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!


  1. ...delicious - I like the look of the non-tomato version..

    ...polished shoes or not, have you noticed how big her feet are???

    1. Ah ha! Perhaps dusting the ends of her feet is a distraction technique!

  2. As a Greek I have to protest , there is no better olive oil than the Creta and Messinia varieties, I have to admit though that Spanish olive oil is better than French, Italian and some of the Greek varieties. Kimchi is an acquired taste that I have never managed to acquire, I can't eat it as a side dish but at my last visit in Korea I had it with fried rice and small octopus, that was probably the best fried rice I have ever tried.

    1. Never been to Crete. I would love to go! Haven't seen much Greek oilve oil in shops in the UK. I must search some out!

    2. Even that myself I have roots on the Northern Aegean, I would highly recommend Crete , great food, great scenery, great people and a lot of places with historical and wargaming interest. I would suggest to avoid the touristic places though. If my father's in law harvest is any good this year, I promise to send you some olive oil from Messinia as a thanks for all your interesting posts for wargaming, good food and travels.