Marvellous Magical Mijas…

0

IMG_5634

Just got back from a fabulously relaxing two weeks in Spain in the gentle surroundings of Mijas Pueblo in the hills of southern Andalucia. This photo, taken at one of my favourite restaurants – Bar Parasol – sums up how I felt! These two guys, Victor and JavI, were waiters there and they were so kind to me and my family. Few English venture to this restaurant, which is at the far end of Fuengirola, in a quiet back street, and it meant we got to sample real Spanish food with real Spaniards. I recommend it highly! Anyway, this is more of a pictorial record of some of the food we ate, with a recipe or two along the way. So, here goes.

IMG_5514 This is one restaurants take on the classic ensaladilla rusa. The base was creamed cold mashed potatoes mixed with chopped boiled egg, chives, and mayo. Then it was topped with fillets of fresh mackerel. A truly flavoursome starter.

IMG_5583Most mornings I started the day with tostados – toasted bread rolls topped wither with finely chopped tomatoes, or simply with olive oil and a little salt. Always accompanied by a glass of freshly squeezed orange juice and a café con leche. Obligatory!

IMG_5515 Pimientos pan fried were an almost ever present at supper – I adore them.

IMG_5581We ate lots and lots of fish – these freshly caught sardines were so succulent cooked a la plancha, and we also had plates of pan fried anchovies too, which were very meaty. In some places they were barbecued on long sticks over slowly smoking wood chips. The smell was divine!

IMG_5524 IMG_5525

Lots of restaurants pride themselves on their mixed fried fish plate – this one immediately above – had bacalao, squid, octopus, baby squid and hake. This was a ración, a larger version of a tapa..and very filling! This was only 5 euros – about £3. Crazy. The picture above that is of a mix of chipirones – tiny squid and calamari.

IMG_5518

This dish was one of the tastes of the fortnight – Iberican Slow Cooked Pork Cheeks – click the link for a great version of this recipe!

IMG_5611

Egg, bacon and chips? In Spain, believe me, this is a much tastier take on an English staple supper. Here, the eggs are gently fried with garlic and served with quickly pan fried, thickly sliced Serrano ham and succulent pimientos.

IMG_5529The choice of ham everywhere is remarkable – this, believe it or not, was in a Lidl in Mijas. The counter was about 20 foot long, full of every kind of ham and morcilla you could wish for.

IMG_5609

Back to Bar Parasol, this was where you chose your fish fish each day for lunch – sardines, anchovies, squid, hake, red snapper, clams and baby clams – almejas – were on offer this day, but it frequently changed delineating on the catch that morning. What a life! To be able to eat like this every day!

IMG_5649 And as often as we could we ended our nights with a cocktail at Oscar’s Tapas Bar in the centre of Mijas. Wonderful owners and again, highly recommended if you ever visit Mijas.

IMG_5647 On our last night there it was the Luna Mora festival – the Moon of the Moors, and the whole town was lit up by candles. Magical.

More to follow soon – including a recipe for one of my favourite cold summer soups! And it’s not Gazpacho!

Hasta luego!

Sautéed mushrooms on garlic toast with a parmesan cream…

7

Sautéed mushrooms on garlic toast with a parmesan cream...

Some things go just naturally together. You hear so often about colours that do or do not go together. Fashion revolves around colours and shapes, shades and cuts. Music is all about harmony and rhythm. So too with food. Food revolves around pairings and teamwork – flavour matchings, some forced, some natural, some accidental. Art is all about shades, textures, lines and colour matching. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder and beauty is all around us. It is here in Bonnie Lalley’s painting, capturing the delicate association of three wonders of nature – highlighting the vibrancy of three ingredients that magically meld together on the plate. Pork, mushrooms, garlic. And for me, of all the great cuts that the fabulous creature that is the pig supplies to our world, bacon is undoubtedly one item I could not live without.

Bonnie’s painting reminded me of one of my favourite special brunch dishes. Please try it and wallow in the way nature brings trios of tastes to our palates.

Sautéed mushrooms on garlic toast with a parmesan cream

For the mushrooms

A knob of butter
A drizzle olive oil
1 shallot, finely diced
2 handfuls of mushrooms of your choice, chopped into bite-sized pieces
1 tbsp sherry vinegar
A handful flatleaf parsley, chopped
A sprig fresh tarragon, roughly chopped
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the parmesan cream

200ml7fl oz double cream
40g/1½oz parmesan, finely grated

For the toast

4 thick slices of rustic bread
Extra-virgin olive oil, for drizzling
1 garlic clove, halved

For the bacon and eggs

4 slices smoked streaky bacon
1 tbsp vinegar
2 free-range eggs
2 sprigs parsley, to garnish

For the mushrooms, heat a frying pan over a medium heat and add the butter, olive oil and shallots. Fry for 2-3 minutes until softened then add the mushrooms. Increase the heat and fry the mushrooms for 2-3 minutes, or until the mushrooms are golden-brown around the edges. De-glaze the pan with the sherry vinegar, using a wooden spoon to scrape up any browned bits, the stir in the herbs. Season with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. Keep warm.

For the parmesan cream, bring the cream to a boil in a small saucepan over a medium heat then whisk in the parmesan and some freshly ground black pepper. Simmer for 3-4 minutes or until reduced to a thick sauce consistency. Keep warm.

For the toast, preheat a griddle pan over a medium-high heat. Drizzle the bread with olive oil and toast on the griddle pan until crisp and golden-brown on both sides. Rub one side of each piece of toast with the garlic. Set aside and keep warm. Keep the griddle pan hot.

For the bacon and eggs, griddle the bacon rashers in the same pan you used for the toast until crisp and then set aside and keep warm.

Bring a saucepan of water to a simmer and pour in the vinegar. Crack the eggs into ramekins or cups and tip them gently into the water. Cook for 2 minutes or until the white is opaque and the yolk cooked to your liking- for me the eggs have to be soft and ready to run! Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on kitchen paper.

To serve, place the toast on serving plates, top with the mushrooms then the egg and lay over the bacon, spoon over the cream sauce and finish with a sprig of parsley.

These are ingredients that go together that were made for each other.

Just like Bonnie’s painting and my recipe!

The Legend that is…. the Lemon…

14

The Legend that is.... the Lemon...

Bonnie Lalley has sent me this wonderful painting inspired by my lemon pudding recipe which follows. I haven’t made it for a while so now that the lemons in the market are looking so attractive, this will be on the menu again this week! It is perhaps my favourite pudding recipe and shows off this fabulous fruit to perfection. Thank you, Bonnie, for reminding me!

The lemon is to my mind one of the sexiest fruits there is – it just looks so perfect – and it is, almost unquestionably,  the most important fruit in European cookery. As in Bonnie’s painting they cheer up any room even when doing nothing more than simply lounging in a bowl; their fragrance entices and they inspire so many ideas for dishes. The lemon partners so perfectly such foods as chicken and fish as well as making its mark in tempting drinks (citron pressé..oh my!) vinegars, desserts, jams and a host of sauces (in particular the fabulous avgolémeno sauce from Greece…and of course..mayonnaise.)

It is thought that the lemon originated in deepest Northern India and brought to the mediterranean lands by the roving Romans of the 1st century A.D. Oddly, the Romans had no word in Latin for this humble fruit. They apparently used it more as a decoration than an ingredient. The mighty Moors seem to have been largely responsible for the Med spread of the lemon. By the 4th century A.D. the lemon was well settled in such places as Sicily and Spain thanks to the Arabs. Arabic traders also took it to China. These guys worshipped this fruit – a writer called Ibn Jamiya wrote a tome called ‘The Treatise of the Lemon‘, and includes recipes for lemon syrup and preserves. By the late 1500s the Italians were in on the act big time and the use of lemon slices to garnish fish dishes was widespread. The lemon made its way to the New World – sounds so quaint that term nowadays! – via Mr. Columbus in 1493 who planted lots of lemon trees in Haiti. By the mid 1500s the Portuguese had taken the lemon to Brazil and in 1788 the first colonists to arrive in Australia were armed with stacks of lemon tree saplings!

One of the historical ironies of the transpiration of lemons by ship around the world is that the sailors often contracted scurvy on their travels – not realising that the very cargo they carried was to eventually prove an effective cure for the disease. By the early 1800s the British Royal Navy got round finally to issuing its sailors with lemon juice which cut cases of scurvy to almost zero.

The lemon is so beguiling as befits such a well travelled fruit. When I moved to New Zealand in the late 90s our first house had a stunning view from the garden – but what was even more captivating for me were the several lemon trees growing just yards from my back door. Oh for those trees now in damp Hampshire!

Look, anyway, back to the recipe – this first appeared on this blog in March last year and I make no apologies for repeating it here now – especially as it is accompanied today by Bonnie’s mouth-watering painting.

Double Lemon Pud

INGREDIENTS – 150 gm unsalted butter / 265 gm caster sugar /grated zest of 2 lemons / tsp vanilla essence / 6 eggs separated / 75 gm plain flour / 190 ml milk/ juice of 3 big lemons – / cream to serve.

And for my U.S. friends – 190 ml milk = 0.8 cup of milk or 6.5 fluid ounces      150 gm = 5 oz       265 gm = just over 9oz

75 gm = just under 3 oz.

Turn the oven up to 180c. Grease a 3 litre ovenproof dish. Cream together butter, sugar lemon zest and vanilla. Then, beat in the egg yolks….. slowly.

Fold in the flour…. then the milk…..then the lemon juice. Whisk the egg whites in a clean bowl until they form soft peaks. Gently fold this in too.

Pour the mix into the greased dish. Place in a roasting tray. Add boiling water a third of a way up the roasting tray – in effect creating a bain marie…transfer..easy does it..to the oven. Bake for 30-35 minutes until golden brown on top. Leave it to cool.

I love it cold but it is also wonderful warm. Serve with cream. I cannot tell you how good this is…………. just make it….!

Asparagus with Parsley Vinaigrette

14

Asparagus with Parsley Vinaigrette

This is a new painting by Bonnie Lalley  (blalley.wordpress.com) and it reminded me instantly of a wonderful Spring starter that I came across in Daniel Galmiche’s excellent tome, ‘The French Brasserie Cookbook.’ Asparagus is without doubt one of my very favourite veg. Asparagus is a curious plant – from the lily family – and it has almost no leaves. Most unusual. The name itself can be traced back to a Persian word asparag, meaning a sprout. The word ‘sperage‘ was in use in the 16th and 17th centuries, but was displaced by ‘sparagus‘ and by the rather cute name of ‘sparrow grass.’ Pliny the Elder described asparagus spears grown at Ravenna in heavily manured soil as being ‘three to the pound’. rather larger clearly than modern asparagus! It had surfaced in France by 1470 and England by 1538. It was not grown in America on a large scale until the latter half of the 19th century.

It is expensive in the main due to the odd way it is grown. For the first two years after sowing it is unproductive. In the third year the shoots are thick enough to be marketed and the bed will continue to yield good specimens for 2 or 3 seasons. At any given time, a grower has half his or her land in an unproductive state. The French, Belgians and Germans tend to prefer their asparagus white. In this case the beds are earthed up to keep the shoots from going green. I like both but prefer, I have to say, the green variety.

Steamed and served al dente with a swirl of olive oil and a swoosh of lemon juice, it is possibly one of the most tactile and vibrant of starters.

This dish, however, sees the asparagus served cold. It is very, very tasty and fills you with a sense, like Bonnie’s painting, that Miss Spring cannot be far away – possibly hiding in the barn or chasing foxes through the woods. This dish will hurry her up for sure.

Asperges à la vinaigrette persil

500 gm asparagus, woody ends cut off and discarded
1 tsp of sea salt

For the vinaigrette:

2 tbsp of white wine vinegar
1 room temperature egg
2 tsp of Dijon mustard
100 ml of sunflower or olive oil
Small handful of chopped parsley
Sea salt and black pepper

Bring a small pan of water to the boil. Add a dash of vinegar. Lower the egg gently into the water to avoid cracking. Cook for 8-9 minutes. Drain and place under cold running water. When cool, peel and chop roughly.

Into a medium sized pan of boiling and salted water, place the bunch of asparagus tied loosely with string,, tips all facing the same way. Cook on a gentle simmer for 6-10 minutes – you want to keep a ‘bite’ to them.

Meanwhile, prepare a bowl of ice cold water and set aside. Put the mustard and vinegar in a bowl , season and mix well. Slowly whisk in the oil, then stir in the chopped egg and parsley.

Once the asparagus is cooked, remove the bundle and plunge it into the ice cold water bowl. Drain it, untie and arrange on a flat dish.

A stunningly simple starter, or snack. Great to eat with friends…. and with your fingers! I am eating it tonight…I cannot wait!

Right, just off to pour a sharp glass of Verdicchio…and maybe one for Miss Spring!

Snowed in? You need a warming fish dish…!

10

Snowed in? You need a warming fish dish...!

And they do not come better, or more warming, than…

Smoked Mackerel Dauphinoise!

When I saw this latest painting by Bonnie Lalley – she has been enduring arctic temperatures and blizzards over where she lives in the States, poor thing! – I was put in mind of one of my favourite comfort fish dishes – one to curl up by the fire with and watch the snow fall outside – or in my case the pouring rain – and savour for its benevolence.

For 4

600 gm potatoes peeled and sliced – not too thinly!
250 gm smoked mackerel – skin removed and flaked
2 bay leaves
200 ml milk
300 gm double cream
Black pepper
1 tbsp grain mustard

Arrange the potatoes in a shallow baking dish. Mix in the mackerel. Add te bay leaves and a good grind or two of black pepper.

Mix together the milk and cream and pour over the potatoes and mackerel.

IMG_4754

Bake in a preheated oven – 190c – for about 50 minutes to an hour. The cream mixture should be bubbling and the potatoes pierced easily by a knife.

Serve with rocket and baby salad leaves with a swirl of balsamic over them and a little olive oil.

The picture below does not do the dish justice – but last night it warmed us to the core – it is a dish that brings an instant sense of well-being to all gathered around the supper table.

And there is a serene simplicity to this dish, just like the painting of the American farmstead snowed in.

IMG_4758

The root of beauty…

11

The root of beauty...

This wonderful rendition of the oft overlooked beetroot is by Bonnie Lalley and is the second in a series of joint ventures between us. I was brought up on pickled beetroot and it accompanied so many dishes in our house, from my mother’s succulent steak and mushroom pie to Lancashire Hot Pot to more frugal suppers of cheese or pork pie. It added an often much needed splash of colour to some otherwise overcast meals. Its deep scarlet hue always made me feel that here was something exotic in deepest, darkest Manchester – and yet it grew on all the allotments around without me then realising.

It is related to the splendidly named mangel-wurzel, used for animal feed, and the flavoursome veg, chard. And this root of joy has been around since the Greeks – Theophrastus referred to the cultivation of it 300 years before the birth of Christ in his botanical writings. It is descended from sea beet, a wild seashore plant, which grows around the shores of the Mediterranean and Atlantic coasts of Europe and North Africa.

In the 16th century it was referred to as Beta Roman in cookery writing. In 1699, it was said that thin red slices of the boiled red beetroot were ‘ a grateful winter Sallet.’ In the same tome, by John Evelyn – ‘A Discourse on Sallets’, he noted that it was ‘by the French and Italians contriv’d into curious figures to adorn their Sallets.‘  Now there’s a challenge for you all!

The luxuriant deep purply red colour is due to the mixture of a purple pigment, betacyanin, and a yellow one, betaxanthin. And it stains incredibly well, as my mother used to remind me over and over again, lest I ever spilt any on her newly ironed tablecloth!

The leaves of this root – beetroot tops – are also now used more and more in salads and they are both a thing of beauty and also very, very tasty. They are also stuffed full of marvellous minerals and vitamins. Beetroot is a great source of fibre and folic acid. Olympians drink gallons of beetroot juice I am told.

This is truly one adorable vegetable. And Bonnie’s painting captures the royalty wrapped up in this remarkable root.

And so to finish – a recipe that shows it off to its best.

Roast Beetroot with Goat’s Cheese & Balsamic Vinegar

For 4

12 baby beetroots or 6 larger chaps
Sea salt and black pepper
Olive oil – the best you have
Balsamic vinegar
175 gm goat’s cheese
Handful of beetroot leaves – small ones
A good portion of rocket leaves

Bring your oven up to 230c. Wrap the beets in foil and roast for about 45 minutes to an hour for large ones – or 30 minutes for baby beets. In any case they need to be soft enough for a knife to go through them easily.

Once they have cooled rub the skins off and either keep whole if small or halve then or quarter the big ones if using. Toss in the olive oil.

Scatter your rocket and beetroot leaves on a serving plate.
Arrange the warmed beetroot on the leaves and drizzle with balsamic vinegar and a little more olive oil. Pop a slice of goat’s cheese by each piece of beetroot and grind over some sea salt and black pepper.

Serve with more balsamic vinegar to taste and warm crusty bread.

Nothing vulgar about beta vulgaris.

It is the Queen of the root world.