Wednesday, 12 September 2018

Fabada Asturianas

I've been enjoying the Vuelta a Espana this year and it has been a much more open race than either this year's Giro or Tour. Given my painting project at the moment I was also amused to see that two stages this years started in the sites of Peninsula War Battles: Talavera and Salamanca. One of the best stages was Sunday's Stage 15 which took place in the northern region of Asturias. I decided to assemble the ingredients for that most typically Asturian dish, Fabada, to have while I was watching it, as my final Grand Tour recipe of the year.

Only the podium girl on the right looks like she could take on Fabada!

Watching the Vuelta this year, I was conscious of how arid much of Spain is, in comparison to Italy and France.  Just as the Vuelta is lacking in visible podium girls (they are there (see above) just not really seen on TV) in comparison to the other two Tours, so much of Spain seems to be lacking in green vegetation. It's a parched looking landscape of dusty soil and small, stunted trees.  Going north to Asturias, however, saw thickly wooded mountain slopes, dotted with some truly spectacular castles and abbeys.  It's a part of Spain I would like to visit, although the weather can be wet, given how close to the ocean it is.

As is well known, olive oil which has pictures of girls on the label tastes better

Fabada is very much in the same cross-Pyrenean tradition as Cassoulet and Alubias rojas de Tolosa,  It is what food writers would call a 'hearty' dish, meaning that is it is hugely calorific.  Like Cassoulet and Alubias, there are many different variations and my version is an amalgam of various recipes. Basically, though, it's about beans and meat and as such is really a winter dish in Spain, often served in small portions as a starter.  To begin, I fried some red (which is often specified) onion and garlic (from the Isle of Wight!) in a little Spanish olive oil, which I think is, on the whole, better than Italian, French and Greek oils anyway (there is also really excellent olive oil on Malta but they don't really export it).  I used two small cloves as I was chopping it but if you are using whole cloves to cook in the dish then up to six is suggested.

The next key ingredient is Serrano ham, ideally in one piece so you can cut it into chunks but, given how difficult it is to get it in any way other than sliced I used a pack of sliced Serrano and chopped it into pieces to add to the garlic and onion.

Next is sausages and I grilled some Waitrose chorizo, as it should be the variety that needs cooking first, but also added a cured chorizo and a black pudding in lieu of morcilla Spanish blood sausage, which you can get in the UK, mail order, if you want to be authentic. 

Peel the black pudding and cured chorizo and chop into chunks with the grilled sausages too.  I only used three of the grilled sausages, keeping the others for another meal.  Add the black pudding to the pan  first and cook on  a low heat for about five minutes with the onion, garlic and Serrano ham.  Then add the two types of chorizo. In Spain they are likely to put the sausages in whole but I chopped them all into pieces about an inch long , mainly because my pan isn't that big.

While this is going on, grill a small steak and a small gammon steak in lieu of salt pork.  'You can't use a picture of Tesco meat!' squawked a horrified Old Bat, in true John Lewis partner style.

Add all the meat, chopped into pieces about an inch and a half square, into the pan and add some seasoning.  I had a ready made bouquet garni pouch but, at least, it should be a bay leaf.  Some paprika, and I prefer the smoked version, plus some strands of Saffron (this is not an economy dish).  I remember, when I was small, that you could buy saffron powder in supermarkets but as it became more and more expensive it disappeared.  You can still get it but it costs about £5 per gramme. A bottle containing a few strands costs about £4 in the supermarket but fortunately one of my lady friends had brought me some back from India. Add some black pepper but you don't need salt because of the gammon.

Now add a glass or two of stock, a glass or red wine and some passata.  I don't measure this out, just do it by feel, so that you have enough liquid to enable the dish to simmer for an hour without drying up.  If it starts to look a bit dry just add more stock (or wine).  They do make wine in Asturias but it is very difficult to get in most shops, which are Rioja fixated. Given I was (mostly) cooking with it I used a Cariñena red from Aragon.

Now it's time to add the beans. Traditionally, you would use dried beans and soak them overnight and then cook them the next day but I can't be bothered with that!  Most UK adaptions of the dish suggest haricot or cannellini beans but Asturian fabes are larger than this and so butter beans are a better substitute.  Put two cans into the pan with all the other ingredients and stir them in.

Simmer gently on top of the stove for around an hour, stirring and checking the liquid, occasionally. In Spain, this would be served without an accompaniment, other than bread, and often is a soup bowl.   I had it with rice but Savoy cabbage would also be a good alternative.   I've got enough left over for three more servings at least!

Ingredients (for four)

2 cloves of garlic (chopped)
1 small red onion (chopped)
1 pack of Serrano ham (chopped)

1 black pudding ring (peeled and cut into chunks)
1 chorizo ring (peeled and cut into chunks)
4 paprika flavoured sausages for grilling (cut into chunks)
1 small rump steak (cut into pieces)
1 unsmoked gammon steak (cut into pieces)
1 glass of Spanish red wine
2 tins of butter beans

Olive oil
Saffron strands
Black pepper

Sunday, 13 May 2018

Giro food: Chicken with garlic, lemon and rosemary

Well, it is the first big cycling tour of the year, the Giro d'Italia and so I thought I should do an appropriate recipe. I've done Tour and Vuelta linked recipes before but not one for the Giro which, given Italy has the most interesting and consistently high quality food of the three, is a bit of an anomaly.  One of the Eurosport commentators actually is doing a recipe a day so I thought I'd have a go at the one for Stage 8, which is a pheasant recipe.  However, while his recipe was for the regionally, appropriate pheasant, it is only in season in the UK from October to February, so I used chicken instead.  I pointed this out to him on his website and he came back and said that people might have frozen pheasant in their deep freeze. Oh yes, between the Ben and Jerry's and the peas, of course.  It was like when Selena Scott said on The Clothes Show, once, that "everyone has their Jean Muir little black dress".  Actually, Selena...  But then this character calls himself 'Jono', which is only one step down on the pretentious scale from calling yourself 'Jonty'.  Thinking about it, for many years I did actually often have frozen pheasant in the freezer as my aunt and uncle used to shoot them and give us a brace every time we went down to see them in Sussex.  The Old Bat pointed out that we had them in the field at the back of the house at the moment and perhaps I should get my air rifle out.  "Only if you pluck them" I replied.  Silence.  When I was small we often had dead (obviously) pheasant hanging around in the garage before Christmas (we would always have it on Christmas Eve) and my poor mother had to pull all the feathers off.  It is no wonder she preferred to cook Spam fritters.

For the first time in a major cycling tour the race started outside Europe, with three stages in Israel, giving us the most scenically tedious stage ever, as they trekked across the Negev desert.  Enlivened only by the occasional random camel, the landscape reminded me of a recent documentary on the Titanic where they digitally recreated what the wreck site would look like if the ocean was removed, thereby providing a scene like the one from the opening of Close Encounters of the Third Kind.  It looks like it might be a close race this year with a number of people looking like they could win and Chris Froome and Sky looking decidedly off form (Are your men on the right pills? Perhaps you should execute their trainer).  The race is currently being led by British cyclist Simon Yates who was banned for four months in 2016 because his team doctor failed to apply for a Theraputic Use Exemption for his asthma inhaler.  It's amazing how many asthmatics seem to take up cycling.

Anyway, at least the Giro has not banned podium girls, unlike the Vuelta and as now threatened by the Tour de France this year.  Does no one worry about what tall, skinny students and models in Europe will do in the summer?  Don't they have an association fighting for their rights?  Perhaps, I could help them form one, as they are an oppressed minority and those seem to be the only groups who anyone thinks about these days.  It's not often I see the Old Bat completely enraged but she was last night when there was TV advert for the Army that showed a unit having to stop patrolling while a Muslim soldier prayed to his imaginary friend.  "But they're the people we should be fighting!" she squawked, on the edge of apoplexy (she loves Donald Trump).  On a similar note, I don't have any time for the government of the People's Republic of China, as I have worked with them quite a bit and found them unpleasant but they went up in my estimation last night when they refused to broadcast the Eurovision Song Contest, not on grounds of musical taste, as you might think, but because there were people with tattoos in it and these have just been made illegal in China.   Hooray!  Can we do this too, please?

Anyway, on to our recipe for Stage 8.  The trick with this is to marinade it for an hour.  I put two chicken breasts (or a jointed pheasant if you have bothered to check when it is actually available, Jono) in a glass bowl with around 50cl of olive oil, together with the individual leaves from around four stalks of rosemary, one quartered lemon and about six cloves of crushed garlic.  Make sure you rub the marinade into the chicken breasts thoroughly and add salt and pepper before covering and putting in the fridge for an hour.

Take the chicken breasts and gently brown them in a casserole on top of the oven and then add the marinade (without the lemons), two glasses of Italian White wine and cook with the lid on for about forty minutes.

You should, properly, serve this with rice and green beans but I substituted peas as I can't stand green beans which are always cold whenever you get them on the plate and, anyway, taste like compressed pond slime.

Speaking of pond slime, the Old Bat (careful) was cleaning out the pond yesterday and rushed inside ,crying: "There is a baby alligator in the pond! Get the camera!"  I pointed out that as we don't live in Florida it was unlikely but there you go.  It was a newt, of course but, still, we don't recall having one in the garden before.

An appropriate wine to accompany newt, er chicken masquerading as pheasant, would be the aromatic Greco di Tufo, the grapes for which are grown, appropriately for a stage with a mountain top finish, at altitude.  In fact it is produced in only eight villages just ten miles from the stage finish at Montevergine di Mercogliano in Campania, just north east of Naples.  Mine came from Waitrose (£10.99 and helped cushion my senses to the Eurovison Song Contest, too.

Thursday, 7 September 2017

Vuelta food: Alubias Rojas de Tolosa

Cycling Grand Tours do not, as you might think, circulate the country in a continuous route.  The routes are hammered out, informed by the organising committee wanting to chop and change the nature of the cycling (more or less mountains, more sprints, time trials etc) and the stage start and finish towns, prepared to pay around 100,000 Euros to have all the traffic in their municipality brought to a standstill for several days, so they can showcase their sights.  This year's Vuelta a España route looks more like a bunch of random squiggles than a tour.

Compared with last year's route, which focussed very much on the North West of the country, the distribution was a bit more even this year (back to Catalonia again, for example).  Still, it returns to the Basque Country (or Euskal Herreria as the separatists would have it) again this year as it did last year.  For decades the Vuelta ignored the Basque region and hardcore separatists object to its inclusion in the race as they argue that the Basque region isn't part of Spain and shouldn't therefore be in the Vuelta.  This is a poor argument, as the Vuelta visits other countries (especially France) and has even started in Belgium, which isn't even contiguous.  There are actually ongoing discussions about starting it in Yorkshire in three to five years time.  Lots of Basques do take the opportunity to show the flag, though.  The Legatus  had a girlfriend once (well, maybe three times) from the Basque region, whose last name sounded like a sneeze (and would have been a high scoring word in Scrabble, given the number of 'X's in it) but I have never been there, unlike Catalonia.

Eurosport has been showing the race live, which I watch in the evening when you can fast forward through the boring breakaway days.  Unfortunately, they have two dreadful commentators; the expert but incomprehensible Sean Kelly and the quite horrible Carlton Kirby (who calls their child Carlton, anyway?) who lives in Teddington, not far from where I went to school (their used to be a very good model shop there - the only place locally you could get the famous mod-roc, as espoused in Terence Wise. Introduction to Battle Gaming.  Now the most irritating thing (of many) about Kirby is that before he starts a sentence he smacks his lips.  It is a tic of horrific annoyance.  After watching most of the live stage I then shift to  the highlighs on ITV4 where they show the last twenty or so kilometres and thave the really expert duo of Ned Boulting (whose sister runs the arts centre in Walton, just down the road) and David (drugs cheat but intelligent) Millar, who was separated at birth from Benedict Cumberbatch.  Then I noticed Ned Boulting smacks his lips too.  Aargh!  Bring back Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwin, I say!

The boy was removed as I found his presence offensive

Anyway, I have had to temporarily abandon my boycott of Spanish produce to have something to go with the action and even buy some overpriced Spanish wine to console myself at the disappearance of the podium girls.  Yes, the Tour of Spain has become the first of the major tours to dispense with podium girls, under pressure from feminists and girly men (like Chris Boardman).  Interestingly, the Vuelta and the Tour de France are both run by the same company but they have admitted that they will not be removing podium girls from the Tour de France as 'that is not even a  debate' in France.  French women are more confident and sensible in their feminism; concentrating on important issues such as equal pay and promotion prospects while retaining their right to be appreciated for making the effort to look nice.  In fact, technically there are four podium girls (and a podium boy) this year but their presence has been very low key, although Chris Froome, to his credit, always goes out of his way to kiss the girl handing him the flowers.  One of the key roles of the podium girl is to place the relevant jersey on the rider at the end of the stage but this year they have been using a mixture of other people to fulfill this role. many of whom have muffed the process, leading to an undignified struggle, unlike the super efficient ladies in France.  Use a professional!

A few years ago (well, eight) I discovered the Galician wine Albarino, made from grapes of that name.  Galicia is on the the Atlantic coast of Spain and this particular wine originates in the Rias Baixas. The Rias are large inlets from the sea which legend says were shaped by the fingers of God whilst standing in the garden of Eden. Hmm. As my father used to say 'religion was invented by primitive man to explain the world around him'. This particular garden became an approved Denomination of Origin only in 1988 and it's really only in the last fifteen years or so that Albarino has been available outside Galicia.  

It really is one of my favourite summer wines.  I used to drink the amusingly titled Lagar de Bouza in the Leadnenhall Tapas Bar which is now, sadly, a Rioja only branch of La Tasca.  One month in 2009 my friends and I drank so much that they ran out.  The food there has improved but the wine is less interesting these days.  Fortunately, my local supermarkets of Sainsbury, Waitrose and Tesco all do examples.  Perfect with olives, chorizo, jamon and manchego

Alubias de Tolosa

With the Vuelta moving into the Basque region, this week, the food and wine becomes clear.  It's like when the Tour de France goes through Languedoc-Rousillon and you have cassoulet. In this part of Spain you have Alubias Rojas de Tolosa.  Its is very like a Spanish version of cassoulet, except it is made with red (almost black in the town of Tolosa itself, which the Vuelta visited last year) beans. 

Members of the Cofradia Alubia de Tolosa

The celebrated black Alubias de Tolosa even have their own bean festival in the town in November, which is run by the brotherhood of the bean (they sport bean coloured berets and cloaks!).  Purists just boil their beans for three hours, with maybe a bit of onion and a bay leaf and serve it like a soup.

Like Cassoulet there are many different versions but this is a reasonable attempt at one of the variations from the region. It is partly based on a Spanish cookbook I used to have, which was stolen by an ex-girlfriend, partly on some Basque tourist websites and partly on the advice of the aforementioned Basque  girl,who I knew in Rome (oddly), until my Italian girlfriend found out and put a Sicilian hex on her (she really did!)

Gently fry a chopped onion, a leek, chopped garlic and a chopped green pepper until the onion is clear and soft.  Then reserve them.  Some people don't include the leek but I think it adds to the taste.

Next, you have to start on the all important sausage element.  In the Basque country you would use morcilla, a blood sausage, which in the north contains a lot of onion (southern varieties contain rice as well) but we have to make do with blood pudding which uses oatmeal rather than onion.  It doesn't matter that much as it's job is to dissolve into, well, blood.

The normal chorizo (which just means 'sausage' in Spanish, of course (or txistorra in the Basque language), should be cut into 3cm chunks and gently fried to seal it.

While these gently fry, start on the other sausages (this is not a World Health Organisation approved recipe) which you should grill.  Waitrose's chorizos (which need to be cooked) are ideal.

You should also add some pork. Technically you should use salt pork but I tend to use either belly pork (grilled) or pig cheeks (fried). Some people use gammon or bacon joint but the meat shouldn't really be cured.

From this point on some of my pictures become a bit blurred due to the fact that I had one more bottle of Albarino than I thought and needed something to drink while I cooked. You need to start putting everything that you have cooked back into the casserole, all cut into chunks.  I briefly fry the pieces of black pudding first but these will melt anyway.

Once all this has been reassembled into the casserole, another artistic decision needs to be made.  Tomatoes or not?  Some recipes add tomatoes to the pepper, garlic, onion, leek, chorizos and pork but some do not.  I have made it both ways and it does change the character of the recipe quite a lot.  Certainly you need beans and all the recipes bang on about pre-soaked dried beans but I don't have time for all that, even if the brotherhood of the bean wouldn't approve!

What you get is two rather different looking dishes.  The top one has tomatoes the bottom one does not but even in the non tomato version the black pudding dissolves to make a dark gravy.

Traditionally this dish is served with cabbage and chilli peppers.  Savoy cabbage is the best option here.  Now, the Legatus doesn't much like cabbage. For many years it was my least favourite food (until I tried Kimchi in Korea. Oh wait. That is fermented cabbage!) largely caused by the foul, slimy leaves, swimming in water, we had at junior school lunch. The first girl I ever loved was S, at junior school, as she would take my cabbage off my plate and eat it, thus meaning that I avoided the punishment of having to sit there looking at your uneaten, slimy vegetation during lunch break, overseen by the glowering figure of the head dinner lady, the appropriately named. Mrs Common.  When I found myself, some years ago, completely naked in a sauna in Sweden with my twenty one year old naked lady friend (who I had seen naked before), her naked fifteen year old sister and naked forty four year old mother (who I had not) it was boiled cabbage I thought about in order to retain some decorum.

Remove the loose outer leaves of the cabbage, cut into four and cut out the hard white core from the base and boil for around ten minutes (crying 'die, cabbage die!' is optional).

Next take three to six (they are hot) Spanish Guindilla peppers (a Basque favourite) and fry them gently. Chop them and put about a third of them into the casserole then stir fry the cooked cabbage leaves with the remaining Guindilla pieces.

Serve the alubias rojas mixture on a bed of fried cabbage and Guindilla peppers. Espléndido!  This dish is known as sausage splat in our house, due to the mess I always seem to make when producing it.

I had it with a nice red from the regionally appropriate Navarre (or Nafarroa, in Basque).

Feminism hasn't totally won out on the Vuelta this year, although I cannot imagine a Tour de France hostess appearing without having shone her shoes properly before being photographed!

So, now you are ready for the next stage of the Vuelta!

Sunday, 25 December 2016

Christmas Food and Drink!

Christmas food and drink presents from my sister, sister-in-law, daughter and the Old Bat. Pork pie, cheddar, piccalilli, pickled onions (Barry Norman's...and why not? - truly excellent), diabetic chocolate and shortbread (to help off-set the pork pie).

 To drink, I have more of the increasingly difficult to find Lifeboat tea, a South African Merlot, four Badger beers (to celebrate the badger in the garden this year - and also the fact that is what the Old Bat looks like if she can't find her hair dye) and, finally, a gift set of the new Thames Side Brewery's beers from my home town of Staines (only on sale in two shops in Staines at present.

I saw an excellent programme called Victorian Bakers' Christmas last night that said that, before the Prince Albert version of Christmas, British Christmas celebrations would last from Christmas Day until Twelfth Night. Charlotte and I intend to follow this tradition with our food this year. Why pig out on just one day when you can pig out on twelve?

Saturday, 19 November 2016

Scotch Woodcock

I first had this savoury, often served at the end of a meal in Oxford colleges, in my first term at university in 1979.  It makes a better breakfast or brunch than the end of a meal and here is how I cooked it today, after coming back from the Warfare wargames show at Reading..

Ingredients are very simple: just three (or four if you are hungry like I was) eggs per person, bread for toast (I had Dutch rye bread) a tin of anchovies and some black pepper and butter

Reserving four of the anchovy fillets mash up the remainder of the anchovies with half a teaspoon of butter and add some black pepper.  Many people use Gentlemen's Relish instead of mashed anchovies which is fine if you can take the rank, cat food smell and the rank, cat food taste.

Scramble the eggs with a knob of butter, add black pepper and optional cayenne pepper.   Toast the bread, spread the mashed anchovies on the toast, add the scrambled egg (and maybe some chopped fresh parsley) and top with the four reserved anchovies.  Ideally eat with a relaxed redhead...