Saturday, August 1, 2020


Tomato season is peaking! Big ones or little ones, from the garden or from the farmers’ market, heirloom varieties or not, ripe tomatoes are what you want. Eat one right off the vine or cut it up in a salad. Chop a few and sauté them in olive oil. Roast them on the grill or slice them into a sheet pan. Nothing says summertime quite like tomatoes.

Tomatoes weren’t always big and red and at home on the Mediterranean. The originals, discovered in Peru and Mexico by Spanish explorers and conquistadores early in the 1500s, were yellow and not much bigger than peas. The pre-Columbian Peruvians didn’t cultivate them, but gathered them wild in season. Like many other botanical curiosities from the New World, tomatoes were brought back to Spain and cultivated in monastery gardens.

Perhaps because they were unknown or maybe because they belong to the same family as deadly nightshade, tomatoes were believed to be toxic if eaten. They were grown as a handsome ornamental.

If the Spaniards couldn’t see gazpacho in their future, the Italians must have had an empty place just waiting for tomato sauce to put on their spaghetti. After the kingdom of Naples came under Spanish rule in 1522, tomatoes were introduced there and slowly gained culinary ground. The Italians are credited with breeding red varieties.

To celebrate the tomato in Spanish cooking, here’s a listing of recipes that have appeared on this blog with tomatoes as a star ingredient. Maybe not quite fifty, but close enough. Enjoy!

Salads and Cold Dishes

Pipirrana is a chopped salad with tomatoes and peppers often served as a tapa.

Fresh Tomato-Pepper Salad (Pipirrana).           Tomato-Pepper Relish.

Moroccan Chopped Tomato Salad.                   Tomato-Cucumber Relish (Piriñaca).

Salpicón, seafood cocktail with tomatoes and avocado.
Shellfish Cocktail with Tomatoes.

Tomatoes and Peppers with Tuna (Titaina Valenciana)

Layered Gazpacho Salad.

Cobblestone Salad with Chickpeas.

Tomatoes Stuffed with Rice Salad.

Tomato-Tuna-Olive Dunking Salad.

Sliced tomatoes with anchovy dressing.

                  Beefsteak Tomatoes with Anchovy Dressing.

                  Spanish Mixed Salad with Tomatoes.

Bread and Pastries with Tomatoes

Pan con tomate, classic toasts with tomato, olive oil and ham.

A summery quiche with tomatoes.

Catalan Toasts.

Tomato Quiche.

Gazpacho and Soup

Gazpacho and its variations are emblematic of summer in Spain.

Andalusian Gazpacho.                                      Classic Gazpacho.

Country Gazpacho.                                           Gazpacho Cream (Salmorejo).

No-Bread Gazpacho.                                        Mango-Tomato Gazpacho Cream (Porra)

Gazpacho Bloody Mary.                                   Gazpacho Granita.

Gazpacho with Shrimp.                                    Gazpacho with Macaroni.

Hot Gazpacho with Figs.                                  Tomato Soup with Bacon.

Sofrito for Seafood Soup.                                 Monkfish Soup.

How to serve gazpacho? Clockwise from the left, in plastic cups for a picnic, in a tall glass, in mugs, in a fancy coupe, in bowls and, as shooters for passing at a gathering, in shot glasses.  Garnishes are optional; good when served in bowls.

Vegetables with Tomatoes

An all-vegetable stew (alboronía)

Sauté of Green Beans and Cherry Tomatoes.

Pumpkin Stew with Tomatoes and Peppers.

Vegetable Medley with Tomatoes and Zucchini.

Tomato Sauces

Smooth or chunky, fresh tomato sauce goes with many foods.

Sofrito (Basic Tomato Sauce).

Tomato Sauce with Chorizo and Pasta.

Tomato-Sherry Sauce with Fish.

Fresh Tomato Sauce with Stuffed Peppers.

Chicken, Meat, Fish, Eggs with Tomatoes

A summertime stew with pork and vegetables cooked in tomato sauce (pisto con magro de cerdo) .

Pork and Vegetable Summer Stew.                               Pork with Tomato Sauce.

Chicken with Tomato.                                                   Chicken Braised with Wine and Tomatoes.

Stuffed Peppers with Chunky Tomato Sauce.               Lamb Stew with Roasted Tomatoes.

Paella with Sofrito.                                                        Fish Baked with Potatoes and Tomatoes.

Baked Eggs with Tomato (Flamenco Eggs).                 Eggs Poached in Tomato with Cheese.

Tomato-Vegetable Stew with Chicken.

Paella always begins with sofrito,  crushed tomatoes fried in olive oil.


Saturday, July 25, 2020


I’ve been eating a lot of chicken in the past few weeks. It’s easy, versatile, reasonably economical (cheap for supermarket chicken; not so cheap for free range; expensive for organic). After last week’s super pollo con tomate, chicken legs in an intense tomato sauce, I’m now faced with boring chicken breasts. Breast meat, if not carefully cooked, can be dry and tasteless.

These are not those boring chicken breasts. Stuffed with diced bacon and cheese, they’re packed with flavor from the inside out. While the assembly takes a little time, the breasts cook in just minutes.

Stuffed chicken breasts can be served hot, room temperature or chilled. Dinner for four or more.

I served the stuffed chicken with garden beans and a brown rice pilaf with zucchini, red peppers and pistachios.

Stuffing with bacon, onions and cheese helps to keep the chicken breasts juicy.

Chicken Breasts Stuffed with Bacon and Cheese
Pechugas de Pollo Rellenas

Fatty bits of serrano ham are the usual stuffing, but bacon works just as well. Diced cheese added to the hot sautéed onions and bacon helps to bind the stuffing ingredients. A semi-cured Manchego is perfect, but you could substitute Gruyère or similar. A handful of chopped parsley or other fresh herb goes into the stuffing mix. I used parsley plus mint.

The stuffed chicken breasts can be prepared in advance and kept, covered and refrigerated, until ready to cook. Bring them to room temperature before cooking. They get a quick searing, then just a few minutes with the lid on the pan to cook through. Don’t overcook them!

Serves 4.

4 skinless, boneless chicken breast halves (about 2 pounds)
Freshly ground black pepper
Pimentón (paprika), smoked or regular
2 tablespoons olive oil
½ cup finely chopped onion
5 ounces bacon or serrano ham, cut in small dice (¾ cup)
Pinch of thyme
2 ounces semi-cured Manchego cheese, cut in small dice
2 tablespoons chopped parsley or other herb
2 tablespoons water

Cut a deep pocket into breast.

Trim the breasts of extraneous fat and membrane. If desired, remove the “tenders” (loose strip of flesh on the underside of the breast) and save them for another use. Using a thin, sharp knife, cut a lengthwise slit on the thick side of each breast. With the tip of the knife, very carefully open the slit to create a pocket. Take care not to cut through the outer flesh.

Spread the breasts open on a work surface. Sprinkle them with salt, pepper and pimentón inside and out. Let stand while preparing the stuffing.

Heat a heavy skillet on medium-high. Add the oil and sauté the onions without letting them brown, 2 minutes. Add the bacon or ham and sauté 2 minutes more. Remove the pan from the heat. Add the diced cheese and stir to combine it with the bacon. Stir in the chopped parsley. Scoop the stuffing into a bowl, keeping the skillet and remaining  oil.

Spread stuffing into the pocket.

Divide the stuffing mixture into 4 portions. Spread stuffing on one half of an opened breast. Fold over the other half. Use wooden toothpicks to close the pockets, enclosing the stuffing.

Heat the skillet in which the onions cooked on medium-hot. (Add a little additional oil, if necessary.) Brown the stuffed chicken breasts, about 2 minutes per side. If possible, brown the edges a little too. Reduce the heat to low. Cover the skillet and cook the chicken about 4 minutes. Turn, cover and cook until chicken is cooked through, 3 to 4 minutes longer.

After searing, the breasts finish cooking in a covered pan in their own juices.
Remove the chicken breasts to a cutting board and remove toothpicks. Let the chicken stand 5 minutes. Add the 2 tablespoons water to the pan juices and cook 1 minute.

The chicken breasts can be served warm, room temperature or chilled. Slice the breasts on an angle about ¾ inch thick. If serving the chicken warm, spoon the pan juices over the slices.

More recipes for not-boring chicken breasts:
Chicken Breasts with Sevilla Olive Sauce.
Fried Chicken Cutlets with Red Pepper Mayonnaise.
Chicken Breast with Crunchy Vegetables.
Chicken Breast with Anisette.
Chicken Breast with Pine Nut Sauce.

Saturday, July 18, 2020


My garden tomatoes this year are small, but intensely flavored.

I learned to speak and cook Spanish in María’s kitchen in my early years in an Andalusian village.  María and her mother did all the cooking for the tapas bar the family ran. Every day of the year these women put out an assortment of tapas, ten or more different dishes, both hot and cold, that changed with the seasons and with what ingredients María had from the family’s huerta, vegetable garden, in the nearby campo, countryside. 

I would sit at the table in María’s kitchen several evenings a week. In the beginning I just watched and chatted, my vocabulary growing by leaps and bounds. Soon, I was asking questions and taking notes (where my recipe collection began). Eventually, I began to help peel and chop and even lend a hand at the stove.

In the summer, one of my favorite tapas was pollo con tomate, chicken with tomatoes. María’s husband, Paco, would come back from irrigating the fields with a basket of dead-ripe, fragrant tomatoes. María peeled them and added them to a pan with chunks of chicken browned in olive oil. She added salt and a bay leaf. Ya está. Nothing more.

The tomatoes cooked down to a thick sauce, savory with chicken juices. The dish was served in small tapa portions with chunks of bread for mopping up the sauce or as a ración, a larger serving, with patatas fritas, fries, as well as bread.

Not counting olive oil, salt and pepper, this dish can be made with only three ingredients. Over the years, I have gussied it up with Sherry, mushrooms and herbs, but, honestly, the intense flavor of vine-ripened tomatoes is all that’s needed to make a delicious dish.

Pollo con tomate--chicken with tomatoes--an easy summertime dish.

Fresh tomatoes cook up to a sauce the consistency of jam.

As a tapa, pollo con tomate is served with bread to mop up the sauce. How about some torn fresh basil on top?

Mix the savory tomato sauce with pasta. Add fresh rucula leaves on top.

Tender chicken legs in tomato served with rice--a whole meal.

Top the chicken with a 1-2-3 sauté of diced zucchini, red pepper, garlic and pine nuts. 

Chicken with Tomato
Pollo con Tomate

This recipe is pretty close to María’s original—three ingredients, chicken, tomatoes and bay leaf—except that I’m using legs and thighs instead of hacked-up chicken. Instead of bay, you could swap a different third ingredient (onion, garlic, red or green peppers, chile, pimentón, Sherry, brandy, mushrooms, ham, olives---). Add some fresh and flavorful herbs to the finished dish. Serve the chicken with bread, with pasta or rice or even with fries.

The tomatoes need to be skinned and the easiest way to do this is to blanch them in boiling water. You may also wish to remove seeds. To do this, cut each tomato in half crosswise and either scoop out seeds with a spoon or gently squeeze the seeds out. Cut the tomatoes roughly into pieces. After skinning and chopping, there should be about 4 cups of pulp and juice.

Serves 6.

3 basic ingredients
2 ½ pound chicken legs and thighs
4 pounds fresh tomatoes
2 bay leaves (or choice of another ingredient)
Free ingredients
Freshly ground black pepper
¼ cup olive oil

Sprinkle chicken pieces with salt and pepper. Allow to come to room temperature.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Cut a slit in the skin of the blossom end of the tomatoes. Drop them in the boiling water for 2 minutes. Drain them into a colander and rinse in cold water so they do not continue to cook.

Tomatoes, peeled and chopped.
When the tomatoes are cool enough to handle, slip off the skins, cut out the cores and break or cut the tomatoes into pieces.  (Remove seeds, if desired. I didn't.)

Tomatoes cook until jammy.

Heat oil in a large skillet. Slowly brown the pieces of chicken. Add the cut-up tomatoes, bay leaves and 1 teaspoon salt. Raise heat until tomatoes begin to bubble. Lower heat and cover the pan. Cook 15 minutes.

Turn the pieces of chicken in the sauce. Continue cooking, uncovered, until chicken is very tender and tomatoes are reduced to a thick, jammy sauce, about 25 minutes more.

Another version of pollo con tomate: Chicken Sautéed with Tomatoes.
Similar: Pork with Tomatoes (Magro con Tomate).

Tomato picking and Country Gazpacho.

Picking tomatoes in the huerta (1968).

Saturday, July 11, 2020


Keep it cool, keep it simple. That’s my advice to self in planning summertime menus.  Even with the “new normal” easing of restrictions, I keep my shopping to a minimum. I’m looking to the garden, the pantry and the freezer for meal-planning inspiration. 

A few zucchini from the garden (before searing terral winds left the plants stripped and desiccated) inspired me to plan a vegetarian menu starring this summer vegetable. Zucchini pancakes are the main course. Add a sauce, some baba ghanoush (dip made with roasted eggplant), pita crisps, couscous taboulleh salad and fresh tomatoes to create a complete meal.

Made with chickpea flour, the zucchini pancakes are gluten-free. I’ve also got a recipe for a vegan alternative, zucchini fritters with no egg, no cheese.

Zucchini pancakes are the main dish for a vegetarian menu that includes eggplant dip with pita crisps, sliced tomatoes, taboulleh salad with couscous and a sauce of cilantro and yogurt. Cool. Simple. Summer.

A garlicky, lemony eggplant dip made with char-roasted eggplant from the previous night's grill meal. Pita crisps are perfect for dipping.

Eggplant was roasted on the grill the previous day. The flesh scooped out and mixed with tahina (sesame paste), olive oil, lemon juice and garlic makes tasty baba ghanoush dip.

Couscous needs no cooking. With olive oil, lemon, chopped cucumber and tomatoes and lots of fresh mint, it makes an easy taboulleh salad.

Zucchini pancakes are fried in olive oil. They can be served room temperature or reheated in the oven.

A splendid summer meal--zucchini pancakes with yogurt sauce, pita crisps with eggplant dip, couscous salad and tomatoes. 

A bit of grated cheese gives the pancakes a creamy texture. I used chopped basil for a summery flavor.

These fritters (vegan) are similar to the pancakes. Without the egg, they fry up very crisp.

Zucchini Pancakes
Tortitas de Calabacín

Your choice of fresh herbs to mix into the batter—parsley, basil, cilantro, mint or dill are all good.

Add the batter to the pan by tablespoons and flatten them to about 3 inches.

Makes 8-10 small pancakes.

Instead of wheat flour.
1 pound zucchini (1 medium-large)
¼ medium onion
1 teaspoon salt
1 egg
2 tablespoons grated cheese (such as cured Manchego)
Freshly ground black pepper
¼ teaspoon cumin
Pinch of hot pimentón (paprika) or cayenne
2 tablespoons chopped fresh herbs
3-4 tablespoons chickpea flour
Olive oil for frying
Yogurt sauce to serve (optional)

Drain grated zucchini.

Use a box grater or food processor to grate the zucchini and onion. Place them in a colander and mix with the salt. Allow to drain 30 minutes. Squeeze out as much of the liquid as possible.

Beat the egg in a mixing bowl. Add the cheese, pepper, cumin and hot pimentón. Stir in the chopped herbs and chickpea flour. Mix in the drained zucchini and onion. Batter should be about the consistency of pancake batter. (The batter can be prepared up to this point and allowed to stand up to 3 hours.)

Add ¼ inch of oil to a heavy skillet. Heat over moderately high heat. Scoop up zucchini batter with a tablespoon and drop into the oil. Pat it out to a thin disk. Regulate heat so the pancakes don’t brown too fast, allowing the zucchini to cook. Turn the pancakes once and brown reverse sides. (Fry them in two batches so as not to crowd the pan.) Remove and drain on paper towels.

Serve hot or room temperature, accompanied by sauce, if desired. (The pancakes can be prepared in advance and reheated in a moderate oven.)

Cilantro-Yogurt Sauce
Aliño de Yogur con Cilantro

Chopped fresh cilantro adds pungency to the creamy yogurt. Spoon it on the pancakes.

½ cup Greek yogurt
1 tablespoon finely chopped onion
1 clove minced garlic
¼ cup chopped cilantro
½ teaspoon salt
Chopped guindillas or jalapeños (optional)

Mix together the yogurt, onion, garlic, cilantro, salt and guindillas, if using.

Zucchini Fritters
Tortitas de Calabacín

A thin batter makes a lacy, crisp fritter.

These crisp fritters make a great snack or tapa with drinks. Serve them with the same sauce as the pancakes or with sliced lemon.

Don’t squeeze the moisture out of the grated zucchini. Add enough water to make a loose batter that spreads into a lacy disc in the skillet.

The fritters are best served shortly after frying.

Add water to make a loose batter.

1 cut grated zucchini (6 ounces, about ½ zucchini)
1 tablespoon finely chopped onion
1 tablespoon chopped parsley
¼ cup chickpea flour
2 tablespoons cold water
Olive oil for frying

Combine the grated zucchini, onion and parsley in a bowl. Add the chickpea flour and use a fork to combine it. Add the water and mix to make a loose batter. Let the batter stand for 15 minutes and mix it again.

Fry the batter in olive oil.

Heat oil to a depth of ¼ inch in a heavy skillet. Scoop up batter with a fork and drop into the oil. Fry until well browned and turn the fritter to brown on the reverse side. Remove the fritters as they are cooked and drain them on paper towels. Sprinkle with salt.

Serve the fritters hot or room temperature.

Fritters are best served right after they're fried.

Tomatoes from the garden. Must be summertime.

Pita Crisps.
Couscous Taboulleh.

Another vegetable pancake/fritter: Spinach Fritters.

More recipes with zucchini:
Fried Zucchini "Fish."
Zucchini Tubs Stuffed with Shrimp.
Zucchini Boats Stuffed with Vegetables and Quinoa.
Batter-Fried Zucchini.
Zucchini Timbale.
Zucchini Flan.
Zucchini Noodles with Pesto.
Tortilla with Zucchini and Potatoes.
Quickie Zucchini (microwave).
Zucchini-Chocolate Cake.

Saturday, July 4, 2020


Keeping it simple. This meal comes together in 30-40 minutes--lentils, pan-grilled salmon fillets and coleslaw.

Open a jar of lentils. Empty the contents into a bowl. Add your favorite vinaigrette dressing and some chopped fresh herbs. Serve alongside grilled salmon or roast chicken or lamb chops. Dinner, simplified.

My plan here is, not to complicate this menu, but to customize it a bit. Instead of a glug of bottled vinaigrette, I’m making my own by adding spices to the basic dressing. A special ingredient—Moroccan lemons preserved in brine—adds real pizazz to plain canned lentils.

The “dressed” lentils, served cold or room temperature, are not a salad, but a side dish. They can take the place of a vegetable or of a boring carb such as potatoes. For that matter, with the addition of cubes of queso fresco or feta and quail eggs, the lentils easily become a vegetarian main.

It doesn’t take much to turn basic foods from simple to, if not sublime, at least very tasty.  I found lots of inspiration for this kind of cooking in Radically Simple—Brilliant Flavors with Breathtaking Ease by Chef Rozanne Gold (Rodale; 2010). She’s got at least eight recipes using canned legumes, all of them embellished in unexpected ways. For example, grated fresh ginger “makes the flavor of fresh lemon reverberate” in an otherwise ordinary Italian white bean salad. A couscous salad gets finished with chickpeas, chopped dates, slivered almonds and cardamom. Just wow!

(Some other recipes I liked from Radically Simple, these not with legumes: creamy avocado soup spiked with fino Sherry; halibut roasted with saffron vinaigrette; beef burgers with sun-dried tomatoes; lamb chops with smoked pimentón oil and shards of Manchego cheese; cauliflower with crumbly ras el hanout topping.)

Keeping it simple.

Lentils with a spicy vinaigrette and diced preserved lemon makes an easy side dish with all kinds of foods.

Chilled or room temperature lentils accompany pan-grilled salmon. Slaw is a quick salad-relish.

Mint complements the lentils and salmon.

Or, serve the lentils on the side.

Tangy slaw can serve as a sauce or relish with the grilled salmon. This is made with shredded Chinese cabbage, red bell pepper and diced carrots. No mayonnaise--the dressing includes olive oil, Sherry vinegar, a dribble of honey and a pinch of toasted cumin seeds.

Lentils with Spicy Dressing
Lentejas Aliñadas

Use the rind of preserved lemon.

These are tiny brown pardina lentils. French Puy lentils could be used instead--whatever you have available in cans or jars.

Chopped preserved lemon adds pop to this simple side dish. If not available, substitute capers for a similar tangy, briny flavor.

You could simplify the recipe further by using a ready-mixed spice blend such as ras el hanout, Madras curry powder or za’atar instead of the clove-pepper-cumin-pimentón mix.

Fresh mint leaves.

Chopped mint complements the lentils nicely and points up the Moroccan-ish flavors. But chopped dill, cilantro, basil or parsley would be equally good.

Open a jar of lentils.

2 cups canned lentils
¼ cup finely chopped onion
¼ cup diced preserved lemon
1 tablespoon ketchup
1-2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 teaspoon salt
Pinch of cloves
1 teaspoon coarsely cracked black pepper
¼ teaspoon cumin
1/8 teaspoon hot pimentón (paprika) or pinch cayenne
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
Fresh mint leaves, chopped
Hard-cooked quail eggs, to garnish (optional)

Empty the lentils into a colander. Rinse them in cold water and let them drain.

Place the chopped onion in a small bowl. Cover with cold water. Let the onions soak 10 minutes. Drain them well.

Combine the lentils and onion in a bowl. Add the diced lemon.

Spicy vinaigrette.
In a small bowl combine the ketchup, garlic, salt, cloves, pepper, cumin and pimentón. Whisk in the lemon juice and olive oil. Pour dressing over the lentils and very gently stir. Allow the lentils to marinate in the dressing at least 30 minutes or, covered and refrigerated, up to 24 hours.

Immediately before serving stir in the chopped mint. Garnish, if desired, with quail eggs that have been peeled and halved. Serve the lentils room temperature or chilled.

To cook the salmon: Season the fillets with salt and pepper and drizzle them with olive oil. Allow to come to room temperature. Heat a plancha (grill pan) or cast iron skillet until quite hot. Place the fillets in the pan, skin side down. Lower heat to medium-hot. Allow the salmon to cook without moving it until the skin is crisped and flesh is cooked almost to the center. Carefully turn the fillets and finish cooking just until the reverse side is lightly browned.

More recipes in which canned lentils could be used:
Don Quixote´s Friday Lentils (vegetarian).
Lentils with Sausage.