Some time since my last post as I found myself put straight to work last week and catching up with all the people I had left here in England. Serious respect for anyone blogging that manages to work all day then come back ready to cook and put together a post. The problem here is that by the time I’m home and cleaned up from a day at the building site, there is barely any light (just rain – anyone in the UK at the moment will feel my pain) and I don’t have the equipment to shoot at night, so I will try and set aside dedicated cooking and shooting days but until I start university again I feel my post count will decrease.
To bring some Spanish sunshine back into my life, I opened up the box of treats I brought back from ‘Rafa the anchovy man’ of whom I spoke in my last post. Just the sight of them made me happy and the smells reminded me of starting my day at his market stall with a glass of young wine and one of his creations. I quickly got used to strong flavours first thing. The quality of this cured fish means that preparation should be limited, i.e served very simply. For me the best way is on bread with some good tomatoes to cut through their richness. He had also packed some of his own sun-dried tomatoes which he assured me would be better than any other I had tasted, and I had no reason to doubt him.
We, in England have some amazing produce unfortunately little of it seems to filter down to the masses, instead being sold in expensive markets or snapped up by the catering industry. But one thing we do have is an endless demand for Italian products and thus a copious amount of deli’s, cafe’s and bakeries in the capital. I am fortunate to live around the corner from what must be one of the best. The Bottega del Pane supplies the infamous River Cafe and other restaurants with their baked goods and I challenge anyone to leave empty handed after seeing what’s on offer. So I bought some of their famous sourdough and some amazing tomatoes (English grown!) to make some ‘Tostas’, the Spanish crostini.
I served the anchovy and tomato on slightly thicker cuts of bread because I wanted some of the juices to be soaked up without making it soggy throughout. I am positive this quality fish cannot be bought in a supermarket, so you’ll have to splash out somewhere but remember a little go a long way. The sardines should be on thinner slices as the flavours are more delicate and topping drier. The dried tomatoes were wonderful and very different to ones I had tried and slated before, and with the basil made for the perfect trio. These probably aren’t for standing up and eating at parties as these things have become fashionable for but would go perfectly at the start of a meal. Or if you are lucky enough to live somewhere with more that 8 days of sun a year then bask in its glory with some cold wine and make everyone in the UK jealous.
Anchovy and Tomato Tostas
sliced sourdough bread or similar
extra virgin olive oil
tomatoes, chopped finely
good quality fresh anchovy fillets in oil
Place the chopped tomatoes in a bowl with a tiny pinch of salt and pepper and allow to sit at room temperature for 30 minutes. For 4 tostas I used 2 tomatoes.
Preheat the grill/broiler to a high heat and toast the sliced bread until golden around the edges. Drizzle with a little oil.
Spoon the tomatoes onto the bread using a slotted spoon. Lift an anchovy fillet from the oil, let just a little of the oil drip off then lay on the tomatoes.
Sardine & Sun-Dried Tomato Tostas
sliced sourdough bread or similar
sardine fillets in oil
Prepare the bread as above. Cut the sardines up into 1cm slices; the tomatoes into slightly smaller pieces and roughly chop the basil.
Mix well in a bowl with one tablespoon of oil from the sardines and one from the tomatoes. Spoon onto bread. Serve.
Despite being hot here in Valencia most of the year one thing which has signified the start of summer and the need to refresh oneself is the appearance of Gazpacho on almost every menu. Made well it is truly one of the most satisfying things one can eat in the heat. Served ice-cold and filled with the season’s finest tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers; those adverse to ‘cold soup’ need to experience the real thing.
The idea for watermelon gazpacho came from a meal in Havana, in the well-established king of tourist restaurants – La Guarida. Having thought it was a very original dish and a welcome change from the never-ending mountains of rice and beans I was quite surprised to find not only was it a well-practised dish in Spain but that the shockingly pinky-red dish I had eaten was merely a more traditional gazpacho with watermelon added. Far from the simple, distinct flavour I had experienced. So I decided to create my own stripped back watermelon gazpacho.
Upon seeing some kumquats in the market I wanted to add another element to the plate. I had never cooked with them before but with their wonderful appearance; tart and slightly acidic taste I thought would sit well with the freshness of the watermelon and the spiciness in the prawn marinade. Then I tried the cooked Kumquat and was blown away, little caramelised rounds of goodness, serving it both ways on the plate starts to exhibit it’s diversity as an ingredient
I was so happy with how it came out, such vibrant colours and flavours yet so easy to make, it honestly won’t take you more than half an hour to prep and cook; plus some chill time in the fridge in-between. There can’t be a better place to eat this than sitting outside on a sun-soaked evening with the BBQ burning. It was also a great excuse to utilise my latest flea market purchase: a decanter with ice-compartment.
Watermelon Gazpacho with Prawns and Kumquat
serves 4 as a starter
For the Gazpacho
Half of a watermelon, de-seeded and flesh roughly chopped
Flesh of one tomato
2 capfuls of vodka
sea salt and fresh cracked pepper to season
Process the watermelon flesh with the tomato in a blender until smooth, add the vodka and season to taste. The pepper really added something to the dish and worked well with the melon giving it a more aromatic fresh taste whilst the salt takes off the really sweet edge.
Refrigerate for a minimum of two hours until ready to serve, then strain through a fine sieve into a jug.
For the Prawns
20 raw prawns, with shells
2 tablespoons of olive oil
small handful of flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped
6 kumquats, sliced into thin rounds (if unavailable substitute for lime zest)
teaspoon of chilli flakes or 2 fresh chilli peppers
Peel the head, legs and shell from prawns, leaving the tail in tact (de-vein if you like – I didn’t) . Heads and shell can be set aside or frozen to make a good fish stock.
Add prawns to a bowl with the olive oil, parsley, kumquat slices, chilli and a pinch of salt. Leave covered in fridge to marinate for 15 minutes – we can’t leave this too long as the acidity from the kumquats could start to cook the prawns.
To cook the prawns:
In a pan: Heat some olive oil from the marinade on a high heat in a wide heavy-based pan until smoking then add half the prawns. They will need to be cooked just 1 minute each side if the pan is hot enough but cut into one to check before removing. Cook the remainder in the same way.
On the BBQ: undoubtedly more flavourful and ‘smokiness ‘really works with the other flavours. Skewer prawns and kumquat slices from marinade and cook for 1 minute each side over hot coals.
1 small cucumber cut into thin batons
5 kumquats, sliced into thin rounds
Arrange the cooked prawns, cooked and fresh kumquat and cucumber as you wish on the bowl. Pour over the strained Gazpacho at the table
I recently read about Caponata’s sweet and sour flavour but for me that does this dish no justice and conjures up images of a greasy Chinese, paling in comparison to this ‘aubergine stew’ which serves up some of the best Sicily has to offer. I do admit that the Arab influenced combination of aubergines, celery, capers, vinegar and sugar does have a sweet and sour contrast but it is much subtler and well-balanced.
Like most classic Italian dishes there are 1001 variations and you could spend hours trawling through books and the internet deciding on one. I used a mix of a few recipes including Carluccio’s one which seems to be quite well regarded but whose cooking time I think is too short as I really wanted this to have a compote texture. Other recipes add spice or sweetness through chilli or raisins . Personal preference and how you will serve it will probably dictate that. Being used as everything from a pickle to a main dish it has a lot of scope. The idea to serve it with seafood came from Wikipedia as before I hadn’t seen anyone suggest it as a side to fish and I thought that cod and mussels would go well due to one’s quite subtle taste and the others bolder, salty one. I would probably also use clams next time to add another element to the dish.
To quote Jamie Oliver (who also has a seemingly good recipe) it is really important to try and get aubergines which have few seeds, these are normally firmer, and also not to be tempted to cut the chunks too small or they will take on too much oil.
As with most stew-like things, its flavours improve overnight so make it the day before and whether you are using it as part of this dish or as a salad it will be worth the wait. There looks like there is a lot to this dish but it is SO simple, plus if the caponata is done the day before you only need to reheat it and meanwhile prep the seafood. You could serve this in summer or winter maybe adding some more spice and sweetness for extra warmth in winter .
serves 4 with plenty of Caponata left over for the next day!
1kg aubergines, in 2cm dice
500g celery and their leaves, roughly chopped
2 onions, roughly chopped
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
400g tomatoes, peeled and finely chopped or blended OR use tinned chopped tomatoes
350g green pitted olives
40g salted capers
40ml red wine vinegar (I used a good sherry vinegar which worked really well)
1tbsp caster sugar
400g tomatoes, peeled and finely chopped or blended OR use tinned chopped tomatoes
100ml olive oil
- Salt the aubergines in a colander for 15mins, meanwhile prep the other ingredients. Rinse well and dry with kitchen towel.
- Heat most of the oil in a large casserole dish and on a high heat brown the aubergines in batches. Remove and set aside. Adding more oil to pan if too dry.
- Reduce the heat to low and wait for olive oil to cool down a bit before adding the onions and celery with their leaves too. Soften for 10 minutes.
- Add the garlic for 2 minutes before returning the aubergines and adding the tomatoes, olives and capers (reserve a few olives and capers to add at the end for a different texture and to garnish plate). Season and cook gently on a low heat for 30 minutes.
- Meanwhile mix the vinegar and sugar together in a small pan, bring to the boil and remove from heat. This should hold a pleasant sweet and sour taste, if not add either to your preference. Add to the stew and cook for a further hour stirring occasionally.
- 5 minutes before the end add the olives, capers, basil (reserving some leaves) and cooked mussels (see below) and check seasoning.
4 fillets with skin
- Heat the oil until smoking in a heavy bottomed pan, salt the fillets well on both sides add skin side down and sear on high heat for 2 minutes before carefully turning over for another minute. Remove and set aside.
1 glass white wine
1 garlic clove, peeled and quartered
- Clean mussels thoroughly under cold water using a small knife or hard brush. Discard broken shells and close open ones by tapping fairly hard 3 times with the back of a knife, if not closing discard them.
- Bring wine to boil in large pan with garlic and a splash of water over a high heat, add mussels and cover with lid, shaking the pan well every 30 seconds until all the shells are open. Drain and discard unopened shells.
- Remove half of the mussels from the shells (optional) and add to Caponata 5 minutes before finished cooking.
- combine parsley and lemon
Adapted from the Scott’s of London dish
I served this dish as a starter as part of a 6-course dinner, it wasn’t originally planned but the sea urchins for my planned starter weren’t available at the market (typical having just read an article on having a plan B for dinner parties and thinking I would never need one because I lived next to Europe’s largest food market).
Comparing this effort to my last one showed how much more refined I had become in my cooking style. Using these ingredients it is easy to overuse one aspect and unbalance the flavours of the dish so less really is more:
- A fresh and delicately flavoured shellfish
- An oily and intensely flavoured chorizo
- A salty and easily spoilt green
This dish really does exhibit how the best quality ingredients can make a dish. The chorizo required won’t be found next to the sausages in your local supermarket, it needs to be a semi-dry one. I chose a chorizo from ‘Jamon Iberico de Bellota’ (the pig used to make the world’s best ham – it really is the best money can buy and goes a long way, 3 sausages between 7 people). So make the effort to go to the nearest deli in search of them or try ordering from Brindisa in London. The fat rendered creates such a rich and simple sauce so have some bread handy to mop it up.
Also this is great for dinner parties as the clams can be prepared hours in advance and re-heated in the oven when ready to serve.
Razor Clams with Chorizo and Samphire
1kg of razor clams
half a glass of white wine
small handful of parsley
3 garlic cloves
3 semi-dry chorizos cut into 1/4″ thick coins
handful of samphire/ sea asparagus
Oven at 180C
- Rinse the clams under cold water for 10 minutes until clean.
- Heat the wine, garlic, parsley and salt in a saucepan wide enough to lay the clams.
- When boiling add clams, shake pan and cover for 2 minutes or until shells open
- Remove Clams, run under cold water to cool and clean. To clean, remove the darker looking sac from the mussel and discard, reserving the flesh and shell
- Lay the shells on a roasting tray, one or two per person and replace the flesh (I put two clams in one shell)
- Drizzle each clam with a teaspoon of stock water left in the pan and place on middle shelf in oven for 10 minutes
- Meanwhile, add chorizo coins to a frying pan on medium-low heat (NO OIL) render the fat, stirring occasionally and lowering the flame if starting to burn
- When fat rendered and chorizo cooked (around 8 minutes) remove with a slotted spoon and drain on kitchen towel. To the oil left in the pan add the butter and stir with a small whisk over a medium heat until well combined and thickened
- To serve: Remove the clams from the oven and plate accordingly, scatter over chorizo, dip samphire into sauce and place then drizzle over sauce as desired.