The mere mention of Finca Buenvino creates a ripple of happiness and joy among those of us who have already discovered this hidden gem nestled amidst the sweet chestnut trees and cork oaks of the Sierra de Aracena in Andalusia. A beautiful pink washed finca, perched on the top of the hill, with olive groves and fruit orchards in the valley below. Long legged black Iberian pigs snuffle around in the forests nibbling the acorns that give the jamÃ³n, salchichÃ³n and morcilla its unique flavour and the magnificent red retinto cattle renowned for their beef graze in the surrounding countryside, itâ€™s an idyllic place.
Finca Buenvino has been home to ex-pats Sam and Jeanie Chesterton and their family for almost 30 years, it feels like staying in a wonderfully comfortable and convivial country house, crackling log fires, big comfy sofas, lots of books and good conversation, breath-taking views, star filled skies and I kid you not, there was a nightingale singing in the trees outside our bedroom window!
Thereâ€™s a beautiful infinity pool overlooking the valley and several cottages tucked into the woods.Â The mountain air is scented with pine, eucalyptus, and rosemary. Jeannie gives occasional cookery classes and a few lucky people can book well ahead to attend the annual la matanzaÂ (pig killing and curing) as we did a couple of years ago. It all sounds too good to be true.
Imagine coming across a place away from the madding crowd, a place to stay where you feel like treasured family friends, look forward to every meal with a childlike excitement, enjoy tapas and a glass of vino around the fire on the terrace before dinner.
Well check it out if you donâ€™t believe meâ€¦
Sam and Jeannie use fresh local ingredients: Iberian pork, mountain lamb and wild venison. Fish comes mainly from the Huelva coast. Eggs from their Violet Andalusian hens. They kill and cure their own jamÃ³n ibÃ©rico and bake fresh wholemeal loaves and Moroccan flat breads from organic flour shipped down from Albacete. Honey comes from the hives above the orchards, organic vegetables and herbs from the garden. In autumn, wild mushrooms spring up in the woods, while just picked chestnuts from the forest below the house, roasted in the open fire, are perfect with a glass of rich, dry Chesterton oloroso straight from the barrel which sits in the conservatory. This was a gift from a dear friend and the sherry is blended specially in Cozalez Byass bodega. Jeannie is a beautiful cook. I love her food and apart from being the most convivial of hosts Sam has his specialities too, I particularly remember his candied aubergines preserved in honey which he makes every year to use up the glut.
Meanwhile Jeannie and Sam have at long last published the Buenvino Cookbook which I personally, as well as their many, many fans, couldnâ€™t wait to get my hands on.Â They had a launch in London, Edinburgh (Jeannieâ€™s home turf) and recently at the Ballymaloe Cookery School. Their friends Javier JimÃ©nez RodrÃguez and Alfonso PÃ©rez Pardo hand carved the jamÃ³n, a 4 year old pata negra â€“ one of the most sublime foods on earth, we enjoyed a variety of tapas with Lustau Manzanilla andÂ Oloroso sherries and Rueda VerdejoÂ white and red Rioja wines with Marcona almonds.
Rory Oâ€™Connell and his team cooked up paella to Jeannieâ€™s recipe, tiny potato tortillas, ajo blanco a white almond soup with raisins soaked in Pedro XimÃ©nez sherry and spinach, pickled anchovies, quail eggs with cumin and turmeric, manchego with membrillo.
Buenvino Cookbook by Jeannie and Sam Chesterton is published by Bene Factum Publishing Ltd.
Finca Buenvino Garlic and Almond Soup Ajo blanco
Cold almond soup has always been made in the Montes de MÃ¡laga, the steep hillocks which cut off the coastal strip from the mountains and plains of Antequera. In late winter and early spring, the hills are covered in almond blossom. In isolated farmhouses this soup would have been a refreshing summer staple, for it is extremely nourishing. It would originally have been made in a mortar with a pestle, but nowadays it is easier to make it in a food processor.
You will also find ajo blanco on the menu in many top class restaurants in Andalusia, where itâ€™s simplicity and subtle blend of flavours is greatly appreciated.
Serves 8 as part of mixed tapas or 4 as a starter
For the soup
6 slices of white country bread, crusts removed
1 teaspoon salt, or to taste
2 garlic cloves, or to taste
2 good fistfuls of blanched almonds
100 â€“ 120ml good quality olive oil to taste
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar or sherry vinegar (the paler the better for looks!) or to taste
120g seedless sultanas or raisins
150ml Pedro Ximinez sherry or cream sherry
ground cumin, or toasted cumin seeds
extra virgin olive oil (optional)
Soak the bread in water until soft, then wring it out. Place the salt, garlic and almonds in a food processor and grind finely. Grind the bread together with the almond mixture until you have a paste. Now, with the processor still turning, gradually pour in the oil. Immediately the oil has been absorbed, pour in the vinegar. Now add the iced water â€“ little by little â€“ until you have a thin, creamy texture. Taste the soup, adding more salt or vinegar accordingly and mix well. Pour into a bowl, cover and refrigerate. While the soup is chilling, simmer the raisins with the sherry in a pan over low heat until all the sherry has been absorbed and the raisins, then sprinkle with ground cumin or toasted cumin seeds. Swirl on a little extra virgin olive oil, if you like, to serve.
Finca Buenvino Mini Tortillas
This is an inspired idea for using up cold boiled potato left over from the previous day and much easier to make than a tortilla a la patata.
Peel and chop up the cooked potato finely, and place in a bowl with some chives and parsley. We used 450g (1lb) cooked potatoes and a tablespoon each of chopped chives and parsley.
Beat 4 eggs with some salt and pepper, and then pour them over the chopped potatoes. Stir together vigorously. It does not matter if the potatoes break up a little.
Now pour a little oil into a pan and heat gently. Spoon some of the egg and potato mix into the oil. Let it cook on one side, then flip. Each tortilla should be about the size of a small pancake or drop scone.
Place on a warm dish or keep in a low oven until you want to serve them. Donâ€™t leave it more than 20 minutes. To eat them cold, just leave them on a cold plate to cool, then serve with a little mayonnaise or aoili. Fab!
Finca Buenvino Spinach with Chickpeas Espinacas Con Garbanzos
Chickpeas are a standard ingredient of Andalucian and Spanish cooking. When you go to the vegetable shops in Aracena you will often see the pulses soaking in a dish. They are deliciously nutty when you buy them this way or soak them yourself for 24 hours.
Spinach and chickpeas is one of the many Moorish dishes left to Spain. It has many variants, sometimes tomato is introduced, or cumin or mixed spices like cloves and cinnamon and black pepper. Feel free to try this. Another variation is Spinach with raisins and pine nuts. You can also stir in some grated Manchego cheese and put the little dishes under the grill at the last moment before going to table.
1 small onion, finely sliced (optional)
3 large tablespoons (serving spoons) olive oil, plus more to thicken
3 cloves of garlic roughly chopped into 3 or 4, or 1 small garlic clove, crushed
2kg (4lb 8oz) spinach
500g (1lb 2oz) soaked, cooked chickpeas
1 small clove of garlic, crushed, or
300ml (1/2 pint) chicken stock
2 tablespoons plain flour
spices to taste (cumin, pepper, cloves or pinchito spice)
2 teaspoons tomato purÃ©e (optional)
freshly ground black pepper
If using the onion, wilt it in the olive oil, and then add the crushed garlic and spinach. Then, if using chopped garlic, stew it in the olive oil, allowing to turn golden. If using crushed garlic, just add it to the pan. Throw in the spinach, and wilt it down without burning (150ml/5fl oz of water can help at this point, to steam the spinach into submission) Add the chickpeas and half the stock. When all is warmed through, add the remaining stock.
Stir the flour in a little oil in a small bowl to make a runny paste. Take some of the liquid from the spinach and stir in into the paste, then tip back into the spinach and allow to thicken. If itâ€™s too thick, add more stock or water.
Add the spices to taste and the tomato puree (if using). Season with salt and pepper and serve with thin slices of bread fried in olive oil.
Finca Buenvino Ginger Roulade
Serves 8 â€“ 10
This is one the desserts I loved at Finca Buenvino.
â€œIf you use treacle you will get a darker, saltier flavoured roulade with the faint liquorice flavour molasses brings with it. If you prefer a lighter ginger sponge, then go for golden syrup.â€
Believe it not, it freezes perfectly cut in slices on a platter.
85g (3 oz) butter
225g (8 oz -1/4pt) golden syrup or treacle
60g (2 oz) granulated sugar
115g (4 oz) plain flour
1tsp baking powder
1 free range egg separated
500ml (18fl oz) whipping cream, whipped
a few marrons glacÃ©s, chopped, or finely chopped stem ginger (optional)
Pre-heat the oven to 350ÂºF/180ÂºC gas mark 4. In a heavy based saucepan over a medium heat melt the butter, syrup or treacle and sugar with 115ml (4fl oz) water.
Mix the flour with the baking powder and spices and when the liquids have melted and cooled add the dry ingredients and the egg yolk.
Beat the egg white until it forms stiff peaks, and then fold into the mixture.
Line a Swiss roll tin with silicon paper and bake in the oven at 350ÂºF/180ÂºC for 12 -15 minutes.
Cover with a damp tea towel and allow to cool.
Turn the sponge out of the tin and remove the papers.Â Mix the whipped cream with the marrons glacÃ©s or for a more intense ginger flavour, the stem ginger, or neither, spread it over the cake, then roll it up. Sift over icing sugar to serve.
Â Hot Tips
Just 3 weeks to go until The Kerrygold Ballymaloe Literary FestivalÂ ofÂ Food and Wine 2014. Rene Redzepi, Simon Hopkinson, Thomasina Miers, Rowley Leigh, Maggie Beer… Donâ€™t miss the cookery demonstration with Diana Kennedy, an octogenarian force of nature who is travelling from her ecological adobe house in the foothills of Mexico to share her passion and immense knowledge of Mexican food. Another cookery demonstration high on my list is Maggie Beer- she will using some of her favourite ingredients to make delicious dishes such asÂ Oysters with Verjuice and Eschalote or Chocolate Tart using Vino Cotto.Â Tickets are still available for many of the inspirational talks but advanced booking is advised -Â www.litfest.ie Â for more information and to see the full list of events and Iâ€™ll keep you posted.
Wild and Free Food
Nettle (Urtica dioica)
Young nettles are springing up all over the place, they are best in Spring when they are young and tender and not too strongly flavoured.
We use them to make soup, either alone or mixed with wild garlic. They make a super nettle pesto and are a terrific addition to champ or buttered spinach. We even use them as a topping for pizzas with ricotta cheese.
Youâ€™ll need gloves to protect your hands. If you do get stung, rub with a dock leaf to relieve the pain â€“ happily, they usually grow side by side. With their high iron and vitamin C content, nettles were prominent in folk medicine and, like many other wild foods, they helped in some small measure to alleviate hunger during the Irish famine. Among the older generation, the tradition of eating nettles four times during the month of May to clear the blood still persists. In fact, herbalists confirm that nettles contain iron, formic acid, histamine, ammonia, silica acid and potassium. These minerals are known to help rheumatism, sciatica and other pains. They lower blood pressure and blood sugar levels to increase the haemoglobin in the blood, improve circulation and purify the system, so our ancestors werenâ€™t far wrong.
In more recent times, nettles have become a much sought-after ingredient for trendy chefs. We have been delighted by the demand for organic nettles at our stall at the farmersâ€™ market in nearby Midleton. They wilt quickly, so use them fast.
The asparagus season is a couple of weeks late this year â€“ but itâ€™s now in the markets â€“ so feast on it for the next few weeks. Telephone Tim York – 086 8593996.