, restaurant consultant, were the guests at this lunch). 

Tables on the edge of the sea at Málaga's Balneario Baños del Carmen. 

Gazpachuelo is not gazpacho. It’s a hot soup, typical of Málaga’s fishermen’s quarter. Basically, it is nothing more than egg, olive oil, bits of fish or shellfish and either bread or potatoes. In the inland village where I live, it is even simpler—egg, olive oil and potato. But, gazpachuelo is more than the sum of its parts. The egg and oil make an emulsified mayonnaise, creating a creamy, satisfying, tasty soup that has inspired local chefs to ring the changes on the simple original.

Seafood and Viña AB Sherry.
Of the ones we sampled at the Balneario, two were almost identical—the malagueño and the one with almejas (clams). The Viña AB, which I remember from the now defunct Restaurante Alegría in the center of Málaga, contains more fish and shellfish, plus a shot of Viña AB amontillado Sherry. The fourth one we tried was pretty radical—gazpachuelo de callos, or tripe. The soup had a pinkish-orange tinge, probably smoked pimentón, and a background flavour of morcilla, or blood sausage. The pieces of pig’s tripe were incredibly tender and succulent.

Inspired by our gazpachuelo lunch and a review of the book, Gazpachuelos de Málaga, by Fernando Sánchez Gómez, with 102 versions of the soup, I tried some variations of my own: turkey meatballs in a chicken-broth-based soup.

Gazpachuelo with turkey meatballs, purple and white potatoes and a snippet of chorizo sausage.

Play with the garnishes to add color and texture. Perhaps some saffron in the meatballs, to give them a yellow color?

Turkey Meatballs in Gazpachuelo Soup
Gazpachuelo con Albóndigas de Ave

You can prepare the soup in stages. If you’re making home-made chicken broth, start at least a day before finishing the soup, so it has time to chill, solidifying the fat on top of the broth. 

Chicken breast could be used instead of turkey for the meatballs (or, look at other meatball and fish ball possibilities, listed at the end of the recipe). Turkey bones could be used instead of chicken for the broth. Sub in rice in place of potatoes. Use different varietals of olive oil to change flavors. (Hojiblanca varietal is typical of Málaga.) Vary the garnishes when serving the soup.

For the chicken broth:
Makes about 10 cups of broth.

2 pounds chicken pieces, such as backs, wings, necks
12 cups water
1 leek
½ onion
1 carrot
1 stalk celery
Parsley stems
2 teaspoons salt
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
10 peppercorns
1 bay leaf
Sprig of thyme

Wash the chicken pieces and place them in a large soup pot. Add the water and bring to a boil. Skim off the froth that rises to the top. Add the leek, onion, carrot, celery, parsley, salt, vinegar, peppercorns, bay leaf and thyme. Bring again to a boil, reduce heat and cook, covered, 1 hour.

Remove from heat. Let the broth cool slightly, then pour it through a colander into a heat-proof bowl that can be refrigerated. Save the carrot, if desired, to add to the finished soup. Discard the bones, vegetables, spices and herbs.

Refrigerate the broth, covered, overnight or up to 3 days. Before continuing with the soup, remove the congealed fat from the top of the broth. 

For the olive oil mayonnaise:
1 large egg, room temperature
¾ cup extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons or more freshly squeezed lemon juice
½ teaspoon salt

Blender mayonnaise.

Place the egg and oil in the container of an immersion blender. Blend at high speed until the mixture begins to thicken and emulsify. Raise and lower the blender blade to completely combine the mayonnaise. Blend in the lemon juice and salt. Taste the mayonnaise and add more lemon juice as desired.
Keep the mayonnaise in the blender container while continuing with the soup.

If making the mayonnaise in advance of finishing the soup, refrigerate it, covered. Bring to room temperature before continuing with the recipe.

For the turkey meatballs:
Parsley, garlic, nutmeg for meatballs.
This is traditional seasoning for meatballs—garlic, parsley, nutmeg. You could vary the flavors—a pinch of thyme, perhaps, or grated ginger. As these meatballs are not floured and fried before being added to the soup, they are very white. A pinch of saffron would be a nice addition.

The meatballs can be prepared in advance of making the soup. Either poach them in the chicken broth or in salted water. Reheat the meatballs before adding to the soup.

Makes about 30 (1-inch) balls

1 pound ground turkey breast
3 slices bread (3 ounces), crusts removed
¼ cup milk
1 egg, beaten
1 tablespoon chopped parsley
1 clove garlic, finely minced
½ teaspoon salt
Freshly grated nutmeg
Freshly ground black pepper

Break the bread into pieces and place in a small bowl. Pour over the milk and allow it to soak 5 minutes. Squeeze out as much of the milk as possible. Place the bread in a mixing bowl and mash it with the beaten egg. Add the parsley, garlic, salt and nutmeg. Mix in the ground turkey, using a fork to combine it thoroughly.

Chill the meatball mixture at least 30 minutes or, covered, until the following day.

Dip hands in cold water and roll the meat into small (1-inch) balls. Place them on a rimmed baking sheet while heating the soup.

Cook the meatballs in the simmering soup (see below).

For the soup:
The process is pretty simple. First, you’re going to “temper” the mayonnaise by blending in some of the hot soup. Then, you will whisk the diluted mayonnaise into the soup. Either serve the soup immediately or very gently reheat it without letting it come to a boil, which would cause the mayonnaise to “break,” or coagulate, spoiling the gorgeous velvety texture of the soup.

Be sure to taste the soup after the addition of the mayonnaise to the soup pot. Depending on the broth, the soup may need more salt or more lemon juice.

Classic gazpachuelo contains potatoes. I chose to use part purple potatoes, just to give the soup some visual pizazz. Rice can be used instead of potatoes. And, why not add some more vegetables? On a second day appearance, I added baby spinach to the soup and meatballs.

Serves 6.

10 cups chicken broth
Turkey balls
2 medium potatoes (12 ounces), white and/or purple, diced
¼ cup fino (dry) Sherry
¾ cup olive oil mayonnaise
Cooked carrot, sliced
1 slice cured chorizo, cut in small triangles
Chopped scallions or parsley to garnish
Toasted croutons (optional)

Place the broth in a large soup pot. Bring to a boil. Lower the heat to moderate and add the turkey balls. Cook, stirring them gently, until they are cooked through, about 6 minutes. Use a slotted spoon to remove the meatballs and keep them warm while finishing the soup.

Add the diced potatoes to the soup and cook them until just tender (5-10 minutes, depending on variety). Add the Sherry and the carrot to the soup and cook 4 minutes. Lower the heat to low.

Ladle 1 cup of the hot broth into a heat-proof measuring cup. Give the mayonnaise another whir with the blender. With the blender running, slowly pour in the hot broth. Whisk the tempered mayonnaise into the hot soup.

Place the meatballs in shallow soup bowls. Ladle the soup and potatoes over them. Garnish with pieces of chorizo and chopped scallions. Serve croutons on the side.

To reheat leftover soup: Bring the soup to room temperature and strain out the meatballs. Combine 1 tablespoon cornstarch with ¼ cup water. Place about 6 cups of the soup in a pan on moderate heat and whisk in the cornstarch mixture. Cook, stirring, until soup is hot (180ºF). Do not let it boil. Return meatballs to the soup to heat.

Meatballs and potatoes in creamy olive oil-chicken soup.

Happy birthday, Gerry! Carrot cake and Veuve Pelletier rosé to finish our seaside lunch.

Related recipes:
Mediterranean Seafood Chowder (classic gazpachuelo).
Classic Gazpachuelo with a chef's suggestions.
Fish Balls.
Cuttlefish Balls.
Meatballs (pork and beef).
Chicken Meatballs.

The Jornada Gastronómica del Gazpachuelo at Balneario de Baños del Carmen continues through November 25.

Gazpachuelos de Málaga, by Fernando Sánchez Gómez is published by the Diputación de Málaga and Sabor a Málaga.

Gerry Dawes.
Rozanne Gold.
Michael Whiteman.

Saturday, October 12, 2019


Leafing through my collection of menus and recipes from the late, lamented Gourmet magazine, I came across this menu for a Spanish Dinner for Columbus Day. That settles today’s menu plan. 

The headnotes to the recipes in Gourmet (October 1990):
“When Christopher Columbus embarked on his now-famous venture of discovery, it was the Spanish who supported him. In the name of King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella, he staked a claim in what would become known as the New World. Today’s American host can honor Spain with the Columbus Day dinner of arroz con pollo, escarole salad with fresh tarragon, and prune Sherry ice cream, savory flavors welcome under any flag.”

Columbus Day, a national holiday in Spain, is October 12, no matter which day of the week it falls on. In the U.S., the holiday—not observed in every state—is always the second Monday of October.

Luscious prune Sherry ice cream with burnt sugar sauce and toasted almonds is a good dessert for any occasion. 

Ice cream freezes in a loaf pan. To serve, unmold and slice it crosswise.

Crunchy toasted almonds and caramel sauce with creamy Sherry-flavored frozen dessert make this ideal for special holiday meals. Prunes add sweetness and fruitiness.

Arroz con pollo, rice with chicken, is a great dish for the day, illustrating nicely the Columbian Exchange—rice, chicken and olive oil from the Old World and tomatoes and peppers from the New World. (See my recipe for Arroz con Pollo here.) And, while fresh tarragon is not especially Spanish, good olive oil certainly is. The dessert, a prune-Sherry ice cream, is what got my attention.

Vino de Jerez—Sherry—was produced in Jerez de la Frontera and exported, probably from Roman times, but certainly from the first half of the 14th Century. Tradition has it that Columbus visited Jerez before setting out on his first voyage on 3 August 1492. Was there Sherry on board the Pinta, Santa María and Niña when they departed from Palos de la Frontera?

Whatever you think about Columbus, colonization, New World versus Old World, the prune Sherry ice cream is luscious enough for any occasion.

Prune Sherry Ice Cream with Burnt Sugar Sauce
Helado de Ciruelas Pasas y Vino Jerez con Salsa de Caramelo

I tweaked the original Gourmet recipe a bit. I used half the quantity of sugar called for, as the prunes are so sweet on their own. I added a bit of orange juice and grated zest, which complement the Sherry flavor. And I increased the amount of Sherry very slightly. The original recipe calls for freezing the mixture in an ice cream freezer, “according to manufacturer’s instructions”. Lacking that tool, I froze the cream in a metal bowl, breaking up the frozen bits, then whipping it with an immersion blender.

I used manzanilla Sherry for the prune ice cream. I’m thinking a sweet Sherry would work just as well, reducing the need for sugar. I served the dessert with oloroso Sherry.

The recipe calls for freezing the prune cream in a 9X5X3-inch loaf pan. The loaf pan I used measures 10X4X2.5 inches. 

Serves 6-8.

1 cup (about 6 ounces) pitted prunes
¾ cup water
1/3 cup dry fino Sherry
¼ cup orange juice
1/3 cup sugar
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 whole egg
3 egg yolks
2 cups milk, scalded
Grated orange zest
1 ½ cups heavy cream
1 cup hot water
½ cup sliced, toasted almonds

Place the prunes in a saucepan with the ¾ cup of water. Cook the prunes until they are very soft, about 15 minutes. Add the Sherry and orange juice and simmer 1 minute more. Cool the prunes, then purée them in a blender or food processor.

In a bowl, combine 1/3 cup of sugar, constarch, whole egg and yolks. Whisk in the milk and orange zest. Place the mixture in a saucepan and bring to a boil, whisking constantly. Reduce the heat and cook the custard, whisking constantly until thickened, about 2 minutes. 

Sieve the custard.
Place the bowl in a second bowl of ice water. Stir in the prune purée and the cream. Stir the custard mixture until it is cold. Freeze the cream in an ice-cream freezer, if available. Otherwise, place the bowl in the freezer until the cream begins to freeze on the bottom and edges (about 2 hours). Break up the frozen bits and mix with the rest of the cream. Return to the freezer until partially frozen. Use an immersion blender to whip the ice cream.

Freeze ice cream in a loaf pan lined with plastic wrap.

Line a metal loaf pan with plastic wrap, leaving an overhang. Ladle the prune-custard mixture into the pan. Fold the plastic to cover the top. Freeze at least 8 hours or overnight.

Place remaining 1 cup of sugar in a heavy pan. Cook over moderate heat until the sugar melts. Increase the heat and cook the sugar without stirring, swirling the pan occasionally, until the sugar turns a deep caramel color. Remove from heat and, very carefully, pour in the cup of hot water. Sugar will bubble and splutter, so take care. Return the pan to the heat and cook, stirring to blend the caramel, until the sauce is syrupy and reduced to ¾ cup. (The sauce keeps, covered tightly, up to 1 week.)

Peel off plastic wrap.

To serve the ice cream. Remove the loaf pan from the freezer. Fold back the overlapped plastic wrap on top. Invert the pan onto a plate. Place a damp cloth on the bottom of the pan to loosen the ice cream. 

Slice the molded ice cream.

When it is unmolded, peel off the plastic wrap and discard. Use a serrated knife dipped in water to slice the ice cream crosswise.

Serve the ice cream with the burnt sugar sauce. Scatter almonds on top.

Burnt sugar sauce.

Serve with sweet Sherry.

Here’s more about Columbus Day and the Colombian Exchange of foods between continents:

Saturday, October 5, 2019


We are bereft of pumpkins and squashes in the garden this year. Was the growing season too hot? Not enough water? No bees to pollinate the flowers? The lone survivor was a pretty, yellow spaghetti squash. 

An only squash--
Spaghetti squash is a variety not found in local markets, which is why I planted it. I make “zoodles,” thin strips of zucchini to substitute for pasta in order to keep my consumption of carbohydrates down. I figured spaghetti squash, whose flesh cooks up into skinny strands, or “spaghetti,” would be equally delicious with pesto, puttanesca or Asian peanut-sesame-chile sauce.

My singleton squash somehow deserved more elaborate fixing. How about fideuá, also known as “pasta paella,” a Valencian dish combining fideo noodles and seafood?

Shrimp, squid and mussels tossed in olive oil are pretty delicious, no matter whether you’re using real pasta or vegetable noodles. But, spaghetti squash makes noodles as thin as vermicelli, which turned out not so pretty in the finished dish. (Real fideos are more like spaghetti in thickness.) They did provide a good texture, however, with just a little crunch.

And, that’s the story of how my lonely little spaghetti squash was transformed into a Spanish dish. I´d happily ladle the whole mixture over a serving of pasta!

The beauty shot! Thin squash "spaghetti" tastes great, but doesn't have much visual presence.

Strands of squash are tangled with shrimp, squid and mussels. A sofrito gives flavour. The color comes from pimentón, not saffron.

Seafood with Spaghetti Squash “Noodles”
Fideuá con Fideos de Calabaza

Fresh gambas blancas. Shells and heads can be used for stock or flavoring the cooking oil.

If you start with whole shrimp with heads and shells, the shells can be used to make a flavorful broth and/or to flavor the olive oil for making the sofrito. If this is not an option, use clam broth or fish stock.

You can vary the seafood in this dish. Use clams instead of mussels. Add chunks of a solid-fleshed fish such as rape (monkfish, angler) or (precooked) cuttlefish. I used thick pieces of a kind of squid called pota (flying squid). 

Serves 4.

1 (2-pound) spaghetti squash
1 pound whole small shrimp (or ½ pound peeled shrimp)
¼ cup olive oil
2 cloves chopped garlic
1 cup chopped red and green bell pepper
1 cup grated tomato pulp
6 ounces cleaned squid, in rings or chunks
¼ teaspoon smoked pimentón picante (hot paprika)
½ teaspoon sweet pimentón (paprika, not smoked)
1 cup shrimp or clam broth
8 mussels, steamed open and empty shells discarded
Chopped parsley to serve
Alioli (garlic mayonnaise) to accompany (optional)

After microwaving, squash makes strands.

Cut the spaghetti squash in half lengthwise. Scoop out and discard the seeds. Place one half, cut side down, in a microwave safe dish and add ¼ cup water. Microwave on high for 4 minutes. Turn the squash cut side up. Microwave 4 minutes more. Allow to set 5 minutes. Repeat with the other half of the squash.

When squash is cool enough to handle, use a fork to scrape the flesh lengthwise and scoop out the strands. Reserve them.

If you are starting with whole shrimp, peel them, reserving the heads and shells. Refrigerate the shrimp bodies. 

Fry the shrimp shells in olive oil, then discard the shells. Use the oil to make sofrito. Flavor!

Heat the oil in a paella pan or skillet. Add the heads and shells and fry them, stirring and crushing with a spatula, until they are completely cooked. Remove from heat. Tilt the pan so that the oil drains to one side. Use a skimmer to remove the shells from the pan. Discard them, saving the oil.

Return the oil to the heat. Add the garlic and peppers and sauté 3 minutes. Add the tomato pulp and continue frying until tomato liquid is cooked off and the sofrito begins to sizzle in the oil. Add the pieces of squid and the two kinds of pimentón. Sauté for 1 minute and add the shrimp or clam broth. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and cook gently for 10 minutes.

Add the reserved spaghetti squash to the pan. When the squash is very hot, add the shrimp. Stir to combine and cook 1 or 2 minutes. Remove from heat. Place mussels on top of the noodles. Sprinkle with parsley. If desired, serve with alioli (garlic mayonnaise) to accompany the dish.

Related recipes:

A few years ago--the pumpkin and squash yield was terrific.