Saturday, December 28, 2019


 I need a new calendar! The year—and the decade—are running out. As with other chroniclers, I can't resist making lists. How about: the 12 best dishes of Spanish cooking, one for every month?  

I’ve actually done that already. Back in 1997 (in collaboration with food photographer John James Wood), I created a Calendar of Spanish Cooking, with a recipe and photo for every calendar page of the year. We didn’t get it into the holiday gift market early enough, so the calendar didn’t sell so well. But it was a grand excuse to sift through my recipes and cookbooks in order to narrow the vastness of Spanish cuisine down to 12 recipes. (I know, that’s exactly what's odious about lists.)

See what you think about my list. Are these the best—as well as best-known—dishes of Spain? What 12 dishes would you include? I´ve provided links to all the recipes in previous blogs. Incidentally, the blog, MY KITCHEN IN SPAIN, also completes a decade!


Fabada Asturiana, Asturian Casserole of Beans and Sausages. Bubbling hot in a cazuela, this stew is just what’s wanted in the coldest month of the year. Recipe: Fabada Beans.

Almonds bloom in January and February.
Pollo en Pepitoria, Chicken in Almond Sauce. The original calendar photograph was styled with a branch of pink almond blossoms, which bloom this month. Recipe: Pepitoria Chicken in Almond-Saffron Sauce.


Crema Catalana; Catalan Custard with Burnt Sugar Topping. This dessert is typically served for the feast of San José--Spanish Fathers' Day,, which falls in mid-March. Recipe: Catalan Custards.

Pimientos de Piquillo Rellenos con Pescado; Piquillo Peppers Stuffed with Fish. Made with bacalao, codfish, or shrimp, this is a classic of Basque cooking. Recipe: Stuffed Piquillo Peppers. This was one of my very first blogs--10 years ago! I'm thinking I need to re-shoot a lot of the photos from the first several years, when I was still learning. 


Empanada Gallega; Galician Pork Pie. My calendar version was inspired by a spring picnic in the wildflowers. But this favorite is great any time of the year. New Year's Day brunch, maybe? See the recipe below.


Paella con Mariscos; Paella with Seafood. Not the classic Valencia paella, but a fun--and tasty--beachside version with both chicken and shellfish. Recipe: Paella with Chicken and Seafood.


Torta de Santiago; Santiago Almond Torte. A scrumptious dessert, good any time of the year, but chosen because Santiago saint’s day festival falls on July 25. Recipe: Almond Torte.


Gazpacho Andaluz; Andalusian Gazpacho. What else for the heat of summer when tomatoes are at their best?  Recipe: Andalusian Gazpacho.


Tortilla Española; Spanish Potato Omelette. The classic--for tapas, for lunch or anytime. With onion or without. I no longer call it an omelette. Tortilla means a round, flat "cake". Recipe: Potato Tortilla.


Merluza a la Vasca; Basque-Style Hake. This is right up there with my most favorite dishes of Spanish cooking. So simple. But, it depends on really fresh fish. Recipe: Basque-Style Hake.


El Cocido Español; Spanish Boiled Dinner. Every region of Spain has a version of cocido. This one, replete with meat, sausages, chicken, chickpeas and vegetables, is typical of Madrid. Recipe: Cocido Meal-in-a-Pot.


Roscos de Navidad; Anise-Scented Holiday Rings. Fried or baked, these are special for the Twelve Days of Christmas, especially in Andalusia. Recipe: Holiday Ring Cookies.

Galician Empanada with Pork Loin
Empanada de Lomo

 Galician empanadas can be made with many different fillings—meat, fish, shellfish, poultry. One of the most popular is made with sliced or diced pork loin. The pork marinates in an adobo for a few hours, before being browned in oil. 

I’ve chosen to substitute leftover roast turkey for some of the pork in the following recipe. Since the turkey doesn’t need the frying step, I added 2 tablespoons of oil to the diced turkey with crushed garlic, oregano and pimentón to marinate.

Use either smoked or regular pimentón (paprika). Unless you prefer to roast and peel red peppers, use canned ones. You can also use canned tomato sauce (tomate frito), more or less the same sauce you might spread on pizza.

It is the fat—olive oil plus pork fat—that keeps the filling juicy. Don’t add extra liquid, as it only makes the crust soggy. 

For the filling

1 pound boneless pork loin, cut in ¾-inch dice
Freshly round black pepper
2 teaspoons oregano
3 cloves crushed garlic
1 tablespoon pimentón (paprika)
5 tablespoons olive oil
1 link (4 ounces) soft cooking chorizo, sliced
2 cups chopped onions
¼ cup white wine
¾ cup canned red pimiento, cut in strips
Red pepper flakes (optional)
2 tablespoons (canned) tomato sauce (not concentrate)
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
Empanada dough (recipe follows)
1 egg, beaten

Place the diced pork in a bowl and season with salt and pepper. Add the oregano, crushed garlic and 1 teaspoon of the pimentón. Cover and marinate the meat, refrigerated, for 2-10 hours.

Heat 2 tablespoons of the oil in a skillet. Add the sliced chorizo and fry briefly. Skim it out and reserve. Add the pork to the skillet and brown it quickly. It does not need to cook thoroughly, as it will continue cooking in the oven. Remove and set aside.

Add remaining oil to the skillet. Add the onions and sauté them slowly, 5 minutes. Add the wine and cook until liquid is cooked off. Add the remaining pimentón, the pimiento, red pepper flakes, if using, and tomato sauce. Cook, stirring, until onions are very soft, 10 minutes longer.

Preheat oven to 375ºF. Line a rimmed baking sheet with baking parchment.

Divide the empanada dough in half. On a lightly floured board, roll one half out into a rectangle, (approximately 10X14 inches). Trim excess dough and save the scraps. Spread the dough onto the baking sheet, stretching the dough slightly.

Spread meat and sofrito on dough.

Spread the fried pork in a single layer on the dough. Add the fried chorizo. Spread the sofrito of onions and red peppers over the meat. Sprinkle with chopped parsley.

Roll out the remaining dough to roughly the same size and place on top of the filling. Roll and pinch the edges to enclose the filling and seal the empanada. 

Roll out scraps of dough into long cords and use them to decorate the top of the empanada. Cut a steam vent in the center of the pie. Brush the top with beaten egg.

Place the empanada on the bottom oven rack and bake 15 minutes. Lower heat to 350ºF. Place the empanada on the top rack and bake until browned, about 25 minutes more.

Serve the empanada hot, room temperature or cold. 

Serve empanada hot or cold. It's great for packing on a picnic.

Olive oil and fat from the chorizo keep the filling juicy.

 Dough for Empanadas
Masa para Empanadas

This yeast dough with olive oil is easy to manage. Any extra bits of dough can be rolled out thinly and cut into “crackers.” They’re crisp and delicious. 

The dough can be made in advance and, after the initial rising, frozen until ready to complete the empanada. Thaw the dough completely before proceeding with the recipe.

1 pound flour, preferably bread flour (approx. 4 cups) plus additional for rolling out
1.5 ounces fresh pressed yeast
¾ cup warm water
5 fluid ounces olive oil
1 ½ teaspoons salt

Place the flour in a mixing bowl.

Combine the yeast and warm water in a small bowl. Allow to stand 5 minutes, then mix the yeast with the water.

Make a well in the center of the flour. Pour in the yeast water. Use a wooden spoon to stir the flour into the water. Add the oil and salt. Continue stirring to mix the oil and flour.

Lightly flour a wooden board. Turn the dough out and knead it until smooth and stretchy, 10 minutes. (Or use a bread machine.) 

Place the dough in a lightly oiled bowl. Cover with a damp cloth and set in a warm place to rise for 1 hour.

Calendar with recipes and photos by John J. Wood, from 1997. Are these the 12 best of Spanish cooking?

Happy New Year! Feliz Año Nuevo. 

Saturday, December 21, 2019


A recipe from a few hundred years ago--orange and purple carrots in a light, sweet and sour sauce--tastes fresh today. It's a fine side dish for holiday meals.
Here’s a recipe from a cookbook published in 1767 that seems completely fresh today. In fact, I’m planning to serve these Sweet and Sour Carrots as a side dish with the coming week’s holiday meal. 

The recipe comes from Nuevo Arte de Cocina, Sacado de la Experiencia Economica, by Juan Altamiras, a Franciscan friar. I’ve had this little book in my culinary library for years and could never get past the old-fashioned spelling and typeface to actually try any of the recipes.

Vicky Hayward interprets an 18th century cookbook.

Until appeared a new edition, edited, annotated and translated into English by Vicky Hayward.

Vicky, a British journalist, historian and book editor based in Madrid since 1990, has given the recipes context by providing background for the Aragón-based friar’s original notes. Both her English and Spanish editions give Altamira’s original recipes followed by a modern-day transliteration with headnotes about ingredients and serving suggestions.

She transforms them into modern recipes that can be cooked in today’s kitchens. In the book's prologue, top chef, Andoni Luis Aduriz of Restaurante Mugaritz in the Basque Country, insists on the “value added” of old recipes that, as with very old wine, add another dimension, a sixth sense, a taste of history.

Vicky suggested to me a recipe for Roast Turkey with Cardoons and Lettuce from the book--but I wasn't ready to forego my favorite roast turkey recipe for the holidays. (The Altamiras recipe requires simmering the turkey in water before roasting.) So I have selected an enticing recipe for a side dish. Carrots, it is.

I'm thinking this is the perfect side dish with roast turkey or roast pork for Christmas dinner.

Sweet and Sour Carrots
Zanahorias con Miel y Vinagre de Vino

Altamiras doesn’t seem fond of carrots, perhaps because once they were considered animal forage. But, true to his purposes, he makes them exceptionally palatable. Here’s the original recipe:

Es comida simple, y bestial; si te gustan las Zanahorias, las pondrás à cocer con agua, y sal, y las harás raxas; con cebolla frita las pondrás en una cazuela y sazonandolas de todas especias, y sal, las echarás agua caliente hasta cubirse; las pondrás dulce de azucar o miel, y vinagre, que estén bien dulces o agrias; luego freirás un poco de harina, que estè bien quemada, la desatarás con el mismo caldo de las Zanahorias, y se trabará en un hervor, con que de almiento brutal passará à racional sustento. 

Vicky suggests using Chantenay carrots, a short, stubby variety of exceptional sweetness. She adds a garnish of chopped pistachios, a genius touch. While the original Altamiras recipe calls for the carrot cooking liquid to be thickened with toasted flour, Vicky opts for reducing the liquid to syrup.

Purple carrots, if you can get them, are gorgeous as well as delicious. Back in the 18th century, they were probably more common than today.

I used half regular carrots and half purple ones. I chose to cut them in thick crosswise slices. The purple carrot was huge, weighing almost 1 pound, so I cut it lengthwise into quarters, then sliced it crosswise. I cooked the orange and purple carrots separately and did not save the liquid from the purple ones. (It made a good stock for making borscht the next day; with beets, the deep color was perfect.)

Vicky suggests serving the carrots with plates of ham, with cod or with a garlicky lamb stew. I think they make a brilliant side with roast chicken or turkey, pork or ham. 

Serves 6-8.

Orange and purple carrots.
2 pounds carrots
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup finely chopped onion
2 tablespoons honey
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
Freshly ground black pepper
Pinch of caraway seeds (optional)
Chopped pistachios to garnish
Chopped chives to garnish

Peel the carrots and cut them crosswise. Cook in boiling salted water to the desired degree of tenderness (3 minutes was sufficient for me). Drain the carrots, saving the cooking water. Rinse the carrots in cold water to stop the cooking.

Return the cooking liquid to the pan, bring to a boil and reduce to 2 cups. Sieve the liquid and reserve it.

Heat the oil in a pan and sauté the onion until softened, 5 minutes. Add the 2 cups of reduced cooking liquid, the honey, vinegar, pepper, caraway, if using, and, if necessary, salt. Bring to a boil and simmer until the liquid is reduced and syrupy. Taste and balance the sweet and sour flavors.

Return the carrots to the pan. Cook them in the syrup until heated through, 5 minutes.
Serve the carrots garnished with chopped pistachios and chives.

Chopped pistachios and a sprinkle of chives or green onions are a terrific garnish for the carrots.

New Art of Cookery. By Juan Altamiras—A Spanish Friar’s Kitchen Notebook  by Vicky Hayward (Rowman & Littlefield; 2017).

More recipes with carrots:
Purple Carrots with Raisins and Pine Nuts.
Minted Carrot Salad.
Vegan Carrot Cream Soup.
Millet and Carrot Pilaf.


Saturday, December 14, 2019


Here’s a soup that can go from simple family supper to fancy starter for a holiday dinner party. Savory almond soup (different from the sweet almond cream soup served in Castille on Christmas Eve) is originally a rustic village concoction from the Alpujarra mountains of Granada and Almería. Consisting of nothing more than bread fried in olive oil, garlic and almonds that are crushed to a paste in a mortar and cooked in water, the soup is a version of winter gazpacho. It makes a filling and warming meal to feed a family.

Simple, but full of flavour--soup is thickened with almonds and bread. Saffron gives a golden hue.

But, use a home-made chicken stock instead of water and garnish with scraps of the famed Alpujarreñan serrano ham and, already, the soup is something special. Add chopped greens (escarole is typical, but I used chard from my garden) and a poached egg per person and the soup becomes a hearty complete meal.

A rustic version of the same soup, with chopped greens and a poached egg.

Or, use your imagination to turn the basic, rustic soup—caldo, or broth, thickened with almonds and bread—into a gourmet starter. Add chunks of sautéed lobster or scallops; a slice of foie gras; diced chicken or partridge; or pieces of vegetables so typical at the Spanish Christmas meal—cooked cardoons or cauliflower.

Almond soup has chunks of cooked cardoons (from a jar) plus pomegranate seeds and toasted almonds.

Special enough to serve to guests--almond soup, sautéed scallop and a sprinkle of (fake) caviar.

Savory Almond Soup
Sopa de Almendras

I picked the almonds, shelled them, blanched and skinned them.

I made stock using a chicken carcass plus a piece of añejo, old ham bone, as well as the usual aromatic vegetables. You could use any canned stock. If you use store-bought skinned almonds, make sure they are fresh. 

Good idea: use three times the necessary quantity of almonds. Once fried in olive oil and lightly salted, they are ever so delicious to eat out of hand.

The soup should be the consistency of light cream. If it’s too thick after cooking, add a little additional stock or water.

Use dense, country bread.
Serves 4.

5-6 slices day-old bread (7 ounces), crusts removed
½ cup olive oil, divided
1 cup almonds, blanched and skinned
2 cloves garlic
¼ teaspoon saffron threads
1/8 teaspoon cumin
Freshly ground black pepper
6 cups chicken stock
¼ cup medium-dry Sherry (optional)

Option: chopped chard or other greens.
Choice of additions and garnishes:
Chopped serrano ham
Chopped hard-boiled egg
Chopped escarole or other greens
Poached eggs
Chunks of sautéed lobster or scallops
Diced chicken or partridge
Slices of cooked cardoons
Florets of cooked cauliflower
Slice of foie gras
Toasted slivered almonds

Chopped serrano ham to garnish.
Chopped parsley
Pomegranate seeds
Olive oil “pearls”

Cut 1 ounce of the bread (1 or 2 slices) into 3/8-inch dice. In a small skillet, heat 2 tablespoons of the oil and fry the diced bread, turning, until golden on all sides. Skim out and reserve the croutons.

Fried bread to thicken soup.

Add more oil to the pan, as needed. Fry the remaining slices of bread, turning them to brown both sides. Remove them.

Almonds fried in olive oil.

Add a little additional oil to the pan. Fry the almonds and garlic until golden. Skim them out. 

Break up the fried bread slices and place in a blender with the fried garlic and almonds. Add 2 cups of the stock and blend to make a paste.

Crush the saffron with the cumin in a mortar. Add a little stock to the saffron, then add to the blender and blend again. 

Heat remaining stock in a soup pot. Stir in the almond-bread-saffron paste (you can use an immersion blender to mix it). Season to taste with salt and pepper. If using escarole or other chopped greens, add them to the soup. Cook the soup 10 minutes, stirring frequently. Add the Sherry and cook 5 minutes more.

Serve the soup hot with the reserved fried croutons and your choice of additions and garnishes. 

Add chopped serrano ham and crisp fried croutons immediately before serving.

Almond soup with ham and croutons.

Soup with greens and a poached egg, very hearty.

Cardoons are typical at Christmas.

A special touch--sautéed scallop.

More soups with almonds:

Related recipes:

Saturday, December 7, 2019


My son Ben picking madroño berries in the Sierra Blanca. (Photo by Francisco Javier García González.)
Ben came home from a trek in the Sierra Blanca with a bag of foraged red berries. Madroños. I recognized them from pictures, but I had never eaten a madroño berry before.

The madroños sat on the kitchen table for a few days before I decided to take up the challenge of creating a way to use them.

The madroño (Arbutus unedo) is a bush/small tree, sometimes called “strawberry tree” for the fruit’s resemblance to strawberries (in appearance only as it tastes absolutely nothing like strawberries), that grows all around the Mediterranean. It is related to, but not the same as, the madrona of the US Pacific Northwest (Arbutus menziesii).

Ripe madroños are deep red and slightly soft. The unripe ones (yellow) are mouth-puckeringly astringent.

Cut open, the berry shows yellow-orange flesh.

The whole fruit is edible, raw or cooked. Inside the red skins, the flesh is golden-orange. It is starchy, somewhat in the way that bananas and sweet potatoes are starchy; sweet, but insipid. Unripe fruit is distinctly astringent. The pulp of ripe berries is soft, but the texture is gritty, as if fine grains of sand had been mixed into the berries. Once cooked, the fruit was surprisingly tangy. Somewhat floury, it absorbed the cooking liquid and thickened nicely.

In the Spanish kitchen, madroños are most often used to make mermelada or to confect a liqueur, either by infusing the berries in spirits or by distilling their juice.

The madroño bush appears on the coat of arms of the city of Madrid. Since the 13th century it is pictured with a bear on its back legs, stretching towards the red berries on the tree. Both berries and bears were once native to the Madrid countryside, but no more.

The bear made me think of pork chops and the madroños suggested a fruity sauce to accompany them.

“Bear” Chops with Madroño Sauce
Chuletas de “Oso” con Salsa de Madroños

Cooked, pureed and sieved, madroñó berries make a creamy sauce.

Madroño sauce goes well with pork chop--fruity and slightly tart.

Not really bear meat, but thick-cut ibérico pork chops. Ibérico pork is exceptionally juicy. If not available, use regular pork. Regular pork may require added olive oil in browning; ibérico pork is best cooked in preheated skillet with no added fat.

I started out with one pound of madroño berries. I set aside some whole ones for garnish. After removing stems and discarding unripe and blemished fruit, I had about 12 ounces (2 cups) of berries.

Unless you are intrigued by a gritty sauce, I suggest sieving the sauce after pureeing it to remove all those teensy seeds.

I added no sweetening beyond orange juice to the sauce. If you like a sweet-sour sauce, add a little sugar to taste.

Serves 4.

3 tablespoons olive oil
¼ cup chopped shallots
2 cups whole madroño berries
½ cup white wine
½ cup water
¼ cup orange juice
Strip of orange zest
1/8 teaspoon ground allspice
Freshly ground black pepper
Sugar (optional)
A few uncooked madroño berries, to garnish

4 ibérico pork chops, each 1 ½ inches thick
Sprig of thyme
4 cloves garlic

For the sauce:
Heat the oil in a saucepan and sauté the shallots until softened, 4 minutes. Do not let them brown.

Add the madroño berries, wine, water, orange juice and orange zest. Bring to a boil, lower heat and cook the berries, covered, until they are softened, 20 minutes.

Before sieving, tiny seeds in the sauce.

Remove and discard the orange zest. Blend the fruit to a smooth puree. Press the puree through a fine sieve, discarding the seeds and pulp remaining in the sieve.

Return the puree to the saucepan. Add salt and pepper to taste and sugar, if desired. If sauce seems too thick, stir in a little water. Heat the sauce before serving. Serve the sauce with the pork chops and a garnish of a few madroño berries.

For the pork chops:
Preheat oven to 375ºF.

Sprinkle chops with salt, pepper and thyme.

Heat a large cast-iron skillet until very hot. Place the chops in the skillet with the cloves of garlic and allow them to brown, 1 to 2 minutes. Turn and brown the reverse sides.

Place the skillet in the oven and roast the chops until they are just done, 5-10 minutes. Serve accompanied by the madroño sauce and garnished with a few whole berries.

More recipes for pork with fruity sauce: