Showing posts with label Spanish. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Spanish. Show all posts

Scrumptious Snippets: Cheeky drams, paella parties, and spring rejuvenations

Scotch Malt Whisky Society Mixology.
Marvellous malt whisky mixology.
I'm not sure if it's because more and more people appear to be reading Scrumptious Scran (apologies for any immodesty), but I seem to the recipient of a lot foodie news of late. It would be remiss to keep this to myself, so I am starting "Scrumptious Snippets" which is my way of sharing what's capturing the culinary buzz in Edinburgh, and further afield. So here we go...

Clans and Drams - what's your whisky "clan"?

Partial to a wee dram of "the water of life", but bewildered by the sheer diversity of Scotch whisky that's on offer? Well, Edinburgh's Scotch Malt Whisky Society might just have the answer. This May - as part of Homecoming Scotland 2014's Whisky Month - the Society is opening its doors to the public for a series of activities that aim to help people discover which "clan" of whisky they prefer.

Clans and Drams sets out to shake up preconceptions about Scotch that centre on regions or distillery brands, instead focusing purely on taste characteristics by categorising whiskies into 12 clans that include "spicy and sweet" and "deep, rich and dried fruits". Watch out for events throughout the coming month that will help you discover your own "Dram Clan", including a "Clan Whisky Feast" that explores how whisky can be paired with food; and "Clan Cocktails" which will guide punters through the enchanting cocktail mixology that can be applied to uisge beatha.

A full list of the events throughout Clans & Drams month can be found at www.smws.co.uk/clans&drams.

Paella partying at La Tasca

Cooking paella at La Tasca, Edinburgh.
Seriously big paella at La Tasca, Edinburgh.
It's no secret that I love Spanish cuisine. So I was delighted to be invited - the other week - to the re-launch of the Edinburgh branch of Spanish-themed restaurant chain, La Tasca. I must admit that I hadn't previously eaten at this South Charlotte Street restaurant before. So I was intrigued to see what it was like.

Well I have to say I had a very pleasant evening. The sangria flowed freely, and the guests that crowded into the airy basement - where the re-launch party took place - were treated to an impressive demonstration of how to cook paella - using the largest paella pan I have seen this side of Valencia. It wasn't all theatre, however, as the finished product also tasted very good. Having chatted to some of the Spanish and South American staff behind the restaurant, they certainly seem to be passionate about creating an authentic Spanish dining experience. I think I shall be heading back soon to sample more of what is on offer.

Recipe: Crab and prawn croquetas

Picture of crab and prawn croquetas with lemon slice and a glass of beer.
Hot croquetas, warm day, cool beer, perfection!
A couple of posts ago on Scrumptious Scran, I reviewed José Pizarro’s excellent cookbook of Spanish cuisine, Spanish Flavours. Following on from the review, I really wanted to try one of the recipes from the book for the blog; proof of the pudding (or pagination) is, after all, in the eating. So packed is Spanish Flavours with alluring recipes, one might think my choice of what to cook would be a tricky one, but this wasn’t the case at all. Newly armed with my trusty deep fryer, I knew I was going to attempt my take on José’s recipe for crab and prawn croquetas.

Whenever I’m lucky enough to be in Spain, or in a decent Spanish restaurant in the UK, I always make a habit of sampling croquetas, where these are on offer. And to be frank, you would be hard pressed to find a Spanish bar or restaurant that doesn’t serve some version of this tasty little tapa, so ubiquitous is the dish throughout Spain. Crisp and golden on the outside, yet soft, moist and flavour-packed on the inside, the beauty of croquetas lies both in their simplicity and versatility. Fundamentally, all a croqueta consists of is a thick béchamel sauce with assorted ingredients added to flavour this. This mixture is then chilled, formed into lozenge shapes, coated in breadcrumbs and deep fried.

They key to making decent croquetas is ensuring the béchamel sauce is suitably thick but silky smooth, and choosing an appropriately flavoursome additive to incorporate in this. And there are many such ingredients from which to choose. I’ve sampled delicious chicken croquetas in Barcelona, ones flavoursomely made with Serrano ham and Manchego cheese, in Madrid, and a fantastically fishy variety containing bacaloa (salt cod), in Seville. To be honest, it’s possible – within reason – to enhance a croqueta with whatever flavouring ingredient takes one’s fancy. Also, every bar and kitchen will have its own tweaks for each basic croqueta variety, making for a joyful pastime that is bar hopping and trying to asses which serves the best.

Book Review: 'Spanish Flavours' to savour

Jose Pizarro - Spanish Flavours.
An abundance of Spanish flavours under the cover.
Squinting through my sunglasses in Edinburgh this past weekend it was almost possible to imagine I was in the Mediterranean, as opposed to Scotland. Clear blue skies, glorious sunshine and – best of all – alfresco dining. Eating outside on a balmy summer’s day or evening is one of my favourite culinary pastimes – whether in the UK or somewhere more exotic, such as Italy or Spain. How appropriate then that I found myself sat in the green behind Scrumptious Scran Towers snacking on tapas whilst thumbing through Spanish Flavours, the latest book by Spanish-born and UK-based Chef, José Pizarro.

Growing up on a farm in the western Spanish region of Extremadura, it was whilst he was studying as a dental technician that Pizarro discovered his love for cooking. This lead to him attending cookery school, and ultimately a stint at Madrid’s award-winning restaurant Meson de Doña Filo where he cooked nuevacocina - the deconstructed approach to Spanish cuisine made famous by Ferran Adrià of El Bulli. Fourteen years ago Pizarro relocated to London in order to “try something different”. After achieving this as a key player behind London’s new wave of Spanish eateries such as Eyre Brothers, Gaudí and Brindisa he chose to open his own sherry and tapas bar José, closely followed by his restaurant Pizzaro. So much for the biography…

Regular readers will know that I love Spanish food, and in Spanish Flavours Pizarro demonstrates how well he knows his way around the mosaic-like cuisine which stem from what sometimes appears to be “…seventeen countries all rolled into one”. Identifying links between history and culture, climatic influences, and the use of common ingredients, the book examines in turn the recipes of Spain’s North, East, Centre, South and its Islands. And in doing so, in each chapter Pizarro provides a lyrical snapshot of the flavours, bars and restaurants, and dishes that make these regions so memorable.

As might be expected from an author grounded in nuevacocina, the recipes are not without a twist and turn, an invention that develops Spanish cooking in a slightly different direction. It’s subtle; the sort of tweaking that might traditionally have allowed one village to steal an edge over its neighbour when it came to claiming the best paella. Yet it’s an alchemy grounded in a mastery of really knowing how those ingredients exemplifying Spanish cooking truly work together.

Recipe: Flavour fiesta – Tarta de Santiago

Tarta de Santiago.
Tarta de Santiago - delicious with ice cream.
Now shocking though it might seem for someone writing a food blog, I don’t have a particularly sweet tooth. Even as a child, I was never particularly mesmerised by bonbons, biscuits, or chocolate and this is a trait that has remained with me to this day. Don’t get me wrong, if I am out to dinner I will more often than not finish proceedings with a sweet of some variety, but this tends to be somewhat of an afterthought.

The upshot of my apparent sweet indifference is that I rarely tend to cook puddings unless I’m entertaining. But when I do, as was the case when cooking my Spanish-themed lunch for friends a couple of weeks ago, one of the sweets I frequently serve is based on the delicious recipe for Tarta de Santiago to be found in the well-thumbed pages of my copy of Moro – the cookbook.

Tarta de Santiago is a deceptively simple, yet incredibly appetising almond-based tart which originates from the Spanish region of Galicia. It literally translates as “St James Tart”, in honour of the patron saint of Spain, the remains of which are buried in the Galician capital city of Santiago de Compostela.

This particular version of the tart combines almonds, with intense citrus notes provided by lemon and orange zest, exotically aromatic cinnamon, and the nutty-fruity flavour that comes from a generous glug of oloroso sherry. The quince paste which is spread on the tart base also gives a fruity, slightly tart hint to the pudding.

Tarta de Santiago can be served either warm or cold and is great accompanied by yoghurt or crème fraiche. Personally, I like to pair it with the delicious ice cream made with vanilla, and raisins soaked in Pedro Ximénez sherry, but you will have to obtain your own copy of Moro – the cookbook, for that particular recipe.

Actually, having just realised how effusive I have been about how good this particular pudding is, maybe it's the case that I’m not so averse to sweets after all…

Recipe: Flavour fiesta – In praise of pimentón; slow roast, marinated shoulder of lamb, with patatas bravas

Slow roast marinated lamb shoulder.
Five hours in the oven - off for a rest.
Pimentón – that’s the answer! This flash of inspiration entered my head when thinking about how I was going to frame a piece about the main course of the Spanish-themed menu I recently cooked. If you have read my previous two posts on Scrummy Scran you will have learnt how I fell in love with Spanish cuisine, and about the Galician seafood soup that kicked off a recent lunch for friends involving the cuisine of Spain. So now to provide some insight into that meal’s main course – marinated, slow roast shoulder of lamb with patatas bravas – and the role pimentón plays in both these dishes.

Pimentón (or paprika, to give the spice its more common Slavic/Hungarian-derived name) is an essential constituent in a plethora of Spanish dishes. It adds a savoury, even earthy element to cooking, which can also be smokey and sometimes fiery. The spice is produced from various varieties of red peppers (Capsicum annuum) which were originally introduced to Spain from South America by Columbus. Grown in the Extremadura and Murcia regions of Spain, when ripe the peppers are harvested and then dried (frequently over oak fires, which give the spice a deep smokey note) before being stone ground to form a fine powder. Depending on the variety of red pepper used, the pimentón produced can be sweet, bittersweet, or picante (or hot, if a species of chilli is the predominant capsicum constituent). The smokey, earthy flavours of pimentón are essential to both my main course dishes, but work with these in different ways.

Firstly, the slow-roast lamb. This consists of a shoulder joint with the bone in (in this case purchased from Edinburgh’s excellent Crombie’s butchers) which is marinated overnight in a mixture of garlic, smoked pimentón, sherry vinegar, oregano and olive oil. When preparing this dish, I place the joint in a large, re-sealable freezer bag and pour in the marinade, before massaging it into the lamb, and placing in fridge. The several hours immersed in this mixture allows the vinegar and oil to carry the herb and spice flavours deep into the flesh, beautifully complementing the taste of the spring lamb. It is then slowly roast for at least four-six hours, which makes the meat both succulent and so tender it can be carved with forks, as opposed to knives.

Patatas bravas.
Patatas bravas - the pleasure of pimentón.
For the patas bravas, the pimentón is of the picante variety. This really provides a kick of heat to the
rich, slightly fruity, tomato and herb sauce that compliments the crispy roast potatoes. And before any traditionalists jump in, yes the potatoes are normally deep fried but I prefer coat them in olive oil and seasoning and then roast them in a ceramic dish. They are just as beautifully golden on the outside, soft and fluffy on the inside, and you hear a satisfying bubbling from the sauce as it is poured on the spuds just after they emerge from the oven.

When preparing these recipes they work best when using a good quality pimentón – either pimentón de la Vera (which is smoked), or Pimentón de Murcia (which is not smoked). Both these have their authenticity protected, and come in the sweet, bitter-sweet, and picante varients.

The following recipes are my interpretations of those to be found in the excellent Moro: The Cookbook, which – as I have mentioned in previous posts – has been a big influence on my ventures into cooking Spanish cuisine. I would accompany the dishes with either steamed, new season broad beans, or the excellent chickpea, tomato and cucumber salad, which is also listed in the Moro cookbook.

The dishes will easily serve four people as a main course.

Recipe: Flavour fiesta - Caldo de pescado (Galician fish soup with clams and prawns)

Caldo de pescado fish soup.
Delicious Caldo de pescado.
I have yet to visit Galicia, but it is very much on my ‘to do’ list. Perched at the very north-western corner of Spain, it is meant to be beautifully mountainous and has a much more temperate climate than the rest of the country, thanks to its proximity to the Atlantic. Given Galicia’s closeness to the ocean, and the fact its coastline is more than 1,500 km in length, it’s unsurprising that fishing is a mainstay of the region’s economy. Vigo – Galicia’s main port – is believed to be second only to Tokyo in terms of the quantity of fish landed annually, with an incredible 733,000 metric tons of seafood passing through the port in 2007.

This wee geography lesson is just my way of getting to the point that Galicians love their seafood, and they have some fantastic ways to prepare it. When cooking with good quality, fresh seafood, dishes don’t necessarily have to be complicated. This recipe for Caldo de pescado (Galician fish soup with clams and prawns) demonstrates that fact beautifully. It’s my own take on a recipe that appears in the Casa Moro cookbook, and which originates from one of Moro’s Galician chefs, David Loureiro Martinez.

Foodie Thoughts: Flavour fiesta - How I fell for Spanish cuisine...

Mercat de La Boqueria.
Mercat de La Boqueria (Filip Maljkovic/Wikimedia)
Anyone reading my previous posts on the Scrumptious Scran blog will gather that I’m a big fan of Mediterranean food, and Spanish cuisine in particular. I can trace my interest in Spanish food back to my first 'proper' visit to Spain in the mid-1990s. The family holiday to the Costa Brava, ten years earlier, though enjoyable didn’t involve the teenage me eating much that could be considered ‘typically’ Spanish, as I recall.

In 1994, my long-time pal David and I visited Barcelona for a few days, staying in a friend of a friend’s delightfully shabby apartment in the city’s El Raval district. This was two years after the Olympics had put Spain’s second city firmly on the map as a tourist destination. Yet the neighbourhoods – 'barris' in Catalan – that constitute Barcelona’s old town – Ciutat Vella – were then nowhere near as gentrified or touristy as they are today. Despite the Olympic boost they remained slightly run down, stoically clinging on to their working-class communities, and even being a wee bit gritty in places.

My abiding memories of this first visit to Barcelona are liberally peppered with the smells and tastes of Spanish food and drink. Of course, I now realise that what I was predominantly sampling was the Catalan contribution to what is a 'national' cuisine that is a mosaic of regional variation and speciality. David and I would spend hours in the glorious October sunshine exploring the maze-like lanes off La Rambla, or the Parisian-esque boulevards of El Eixample, stopping to sample the fiesta of food and drink available round every corner, wherever it took our fancy.

Sagrada Familia.

Sagrada Familia (Bgag/Wikimedia)
For breakfast we would partake of the deceptively simple, yet totally delicious, pan amb tomaquet - slices of freshly-baked baguette, drizzled with grassy-flavoured olive oil and liberally rubbed with garlic and sweet tomato. Lunch, often in a workers’ cantina or neighbourhood bar, might consist of a hearty stew of white beans, butifarra sausage and subtly cooked, fantastically tender tripe. Or maybe we would sample esqueixada - a salad of onions, tomatoes, peppers, red wine vinegar and shredded, rehydrated bacalao (salt cod). And if we were partaking of the ubiquitos ‘menu del dia’ (the amazingly reasonable lunch specials) these mains would be precursed with a starter such as sopa de gamba – shrimp soup – and followed with a dessert of luxurious crema catalana. Such a feast would, of course, be accompanied with a chilled bottle of Catalan red wine, or a glass or two of cerveza negra - a dark, nutty lager.

The culinary wonder of Barcelona wasn’t merely confined to its bars and cafes, however. For me, a visit to Mercat de La Boqueria - Barcelona's largest food market - was an utter revelation. Located half way down La Rambla, it is a cathedral to superb ingredients. Stall after stall was (and still is) piled to the rafters with the most amazing produce: gleamingly fresh arrays of fruit and vegetables; butchers selling a myriad of cuts which encompassed - quite literally - everything from nose to tail; an abundance of fish and shellfish, many of which I struggled to identify despite a background in marine biology; cheeses in all shapes, sizes and intensities, and floating forests of hanging hams; purveyors who entirely dedicated their pitch to wild mushrooms, olives and anchovies, nuts and dried fruits of all varieties, or simply sensational salt cod. And then there was the thrill of dining amongst traders and shoppers in the bustling bars adjacent to the market, sampling great tapas and chilled, dry cava.

An offal-ly nice adventure - riñones al jerez (kidneys with sherry) with braised chicory

A glass of tasty sherry.
A nice glass of Amontillado.
Inspired by a recent Guardian article by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall on both the sustainability, and fantastic flavours, associated with cooking offal, I decided to post about my own recent foray into using these cheap and versatile ingredients. Now I know offal isn’t for everyone – my other half included – but as Hugh astutely points out, “If we kill an animal for meat, surely it's respectful to make the most of every scrap?”

Last weekend, with my offal-loathing other half out of town, I decided to swing by Edinburgh’s Farmers’ Market on the hunt for some under-used ingredients with which to cook. I was immediately drawn to some tasty looking venison kidneys on the stall of Fletcher’s of Auchtermuchty. Obviously, venison is a great sustainable, free range product and deer offal – such as the kidneys I plumbed for – has a deserved reputation for great flavour.

Having purchased the main offal ingredient for my supper, the next task was to decide what to pair this with. This was a straightforward choice. As I’ve previously mentioned, I am a big fan of Spanish food. My liking of Spanish cuisine has been significantly inspired by the cooking of London’s Moro restaurant, and their first cook book contains a simple yet delicious recipe for “Riñones al Jerez” – kidneys with sherry, to me and you.

Thankfully, gone are the days when – for many people – the word ‘sherry’ conjured up a mental picture of a dusty bottle of the sickly-sweet ‘cream’ variety, that only left the drinks cabinet at Christmas to provide a tipple for Great Aunt Agnes. For a useful beginner’s guide to how great and versatile sherry can be, check out Andrew Sinclair’s blog in The Guardian. For this recipe go for a dark, dry Oloroso, or slightly lighter, amber Amontillado, but in either case make sure the sherry is good quality.

Kidneys with sherry is a dish that is packed with big, bold, rich flavours and therefore needs an accompaniment that can hold its own and provide a nice counterpoint in terms of taste. A vegetable that really fits this bill is chicory. Though approaching the end of its growing season in April, it’s still possible to get decent specimens of this bitter-flavoured leafy veg, and it’s great braised in butter (which adds a nutty tone), a squeeze of lemon juice, and splash of apple juice (which together provide an accent of sweet and sour). The bitterness of the chicory will lessen and take on the flavour of the other ingredients during the course of a slow braise.

So, whether it be kidneys (or indeed any other offal), chicory, or sherry, why not give more common ingredients a day off and try something just a bit different?

Review: La Mula Obstinada - An authentic tapas experience that certainly is no 'donkey'

La Mula Obstinada Logo

Although I live in – and love – Edinburgh, I sometimes think I should have been born Spanish. I admire Spain’s culture and architecture, and am passionate about Spanish food – a much underrated cuisine in my book. Fortunately, Edinburgh has a smattering of Spanish-influenced eateries, albeit of variable quality and ambience. Portobello’s Malvarosa is intimate and serves great food, Cafe Andaluz is decent enough for a chain, and Barioja – well, sadly, it appears it may have seen better days, I’m sorry to say.

Now there is a welcome “nuevo adición” to Spanish dining in Edinburgh - La Mula Obstinada.  Situated in a slightly cavernous, former warehouse building on Leith’s Queen Charlotte Street, which was previously home to the Englishman, Scotsman and an Irishman bistro, this relative newcomer appears to be making a genuine effort to bring a little bit of Spanish warmth to Edinburgh’s chilly winter (and spring) evenings. 
The venue itself makes the most of its former warehouse credentials, combining whitewashed or bare stone walls with stripped wooden floors, all furnished with rustic-looking tables and chairs and archetypal Spanish art.  Squint, and it’s just possible to believe this is a former cigarette factory in Seville, as opposed to an old warehouse in Leith.

Service was friendly and efficient, and we were quickly seated and briefed on the dining experience ahead. As we had plumbed for the tapas "menu", we were asked if we had any particular culinary dislikes or allergies before it was explained that the tapas consists of dishes largely prepared from fresh, seasonal ingredients.  It’s therefore not a case of choosing from a menu, instead partaking of whatever is ready to serve from the kitchen – which is reassuringly open to the dining area – at that particular moment in time.   It was very enjoyable seeing the chefs prepare an appetising array of tapas dishes which were then efficiently whisked to which ever dining tables had consumed their last delivery of delicious delights.