Poor man’s pots with lemon & thyme pork chops…

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Poor man's pots with lemon & thyme pork chops...

This is a take on the famous Spanish dish of patatas a lo pobre – it is wondrous in its simplicity yet divine in its complexity of flavours. There is little like it – I could easily eat it on its own – or it could just as easily accompany anything from lamb to fish. I ate it in Menorca last August snuggling up to a snow white slice of monkfish and it was delectable – I swear I can still taste it when I close my eyes. That version was with green peppers. This one is based on Nigel Slater’s version from ‘Eat’.

For 4

750 kg baby new potatoes – scrubbed and halved
Olive oil
A red chilli, deseeded and finely chopped
2 red peppers – deseeded and cut into thin strips
Large red onion sliced thinly
A clove of garlic finely chopped
Pinch of smoked paprika
Large knob of butter – about 75 gm
500 gm vegetable stock
A small bunch of basil finely sliced

Heat oil in a sauté pan. Place pots in cut side down with the chilli. Leave them for about 5 or 10 minutes while you deal with the peppers. Add them to the pan, then the onion and garlic. Then the paprika.

Pop in the butter and stir until all get coated nicely.

Leave again for about 10 to 15 minutes to get the potatoes browning in that very attractive fashion they have. Have a drink.

Then pour in the stock, bring to the boil, season a little. Cover with a lid and simmer for around 20 to 30 minutes until the stock has evaporated down a lot. I took the lid off for the last five minutes and crushed most of the potatoes ever so lightly with a masher to soak up the magical juice.

Stir in the basil at the end.

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I served this alongside a loin chop pan fried slowly in a little olive oil. Half way through cooking I grated over the zest of a lemon and sprinkled lots of thyme and black pepper.

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The resulting meal was one of those I simply wanted to prolong as much as possible – the flavours were straight from heaven – a Spanish heaven in this case – somewhere possibly just outside Granada or Zaragoza.

This is the grandaddy of the versions – but you could just do it with the spuds, onions, pepper and stock with a little seasoning.

If you have never tried this I urge you to. Soon.

Very soon.

Monday magic… of the tomato variety…..

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Monday magic... of the tomato variety.....

Tonight was one of those nights when an experiment worked, and worked so well, I wanted to freeze time. The flavours were simply exquisite. I used one of my favourite base dishes of pan fried plum toms with rosemary and cream…and added to it. You know by now, well I know that you know that I know, that I like to fiddle with recipes…so here we fiddly well go!

For 4 folk who may have been working in the garden all day…

Two decent punnets of baby plum tomatoes – mine were from Spain and as sweet as a smile from Marilyn Monroe.
1 clove of garlic finely chopped
2 sprigs of fresh rosemary
250 ml of single cream
5 or 6 slices of serrano ham – or prosciutto would be fine
1 slice of smoked bacon
A good handful or more of baby spinach and rocket, chopped
Black pepper
Olive oil

400 gm of pasta – rigatoni or fusilli

Pop a good tablespoon or two of oil in a frying pan. Heat and then add the tomatoes. Add the garlic after a minute or so, then chop off with scissors quite a lot of rosemary into the pan and then add the sprigs too.

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Let them cook for about 15 minutes or so on a low heat until they give when pressed with a spoon. Flatten them a little with a slotted spoon – but don’t break them open too much.

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In a second pan, fry the smoked bacon finely chopped. When cooked, add in the serrano ham chopped and allow to crisp a little.

Cook the pasta – I always use rigatoni for this.

Add the bacon and ham to the tomato mixture, then add the cream. Heat gently and after two or three minutes, add in the spinach and rocket. Grind over some black pepper. Stir for about 5 minutes until it wilts into the cream sauce.

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Drain the pasta and then pop a portion into each of the 4 bowls – then spoon over the tomato mixture.

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I cannot express how wonderfully dreamy and gorgeous this dish is. It is…believe me…….no……don’t….make it for yourself!

I had been gardening all day today trying, as I mentioned in the last post, to get it tidied before this weekend’s belated birthday celebrations for my son and daughter. In the process, I discovered that there were lots of blackberries lurking wistfully below my sage plants and rosemary bushes. So, I picked them! And happily my rhubarb had coped with my absence and soldiered on, producing several fine stems which I duly cut…but with love. I poached the chopped rhubarb lightly and then popped them and the blackberries in a low gratin dish. I knocked up a crumble mix using plain flour, porridge oats, some crushed pecans, pumpkin seeds, butter and brown sugar. The result was stultifyngly superb though I say it myself!

I think part of the secret of the crispy buttery top was cooking it for 40 minutes on 180 degrees then switching the oven off, removing the crumble and after about 10 minutes returning it to the cooling oven whilst we ate the main course.

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Anyway it was fruitastic and even better because it all cane from our garden. I drank a cold pinot noir from Alsace whilst cooking, and a lovely bottle of shiraz with the meal itself. I listened to Bob Marley on the record player, then the Pet Shop Boys ‘Disco’. I felt good… and I felt as if I was back where I belonged……in my kitchen!

And here was the mellow aftermath in Alfredo’s after our meal…my home from home…

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Menorcan magic….

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Menorcan magic....

Back home…well until Tuesday when I am off to Burgundy for 5 days…and what a fab time we had on this wonderful island. This photo sums up why I love Spain…and this was just in a supermarket! Most of what we ate was tapas and bbq’s and fish…lots of fish. Anyway, just thought I would share some of my food snaps with you all. Hopefully, when I get back from France there will be time for some recipes! In the meantime, thank you all so much for your kind comments and wishes!

IMG_3656Delightful boquerones….ate so many of these it improved my swimming…!

IMG_3560I made this chicken fillet and lightly fried serrano ham salad for lunch one day…

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IMG_3712Sadly the chef did not sport the fabulous hat!

                                                                                                                                                                                           (above) I made a paella one evening and added some lightly pan fried chipirones

IMG_3718 A favourite fish – grouper – has the most mellow creamy mackerel flavour…

Cordero al chilindron…

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Cordero al chilindron...

Ok. I’m back in the saddle. I was walking by mid day yesterday and compus mentus by 4 pm-ish. I had to do something to stop me feeling any more sorry for myself so I went for a dish for supper that, were anyone ever to ask me – what would your last dish be – this would be a strong contender. I normally do it as a supper dish for lots of folk – but I thought – sod it – let’s do it for me for a change! So, by 6pm I was back in the kitchen and a rush of well being and harmony poured over me. Today, I feel a little iffy again – but I am getting there. Anyway – enough about me – it is the food that is centre stage here!

This is a dish I came across in Spain Quixotic Donkeys years ago..it is a dish from Aragon originally and a chilindron is a type of low sided earthenware cooking pot..apparently. Cordero is – of course – lamb. Look, anyway, the point is – this is a seriously fine dish – peasanty, satisfying and perfect for friends to gather round with hunks of bread, glasses of wine and rich conversation.

Ingredients for 4

1kg of lamb shoulder or leg cut into even size chunks
5 cloves of garlic peeled and chopped
Olive oil
100 gm of serrano or parma ham – preferably cut in one thick slice then chopped
2 carrots peeled and sliced thinly
4 plum tomatoes quartered
1 red pepper, chopped
Flat leaf parsley
100 ml – maybe more – dry white wine
250 gm fresh peas – though tinned will do if you must!

Ok…pop the lamb chunks into a dish and mix well with the garlic – leave for an hour.

Heat a tbsp of oil in a sauté pan. Pan fry the ham for about 30 seconds, then transfer to a casserole dish that has a tight fitting lid – you will be cooking on the hob – not in the oven. I use one of my stainless steel dutch ovens. Fry the lamb chunks next in same oil until browned – add to casserole. Sauté the carrots, then the peppers for about 5 minutes each and add to the dish. Then the tomatoes – til just starting to soften and colour. If need be add more oil at any point.

Now add the wine and chopped parsley to the pan and let it bubble for a second or two, then add to casserole with any scrapings.

Mix it all together. There should be about an inch or so of wine – if not add a dash more and top up your glass at the same time – cook’s perks!

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Put on the lid – I add a layer of foil first just too make a really tight seal. Turn heat up high under the pot and cook on high for 20 minutes – shaking pan vigorously to stop it all sticking. Take a peep after maybe 15 minutes and if necessary add a little more wine and turn heat down a little. But be brave!

After 20 minutes add the peas. Lid back on and cook for a further 20 minutes. You can now, if you wish, just turn the heat off and move the pot to one side for 5 minutes of you wish – or if you are still chatting!

You will not believe that lamb can cook this fast and be so, so tender. It will be like carnivore velvet.

I serve on a white pre warmed dish to place in the centre of the table or in a pre warmed roasting tin, with shed loads of good crusty bread. The idea is you want folk to be able to be served but not be shy about dipping into the main dish to get more juices!

This is a dish of pure Spanish style and simplicity that leaves you feeling that life is ok after all and who cares what mañana brings. And I felt life seeping back into my veins afterwards too…alongside the tempranillo…..!

Pudding on the style…a great start to a Sunday…

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Pudding on the style...a great start to a Sunday...

Being Lancastrian by birth, black pudding is in my DNA. I have tasted many varieties from our own northern prize winning Bury Black pudding to plasticky almost inedible supermarket varieties to the fabulously sexy morcilla of my beloved Spain. But I have now come across one to rival the best – made by Clonakilty from Ireland. It is a stunner – a real mouthful of bp heaven. It is unctuous, a word I know I use a lot – but I love it and it was. And it awakens tastebuds in a way that leaves you thinking – hmmm…I’m in black pud paradise! I cannot recommend it highly enough if you are a fan of such fare – and if you are not, then you should be…and you will be if you give this baby a go. With a once in a blue moon fried egg (I’m more of a poached man – but somehow it just felt right this dank, drear morn to fry the free range meal in a shell) this was a fine way to start the day.

Oh…and as the plate said….it did all melt in the mouth!

Top Tapas Types and Tips…and an Olé to Olives!

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 “Eat when you drink, drink when you eat” is the Spanish philosophy. Spanish men traditionally drink outside the home and rarely alone. Tapas are not meant to be a meal (although a racion is a substantial portion). One tapa per person and a different one with each drink is the idea, then everyone enjoys tasting and sharing. Tapas food is real food – good local ingredients presented with flair. I adore morcilla, a Spanish version of black pudding (and being Lancastrian by birth black pudding is in my DNA !), frequently served as a tapa. The morcilla of Burgos is the most renowned. I love wafer like slithers of manchego cheese served in a little olive oil, cubes of tortilla, patatas bravas, pan fried chorizo, slices of bread rubbed with tomato with a slice of serrano ham on top, garlicky prawns. Where ever you go there are different ideas and combinations; they are never boring. The name changes from region to region. Montaditos, pinchos (pintxos in Basque), banderillas, raciones, cazuelitas, pulguitas – all are variations on the same theme.  Chiefly though, there are three main types according to how easy they are to eat: cosas de picar, pinchos and cazuelas. Cosas de picar – meaning ‘things to nibble’ basically refers to finger food- in other words anything that can be easily picked up with fingers and thumb alone.

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(above) Ornate ceiling of a favourite tapas bar in Barcelona…

The supreme example of this is I guess, the mighty olive. They are so Spanish. They even look Spanish! Spain offers the punter an estimated 260 different varieties of olive, from the shimmering olive groves that spread over a considerable sweep of the country. While many of these varieties are grown for olive oil there is still a huge selection grown for the table, to be enjoyed as plain black or green olives or stuffed with a variety of tasty fillings as part of a tapas selection. Here are the key varieties that you will come across.

The Manzanilla olive is perhaps one of the best known Spanish olives. From the small town in Andalusia also famed for its sherry, this is a juicy green olive that is often pitted and stuffed with anchovies, pimento or garlic. This is also the olive most often used in martinis.

The Arbequina olive is a small earthy green olive grown predominantly in Catalonia with a delicate, mild, smoky flavour, very popular as a table olive. Then we have the Empeltre olive – a medium sized Spanish olive of a purplish black colour and elongated shape. It is often served soaked in sherry as a special tapas dish. It is also a popular olive for making a black olive spread (tapenade) with a wonderful deep flavour.

The Sevillano or Queen olive has large, plump, round fruit. It is mostly grown for the table rather than for oil and is generally brine cured and stuffed with a variety of fillings.

The Picual olive tree is the predominant variety for olive oil production in many areas of Southern Spain. The large black olives of the younger trees are excellent for curing as table olives with a peppery, firm flesh.

The Hojiblanca olive is mostly used for oil, but has an intense flavour as a table olive, with fruity and peppery overtones and a hint of nuttiness.

The Picolimon olive is round and juicy with a fresh citrus flavour that goes well with many other foods and is great in salads.

The Verdial olive is a large dark olive with a robust flavour, perfect for olive lovers who like a full spicy taste. These are just a very few of the amazing types on offer.

Today Spain is the world’s biggest producer of olives and olive oil, with vast swathes of olive groves spreading over southern Spain, especially Andalusia. It was the Phoenicians who first brought the olive tree to Spain, but the Ancient Romans are credited with establishing vast farms of olives, often owned by absentee landlords who lived back in Rome. Although Italy produced its own olives, the Romans relied on Spain as a major supplier of olive oil to the Empire. The Moorish invasion of Spain in the 8th century AD developed and sustained the olive industry in Southern Spain, as it declined in many other parts of the former Roman Empire, introducing new varieties and production methods. 800 years later when the last of the Moors left Spain and it was ruled by Catholic kings, a taste for olive oil was considered to indicate suspicious sympathies for the old regime and believe it or not, lard was re-established as the principle cooking fat in all but the southern regions of Spain. As a Mancunian raised with lard in his diet I can only admire the idea, but today, give me olive oil every time!

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(above) A favourite tapas bar of ours in Zaragoza…

Serrano ham…it has it all….and I love it!

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This is a picture of a dish I knocked up from bits and bobs one evening – grilled aubergine and tomatoes topped with Serrano ham, mozzarella and manchego……….Ah…Spain….my heart skips a beat just at the thought of it. I love Spain. I adore Spanish food. It is more than that though – it is passion -a real passion for such great produce….great people…earthy, fabulous cuisine….OK ..that’s enough! You get the picture! Amongst my favourite contributions to the food world by Spain is Serrano Ham….say it again Serrano…it rolls off the tongue. Some foods just sound sexy before you have even met them. There is nothing more Spanish than jamón serrano.

This country ham ( the hind leg of the white pig) is a national treasure shared in Spain by all walks of life. Cured for at least a year, it has a much deeper flavour and firmer texture than its closest relative, Italian prosciutto, and less fat. The word “serrano ” in Spanish refers to the sierra, or mountains. Jamón Serrano is traditionally produced in mountainous environments where the air is clean, the moisture levels just right and the winters very cold. These are the traditional requirements for curing. The hams are placed in sea salt for a brief period of time – approximately one day per kilo – and then they are strung up. They are allowed to experience the changes of temperature as the seasons progress. The right time to eat them is when an experienced ham-master inserts a long splinter of cow bone and whiffs the jamón, like a connoisseur of wine who sniffs the cork. You will see them all over Spain, hanging from the rafters in delicatessens and tapas bars.

You must also try, if you have not already, Iberico Ham. The essential difference between Jamón Serrano and the marvellous Ibérico Ham (commonly known as “pata negra” or “black-hoofed” ham) is the breed of pigs and the diet they are fed on. Its curing process is very long too (over 2 years, twice as long as serrano ham) and it has outstanding flavour and aroma, much down to how the pigs are raised. These are truly spoilt pigs!

Immediately after weaning, the piglets are fattened on barley and maize for several weeks. The pigs are then allowed to roam in pasture and oak groves to feed naturally on grass, herbs, acorns and roots, until the slaughtering time approaches. At that point, the diet may be strictly limited to olives or acorns for the best quality jamón ibérico, or may be a mix of acorns and commercial feed for lesser qualities. The finest is called jamón ibérico de bellota (bellota being Spanish for acorn).

This ham is from free-range pigs that roam oak forests (called dehesas) along the border between Spain and Portugal, and eat only acorns during the last stages of their lives. Oh, and it is also VERY expensive! But. like all the best things in life…just tell yourself …’you’re worth it’ and buy some!

It actually only accounts for around 8% of ham sales in Spain. Both types are mounted on special stands called ‘jamoneras’ in order to slice them thinly. As well as eating it cold, it is also great to use serrano ham in cooked dishes.

I always have serrano in the house…you should too. It is so versatile. My two children adore a breakfast I occasionally make on Sundays using quails’ eggs and serrano ham.

For 4 of you, fry 2 or 3 large slices of serrano shredded slightly in olive oil until crispy. Crack 8 quails eggs into a bowl. Add gently to pan with ham and fry them for a couple of minutes or until the whites turn opaque. Sprinkle over some grated parmesan and let it melt a little, then scatter over some fresh thyme leaves and a twist or three of black pepper. You can make this with regular eggs… but I prefer this version.

And if you are going to woo someone this weekend…woo them with serrano…!