Saturday, February 22, 2020


The most memorable meal in the story of Don Quixote by Cervantes is certainly that of the bodas de Camacho, the wedding feast of a rich man named Camacho (who doesn’t, by the way, get the girl).  Don Quixote and Sancho Panza encounter some 50 cooks at work preparing the meal.  A whole young steer stuffed with a dozen suckling pigs is roasting on a huge spit.  Lamb, hare and chickens are stewing in enormous earthenware ollas. Loaves of bread are piled into a mountain and whole cheeses, stacked like bricks, form a wall.  A treasure chest of spices is at hand.  Cooks are frying sweet pastries in great cauldrons of oil, then dipping them into boiling honey syrup.

Sancho, who famously is always thinking of his stomach, cannot contain himself.  He begs permission to dip a crust of bread into one of the pots and is bidden by the cooks to skim off what he likes--and take the ladle too!  Happy, he scores three chickens and a couple geese for breakfast.

A dish fit for a rich man's wedding--braised chicken and meatballs in an almond-saffron sauce.
This chicken stew, rich with ground almonds, might well have been stewing in the huge pots at that wedding feast. The addition of meatballs (or chicken balls) turns it into rather a grand version of chicken pepitoria, a favorite fiesta dish in Spain.

I’m not cooking for any wedding events this week. However, I made a batch of meatballs in almond sauce (albóndigas en salsa de almendras) for a video-chat with students in a class on “Food and Culture in Spain” (with Dr. Martha Daas at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, VA). It’s a recipe that shows off the best of Spanish cooking with its subtle Moorish influences and that's not one of those familiar ones, paella or gazpacho or potato tortilla.

Later, I upgraded the meatballs. I cooked chicken in the rich almond sauce and combined it with the meatballs to make a fancy meal.

The recipe for wedding stew that appears in my book, Cooking from the Heart of Spain—Food of La Mancha, calls for chicken breast for the meatballs. While chicken breast makes a delightfully light dumpling, veal, pork or a combination can be used instead.  Another version is similar to the rellenos, or bread dumplings, that go into a cocido. The balls can also be made with chicken livers combined with bread, parsley and egg.

If the chicken dish is prepared with gallina, hen, or a mature boiling fowl, it is slow-cooked in water with aromatics until completely tender. The resulting broth is used in the sauce and the cooked meat stripped from the bones and added to the sauce with the meatballs. If you’re using tender chicken legs, braise them right in the sauce.

Steamed white rice makes the perfect accompaniment to this sensuous chicken dish with its “gravy” perfumed with golden saffron and ground almonds.

No wedding needed--serve this easy chicken and meatball dish for a dinner party.

Chicken thighs and drumsticks are succulent.

The rich gravy goes well with steamed white rice.

I've sprinkled threads of saffron and fried almonds on top of the stew.

Options for the meatballs: all chicken breast, or a combination of veal and pork, chicken livers, bread and ham.

Wedding Stew with Chicken and Meatballs
Guiso de Bodas de Camacho

Serves 6.

For the meatballs:
The meatballs can be prepared up to a day in advance, poached, then refrigerated. Reheat them in the stew during the last 15 minutes of cooking.

1/3 cup flat-leaf parsley
2 tablespoons chopped onion
½ cup fine, fresh breadcrumbs
½ boneless, skinless chicken breast (12-14 ounces), cut in 1-inch pieces
1 egg, separated
1/8 teaspoon grated nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 ½ tablespoon lemon juice
4 cups chicken broth or water

Use a food processor to finely chop the parsley. Add onion, breadcrumbs, chicken breast and egg yolk. Process until the chicken is uniformly minced. Add the nutmeg, pepper, salt, and 1 tablespoon of lemon juice.

Beat the egg white on high speed in a small bowl until it holds stiff peaks. Beat in the remaining lemon juice.

Fold the egg whites thoroughly into the ground chicken. 

Dip hands in water and lightly roll the mixture into walnut-sized balls.

Bring the broth or water to a boil. (Broth can be used in the chicken stew.) Reduce to a simmer and poach the meatballs for 4 minutes. They may not be completely cooked through, but will finish cooking in the stew. Remove and reserve.

For the chicken stew:
2 ¾ - 3 pounds legs and thighs (about 8 pieces)
Freshly ground black pepper
Flour for dredging
¼ cup olive oil
1 slice bread, crusts removed
4 cloves garlic
1 cup blanched and skinned almonds
2 ¼ cups chicken broth
½ teaspoon saffron threads
1/16 teaspoon ground cloves
Grating of nutmeg
¼ teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1 tablespoon chopped flat-leaf parsley
1 teaspoon salt
2 hard-cooked egg yolks (whites can be used for garnish, if desired)

1 cup dry white wine
Chopped parsley for garnish
A few toasted almonds for garnish

Sprinkle the chicken pieces with salt and pepper and let them stand for 20 minutes. Then dredge them in flour, patting off the excess. Place on a tray.

Heat the oil in a large skillet. Fry the slice of bread on moderate heat until golden on both sides. Remove. Add 2 cloves of the garlic and the almonds. Fry them on a medium heat until golden. Remove with a slotted spoon and reserve.

Brown chicken pieces before braising.

In the same oil fry the chicken pieces on a medium heat, until they are nicely browned on all sides, 5 to 10 minutes. Transfer the pieces as they are browned to a large cazuela or deep sauté pan.

Crush the saffron in a mortar. Add 2 tablespoons of hot water and let it steep 10 minutes.

Grind bread, almonds.

Save a few fried almonds to garnish the finished dish. Place the fried bread, fried garlic plus 2 cloves raw garlic and remaining fried almonds in a blender with 1 cup of the broth. Blend until almonds are smoothly pureed. Add the saffron, cloves, nutmeg, pepper, parsley, salt and egg yolks. Blend again.

Pour the wine over the chicken pieces in the pan.  Raise the heat until the liquid begins to bubble. Add 1 cup of the remaining broth. Cover the pan and cook very gently for 30 minutes.

Turn the chicken pieces. Stir the almond-spice paste into the chicken. Taste for salt. Cover and cook until chicken is very tender, about 30 minutes more, adding additional broth as needed.
When chicken is tender, add the cooked meatballs to the stew and cook 15 minutes more.

Serve the stew in the cazuela or ladled onto a deep platter. Sprinkle with chopped parsley, a few toasted almonds and, if desired, sliced cooked egg whites.

More recipes for meatballs and dumplings:

And, another version of chicken in almond sauce:

Saturday, February 15, 2020


In the wake of last week's chocolate cream custard extravaganza (dark chocolate, cream and egg yolks),  I was left with a cupful of egg whites. Here’s a recipe, especially for coconut lovers, to use them up.

Post-Valentine pleasures, sure to please coconut lovers--a heaping basket of chewy macaroons.

This recipe for coconut macaroons comes from the Clarisa nuns of the San Benito monastery in El Toboso, the La Mancha village that was the home of the fictional Dulcinea—“Sweetie”—Don Quixote’s ladylove.

The nuns make a variety of pastries and sweets to sell to the public at the convent’s entrance. On the day they make their famous pelusas, lemon sponge cookies, requiring 13 dozen egg yolks, they follow with these cocos to use up the whites.

The recipe has a secret ingredient—mashed potato, which helps keep the macaroons moist and chewy.

Macaroons are golden and toasty on the outside.

Inside, macaroons are moist and chewy.

Optional: drizzle the baked macaroons with a chocolate topping.

Coconut Macaroons

Makes 30 (2 ½ -inch) macaroons.

1 small baking potato (4 ounces)
2 tablespoons milk
1 large egg, beaten
4 cups shredded unsweetened coconut (10-12 ounces)
3 tablespoons flour
1/8 teaspoon baking soda
Pinch of salt
3 large egg whites, room temperature
1 cup sugar
Chocolate topping, optional (recipe follows)

Cook the potato in boiling water until tender. Drain and peel the potato. Mash it in a small bowl with the milk. Combine the potato with the beaten egg.

Place the coconut in a bowl. Sift the flour, baking soda and salt over it and stir to combine.

Preheat oven to 400ºF. Line 2 baking sheets with baking parchment.

Place the egg whites in a mixing bowl. Beat on high speed until they hold stiff peaks. Beat in the sugar gradually. At low speed, beat in the potato-egg mixture.

Fold the coconut into the beaten egg whites.

Drop spoonfuls of batter onto baking sheets.

Drop tablespoons of batter onto the baking sheets, spacing them 2 inches apart. Bake in upper third of the oven 10 minutes. Change position of the baking sheets and bake 10 minutes longer, until tops of the macaroons are golden.

Cool the macaroons on the baking sheets. If using the chocolate topping, drizzle it over the cooled macaroons. 

Cool macaroons before removing from sheets.

Store macaroons in an air-tight container at room temperature for 3-4 days or wrap them individually in plastic wrap and freeze. 

Chocolate Topping
Glaseado de Chocolate

2 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
¼ teaspoon olive oil
1 tablespoon water

Melt chocolate in microwave.

Place the chocolate, oil and water in a small microwave-safe bowl. Microwave on high for 30 seconds. Stir. Repeat two more times until chocolate is melted and smooth.

Use the chocolate while warm to drizzle, dip or spread on cookies.

More recipes to use up egg whites:

And, if you started the macaroons with whole eggs, here are recipes to use up the yolks:

Saturday, February 8, 2020


Why do chocolate and romance go together? While chocolate has never been proven to have aphrodisiacal properties, its consumption certainly soars on Valentine’s Day. Here’s a dessert to share the love. 

Chocolate = romance. A luscious chocolate custard for Valentine's Day.

Unlike airy chocolate mousse, this custardy chocolate dessert is dense, intensely chocolatey. While not overly sweet, it is sublimely rich. A little goes a long way. I’ve noted a yield of six half-cup servings, but the custard could easily be divided into much smaller servings.

Chocolate with no sugar added.

You need to start with good quality dark chocolate, at least 70 percent cacao. I’ve used chocolate with no added sugar. The sweetening is a combination of malitol and stevia. A touch of raisiny dessert wine, either Málaga Muscatel or Pedro Ximénez, complements the chocolate’s natural fruitiness.

The hot, eggy custard mixture melts the chopped chocolate. Blending turns it smooth and glossy.  

The dessert is best served at room temperature. It can be prepared in advance and refrigerated, but bring it to room temperature before serving.

How to serve the custards? With a luscious strawberry imbedded in the chocolate. With a sprinkling of Muscatel raisins that have been plumped in Muscatel or PX wine. With a dollop of crême fraiche or Greek yogurt (sweetened to taste). Sprinkled with chopped nuts. Spread on a crumb crust. The custards could probably be put into heart-shaped molds and unmolded after firming in the fridge.

Share the love! Rich chocolate custards are an easy, make-ahead dessert for a dinner party.

Chocolate marries well with berries, with raisins and figs, with oranges. 

Serving options: a dollop of Greek yogurt or crême fraiche.

Dark Chocolate Cream Custards
Crema de Chocolate Intensivo

Makes 6 (½ -cup) servings.

12 ounces dark (70%) chocolate
4 large egg yolks
Pinch of salt
¾ cup heavy cream
1 cup milk
¼ cup + 1 tablespoon sweet Muscatel or Pedro Ximénez wine

Chop the chocolate finely. (This is easy to do in batches in a mini food processor.) Place the chocolate in a heat-proof bowl.

Whisk the egg yolks in a heat-proof bowl with a pinch of salt.

Whisk hot cream into yolks.

Place the cream, milk and ¼ cup of sweet wine in a saucepan. Bring to a boil. Remove from heat. Whisk half of the hot cream into the egg yolks. Return the egg yolks to the saucepan. Cook on moderate heat, stirring constantly, until custard is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon, 3 to 4 minutes.

Hot custard melts chocolate.

Pour the hot custard over the chopped chocolate and allow to stand a few minutes to soften the chocolate. Stir to mix the chocolate and custard completely.

Blended custard is smooth and glossy.

Transfer to a blender. Add 1 tablespoon sweet wine and blend the mixture until smooth and satiny. Divide between custard cups or dessert glasses. 

More about Spain and the history of chocolate: 

More chocolate dessert recipes:

Saturday, February 1, 2020


Emblanco is a white fish soup with vegetables, perfect as a starter for a family meal.

Hoy, voy a poner un emblanco,” said the woman next to me at the village fish market. “Today I’m making ‘white fish soup’.” Emblanco is one of those everyday dishes in the pueblo, the sort of easy and economical dish that mothers might serve to children.

Typically, the main meal of the day, when the family sits down together, is served around 2 pm in the afternoon. (Yes, this custom is changing, as shops, offices and schools change to hora intensiva, not closing for the midday meal and long break.) La comida, the main meal, consists of primer plato (starter), segundo plato (main course) and postre (dessert). A light fish soup such as this one is the perfect starter for the comida. A main course with more substantial protein (fried fish fillets, meat or poultry) would follow.

The soup starts with a whole pescadilla, small hake. The head and spine are cooked first to produce a flavorful broth, then the fillets are added to the soup with vegetables. It's easy to remove any remaining bones after the fish has cooked. 

The best way to make this soup is to start with a whole, fresh fish. Use the head, bones and trimmings to make the caldo, the broth. Cook the pieces of fish in the broth, skim them out and, using your fingers, carefully remove all the skin and bones. This makes the soup kid-friendly. Cook the vegetables in the broth, then return the cooked fish to the pot, y ya está—that’s it.

Potatoes, carrots, onions, peppers and tomatoes cook in the fish broth. 

If you can get it, use a skinny Italian frying pepper in this recipe. Cut it crosswise into rings. Otherwise, cut green bell pepper into thin strips. Cook the tomato and onion whole. Before serving, slip the skin off of the tomato and break it and the onion into a few pieces and return them to the soup. My version has sliced leek instead of onion.

Some versions of this recipe call for the vegetables except for the potatoes to be pureed in a blender, then stirred back into the soup to thicken it (and perhaps disguise their presence from children). I like the original, with pieces of fresh veggies.

Start with a white-fleshed fish such as hake (merluza or pescadilla) or one of hake’s close relatives, such as cod, haddock, whiting or forkbeard. Also good are the flavorful, but bony, rockfish (cabracho, gallineta, rascasio).

If using a fairly large fish (more than 2 ½ pounds), it’s possible to cut 6-ounce fillets from the lomo, center, of the fish to serve as separate meal.

I separated the two 5.5-ounce fillets on the left to serve as a separate meal. I had about 9 ounces remaining for the soup. If you put all the fish in the soup, it easily serves 6. 

White Fish Soup
Sopa de Pescado Emblanco

Serves 4-6 as a starter.

Whole white fish (2 ½ pounds), filleted, head and bones reserved; fillets cut into 3-inch pieces
10 cups water
1 lemon
Sprigs of parsley
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 medium potatoes (12 ounces)
1 carrot, sliced
1 leek (white part only), sliced
1 small green pepper, sliced
1 whole tomato
Parsley to garnish

Place the fish head, bones and trimmings in a soup pot with the water, 1 slice of lemon, parsley and 1 teaspoon salt. Bring to a boil. Cook, uncovered 10 minutes. Lower heat and add the fish fillets. Cook until the fish flakes easily, 5 minutes. Use a slotted spoon to remove the fillets from the soup. Reserve them.

After cooking, use fingers to remove any remaining bones.

Pour the soup through a strainer. Discard lemon and parsley. When cool enough to handle, pick any flesh from the head and bones. (There are dollops of flesh in the "cheeks" and flaky bits on the "collar.")Discard the bones. 

Return the soup to the pot. 

Cut the potatoes in quarters lengthwise, then slice them crosswise. Add them to the soup with the carrot, leek, green pepper and tomato. Bring the soup to a boil and cook, uncovered, until potatoes are tender, 8-10 minutes. 

Remove the tomato with a slotted spoon. Slip off and discard the skin. Cut the tomato into several pieces and return them to the soup.

Immediately before serving, heat the soup thoroughly. Break the cooked fillets into pieces and add them to the soup with any reserved bits of fish picked from the bones. Add 2-3 tablespoons of lemon juice to the soup or else serve it with sliced lemon for diners to add at the table. Garnish with parsley.

So many more Spanish fish soups!

Saturday, January 25, 2020


My neighbors, who were returning to France, dropped off a bag with remains from their kitchen. Here’s a heap of red potatoes, several heads of garlic, red onions, oranges and most of the lemons I had given them a few days earlier.

What to cook with red potatoes? A sort of hot potato salad with lots of garlic.

Red potatoes. I never cook with them. Although they are widely available in markets, red potatoes were not traditionally grown in my region of southern Spain. What are their attributes? For one thing, this variety, less starchy than “baking potatoes,” doesn’t turn to mush when cooked and mixed with dressing, making it perfect for potato salads.

My mother used to make a German hot potato salad using red potatoes. I found a Spanish recipe, typical of Murcia, that reminded me of that old favorite. This one, patatas al ajo cabañil, or “shepherd’s garlic potatoes,” doesn’t start with boiling the potatoes. They are first sliced and cooked in olive oil, then finished in a sauce of crushed garlic and vinegar.

Potatoes are lightly browned, but not crisped, in olive oil. The finished potatoes are slightly juicy with the garlic-vinegar sauce.

The potatoes don’t fry, but “poach” in olive oil. This is the same procedure used when cooking them for a Spanish tortilla. So use plenty of olive oil and, if necessary, cook the potatoes in two batches. They need to lightly brown on the edges and be tender, but they don’t need to be crisp, as they will finish in the garlic sauce.

Lift the potatoes out of the oil with a slotted spoon and reserve them in a bowl. No need to drain on absorbent paper, as residual oil becomes part of the sauce. Strain the remaining oil and save it for another use. You will be surprised at how little oil is absorbed by the potatoes. I started out with 1 ½ cups of oil and retrieved 1 ¼ cups after straining. Olive oil, mind you. No other oil will give this result.

Serve the potato dish, hot or room temperature, on its own (a little chopped bacon would make it not unlike German potato salad) or, Murcia style, as a side with pan-fried chicken, rabbit or lamb chops. Sometimes the same aliño, or garlicky dressing, is added to the meat as well as the potatoes (make double the quantity of sauce). I'm thinking this is a perfect side with old-fashioned Midwestern meatloaf like my mother made.

The potatoes, with their tangy sauce of vinegar and garlic, are a great side with chops. Here alongside a thick-cut chop of ibérico pork. (The accompanying salad-relish is sliced oranges, grapefruit, avocado and red onion with olive oil.)

Red potatoes keep their shape.

Another way to serve the potatoes--topped with fried egg.

Potatoes with Garlic Dressing
Patatas al Ajo Cabañil

Rinse potatoes after slicing.

Serves 6 as a side dish.

2 pounds red potatoes
1 ½ cups olive oil
4-10 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
½ teaspoon coarse salt
1/8 teaspoon cumin seeds
Red pepper flakes (optional)
1/3 cup white wine vinegar
¼ cup water
Chopped parsley

Peel the potatoes and cut them crosswise into ¼-inch slices. Place the slices in water. Drain the potatoes and pat dry on kitchen towels.

Moderate heat so potatoes cook gently in olive oil.

Heat the oil in a deep skillet. Add half the potato slices and cook them on moderate heat, turning gently, until they begin to turn golden and are just tender, 8-10 minutes. Skim the potatoes out of the oil and place them in a bowl (no need to drain on paper towels). Add remaining potatoes to the pan and cook them in the same manner. Remove.

When oil has cooled slightly, strain it into a jar and save for another use.

Place the coarsely chopped garlic in a mortar with the coarse salt, cumin seeds and red pepper flakes, if using. Crush the garlic to a smooth paste. Stir in the vinegar and water.

Return the potatoes and residual oil to the skillet on medium heat. Pour the garlic-vinegar mixture on top of the potatoes and gently combine them without breaking up the potatoes. Season with salt. Cook until all the liquid has cooked off, 5 minutes.

Serve the potatoes hot or room temperature, sprinkled with parsley.

Saturday, January 18, 2020


“Bring me broccoli plants,” I told my sometimes-gardener. But, when I went out to the huerta (kitchen garden), I found a row of baby cabbage plants instead of broccoli. “That’s all there were,” he said. Cabbage is a vegetable I like, sure, but I rarely eat more than a couple heads of it in a season. This is going to be the Year of the Cabbage.

Cabbages in the garden.

So far, it’s turning out to be a season of good fortune. The small cabbages are sweet and crisp, a delight in coleslaw and stir-fries. Plain, “boiled” cabbage makes an easy side dish, seasoned with a refrito of olive oil, garlic, pimentón (paprika) and a dash of vinegar. Yet to come, my version of stuffed cabbage (see link to that recipe below). 

Today I’m making a cabbage-potato gratin dish. It makes a terrific side with pan-grilled sausages or baked spareribs. But it would also serve as a vegetarian main dish with salad and good bread as an accompaniment.

Cabbage in Spanish has a redundancy of nomenclature: col, repollo and berza are all names for the same type of cabbage with green outer leaves and pale, almost white inner ones. (Confusingly, “berza” is the name of an Andalusian potaje, as in berza de acelgas, that contains green vegetables such as chard, but no cabbage.) Col de Milán is crinkly green Savoy cabbage. Lombarda is red cabbage. 

Under a crunchy gratin of cheese and breadcrumbs, layers of potatoes and cabbage.

Baked cabbage stays juicy. 

Cabbage gratin could be a vegetarian main dish--

or a side dish with baked spareribs.

As a side, the cabbage is good with ribs, sausages, chops.

Cabbage and Potato Gratin
Gratinado de Coles con Patatas

Remove core from cabbage.
Serves 6.

1 ½ pounds potatoes (5 medium)
1 ¾ pounds cabbage (1 small)
5 tablespoons olive oil
3 cloves chopped garlic
1/8 teaspoon cumin seeds (optional)
2/3 cup white wine
Freshly ground black pepper
4 ounces cheese, grated (1 ½ cups)
1 cup fresh bread crumbs
Pimentón (paprika), preferably smoked

Cook the potatoes in boiling water until they are just tender when pierced with a skewer. Drain. When cool enough to handle, peel the potatoes and slice them 3/8 inch thick.

Discard outer leaves from the cabbage. Cut it in quarters and cut out and discard the core. Slice the cabbage crosswise.

Heat 3 tablespoons of the oil in a deep skillet. Add the garlic and cumin seeds, if using. When garlic begins to turn golden, add the cabbage. Sauté until it begins to wilt and lose volume. Add the wine. Raise the heat until liquid boils. Season the cabbage with salt and pepper. Reduce heat and cover the pan. Cook gently until tender, about 10 minutes. Remove cover and cook off most of remaining liquid, if necessary.

Preheat oven to 350ºF.

Layer potatoes and cabbage, top with cheese and crumbs.

Generously oil a cazuela or glass baking dish. Put a layer of sliced potatoes in the bottom. Sprinkle them with salt and pepper. Cover the layer of potatoes with all of the cabbage. 

Sprinkle half of the grated cheese on top. Layer the remaining potato slices over the cabbage and cheese. Cover with remaining cheese. Top with bread crumbs. Sprinkle with pimentón. Drizzle 1 tablespoon oil over the top.

Cover the top of the cazuela with foil. Bake until the potatoes and cabbage are bubbling, about 25 minutes.

Raise oven temperature to 400ºF. Remove foil from the baking dish. If oven has an upper heating element for gratin, place the dish under it. Bake until the top is browned, 5 minutes. Serve the gratin hot.

Gratin is best hot out of the oven.

Spareribs are rubbed with adobo spices and marinated 24 hours before roasting in the oven. Top them with a picada of chopped raw garlic and parsley. (Link to recipe for spareribs is below.)

More recipes with cabbage:

Related recipes: