Saturday, September 27, 2008

Watermelon salad with orange juice and green tea syrup

I've never been that keen on watermelons. They look great, but are a bit bland. I make a point of trying them once or twice a year, just in case my opinion has changed, but it hasn't so far. However, I think this salad brings out the best in them. The watermelon is crunchy and refreshing, and its porous flesh soaks up the syrup, which is both bitter and sweet.

The watermelon here came from a stall at the turning off the Cadiz-Malaga coast road to the fantastic Roman ruins at Baelo Claudia. We spent a great day there with Richard and Ceri and their kids Sam and Anna.

Half a watermelon
1/2 litre of freshly squeezed orange juice
2 tablespoons of demerara sugar
1 teaspoon of green tea (or 1 teabag)

  1. Combine the orange juice and sugar in a saucepan, bring to the boil, and stir to make sure all the sugar is dissolved. Remove from heat, and add the green tea.
  2. Cut the watermelon into smallish chunks, put in a large bowl or tupperware container, strain the orange syrup over it, cover and leave in the fridge for an hour or two. (Or overnight.)
You can also add other fruit to this - nectarines, peaches, plums or whatever.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Tattie scones (potato scones)

These are a classic Scottish breakfast food, and often appear as part of a cooked breakfast, although they're also great on their own, with a little bit of butter. Now that I've got round to making them, I've realised that in many ways what they're most similar to is a chapati.

After a bit of trial and error, I realised that the key to this is to think of the potato and flour mixture as a dough, and to treat it accordingly. Also, you have to add plenty of flour during the shaping and rolling stage to prevent the scones from sticking.

500g of leftover mashed potato
100g of flour

  1. Gradually work the flour into the potato, gently kneading the dough until you have a good smooth dough. (The exact quantity of flour required will depend on how dry your mashed potato is, so best to add the flour gradually.)
  2. Flour a worksurface or board, put more flour on your hands, and take off a smallish ball of the mixture (somewhere between the size of a golfball and a satsuma).
  3. Press the ball so you have a fat disc, flour each side well then, using a well-floured rolling pin, gently roll it to a flat circle, about 1/2 cm thick, turning it between each roll and adding more flour to the worksurface or board if required.
  4. Heat a heavy-bottomed pan, grease with a little oil (but not too much), and then cook the scones on a low heat for about 3 minutes each side.

Salmorejo (thick, chilled tomato soup)

This is a bit like a more substantial version of gazpacho, thickened with bread. The recipe comes from the second Moro book, but I have adjusted the quantities a bit.

We've just started home schooling our kids, Sammy and Carmela, and part of our plan is that they help make lunch a few times a week. This was one of the first things Sammy helped to make.

white bread - 1/10th of the weight of the tomatoes (after removing crusts)
olive oil - a little bit less than 1/10th of the weight of the tomatoes
salt - 1/100th of the weight of the tomatoes
vinegar - 1/30th of the weight of the tomatoes
finely chopped garlic - about 1/2th a clove per 500g of tomatoes

Cut the tomatoes into quarters and break the bread into small pieces. Combine all the ingredients in a blender and whizz until smooth.

Ham, ham, ham
The habit of including some pork in almost everything, even to the length of sprinkling a little ham on some tomato soup, is almost certainly a throwback to the Inquisition and the need that many Spaniards obviously felt to prove that they were not secret Jews or Muslims. Indeed, the ostentatious public consumption of ham is a major feature of Spanish life. Oddly enough, another sure sign that someone might be kicking with the wrong foot in 16th century Spain was the use of olive oil. (Animal fat was the approved cooking medium for Christians.)

The tables, however, are beginning to turn, as can be seen from the photo below. If you look carefully at the red awning, you can just make out the words 'El Rincón del Jamón', Spanish for 'The Ham Corner'. The sign below advertises the new Moroccan restaurant which has replaced it, 'El Andalusi'.

Apparently El Andalusi was too exotic for Gaditano habits. It fairly quickly went out of business, to be replaced by a ghastly Argentinian restaurant. "Sobre los gustos, no hay nada escrito".

Tagliatelle with rabbit sauce

This is vaguely inspired by the classic Tuscan hare sauce, pappardelle con il sugo di lepre. I've never managed to buy hare, so I substituted it with rabbit. Also, whenever I've tried following a recipe for this dish I've never managed to produce the velvety texture I remember from the time I ate this in Lucca. so I decided to forget about the recipes and just make it my own way, and this is what I came up with. (The original version wouldn't have either tomatoes or paprika in it.)

1 rabbit, cut into joints
3 bay leaves
olive oil
1/2 an onion, very finely chopped
1 clove of garlic
2 teaspoons of paprika
2 finely chopped tomatoes
2 tablespoons of flour

  1. Put the rabbit in a pot with the bay leaves, sprinkle over a little salt, and just cover with water. Bring to the boil, reduce to minimum, and simmer for one hour until the rabbit is very tender.
  2. Remove the rabbit from the pot (reserve the cooking broth as stock and for use later in this recipe) and allow to cool. Remove all the flesh from the bones. (Discard any flaps of meat, as these are sheet muscles which tend to be a bit fibrous, but keep the liver, kidneys and heart.)
  3. Fry the onion gently in plenty of olive oil, adding the garlic towards the end. Once the onion and garlic are cooked, add the paprika, stir and fry for another 30 seconds or so. Add the tomato and cook until the sauce is quite thick.
  4. Add a good slug of olive oil, and then sprinkle the flour into the sauce, stirring well. Cook for a couple more minutes, and then gradually add a couple of ladles of the rabbit broth. (The sauce should thicken at this stage, a bit like a bechamel.) Add the rabbit meat, check for seasoning and add salt if required. Serve with tagiatelle.

Rabbit has a bit of a bad reputation, which I guess is due in part to people's reluctance to eat little furry bunnies, in part to the fact that it can be a little dry if not cooked properly, and in part to its stigmatisation as a 'poverty' food. Last Christmas a minister in the Spanish government turned herself into a bit of a laughing stock by recommending that families struggling to make ends meet could eat rabbit instead, inadvertently putting cunnilingus on Spain's festive menu.

If Picasso cooked rabbit:

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Tortilla (Spanish omelette)

Spaniards are somewhat obsessed with tortilla, and rightly so. It's pretty simple - just a set omelette with potatoes and onions - but when done right it's really delicious. Cookery book explanations are never quite right.

The cooking times and proportions of egg to potato are often wrong, tending to produce a rather dry tortilla. And they often fudge the process of flipping the tortilla over (or even tell you to stick it under a grill). Another problem is that the Spanish concept of frying and the British one are a little different. When Spaniards fry, they use quite a lot of oil, whereas people in Britain tend to try to use as little oil as possible (which kind of defeats the purpose of frying).

The undisputed tortilla queen of Cadiz is Manolita, the mum of Gemma's friends Ana-Cristina and Alejandra, and the method below is hers. As you can see from the photos, she doesn't believe in fancy nonsense like chopping boards. (And I thought I was austere with my prejudice against garlic presses.)

Like many things, I wouldn't usually measure the ingredients when making a tortilla, as it's all about proportions rather than absolute volumes. All you have to do is make sure that you have a few more eggs than you think you need. However, the last time round I decided to measure everything and make a note of it - the quantities below make one good-sized tortilla.

It's also difficult to be precise with cooking times. The perfect tortilla should be a little runny in the middle. However, some people prefer theirs more well-done, and if you're taking it on a picnic you may also want it to be a little firmer.

Plenty of olive oil
1 medium-sized onion, peeled and thinly sliced
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed or very finely chopped
1 kg of potatoes, peeled and quite finely chopped
8 large eggs, beaten
1 teaspoon of salt

  1. Place the onions and plenty of oil in a medium-sized non-stick frying pan, heat gently, and fry until the onions are translucent. Add the garlic, and cook for another minute or so. Place a colander over a large bowl, strain the onions and garlic through it, and return the oil to the pan.
  2. Add the potatoes to the pan, and add more oil if required, so that the potatoes are just about covered. Heat gently, with the lid on, so that the potatoes are both frying and steaming at the same time. Once the potatoes are cooked, straing them in the colander containing the cooked onions. (The oil which gathers in the bowl below can be reused.)
  3. Allow the potato and onion mixture to cool for a few minutes, then add the beaten eggs and the salt, and mix well. If the mixture looks too 'potatoey', add another beaten egg.
  4. Return a little of the oil to the frying pan (just enough to form a very thin layer on the bottom), heat it gently (being careful not to let it get to hot), pour the omelette mixture into the pan, turn heat to minimum, cover and cook for about 10 minutes, until the bottom and sides of the omelette have set, but the top is still runny.
  5. Flip it over using one of the methods described below, and finish cooking for another 3 minutes on a low heat. Flip the tortilla out of the pan onto a serving plate (see below).

The flip
One of the scary bits of making a tortilla for the first time is how to flip it over when it is halfway through cooking. Here are three ways of doing this.
Method 1: Two Pans
This is my method. I have two identical pans. When the tortilla is cooked underneath, I put a little bit of oil in the second pan, place it face down on top of the first one, hold the two together (using oven gloves!) and flip them over. The tortilla thus ends up face down in the second pan, ready to continue cooking.
Method 2: One Pan - Two Plates
This is an adaptation of the traditional Spanish method, made a bit easier for guiris. When the tortilla is ready to flip, place a large dinner plate face down on top of it and flip it over (using oven gloves) so that your tortilla is now cooked side up on the plate. Now get another plate, place it face down on top of the raw tortilla, and flip again, so that the tortilla is raw side up on the second plate. Finally, put the frying pan face down over the tortilla, and flip so that the tortilla is raw side down in the pan, and carry on cooking.
Method 3: One Pan - One Lid
This is the authentic Spanish method. When the tortilla is cooked underneath, place a large frying pan lid face down on top of it and flip it over (using oven gloves) so that your tortilla is now cooked side up on the lid (As in Method 2.) Now slide it back into the frying pan so that it is raw side down, and carry on cooking.

As a child, I remember my mother making 'Spanish omelette', and it turning out as scrambled egg with some sauteed potatoes in it. (Still good, but not quite the real thing.) Since then, my mum has had a masterclass from Manolita and now produces top notch authentic tortillas.