Cazuela : seafood-pasta-fish soup from Andalucía

I´ve often heard people complain about Spanish food, particulary the food in the south. My knee jerk reaction to this is "bollocks/idiot tourists/you don´t like food anyway". But on cool reflection, I can see their point. If you´re a tourist in Spain, you´re often at the mercy of the sort of people who serve every single thing floating in a pool of orangey oil. You might not see a vegetable for days on end, or else you´ll be subjected to the "ensalada mixta" world of iceberg lettuce and shredded carrot from a jar. I know. I´ve had that, and it sucks. 
But of course that´s not real food, right?
There are a lot of simple  homely dishes, full of vegetables even, that never make it to restaurant tables, and so tourists go away with a lot of bad ideas in their heads and some inferior jamón from the duty free shop in their bags. No wonder they badmouth us.
Here´s one of these,  a warming, beautiful chunky soup of fish, vegetables and pasta, deep yellow from the saffron. 
Cecilia gave me this recipe, but I´ve adapted it. She is a wonderful cook, and I could never hope to rival the real thing, so I might as well take a few shortcuts. The beauty of it is that it´s a blueprint, so you can change any of the main ingredients to suit what you have to hand, and tailor it to the season or your stores.

For four (more or less) you´ll need 2 litres of light fish stock. I make this by buying a block of la Sirena frozen fish fumet and dissolving it in two litres of water instead of the recommended one.

250 gr. of pasta, some short thick noodles, or the ones shaped like rice
or rice, about a cup, or 500 gr. of potatoes cut in chunks. Whatever you have, but remember that the cooking time will be different, so adapt accordingly.

Likewise, the fish is your choice, but I normally go with frozen prawns (250 gr) and a piece of desalted cod, or maybe some frozen hake. But mussels, clams, and any other white fish are more than fine.

The veg is again a matter of taste, but keep it in the range of asparagus, artichokes, spinach, that sort of thing. Not too many, this is a Spanish dish after all, it won´t do to make it all green.

For the sofrito, a small tin of plum tomatoes, an onion, a clove of garlic and a green pepper.
Start with this first, sauteeing the onion, then adding the pepper, then the tomato and garlic, and letting it go sweet and soft ( a spoonful of sugar is always a good idea).
Add the stock and a pinch of saffron threads, or a teaspoonful of paprika, or both.
Let this simmer for a few minutes, then liquidize it if you like ( I don´t often bother).
Add the pasta and vegetables. The fish should go in when the pasta is about five minutes away from being ready.
This is not a dish that needs to be exactly al dente, in fact the tradition here is to serve it pretty soggy, and the fish won´t be mortally dry with all that liquid around. But still, watch it carefully, taste for salt and pepper, and serve with lots of nice doughy bread and a big green salad.
See, that wasn´t so bad, surely?


Last week´s picnic

Five days spent chiefly walking around olive groves or sitting by a roaring fire are great. However, when you come back there´s so much to do that you forget it was so lovely. Almost.
Just a week ago I prepared a picnic. For one, because I love that little Habitat lunchbox. And for another because the bars along the Andalucía road serve abysmal food, at three star prices.
So I packed two stories with those old time classics of the Spanish picnic: deep fried breaded meat (stolen from my mother´s fridge) and two empanadillas from the market.
The remaining two held thick sandwiches made from loaf bread from La Tahona in Santa Engracia, filled with roast tomatoes from my freezer and mashed avocado.
I´m a big fan of tricked out mayo from a jar, and it has plenty of moments, but for a sandwich that combines good looks with a vitaminic kick, plus all the gorgeous fattiness you really need in a proper sarnie, it has to be avocado.
A couple of tangerines and you´re all set for the rest of the drive, with maybe a stopover for coffee and one of those really bad chocolate bars that you´d only think of eating when inside a car.


Hearty soups and an Anglo-Sherry condiment.

Here´s the hearty potaje I promised. A potaje is a thick soup/stew made in one pot and containing a variety of vegetables, some kind of bean and various assorted cured bits of pork, anything from a few rounds of chorizo to a whole pig´s ear.
And yes, I wrote about it a year ago. It can´t be helped, soups have a habit of turning up again and again. They´re never exactly the same, of course, but they´re pretty much sister soups, and I can´t justify whole blog posts about each one. All potajes are more or less the same, in spirit if not in deed, and they benefit from being prepard to fit a general pattern rather than a strict recipe, I think.

All I can say is:

1-make your life easier, and use tinned or jarred beans or chickpeas (not lentils). It´s the one sure and painless way of knowing they won´t be hard, or mushy, but just right. If you´re cooking for a crowd, look out for the 3kg. tins. They´re so cool, I´m longing to buy one, but haven´t yet found the right occasion for it.

2- Start with a sofrito. It doesn´t matter what it is, wether the Italian onion-celery-carrot or the Spanish onion-pepper-garlic-tomato, a mixture or the two, or whatever you have around. This isn´t traditional here, but it helps things along so much that:

3- you don´t really need so much pork floating around. It´s good, yes, but it will also make the thing heavy, and you´ll either have to restrain yourself to a single bowl (impossible) or spend the rest of the afternoon in a dazed stupor.

4- instead, mix lots of vegetables in. My last success had onion, carrot, celery, cabbage, potato, tomatoes, green beans and spinach, as well as chickpeas. Even my father, that notorious carnivore, had a big bowl.

5- Finishing touches in a contrasting colour make it so much prettier than the usual sludgy brown. Consider spinach, peas, parsley, or even cherry tomatoes.

6- I always have the second bowl mixed with salad. I love the crunch and the vinegary touch.
If you can´t be bothered to make a salad, some hot peppers in brine will do nicely, or failing that, just a dash of vinegar or lemon juice.

Or, you can do what J´s mother tells me is an old Anglo-Sherry* tradition:

Put a garlic clove and a hot chili pepper in a jar and fill it with dry sherry, sherry vinegar or a mixture of the two. Leave it to seep for a week, and use it to drizzle over your lentejas/garbanzos/judías.

I´ve never tried it, but will make a jar today so it´s ready by the time I return on Monday. We´re going to Málaga. Will report back. Happy Thanksgiving or just plain old weekend.

*Anglo-Sherry is the affectionate term for the descendants of the English, Irish or French winemakers and exporters who came to Jerez in the XVIII century and made the town and the wine famous.


Fame and glory

Bring out the champagne. Lobstersquad has had its moment in the sun, being mentioned alongside five other seriously Big Blogs in this article of Kate Salter´s . It appeared in Stella, a supplement of the Sunday Telegraph, and I´m still recovering from the excitement.
But expect some heartwarming dish tomorrow. It´s raining in Madrid at last.


Spanish classics: 1080 recetas y macarrones con chorizo

When I wrote this post about why I don´t like Spanish cookbooks, there was a certain mini buzz. Some agreed, some didn´t. Some pointed out that las milochenta, as 1080 recetas de cocina is usually known, is a really good book, really, really.
Now that it´s out in English, I´ve had occasion to rethink all that I said, and you know what? I stand my ground. Spanish books are no good, folks, sorry, but that´s how it goes.
The 1080 recipes as published by Phaidon is amazing. It´s so beautiful that I almost bought it yesterday, and in fact I probably will buy it. And why? For the text? No. I already have a copy of the text, the pretty boring text, one recipe after another, solid, old fashioned and in places quaint (margerine? drenching pasta in cold water after cooking it?). So the text is the same
It´s the book that´s gorgeous. The paper, the glue, the cardboard, the ink. The photographs, which made me drool over merluza en salsa verde, one of the dishes I´ve groaned most over all my life (that´s my thing. It´s very delicious; I just have merluza en salsa verde issues). And the illustrations...well. 
Kill me. Seriously. Tear out my heart and feed it to wolves.
Why hasn´t this book been published in Spain? Because Spanish publishers are too stingy to pay Mariscal to make hundreds of drawings, that´s why. Why hire the most famous illustrator/designer in Spain, when you can make a perfectly soporiferous edition with some XIXth century clip-art etchings? Why would you want to make something as pedestrian as scrambled eggs come alive with a bunch of squiggly colourful lines? This is a book, after all, and it practically sells itself, no need to spend money on it.
So you see, if I were in an apocalyptic mood, I´d say this is the Armada all over again. But I´m not. I´m in a good mood. This book makes me see Spanish food as it should be seen, as people abroad see it. When I read "potaje de garbanzos" I don´t see the mock-horror pallid version I was served at school, but something else. It´s the Mediterranean dream, the orange blossom, lace mantilla, donkey at the door, guitars and geraniums version of garbanzos. Which is great.
And because a good mood and 4ºC entitle one to a certain calorific leeway, here´s a recipe for the standard comfort food classic, macarrones con chorizo, our mac n´cheese. It´s not the one in 1080, but the one we make at home.

Macarrones con chorizo
500 gr. penne rigate
2 cooking chorizos
1 big jar (about 500 gr.) of good tomato sauce
1 onion, minced
1 clove of garlic, if you like
maybe a dash of cayenne
Manchego or gruyère, grated, as much as you like

Boil the pasta, and preheat the oven to 180ºC.
In a wide frying pan, heat some olive oil and sautée the chorizo and finely chopped onion. The idea is to make this as the pasta cooks, so it has to be a strong fire. Ideally you´d do this slowly, but this isn´t a dish for finesse.
Once they´re cooked and orange from the pimentón in the chorizo, add the tomato sauce and give it a good stirring bubble. Add some sugar, chili, etc, to taste. Maybe even a dash of ketchup (shh).Toss the pasta with the sauce. It might not look too well coated, but that´s ok.
Put it in a gratin dish, dot with the grated cheese, and leave it in the oven until golden and crusty.
Try to sit next to the person who picks out the chorizo and leaves it on the side of the plate (me).



Some people hate leftovers, and I don´t know why. Cook once, eat two or three times is my motto.
Some meals beg to be used that way. It´s just plain good sense to make a beautiful salad out of lentils and the last cuts from a joint of roast beef, or build high roast chicken sandwiches.
Which is fine the second time. But if you should have to dish things up a third time, which does happen in a household of two like mine, then we´re up against the deja vù factor. It´s not that you hate the food, not at all. It´s just that you´ve been seeing it every time you open the fridge, and it´s beginning to seem like it´s been there for a whole ice age.
There are classics like ropa vieja or hash or revueltos or fried rice that are a great way of recycling things. But you can still see whatever it was that was bugging you. And the question will be aired. "Isn´t this the cabbage from Saturday?" they´ll say. And even though it tastes good, you´ll start to like it less,
Layering is the answer. Lasagna, or pie, will hide the offending morsels and turn them into the savory heart of something new and exciting. If it´s nestling between dough and cheese, and you can´t see it, who cares what it is?
However, it will also make them go further, which might mean more leftovers.
The way to stop this from turning into a Tantallus circle is to go with empanadillas (the oven kind, as of course I don´t fry).
This recipe makes enough dough for 12 pasties, and they´ll go fast, between dinner and breakfast. And if not, they freeze well, and are perfect candidates for a lunchbox.
It´s a cocarrois dough, and apart from leftovers it can hold the raw filling cocarrois, or the quick and sneaky spinach filling here (don´t forget the garlic and pimentón).
When I did it on Monday, it took me thirty minutes to heat up the oven, rummage around for the ingredients, make the dough, spill pints of olive oil on a new cashmere jumper, curse a lot, try to wash it off, make the filling with the leftover meat and vegetables and a can of fried onions, some raisins and a dash of Old Bay spice (thanks, Heather!), roll out the balls, fill them and pop them in the oven.
Provided you are less clumsy than I, you can count on at least eight minutes less than that, which isn´t bad going. I don´t count the half hour in the oven, because that isn´t actual work.

Masa de empanadillas para horno

Preheat the oven to 180ºC
In the Th, mix 50 gr. butter (or lard), 50 gr. oil, 100 ml. water, one egg and half a teaspoonful of salt. Add 340 gr. or so of flour, and mix 20 seconds on speed 6.
The dough should be soft and supple and easy to work with. Make 12 balls, roll them out, and don´t overfill.
Bake approx. half an hour, until golden.
They´re better lukewarm, good luck waiting.


The art of breakfast: Thermomix porridge

The cold has finally kicked in, so I´ve had my first bowl of porridge this morning. I went for it without looking up the recipe, because I thought that, having made it dozens of times over last year would have ingrained the thing deep in my brain.

Not so. I realized, five minutes into the process, that I´d skipped a couple of the steps in this recipe . But when it came out perfecty, I realized I´d actually simplified the whole thing so much that it´s now a no brainer, easier than ever, omigod unbeliable return on investment.

No bringing the water to the boil, no scattering of the cereal. Because the Thermomix stirs as it heats, you can bung in a cup of rolled oats, pulse number 6 a couple of times so they´re steel cut, add two cups of water and then either leave the thing 8 minutes at 100º, or start with Varoma for 3 minutes and then turn down to 90ºC.

Instant oats, but the real thing. The perfect breakfast, with brown sugar and milk. I´m so happy to have discovered this, and also this blog, which I´m loving already. My drawing is a kind of sketchy homage.


Frozen spinach

Eek!, you say.
Do I want curses beating about my head? Haven´t I seen the River Cottage DVDs a million times? What am I thinking?
Well, I´m thinking that in real life it´s not always possible to have the fresh stuff to hand. It´s not practical to have whole bunches of spinach in danger of wilting lying around your fridge. Sometimes you just want a few leaves to provide a green note in a bowl of soup. Or you´re in a hurry and can´t really stop to trim and clean a whole lot of leaves. Or you can´t be bothered, and what´s wrong with that? It just makes sense to have some spinach (and peas, and green beans) stashed in the freezer, however many times a week you go to the market.
I grew up in a house where frozen spinach is boiled and then sautéed. But here´s how I do it which is quicker, and only uses one pan. If anyone thinks this is a dodgy method and I´ll die in convulsions pretty soon, please don´t tell me. I think it´s just great.

All you need is a heavy skillet with a lid. Heat a little olive oil in it and add your frozen spinach. It helps if it´s in pieces the size of undernourished golf balls, which is of course the lowly kind of frozen spinach, and if you think this is going from bad to worse, that´s too bad.
Add salt, cover the pan, turn down the heat. Wait maybe five minutes, dduring which time you can shake it a little. That´s it. Your perfectly serviceable spinach, without having to wait, drain, or do anything boring.
You can add cream and let it bubble down, of course. And before adding the spinach you can brown a little garlic, and add raisins. Pimentón will go well at the end, if you´re so minded, or nutmeg. Anything, really.
It´s not spectacular, but when there´s a lunchbox to be filled, or a lasagna/spanakópita to be assembled at a moment´s notice, it´s pretty good.


East wind in the kitchen

I´m rushed off my feet, so all the posts about interesting Spanish stuff will have to wait. When not working, I´m reading Fuchsia Dunlop´s "Land of Plenty" and "The Revolutionary Chinese cookbook". And the work is about a little Singaporean girl who loved food (not the one in the picture, which is from a guidebook of China). So it´s all East is east around here for the time being.
We´ll be having this for dinner. It sounds like the sort of comforting one bowl dish that´s just perfect for a Tuesday evening when you´re in the throes of a nasty cold.


Nigella´s chocolate-chocoalte chip cookies

The chocolate choclate-chip cookie has always seemed to me a rampant case of gilding refined gold and painting the lily.
Provided you use enough real chocolate chips, you don´t really need the extra boost from cocoa in the dough.
But then again...there´s something very seductive in an all chocolate cookie. It´s unapologetic, which I appreciate.
Take these, from Nigella Express. She doesn´t just bump up the chocolate content with cocoa, but with chocolate as well, so that even the raw dough is irresistible. And the end result? To quote the Domestic Goddess herself, they are chocolatey to the point of madness. Yes, they are insane. But you don´t have to have all twelve at a sitting, you know. Have one (ok, two) and freeze the rest.
That way, if you suddenly decide to have a couple of friends over for coffee, you can defrost them quickly. The chips will melt every so slightly, as will your friends. And most likely, they´ll ask for the recipe, so here it is:

125 gr. dark chocolate
150 gr. flour
30 gr. cocoa
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
125 gr. soft butter
50 gr. brown sugar
50 gr. white sugar
1 egg, cold from the fridge
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
250 gr. dark chocolate chips ( I use Valor 70%)

Preheat oven to 170ºC.
Melt the chocolate in the microwave in a couple of minute bursts at medium strength so that it doesn´t melt too fast.
Cream the butter and sugars ( I use the Thermomix.Follow sect book rules)
Add the melted chocolate, the vanilla and the egg. At this point it´s the most delicious mousse ever.
Add the flour and the chips.
This amount makes 12 mammoth cookies of the icce-cream scoop and spoon size. They´ll take about 15-18 minutes to cook.
Watch them like a hawk, and take them out the minute the bottom´s dark.
After five minutes on the baking sheet they´ll be hard enough to transfer to a rack to cool.