"Por la mañana, oro, por la tarde, plata, y por la noche, mata". This rather alarming proverb translates loosely as "gold in the morning, silver at midday, killing at night", and is supposed to be advice on eating melons. I don´t know why they´re so indigestible at night, but there you go.
I went to the market this morning to find it almost shuttered, nearly every stall having a printed notice to the effect that they´ll be back at some point.It´s not quite compensation for not being on holiday yet, but it was nice to buy a beautiful half melon, and some peaches, and it´s been a lovely breakfast.


Pasta alla bottarga

Summer. It kind of gets to you, in the end, doesn´t it? You may try to bumble along happily, pretending it´s not here, but before you know it, it will get you in the neck, nastily.
Forgive the hiatus, but really, these temperatures have made anything other than opening the fridge an utopia. Likewise, the computer keys smoke. However, since I´ll be in Estonia by Friday, I´ve taken heart.
Here´s a recipe very suited to summer. Pasta alla bottarga is one of those winners, pasta recipes that can be made while the pasta boils.
Even if it´s just pasta, it can´t fail to be impressive. Bottarga, the dried roe of red tuna, is so exotic, so thorougly mediterranean chic, and so expensive and hard to find, that you have an instant high-impact-low-effort classic on your hands.
I suggest that you attempt this only in case of having recently come into an inheritance, or if some kind friend has recently been to Cádiz and has picked up some of the stuff.
Once home, a piece no bigger than a zippo lighter is enough to feed four, so it´s not so bad.
You just need to peel and grate that piece into a bowl. Cover it with about a half cup of the best olive oil. Chop a bunch of parsely, crush a couple of dried chillies, and add them, together with some grated pepper. Salt need not apply, yet. Leave it to infuse for a little while, half an hour or so.
Then boil your pasta ( I think 500 gr. for 4, but you be the judge). Flat shapes optional, long non-negotiable, and don´t even think about parmesan. When al dente, toss into the bowl, mix well, and check for salt and oil. It may not look like much sauce, but the bottarga is so strong that the little pieces of oily roe clinging to the pasta will be more than enough. A little green salad after this goes down a treat. And if you happen to have any leftovers, it´s also great cold.


Super-cheat´s pissaladiére

I´ve just had a minor epiphany over lunch. Like one does. J´s sister had recommended a new sandwich place in the neighbourhood, so there we went to see if the fuss was justified.
We sat at the bar, and read the paper and sipped icy cañas while they made the sandwiches. In every bar they give you a little something with your drink, some olives or chips. What we got here was so good, so much better than any platonic ideal of any chip or olive or pincho. On the face of it, it was some sort of pissaladiére. However, my keen nose for a shortcut quickly detected the truth. What we are dealing with is a measure of genius of the sort I admire.
This was a torta de aceite of the sort they sell at Viena Lacrem, smeared with a mixture of grated tomato, mashed anchovies and a dash of oregano.
Provided you have ready access to this type of bread, which I think is nothing more sophisticated than a focaccia type of dough that is fried instead of baked, you´re nanoseconds away from heaven.
If not, well, you can make some pizza bases and fry them, of course, but I´m not sure with all that effort the whole thing might become a bit pointless and exponentially less delicious.
You´d be better off sticking with a normal cheat´s pissaladiére, as seen on Lindsay Bareham´s The fish store, or this post of mine from last year.
The sandwiches were excellent, so I´m proud to recommend "El burgado" bocadillería gourmet. c/ Espíritu Santo, 40. 91 521 28 77.
Viena Lacrem, as ever, still reigns supreme over all bakeries in Madrid from its tiny hole-in-the-wall at c/Santa Brígida 6.


Salpicón: seafood salad

Salpicón is one of the best things of the summer. It´s more of a bar food, of the sort that nestles in chilled trays on the bar. If you´re lucky, it will have whatever caught the cook´s fancy that morning at the market. If not, it´ll have been made on Monday with the sweepings of the fridge, and will have languished ever since. Caveat emptor.
In theory, salpicón is a vinaigrette made with three parts olive oil to one of sherry vinegar, and peppers, onions and parsley, chopped very small. Maybe tomato, too, and probably chopped egg ( I told you it was everywhere).
In practice, it´s more of a salad. The chopped vegetables make a substantial base note for a star ingredient, whichever it may be. The most typical is a mixture of seafood, prawns, mussels, octopus. Lobster, maybe, at the top end of the scale, surimi at the bottom. With potatoes, it becomes ensalada campera, or papas aliñás, and is one of the best possible potato salads, I think.
Fish roe is also a favourite, or beans, or salt cod. The variations are almost endless. Just walk into a bar, ask what aliño they have, and have a tapa sent round with your beer. It´s wonderful, and unique in the Spanish canon in its overall healthiness and lack of pig-parts.

Mince two shallots, finely dice one big red pepper, chop a good fistful of parsley leaves. The tomatoes don´t have to be as finely diced. Mix these with the 3/1 olive oil and sherry vinegar , and leave to mingle. Yes, the tomato will make a lot of liquid, but don´t we all love our pot likker?
Make a couple of boiled eggs using the 12 minute method. Thanks to everyone who left it in my comments box. I am a born-again boiled egg lover.
The seafood can be whatever you have on hand. Leftover crab, maybe, or a can of good tuna or sardines, or around 250 gr. steamed prawns. Whatever suits you best. I also love it over beans. In fact, I made salpicón to trick out this recipe from Mark Bittman´s 101 from last week´s NYT.
4 Open a can of white beans and combine with olive oil, salt, small or chopped shrimp, minced garlic and thyme leaves in a pan. Cook, stirring, until the shrimp are done; garnish with more olive oil.
I found it a bit bland, but left to cool, and then mixed with the salpicón and a couple of tomatoes, it was beyond delicious.
The only important rule you should never forget is to mix it a few hours ahead, and leave it in the fridge, well covered, so that flavours have time to mingle. And eat it in the day. It´s meant to be super-fresh and crunchy.


Weekend stuff

I´m going away again. J´s grandmother turns eighty, so we´ll be in Jerez, celebrating the occasion with elegant furore.
Since I don´t want you to suffer in the July heat, I´ll remind you of a very easy, very chic, very refreshing dish that takes three minutes to put together:melon soup.


Pa amb tomàquet: Catalan tomato bread

Now, now, don´t you all start grumbling. I know what you´re going to say. Where does she get off, telling us how to rub tomato on a piece of bread? And, also, that´s some nerve, writing about Catalan tomato bread from enemy territory. Madrid, no less!
Well, you´ll have to forgive me. And catalanes won´t mind, I´m sure. Intercity and sporting rivalry nonwithstanding, even the most diehard madrileño will admit that when it comes to bread and tomatoes, they´re the best. We´ll argue Gaudí, and the beach, and the football, but not the pantumaca.
I learnt how to make pa amb tomàquet in Florence, Italy. Silly, no? I was doing a watercolour course there, and the school arranged accomodation with us. By chance, one of our flatmates was from Barcelona. She it was who initiated me.
I´d spend every morning going to all the galleries and the churches, trying to not wilt in the humid heat, and the afternoon drawing. Our evening ritual was to sit chatting in the shady garden and go through whole bags of tomatoes.
In Sevilla, where I lived then, toast with tomato is made by dousing a piece of bread with olive oil, topping it with slices of tomato, and sprinkling some salt.
The Catalan way is different.It only works with the best, ripest summer tomatoes, so don´t even bother otherwise. And yes, go right ahead and rub garlic first if you like. I think that calls for prior negotiations with everyone in the house, but each to their own.
So, what happens is, the tomato is cut in half , squeezed to let excess juice out, and then rubbed on the bread. Then, and listen up, because I found this pretty strange, you sprinkle the salt. And only at the end do you pour a trickle of olive oil on top. This way, the bread soaks up mostly tomato juice, the salt is quickly absorbed by the tomato, and the little oil sits on top, making all look glossy and beautiful. It´s healthier, and well in keeping with the Catalan tradition of thrift and good graphic design.
Marta, my friend from Barna, who will be on the receiving end of any indignant emails from her native land, also taught me the cheat´s method.
You take the tomatoes, cut them in two, grate them so that you just have pulp in a bowl. Then you salt and oil that, and put it on a table with the bread. People just spread the tomato when they want the bread, and it doesn´t go soggy. With a tortilla, or some jamón or caña de lomo, or tuna, it´s the perfect food for watching a Madrid-Barça match.
And if you´re thinking I´m going to say may the best team win, you´re outta your mind.


Archaeological food: mojama

Here´s one of my favourite all-time tapas, mojama . I love it for its own sake, but even more I love it for the sense of history I get every time I take a bite.
I know it´s silly and snobbish, and that I should feel the same way with bread, or olive oil. But they´re things I´ve been seeing every day of my life, whereas mojama is a bit of an acquired taste, and I acquired it only a few years ago.

Being the salted and dried loin of tuna, it´s very strong. And salty. And dry. I´m sure you guessed that.
In Madrid it seems to be the specialty of a few cervecerías of the old school, where they pull the beer in small, perfect icy cañas with a creamy foam. One bite of the salty mojama is enough to make you order seven cañas, at the very least, so it´s good for business.
They serve it cut in very thin slices, fanned out on a plate, with a few just-toasted almonds, hot from the pan, and a drizzle of the best olive oil. See what I mean? Doesn´t that feel like an illustration of Mediterranean life BC? Don´t you see Dido having a salty snack among the ruins of Cartague?
Provided you can find the mojama, it´s a very easy and impressive aperitivo to serve to guests. Just make sure that you toast the almonds carefully, without adding oil, as theirs will come to the surface in the hot pan. And don´t add salt, on pain of serious dehydration.


Boiled eggs

Hard-boiled eggs. What a hundrum subject, no? Is there anywhere in the world where people don´t boil eggs? I doubt it. But, is there anywhere where they eat as many boiled eggs as we do in Spain? Still doubting.

I´d never given this subject much thought. Then once, over the course of the same week, three people from three different countries said to me "oh, you Spanish and your eggs. You´re obsessed. You put eggs in everything".
If Freud spoke Spanish (and were alive, of course) he´d utter a very loud Aha! at that. For in Spanish eggs are balls. So you could argue that it´s all some macho plot. Or else you could be sensible, and say that eggs are cheap protein, and this has always been a poor, hungry country.

But still, that can´t be all. It just doesn´t make sense that vegetables are always eaten with some form of egg on them. And that hard boiled eggs make their way onto every surface, from salads to soups to sandwiches vegetales to tapas of garbanzos. It´s a joke. I don´t mind a boiled egg every now and then, but I think one must draw the line at considering them a sort of complement to salt and pepper.

To my mind, the worst insult is the dish referred to as huevos a la bandera española, or Spanish flag eggs. It consists of hard boiled eggs, hollowed, filled with whatever you can come by, smothered in bechamel, and then covered with two wide bands of tomato sauce, and a middle band of the chopped yolks.
This is clearly the invention of some separatist republican who could think of nothing worse to do to the flag. Burning one is kinder to the national symbol, I promise. Served hot, these eggs achieve the texture of the costliest rubber. Quite a feat.

Actually, the colour scheme might improve if people didn´t spoil the whole concept by doing what I beleive in technical terms is called "boiling them to buggery". Who wants a pale yellow yalk neatly ringed by grey? Come on, people! It´s grey! The only time that´s acceptable in food is in caviar. Really.

I don´t boil eggs very often, and so every time I have to look up the method. This annoys me, so I´m going to see if by writing it here, I can imprint it on my mind.

If the egg is cold from the fridge, put it in when the water is cold. If not, lower it carefully when the water comes to the boil. Once the thing is at a rolling boil, count the minutes. I think five is good for soft boiled, six should do it so it won´t be runny , and (update) eight for a firm one you can use in a sandwich.
Nigella says to put in a matchstick in the water so that the shell doesn´t crack. I don´t know if that works, but I think it´s fun.


First summer outing

Summer´s here. Dammit.
Granted, it´s taken long enough, so there´s no real reason to complain. But still, I do hate it very much. I see a thermometer marking 39ºC and begin to feel very wretched.
I´m going to spend the weekend in Antequera, down south. That may not seem like a smart move, going to a place even hotter than Madrid. But I think if I move very slowly, and then only from the deck chair in the shade to the pool, I may survive.
To keep you company over the weekend, I´ll leave you with this illustration of the sanfermines, because, you know, why not? and with two recipes from last year. One, the very cooling agua de jamaica , which I´ve been drinking copious amounts of in the past couple of days. Two, porra
, the classic dish of Antequera, and a very good thing to do now that tomatoes are everywhere and so good.
Back on Tuesday. Have fun.


Sausages in a balsamic glaze

My so-flattering mention yesterday in Elise´s Simply Recipes blog spotlight had me in a whirl. I almost expected to have to start signing autographs. It´s also provided the push I needed to organize the blog a little. It´s still not very tidy, but at least now you can see on your right a little list of the recipe labels. Clicking on them will at least get you straight to the recipe posts. I hadn´t realised I´d done so many posts that were just plain and simple jabbering.
And now for the real stuff.
A few months ago I wrote with some indignation on the subject of balsamic vinegar .
It´s still something that can make me go off on one. I still foam at the mouth when confronted with plates that have been dribbled on with some vague idea of being artistic or dashing, or of marking up the price of some ensaladilla rusa.However,
I´ve since been given a recipe that has changed the status of the bottle of balsamic in my cupboard. From dusty embarrassement it has gone straight to the must-haves.
My aunt Begoña gave me this recipe, and if I didn´t love her already, just for this she´d have my undying devotion. It falls under the category of high impact-low effort cooking, and is just so so good.

It takes just two ingredients, fresh butcher´s sausages, and some balsamic vinegar. The basic elemental stuff that´s mostly caramel and who-knows-wat-else.
First, boil the whole sausages briskly for ten or twelve minutes, until they´re cooked trough. They´ll emerge pale and quite gosh-awful looking. This is ok, never fear.(they can be made ahead up to this point, yet another bonus of this marvelous dish)
Take non-stick frying pan that will fit the sausages snugly, and tip some balsamic into it, enough to just cover the bottom. Put your sausages in over a medium heat. The vinegar will start to bubble and reduce, coating the sausages in a sticky glaze. When one side is brown, turn them over.
In a couple of minutes, you´ll have a panful of sausages that will be a dark, glossy brown. They will be sweet and savoury, but the acid of the vinegar will have evaporated. As the sausages are cooked already, all they do is take on the colour and the flavour as the vinegar reduces. It´s very quick.
You´ll be spared the grease, the smokey fug, and the uncertainty of wether the insides are really cooked under the burnt exterior. There is no burnt exterior here, just some fingerlicking marvelous jammy outside.
They can be served with some rice (duh) or salad, but they´re so good, it´s hard to keep them from being eaten on the way to the table.
So, ok, I don´t take back what I said about balsamic glaze as doodled on plates, but I´ll admit that as an actual glaze, and as a sweet-sour complement to something that usually benefits from that treatment, pork, it most definitely has its points.


Bonito con tomate (albacore in tomato sauce)

My mother insists that I say, loud and clear, that J is in every respect a perfect husband, and that he sent a big bouquet of blood-red roses yesterday, just so you know ( and yes, she does mean to imply that I am a shrew and don´t deserve him).
And since today isn´t my aniversary any more, I have no reason to fume. I have the house to myself, which means I have the whole sofa, undisputed control of the remote, and freedom of choice in viewing matter.
I have rented a stack of DVDs that J would hate, mainly The Sopranos, which I´d never got round to watching, and so I´m very happy, really.
I went to the market for fruit and cucumbers, but couldn´t resist buying some bonito. This white tuna is one of my favourite things, and it´s right in season now, which means it costs almost nothing (well, al-most).
So I´ve decided to cook it in a way that will make it very suitable for watching the Sopranos, bonito con tomate.

This is a very simple dish that I really love. It´s just bonito del norte, in a tomato sauce. All you have to do is make a tomato sauce in whichever way you usually do (mine has quite a bit of onion, some garlic and lots of sugar, with a pinch of chili and sometimes some oregano).
You then put the fish in this sauce and let it poach gently, until it´s juicy and white, and breaks into big delicate flakes. Five minutes at most, and let it finish cooking inside the hot sauce.
Of course, as you can imagine, the standard orthodox bona fide recipe calls for frying the fish first, so it browns. But I find that it only makes the dish more greasy, the fish more likely to dry out, and you don´t see the nice brown colour with the whole thing smothered in red sauce.

So there you go. Serve with white rice (this is not the influence of my rice-cooker craziness, but actual tradition).
Leftovers are heavenly with a change of nationality, reincarnated as a pasta sauce.


Alone in the kitchen with a courgette

Today is my third wedding aniversary. Leather. Which sounds a bit dodgy, but never mind. So, am I chilling the champagne? Getting ready for the ritual sacrifice of fat losbters? Lighting the romantic candle? No way. The fact is, my lawful wedded has chosen today of all days to go off on one of his little field trips to see if he can singlehandedly save the planet. I´m telling you, if Spain is a desert in fifty years, it certainly won´t be J´s fault. Mine, maybe, because when he does things like this, I feel like I´ll be dammed if I ever sepparate the trash again. Or worse.

Anyway. Today´s dinner falls into the "alone in the kitchen with an eggplant" category. And since Monday isn´t market day, and I am very dutiful when it comes to dealing with leftovers, I will be having some stirfried courgette, with maybe a little fried rice, and the possibility of an egg. That´s all there is, and it´s not a bad dinner, all told.
I´m not one for weird mixes when I´m alone, and I quite like cooking for myself, but that´s usually for lunch. If I´m alone for dinner, I usually have some crackers, the dry kind, with maybe a little cream cheese, and a couple of carrots. But I did that yesterday, so now it´s down to the courgette and the egg, until I roll out the little red shopping trolley tomorrow.


Rice cooker, yes, again, I know

I have been the proud and happy propietor of a rice cooker for a week now. Even though there hasn´t been a peep about rice on the blog, beleive me, there has been plenty of rice in the kitchen. J is beginning to complain. Even though he comes back for second and third bowls every time, I´ve noticed.
I´ve tried several types of rice. Long grain and short grain, which I make with the 1r=1&1/3w. I wash the short grain well, the long grain just-so.
After making them plain to begin with, and trying them fried once they were cold, I started to branch out.
There was a Hoppin´ John/Congrí-esque thing on Saturday, made with drained tinned black beans and ham in coca-cola stock, to go with the roast pork. Rave reviews.
Sunday was the day of saffron rice.
Tuesday was the classic Spanish combo, plain white rice with pisto and a fried egg, chez maman. I´ve made my mother buy a rice cooker too. She´s very happy with it so far. Dinner at home was Singapore chicken rice, with Thai jasmine, using 1r=1w. Lipsmacking to the utmost degree.
Wednesday I had friends coming over for a working lunch, so I went with a tried and tested fave from days before the wondertool. Steamed salmon rice, as seen here, but sauteeing the mushrooms first.
Thursday I tried brown basmati, 1r=2w. Once cooled, it went in a salad with mint, parsley, diced deseeded cucumber, olive oil, mirin and soy sauce, a Nigella inspired combo that I loved. Light yet filling.
You´ll see that I haven´t moved from the far east, but I´m thinking of coming west by easy stages, with biryanis and pilafs. Ending, who knows, in our very own near-eastern rice, the paella that fills me with such dread?


Slow roast pork for a crowd

I used to be very scared of my oven. It seemed to me that roasting things belonged to a higher order of cooking than the one I did. Making a curry sauce for a chicken seemed so much less daunting than locking it away in a baking hot box.
The day I found out that this is not so, but far otherwise, was a very happy one for me. An epiphany. Stout Cortez was innexpresively blasé in comparison.
Which is why one of my favourite things to serve up when I have a crowd coming is a slow roast hunk of pork. The thing has to stay in the oven for at least four hours, but half an hour up or down makes no difference. It´s better with 24 hours of previous marinating, but it´s also impressively delicious without. The marinade, or the rub, can be anything you like, and so the dish can be taken in any geographical direction. And there´s something festive in a big meaty centerpiece, a soupçon of the fatted calf old-style hospitality.
It is excellent cold, and so can be left on a table for people to carve as they will, and stuff into sandwiches, or eat with potato salad, or some quickly put together beans in vinaigrette. And rice, too, of-course. (Get a rice cooker inmediately!!!!)
As long as you don´t break the cardinal rule taught to me by my mother: have twice as much booze as you think you´ll need, and under pain of death don´t run out of ice, this makes for easy-peasy entertaining. And you won´t have to worry about smoke, or cleaning the grill.

Slow roast pork

The cut I use is aguja, which I think is pork shoulder, but just to be clear, I´ll make a nice little diagram of where in the pig it is.
It´s a cut that is pretty much self-basting, and to my mind, much more juicy and flavourful than any other. It doesn´t dry out, and it costs a fraction of the price of loin, or the little tenderloins. It´s also tear-inducingly good the next day, in sandwiches, tacos, noodles, or empanadas. So it would be very silly of you not to cook as big a piece as you can find.
My butcher usually has a joint weighing about 3 kilos, bone in. This is tastier, but more tricky to carve, so by all means have him cut it out, but don´t forget to put it in the roasting tin.
In Spain they never leave the skin on the meat, so there is no chance of crackling. But I suspect after so long, the skin would be quite tough, so I´m not sure that I´d leave it in if I could.
When not making a Chinese version, or a USA style barbecue sauce, this is my favourite. I think I took it from a NYT article about taco fillings:

Orange juice
coriander seeds,
cumin seeds
olive oil,

Quantities can vary, I think you really have to use your eyes and make it to your liking. Blitz it in a processor, put it in a freezer bag, and leave as long as you can, 24 hours max. Then strain it. You will be left with a paste in the strainer, which you will rub on the meat. The liquid, an oily and spicy orange juice, you will use to baste the piece every now and then, as and if you remember to.

Make little cuts in the meat and slide in slivers of garlic.

Then put it in the hottest oven you can for half an hour. After, turn it down very low, and leave it for four hours at least. It can stay longer, and won´t dry out, as long as we´re talking about a seriously low oven, 110ºC or so. Mine has no switches, so I don´t know exactly what goes on in there, except that it smells heavenly. Once done, you´re left with a deep brown, crusty outside, and a tender, juicy white inside.
Make sure you´re doing the carving, and can snaffle as many bits of charred outside as you can, all the while looking bountiful as you hand out every third slice.


Two steps to make pie as easy as it´s supposed to be

I´ve learnt a two valuable lessons in pastry making this weekend. I´m now going to share them, because I think this is in the nature of public service, and will help all of the teeming dozens who read this blog.

I took these tips from the column of Xanthe Clay . Anyone with an X as their initial has my instant sympathy, but I also love her columns.

The article I´ve linked to has all the information, and recipes. What follows assumes that you have made short crust pastry many times before, and had occasion to gnash your teeth. I highlight here the valuable lessons I put to good use on Saturday.

1- Blind baking. You know, all that thing about the pie weights, and the beans, or the chain, or the marbles? The lining the shell with paper, putting the beans in , waiting for then minutes, then burning yourself when all those lovely now very hot beans spill all over the place? Forget it. The thing to do here is to take some loosely scrunched tin foil, and lay it inside, making sure it presses against the sides. It´s more than enough to keep the pie walls from caving.

2- Soggy crust. No more. As soon as you have done the step two, taking the foil out, letting the shell become golden, you inmediately give it a quick brush with egg white. The heat from the pastry will insure that the thing cooks inmediately, sealing it and effectively making it waterproof.

The pie I made was a pecan pie, and very delicious it was. A cup of pecans, 3 eggs, a 1/4 of cream, 1/2 of maple syrup and a dash of salt turned into a lovely filling for a shortbready sweet short crust shell. Wonderful.