A few days in Spain…
If you are longing for a taste of simple Spanish food you’ll need to head away from the main drag – off into the back streets and out into the villages in the wooded hillside…
Malaga, the point of entry into Andalucía for many is certainly worth lingering in for a couple of days. The Picasso Museum in the town of the artist’s birth is definitely worth a gentle browse and Cathederal de la Encarnacion is properly awe inspiring. Don’t miss the Centro Pompidou either and stroll along the Pedregalejo seafront and eat the freshest fish in one of the many chiringuitos.
For breakfast, seek out crispy churros to dunk in a glass of hot chocolate. They are a specialty in Malaga and a ‘must do’ for breakfast…
For tapas, Check out Meson Iberico, on Calle San Lorenzo 27, it opens at 8.30pm. Book ahead of else be ready to queue. Be there by 8.15pm… if you want to get a seat at the counter or by the window ledge, you’ll need to sharpen your elbows and make a dash as soon as the doors are opened such is the enthusiasm of the regulars…but it’ll be worth it..
The tapas are traditional, made from superb ingredients and as a result are memorably delicious. We enjoyed a plate of wafer thin slivers of jamon Iberico from Cinco Jotas, perhaps the best pata negra in all of Spain, made from the hams of the long legged black Iberian pigs, reared in the dehesa oak forests and fattened on acorns… You can’t imagine how the delicious flavour lingers in your mouth – food for the gods. We also enjoyed tender whelks, octopus a la Gallega sprinkled with paprika and flakes of sea salt. The tiny, briny sweet clams were also memorable as were the crisp little tortilla aux Camorones (shrimp fritters). Finally, there was a plate of the tiniest little broad beans with two quails eggs and a few slivers of jamon melting over the top. There were many other temptations but by then I was defeated but Meson Iberico goes to the top of my Malaga list.
Next day, we drove out into the countryside to Gaucín, one of the prettiest of the famous Pueblos Blancos villages of Andalucia that hang precariously off the edge of the wooded hillside like a stack of tumbling sugar cubes…. The drive over the mountains from Malaga is spectacular and even more awe-inspiring from Gaucin and even more so onto Ronda. This Moorish city is teeming with tourists but it is definitely worth seeing the El Tajo Gorge under the Punta Nuevo (built in 1735). While you are there, pop into the Inglesia de Santa Maria church and check out the Royal Cavelry Bull Ring, the earliest in Spain.
Back in Gaucín, breakfast at Brena Verde was my favourite find in Guacín. Here, the cheery cook sent plate after plate after plate of tortas fritta out of the kitchen, irregular shaped squares of bubbly fried dough to enjoy drizzled with local honey….simple and so delicious….we loved them sent lots of compliments to the kitchen so the cheery cook invited me into the kitchen to watch her making the frittas and shared the recipe. So fun to make, your children will love them too, topped with their favourite morsels.
Sleepy Guacin is about 45 minutes from the closest beach but we found several river bathing places with pools of varying depth. The grandchildren spent hours building dams, chasing dragonflies and watching little fish swimming around them in the river. Can you imagine the joy….It brought memories flooding back of swimming in the river Gaul outside the little village of Cullohill in Co Laois when I was a child….
We stayed at Molina del Carmen in Guacín, a former olive oil mill with some of the old machinery still intact. It’s now a complex of five chic interlinking apartments that can be rented individually or as a complex complete with a pool, perfect for a multi generational family holiday. The views from the terraces are jaw dropping… The rock of Gibraltar is clearly visible and Morocco a mere 35 mins ferry ride away… The village has lots of cafes , pubs and artist studios and is less than an hour from the closest sandy beach… you may even chance on a local festival or Féria as we did with fiesty prancing horses, a greasy pole competition to win a jamon and free community paella… a real and enchanting glimpse of Spanish country life….
Serves 10-12 as a tapa
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 cloves of garlic, chopped
1 red chilli, chopped (with seeds)
1 x 400g (14ozs) tin of tomatoes, chopped
1 tablespoon homemade tomato purée
2 teaspoons paprika
salt, freshly ground pepper and sugar
extra virgin olive oil
2lbs (900g) potatoes (e.g. golden wonder) peeled or unpeeled, which ever you prefer
1 tablespoon sherry vinegar
aoili (see recipe)
Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a sauté pan. Add the chopped garlic and chilli and cook for 1-2 minutes. Add the chopped tinned tomatoes, tomato purée and paprika. Season with salt, freshly ground pepper and sugar. Simmer for 5-8 minutes or until slightly reduced.
Meanwhile, heat 1 inch (2 1/2 cms) olive oil in a frying pan. Dice the potatoes into 1 inch (2 1/2 cm) pieces. Dry on kitchen paper. Cook the potatoes in the hot oil until light golden brown in colour and tender all the way through.
While the potatoes are cooking, liquidize the sauce and add the sherry vinegar. Return to the pan. When the potatoes are cooked, remove from the oil and drain on kitchen paper. Season lightly with some sea salt.
Heat the sauce, taste.
Serve the potatoes on a plate, drizzle with the sauce and a good dollop of aoili.
Tortillitas à la Patata
Sam and Jeannie Chesterton of Finca Buenvino in Andalucia, recently introduced me to this little gem. They are so easy to make and completely addictive – kids also love them and they make the perfect little bites to nibble with a drink, preferably a glass of Fino or Manzilla. This is totally brilliant way to use up leftover boiled potatoes. The tortillitas are made in minutes and can be served as part of every meal from breakfast to supper.
4 organic eggs
225g (8oz) cooked potatoes, cut into 5mm (1/4 inch) dice
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
3 tablespoons finely chopped flat-leaf parsley and chives
extra virgin olive oil, for frying
Maldon sea salt, to serve
Aioli (see recipe)
Whisk the eggs in a bowl, add the diced potatoes, season with salt and freshly ground pepper and add the herbs.
Heat about 5mm (1/4 inch) of oil in a frying pan on a high heat, cook a teaspoonful of mixture and taste for seasoning. Correct if necessary.
Continue to cook the mini tortillas as needed, using a scant dessertspoon of the mixture for each. Cook on one side for about 1-2 minutes, flip over and continue to cook on the other side for a similar length of time, or until slightly golden.
Drain on kitchen paper and sprinkle with a few flakes of sea salt.
Serve hot, or at room temperature with a blob of Aioli (see recipe).
“Aioli” refers not only to the sauce made with garlic, egg yolks and olive oil, but also to a complete dish where the sauce is served with boned salt-cod, hard-boiled eggs, squid or snails and vegetables such as carrots, potatoes, artichokes and green beans.
2 egg yolks, preferably free range
1/4 teaspoon salt
pinch of English mustard or 1/4 teaspoon French mustard
1 dessertspoon white wine vinegar
225ml (oil (sunflower, arachide or olive oil or a mixture) – We use 175ml (6fl oz) arachide oil and 50ml (2fl oz) olive oil, alternatively use 7/1
1-4 cloves of garlic, depending on size
1/4 teaspoon saffron soaked in 2 teaspoons of hot water (optional)
Put the egg yolks into a bowl with the crushed garlic, mustard, salt and the white wine vinegar (keep the whites to make meringues). Put the oil into a measure. Take a whisk in one hand and the oil in the other and drip the oil onto the egg yolks, drop by drop whisking at the same time. Within a minute you will notice that the mixture is beginning to thicken. When this happens you can add the oil a little faster, but don’t get too cheeky or it will suddenly curdle because the egg yolks can only absorb the oil at a certain pace. Taste and add a little more seasoning and vinegar if necessary.
If the Mayonnaise curdles it will suddenly become quite thin, and if left sitting the oil will start to float to the top of the sauce. If this happens you can quite easily rectify the situation by putting another egg yolk or 1-2 tablespoons of boiling water into a clean bowl, then whisk in the curdled Mayonnaise, a half teaspoon at a time until it emulsifies again. Finally add the saffron if using and taste for seasoning.
Churros with Cinnamon Sugar and Hot Chocolate
Makes 25 approx.
choux pastry (see recipe)
225g (8oz) caster sugar
2-4 teaspoons freshly ground cinnamon
sunflower oil for deep-frying
Hot Chocolate for dipping
Make choux pastry below
150g (5oz) strong flour (Baker’s)
pinch of salt
225ml (8floz) water
100g (3 1/2 oz) butter, cut into 1cm (1/2 inch) cubes
3-5 eggs depending on size (free range if possible)
Sieve the flour with the salt onto a piece of silicone paper. Heat the water and butter in a high-sided saucepan until the butter is melted. Bring to a fast rolling boil, take from the heat. (Note: Prolonged boiling evaporates the water and changes the proportions of the dough). Immediately the pan is taken from the heat, add all the flour at once and beat vigorously with a wooden spoon for a few seconds until the mixture is smooth and pulls away from the sides of the saucepan to form a ball. Put the saucepan back on a low heat and stir for 30 seconds – 1 minute or until the mixture starts to furr the bottom of the saucepan. Remove from the heat and cool for a few seconds.
Meanwhile set aside one egg, break it and whisk it in a bowl. Add the remaining eggs into the dough, one by one with a wooden spoon, beating thoroughly after each addition. Make sure the dough comes back to the same texture each time before you add another egg. When it will no longer form a ball in the centre of the saucepan, add the beaten egg little by little. Use just enough to make a mixture that is very shiny and just drops reluctantly from the spoon in a sheet.
To make the Churros
Heat the oil in a deep fry to 180°C/350°F.
Mix the cinnamon with the caster sugar and pour onto a flat plate.
Put a medium sized star shaped nozzle into a piping bag. Fill with choux pastry.
When the oil is hot, pipe strips of choux pastry, 2 1/2 inches long approx, directly into the hot oil. They will puff up so do just a few at a time. Cook until crisp and golden brown, drain on kitchen paper.
Toss in cinnamon sugar and dunk in hot chocolate!