We spent some time over the Christmas period in a little guesthouse with some friends in Spain called Finca Buenvino. The pink-washed castellated building sits perched on top of a hill in the midst of the oak and chestnut forests close to the village of Los Marines in Andalucia. Itâ€™s a little gem of a place, the owners Sam and Jeannie Chesterton are superb original cooks and the house itself has the wonderful comfy feeling of an eccentric Irish country house stuffed with beautiful furniture, an eclectic collection of pictures, antiques, objets dâ€™art, mementoes from their families and travels. The house is full of intriguing books. When we arrived at almost midnight we were welcomed to the strains of the melodious Kingâ€™s College Choir singing Christmas carols. We then tucked into a chunky vegetable, chickpea and noodle soup, slivers of Pata Negra, and slices of local saucisson, Jeannieâ€™s chicken liver pate with country bread and local cheese with home-made quince paste. This is superb walking country with well worn pathways and Roman roads through the woods and over the hills. Many of the walks wend their way through villages with narrow cobbled streets. Along the way there are little pubs and cafes to quench oneâ€™s thirst and nibble local cheese and jamon. This is â€˜Pata Negra countryâ€™, famous for the long legged black Iberian pigs that range freely through the forest, gorging on acorns and chestnuts. The ham from these pigs, complete with hoof, cured in salt and air-dried is referred to as Pata Negra. This sublime cured meat cut into paper thin slivers sells at â‚¬79 a kilo in Ireland. The most famous jamon village Jabugo is just six miles to the West. If I was allowed just one last treat, I think it might have to be a plate of Pata Negra. It is served unadorned with maybe some crusty country bread or a few crunchy picos (tiny bread rolls) to clear the palate. The secret of this truly sublime product is in how the pigs are reared, as ever it is the breed and the feed. They are slaughtered at 18 months, as opposed to 5 or 6 months with our pigs. If you buy Pata Negra make sure you ask for pata negra bellotta, this will come from totally free range pigs. Nowadays because of the increasing demand for this aristocrat of cured meats, some farmers are rearing the pigs more intensively with a consequent deterioration in flavour and texture of the end product. The chestnut crop was very poor this year because of the low rainfall, everyone was pre-occupied by the drought, but guess what we â€˜brought the rainâ€™. On the second day of our holiday it rained and continued to rain softly but steadily for 3 days and 3 nights. Our Spanish friends were delighted and even though the weather was not what we had hoped for , we were delighted by their delight as the water tanks began to fill and the countryside became visibly more verdant. On one of the fine days, Sam and Jeannie packed us all into the jeep to go for a picnic by the lake which is called Embalse de Aracena, about five miles north of Aracena. Their sons Jago and Charlie had strapped a long trestle table and two benches on to the roof, and the boot was packed with victuals. We set up in their favourite picnic spot close to the waterâ€™s edge, beside an abandoned white washed farmhouse house. Jeannie pulled out a paella ring and gas cylinder out of the boot and set about making a mountain paella on a huge paella pan. This type of paella doesnâ€™t have chicken and shellfish, instead Jeannie used rabbit and pork secreta, chopped in small pieces. Secreta is a piece of lean meat from the belly with a little fat still attached, it is sweet, juicy and deliciously succulent. Jeannie also includes squares of red and green pepper, onion and peas, and of course rice. While we waited for the paella to cook, we nibbled saucisson, local cheese and good bread with a glass of fino and beer. Finally the paella was ready for us all to tuck in, it was ladled onto deep plates - we relished every mouthful, a wonderfully comforting dish for a winter picnic. A paella can of course be made at home in a wide frying pan on your stove, not quite so atmospheric but equally delicious and a terrific way to entertain at large group of people.
Jeannieâ€™s Mountain Paella
In Spain one can buy a gas ring specially for cooking paella for a picnic, how wonderful would that be? Look out for Callasparra paella rice.
Serves 10-12 6 tablespoons approximately of extra virgin olive oil 8 cloves garlic, sliced 2 large onions, coarsely chopped 1 large green pepper, cut into 1cm (1/2inch) cubes 1 large red pepper, cut into 1cm (1/2inch) cubes 2 small rabbits, jointed and cut into smallish pieces 1 large pork fillet, cut into cubes, or 350g (12oz) secreta Salt and freshly ground pepper 1 teaspoon saffron 1kg (2 1/4lb) paella rice approximately (generous Â½ cup per person) 1.8 â€“ 2.4l (3-4 pints) homemade chicken stock 450g (1lb) frozen peas Garnish 4 very ripe tomatoes Flat parsley sprigs and coarsely chopped chives Paella pan, 46cm (18 inch) approximately Put lots of olive oil in the paella pan. Add the garlic, onions and peppers. Cook for 4-5 minutes, then add the rabbit and pork pieces. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper. SautÃ© for 15 minutes, soak a teaspoon of saffron in a cup of warm chicken stock and stir around. Add to the pan. Add the rice, (about Â½ cup per person). Add stock to almost cover, stir to blend and then donâ€™t stir again unless absolutely necessary. Add the peas. Bring to the boil and simmer on the gentlest heat for about 20 minutes until the meat is cooked. Stand over it and move the ingredients around a little. Bring the paella pan to the table. Scatter with lots of flat parsley sprigs and some freshly chopped tomato and chives. Serve immediately directly from the pan. A fantastic dish to serve lots of people.
Broad Bean and Potato Soup
This soup is very popular in Extremadura, Sam says it is delicious poured over slices of black pudding, or one could use fish stock and add shrimps to the garnish.
Serves 4-6 Ingredients 2 tablespoons Olive oil 2 large onions 3 large floury potatoes, peeled and diced 450g (1lb) fresh (or frozen) shelled broad beans 1.75 L (3 pints) Chicken stock 6 sprigs fresh Coriander chopped 150ml (5fl.oz) light Cream + a little to garnish salt and freshly ground pepper Heat the oil in a large pan and fry the onions till soft about 5 minutes. Do not burn them. Add the potatoes, most of the beans (reserving a good handful for the garnish) and the stock, and bring to the boil. Simmer for 5 minutes, then add the coriander and simmer for a further 10 minutes. Blend the soup in batches in a food processor or blender, then return to the rinsed pan. Stir in the cream, season , and bring back to the simmer. Serve garnished with the coriander, beans and a drop of cream swirled in on top.
Rice with Rabbit
Here is a Catalan rice dish Sam & Jeannie prepare on their cookery courses, its not quite a paella.
Serves 4-6 Approximately 800 g (1Â¾ lb) rabbit, jointed. You could substitute with good organic chicken if you prefer. 1 medium red bell pepper (Capsicum) 1 onion 5 ripe tomatoes, grated. 100 g (3Â½ oz) sweet peas 400 g (14oz) paella rice 300ml (10fl.oz) olive oil 2 cloves of garlic A few strands of saffron 20 g (Â¾ oz) toasted almonds Salt Game stock (rabbit or quail or pheasant) -or chicken stock if you are using chicken. You will need at least twice as much volume of stock as of rice and some to moisten the dish as you cook. Put the oil in an earthenware casserole on a high heat, and when the oil is hot, put the pieces of meat into it carefully (with tongs if you have them) and let them sautÃ© slowly until they are browned. Take them out of the oil with a slotted spoon and reserve. Now throw in the finely grated onion and the chopped bell pepper, stir continuously until lightly browned, and immediately add the grated tomato, and allow to simmer. You might need to turn the heat down a bit, but you will need enough heat for the liquid to evaporate 3 or 4 times (Hence the extra stock, for a rich flavour, or you may use water at this point of the recipe). This step is quite important as the sauce (a sofrito) needs to cook down, and the acidity has to be removed from the tomatoes by this lengthier cooking. When the tomato liquid has reduced add a ladle of water, continue to simmer until evaporated, then add another ladle full of water. When this has reduced add a ladle of stock and continue reducing until the Sofrito is a smooth sauce consistency. Now put the rabbit pieces back into the sauce and stir until they are well covered, do this for about 10 minutes. If the dish looks like drying out add more stock. Now add all the stock and the peas and let it come to a boil. Pound the saffron, garlic and almonds in a mortar to make a picada (paste). Splash in a little stock or water to loosen it up. When the pan of broth and rabbit is at a rumble, tip in the rice, stirring constantly to stop it sticking. Season with salt. At the end of 10 minutes of cooking over a high flame, stir the picada into the pot. When it is well amalgamated, remove from the fire and check for salt, then place in a medium hot oven for about 8 minutes until all the liquid has been absorbed. Sprinkle with a little olive oil, and allow to stand for a couple of minutes before serving. Garnish with parsley.
Almond Rice Pudding
This is a useful cold dish and Sam & Jeannie serve it with their pears poached in Oloroso sherry with cardamom and lemon peel; or with caramelised orange slices.
It is a descendent of the 17th century blancmange, ground almonds and sugar cooked in milk...but with rice added. Serves 6 The infusion: 500ml (18fl.oz) milk 1/2 cinnamon stick 1 clove 100 g (3 Â½ oz) pudding rice (they use paella rice actually) 40 g (1Â½ oz) of freshly ground blanched peeled almonds 250 ml (9fl.oz) cream 2 Tsp orange flower water 2 tsp of powdered gelatine 1 tablespoon warm milk 75 g (3oz) sugar 2 egg whites. Prepare 6 dariole moulds by lightly greasing them with a little sunflower oil. Bring the milk and the spices to the boil. Stir in the rice, gradually. Cover with a lid and simmer until the rice is tender. Add the almonds and the cream and cook, stirring for about 10 minutes until the mixture thickens. Sprinkle the gelatine over the tablespoon of warm milk in a mug, and stand in hot water. Stir until dissolved, and add the 2 teaspoonfulls of orange flower water. Remove clove and cinnamon stick from the rice, and stir in the gelatine mixture and the sugar. Allow to cool. Beat the egg whites to soft peaks and fold into the rice, about half of the whites at a time. Spoon the mixture into the dariole moulds and allow to set in a refrigerator overnight. This can be served with a spiced syrup or with caramelised oranges, or pears poached in oloroso.
Sherry and Raisin Ice cream
(helado con Pasas al Pedro Jimenez)
This is a really sumptuous ice-cream Serves 4-6 150g (5oz) raisins 125 â€“ 250ml (4-8 fl.ozs) of dry Oloroso or Pedro XimÃ©nez sherry (to taste) 4 egg yolks 75g/3oz/6tbsp light brown sugar 5ml/1tsp cornflour 300ml/1/2pint whole milk 300ml/1/2pt whipping cream Pedro Ximenez to serve. (1 tbsp over each helping) Optional Put the raisins in a pan with the Oloroso sherry and simmer gently until the raisins have plumped up and absorbed some of the wine. Leave to soak. (Alternatively soak the raisins overnight without heating) Whisk together the sugar and egg yolks and corrnflour until the mixture is foamy. Heat the milk in a large heavy pan, to just below boiling point. Whisk the milk into the eggs, then pour back into the pan. Cook over a gentle heat, stirring with a wooden spoon, until the custard thickens and is smooth. Leave to cool. Whip the cream until it is just thick enough to still fall from a spoon, then fold it into the cold custard. Put into the ice cream maker and churn until thick. Spoon into a freezer-proof container Fold the raisins into the soft ice cream, then cover and freeze for 2-3 hours. Serve in bowls with a wafer. If you have soaked the raisins in Oloroso you might like to pour some dark, rich, sweet Pedro XimÃ©nez wine over the ice cream. If you have made the ice cream with Pedro XimÃ©nez then this will not be necessary. Foolproof Food
Dark Chocolate and Seville Orange Muffins
Makes 10 approx.
75g (3oz) Seville orange marmalade 75g (3oz) chopped dark chocolate 170g (6 oz) castor sugar Zest of 1 lemon 110g (4 oz) butter 2 eggs, preferably free range 250ml (8fl oz) buttermilk 285g (10oz) white flour 3/4 teaspoon bread soda Preheat the oven to 200ÂºC/400ÂºF/gas mark 6. Grease 1 tray of muffin tins or line with non - stick muffin cases. Cream the butter, add the sugar and the finely grated lemon zest, add the eggs one by one and beat well between each addition. Next add the buttermilk, marmalade and chopped chocolate. Blend well. Finally stir in the flour, salt and bread soda, until just mixed. Fill the greased muffins tins with the batter, bake for 30-40 minutes in the preheated oven, serve warm. Hot Tips: Finca Buenvino - Sam & Jeannie Chesterton Email: firstname.lastname@example.org www.fincabuenvino.com Finca Buenvino, Los Marines 21293,Huelva ,Spain, Tel:+34 (959)124034, Fax:+34 (959)501029 Pata Negra is available from Sheridans in South Anne St. Dublin, Tel 01-6793143 Cork Free Choice Consumers Group - Next meeting on Thursday 26th January at 7.30pm in Crawford Gallery Cafe. Admission â‚¬6, includes tea/coffee. A film called 'The Future of Food' will be shown - This film which has been commercially released in the US and UK offers an in-depth investigation into the disturbing truth behind the advent of the patented, genetically engineered foods that have appeared on shelves over the past 10 years. It examines the complex web of market and political forces that are seeking to totally control the world's food system. The film also explores alternatives to large scale industrial agriculture, placing sustainable farming at the centre of the solution to the farming crisis we are facing today. After the film there will be an opportunity for discussion and an exchange of ideas on how to generate a public debate on the question of genetically engineered seeds being imported into Ireland. Showcasing Quality Irish Seafood in the UK Market The Irish seafood sector received strong recognition at the 2005 Great Taste Awards, the UKâ€™s most prestigious gourmet food awards, thirteen companies scored a total of 23 gold, silver and bronze awards. Under the BIM banner a group of Irish Seafood companies showcased a range of speciality products including mussels, smoked salmon, mackerel and other value added product, under their Quality Seafood (QS) symbol which was introduced to the UK market. www.bim.ie/qsp .