Mango millefeuille

Loosely based on a tapa served in a bar on the Costa Tropical, where mangoes are a popular crop. A ripe, freshly picked mango is a wonderful thing, best served simply. It works really well with soft cheese. The original was stacked millefeuille fashion with goat’s cheese and liberally sprinkled with coarsely grated Parmesan (not a good idea, it swamped the other ingredients). You can either stack or arrange on a plate as here, whatever takes your fancy. We actually like it with Philadelphia, in which guise it could almost be a dessert, but soft sheep’s cheese would work very well too. You can buy reduced balsamic vinegar in Lidl, otherwise it can be made by boiling down (cheap!) balsamic to reduce by 50%. We sometimes use miel de caña instead, which is a type of molasses, a byproduct of cane sugar production.

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Espinacas con Garbanzos: spinach and chickpeas

Spinach and chickpeas

This is a classic Seville tapa: every bar has a version of it. It might not sound exciting, but you will never regret trying it. It’s delicious and much healthier than the many deep-fried or meat-heavy tapas available. Suitable for vegans as well as vegetarians. We don’t often have it as a tapa at home — it makes a great light lunch or first course, with some flatbread. I use the recipe from my favourite Spanish cookbook, Anya von Bremzen’s The New Spanish Table, which I can’t recommend too highly.
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Ensalada tropical

ensalada tropical

This is a ubiquitous dish in the beach bars of Spain’s Costa Tropical, using locally grown exotic fruits. It’s a lovely refreshing starter which can also be quite substantial, while providing a large contribution to your five a day. We usually share one between two of us before a platter of grilled fish.

I will confess to not being a fan of conventional fruit salad: a variety of soggy fruits swimming in sickly sweet liquid does not float my boat. Bananas are especially loathsome in this context. But ensalada tropical is completely different: the dressing adds a welcome acidity that complements the fruit beautifully.

The recipe allows for considerable variation. The essentials are crisp lettuce, some kind of citrus, and something crunchy (although apple is not tropical, I think a few slices add the necessary texture). You won’t go far wrong by including mango, avocado and pineapple, in fact I think it’s incomplete without at least two of these. Melon in some form is good, and a few slices of kiwi fruit are attractive. We added persimmon to our last one, and that worked well too. I think passion fruit would be a lovely addition. Other than that, use what you like and is available (although I have to say I have never seen one featuring bananas, thank goodness).

We also toss in some of the handy fruit and seed mix sold as “salad mixture” in Spanish supermarkets (I always stock up on it when there). This usually features raisins, chopped walnuts, sunflower seeds, and maybe some chopped roasted hazelnuts.

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Jerusalem artichoke velouté

Many years ago, we grew some Jerusalem artichokes. I loved the flavour, but the knobbly little roots were such a pain to scrub and peel that it was a one-off experiment. But the other day I was shopping for Christmas in the wonderful covered market in Narbonne. Apparently progress has been made in selective breeding of Jerusalem artichokes. One stall had a box of oval pink topinambours about the size of new potatoes. No lumps and bumps! A plan was formed, and I bought half a dozen.

With my idea in mind I had a quick browse on Marmiton.org and picked this simple recipe for its overwhelmingly favourable reviews; everyone who tried it gave it 5/5. An excellent choice: easy to do, and the flavour was exactly what I hoped for. I’m serving it in shot glasses garnished with small cubes of foie gras, as an amuse-bouche on Christmas day. If that doesn’t float your boat, you can garnish with shreds of crisp-fried prosciutto, Iberico ham, or bacon; shavings of truffle; or just a drizzle of truffle oil.
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Cheat’s hummus

This isn’t really hummus, because it doesn’t have oil or tahini in it. But if you’re trying to cut down on fat intake, it’s not a bad substitute, and it is very quick and easy to make using a jar of chickpeas and a few other ingredients you’re likely to have on hand. It’s part of our campaign for healthier nibbles to eat with aperos; we have it with raw carrot sticks, but you can use other vehicles of your choice, including pitta bread of course.

Words of advice:

  • Use a Spanish brand of chickpeas if you possibly can, they are just better. Jars are generally better than cans for some reason.
  • Lack of tahini and oil means you have to really ramp up the spices and garlic to stop it being bland. Don’t take my quantities as gospel — taste and adjust as you like.
  • This makes a lot; I hope it freezes well because that’s what I’ve done with half of it. It will keep for a few days in the fridge.

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What to do with overgrown courgettes

A vexed question. This one was so overgrown it qualified as a marrow. We’d already done the standard stuffed marrow with half of it, and still had enough left for another meal. A bit of googling turned up something called “savoury marrow bake” at AllRecipes. I glanced at it half-heartedly and then realised it wasn’t stuffed marrow but a kind of frittata/crustless quiche for which we had all the ingredients. So we took the idea and ran with it, changing quantities to make a lighter, more slimmer-friendly dish. Of course you could add or substitute other veg if you wanted.

We were very pleasantly surprised by the result. The flour and baking powder give it a smooth yet light texture quite different from frittata. You can eat it warm or cold; we had it with a tomato sauce, but chilli jam would be excellent too. Good picnic or buffet fare, cut into small squares. Or use it as a side dish with anything that has a sauce. Definitely a keeper. Now I just need to think of a name for it.
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Salade Savoyarde

Poor neglected blog! Summer is a busy season; I just have time to post a recipe for this lovely salad from Savoie. It makes an excellent fuss-free starter when you are having a substantial main course; or you could eat it as a light lunch. Non-vegetarians can add strips of prosciutto or serrano ham, or crisply fried bacon bits. You can prepare all the ingredients in advance, adding the dressing and croutons at the last minute. This amount will serve about four people.
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Avocado, orange, and roasted pepper salad

orange, avocado, and roasted pepper salad

This recipe was inspired by a tapa in an Andalusian bar, in a village surrounded by thousands of avocado trees. The dressing is a version of a recipe I learned from Jim Fisher at Cook in France. There, we used grain mustard and served it on a salad of blanched spring vegetables and poached eggs. I toned it down a little here so as not to overwhelm the avocados. I like this colourful salad so much I’m already imagining variations: crumbled feta cheese on top, for example.
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Tortilla de patatas

Tortilla de patatas

There’s an art to making a good tortilla, and I’m not sure I’ve cracked it yet (although I’ve cracked plenty of eggs trying). It’s the sort of thing where even the most detailed recipe is no substitute for being able to sense when you’ve got it right. Even if they aren’t up to the standards of the average Spanish tapas bar (can I do those rounded edges? Can I hell!), I have been pretty satisfied with my last couple of attempts.

The key points are a) the correct ratio of eggs to potatoes, and b) the right sized, heavy frying pan. I reckon you need about one medium potato per egg, but really you need to look at the mixture and know whether to add another egg. It should be neither too eggy (it won’t hold together) nor too packed with potato (too stodgy). The mixture should fill the pan to a depth of between 1 and 1 1/2 inches — thin tortillas are hopeless, and if it’s too thick it will scorch before it’s set in the middle.

Some people slice the potatoes, others cube them. I’m in the “slice them” camp at the moment, but I may change my mind. The onion is essential — it will be too bland without. The end result should be firm enough when cold to cut into wedges or squares and eat with your hands. At the same time it’s not nice if it’s so overcooked it’s gone leathery (another reason not to do a thin tortilla).
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Moroccan carrot salad

A carrot salad might sound a bit dull, but this Ottolenghi recipe is really lovely. It reminds me of the delicious carrots I had as a side dish at a Lebanese restaurant in Vejer de la Frontera, Spain. I tweaked it a bit for French tastes (no chillis!). It’s very versatile — it can be served warm or at room temperature, as a dish in its own right, as one of a selection of hors d’oeuvres, or as a side dish. You can of course vary the spices according to taste.
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