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.

Review: The Skylark – All aboard the Skylark

The Skylark by night
The Skylark by night.
Living on the east side of Edinburgh, it’s always a pleasure to visit the city’s “Riviera” that is Portobello. Though it may have lost some of its Victorian sea-side grandeur, “Porty” – as it is affectionately known – still boasts a great beach and promenade and some fine architecture. What’s more, its villagey feel seems to be continually enhanced by the ever-increasing number of establishments providing decent food and drink.

A relative newcomer amongst these is a smashing wee café-bistro called The Skylark, which is located on Portobello’s High Street (241/243). Open since July 2012, it occupies two former Victorian shop frontages which have been tastefully combined to form a very inviting bar/café/kitchen space. The premises are certainly striking, with the owners having chosen to strip back the décor to reveal bare brick and original architectural features. This goes very well with the mish-mash of shabby-chic tables and chairs with which the place is furnished. Plus, the bar and kitchen area is also open to the rest of the café – always a good sign/brave move if chefs are happy to prepare food in sight of punters. Personally, I love being able to glance at chefs busy preparing my order.