When life gives you lemons…

Well…you just have to go ahead and pick them. Then you share the lemon love with friends and neighbours and make delicious dishes like Lemon Rice, Chicken with Za’atar and Lemon or even Lemon and Chili Mussels.

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We planted our little tree just over 7 years ago, not long after moving into our Cortijo, or home in the country.  Initially we despaired of ever getting a single lemon from it as, despite the fairly temperate climate all year round, we often get strong winds. Our tiny tree grew but the winds stripped the flowers (which were to be our lemons) and even the leaves from it. Getting 2 puppies a year later who loved to dig also added to the stress for our little tree.

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But, all good things come to those who wait. Just look at it now! We’ve been away for 2 months, and at the end of October it was bare of lemons as we’d given some away and picked the rest to take back to England. It seems our “Limonero Lunero” (a lemon tree which flowers every new moon so that you have lemons all year round) thrives on neglect. It’s been a very dry year, we haven’t been around much, and now it’s groaning with lemons.

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There are still plenty to be picked, but I made a start. Maybe we’ll have Lemon Ravioli this week…

Pasta with Kale (in the absence of Cavolo Nero)

January is a dark, gloomy month for those of us in the Northern Hemisphere. For many of us it is a month of tightening the financial belt and loosening the trouser belt (whilst making plans to get fit) after the excesses of Christmas.

This is a dish which ticks all those resolution boxes – healthy, economical and it looks like Spring in a bowl, which is no bad thing. The garlic will ward away germs (or so my old Italian aunties always told me), it’s quick to prepare and you’ll feel comfortably full but without the feelings of guilt after eating this. Sounds good to me!

Even looking at it fills you with vitamins!
Even looking at it fills you with vitamins!

This dish was food for the poor folk…simple ingredients (although if you can afford to use your best olive oil, I’d highly recommend it) and no fuss to make.

Quantities are easily halved or doubled, I used regular kale as I didn’t have cavolo nero (also known as black leaf kale), and it was delicious. The colour was a more vibrant green than the almost black-green you get with cavolo nero.

Ingredients (to serve 2 people very generously)

  • 200g of kale leaves
  • Approx 100ml of extra virgin olive oil
  • 3 cloves of garlic, peeled
  • Maldon (or coarse) sea salt and black pepper
  • Grated parmesan to serve (optional)

Bring a large pot of salted water to boil and cook the kale and 2 of the garlic cloves for about 5 minutes until soft. It needs to be slightly more than wilted, but not soggy. Drain and put into a food processor.

As you start processing the kale, add slugs of olive oil to the mix until you have a slightly sloppy paste – rather like pesto.

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Crush the remaining clove of garlic with a teaspoon of rough salt and add 2 teaspoons of olive oil then stir this into the kale mixture. Taste and season with extra salt and black pepper if necessary and then stir into your favourite pasta, making sure you keep a little of the cooking water to loosen up the pasta if necessary once you have added the kale.

To serve, add grated parmesan if liked and some folk even add a little extra drizzle of olive oil. Go on, I won’t tell anyone!

If you’d like to see how we make our olive oil in Spain, click here.

A Vegetarian Feast – Mushroom Risotto with Asparagus

We love risotto and I make it often. Some folk are nervous about it, thinking it will be a pain to stand and stir, and worrying if the rice will be over cooked or undercooked. Relax, pour yourself a lovely glass of wine and just enjoy about half an hour of gently attending to your dish while your mind sorts out the worries of the day. The diners will eat when the risotto is ready. No sooner, no later. And if you don’t like your rice too “al dente”…well you’re in charge, you can cook it for longer.

It’s a great dish too for using up whatever you have to hand. Personally I’m not so keen on meat risottos so this is a good option for us on the days when we choose not to eat meat or fish. To make this vegan you’d need to use vegan cheese and leave out the splosh of cream at the end – it will still taste amazing, I promise.

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Ingredients to serve 6 as a starter, 4 as a main

  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • 400g carnaroli or arborio rice
  • 1 finely chopped onion
  • 2 peeled and crushed cloves of garlic
  • About 10g of dried porcini mushrooms soaked in boiling water, drain and finely chop the mushrooms and reserve the liquid. Make the liquid up to 1.5 litres with vegetable stock and keep it hot
  • About 300g chestnut mushrooms, thinly sliced or finely chopped
  • A tablespoon of butter
  • Fresh parmesan
  • A good splosh of cream

Start by warming the oil in a deep frying pan and sweating the onions and garlic until soft. Add fresh mushrooms and cook gently until they are also soft then add the rice. Stir the rice in the pan to make sure all the grains are coated in oil then add the chopped reconstituted dried mushrooms.

Slowly add the hot stock, a couple of ladles full at a time, stir into the rice and when it has been absorbed, add more liquid. When the rice is almost cooked to your liking, turn the heat off and stir in the butter and cream, cover and leave to stand for 5 minutes.

Serve with griddled asparagus and large mushrooms (brush them with olive oil and season before cooking on a hot griddle) for a filling main course. Sprinkle with fresh parmesan as you serve if that takes your fancy.

Summer Seafood Salad

As a child celebrations were always marked with great big meals for friends and family. Starters were a giant “antipasto” – the dish before the main meal. This became more elaborate the bigger the crowd and the grander the celebration.

Of course, the temptation was to fill up on the antipasti and then bemoan the fact that we were too full to enjoy the pasta, the meat, the fish, the cheese and salad and the desserts that followed. A lucky predicament to be in.

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My mum was great at pickling and grilling vegetables, a mainstay on the Italian table. But for me the highlight was always her seafood salad. Back in the day it wasn’t as easy to buy affordable, fresh seafood as it is nowadays. And to be honest, even now it’s still a luxury and for many people, living far from the coast, it’s not always available. This great thing about this dish is that, as you’re packing it full of so many fresh and zingy flavours, frozen seafood is fine. Yes, you heard it here, don’t be ashamed of making your seafood salad with frozen seafood – just be sure you defrost and cook with care and store chilled until serving. No one will be any the wiser!

Another great thing about this dish is that quantities are not important. If you can’t get squid, add octopus, if you can’t find mussels, leave them out or add a few more prawns. It’s up to you, so this is not really a recipe, just an inspiration for you to mix it up your way. What is important is to make it ahead, at least a few hours, or even overnight to allow the dressing to soak into the seafood and the flavours to develop.

Ingredients

  • For the seafood mix, use peeled king prawns, small prawns, sliced squid or baby squid and mussels. Ensure all the fish is cleaned and defrosted and well drained if necessary. Chop up a couple of cloves of garlic and reserve.
  • For the dressing make up a vinaigrette with two thirds extra virgin olive oil, one third acid (I use part lemon juice and part white wine vinegar), a sprinkle of sugar, half a teaspoon of made up mustard (or ¼ teaspoon of dried mustard powder) and salt and pepper. Put it all into a jar and shake it up well.
  • As a main course for 2 people, one tin of drained cannellini beans and two sticks of celery finely chopped.
  • For the salad a mix of finely chopped lettuce, tomatoes, peppers, red onions, and flat leaf parsley. For garnish and flavour at the end, some finely sliced hot chilli pepper and the zest of a lemon.

Keep the seafood separated out (each item takes a slightly different time to cook). In a wok or large frying pan add some olive oil and the garlic. Heat the oil gently and add the king prawns. Cook until the prawns have turned pink and the garlic is just starting to turn brown. Spoon out the prawns and garlic into a large bowl. Add more oil if necessary (no more garlic) and stir fry each of the seafood ingredients and add to the bowl. Mix the seafood together and allow to cool. Don’t worry if you are left with some lovely fish flavoured juices at the bottom of the bowl, these will add flavour to the dressing. If you are using pre cooked seafood, just mix it all together and move onto the next stage.

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After the seafood has cooled down, add the celery and beans and pour over the dressing. Mix well and chill for a few hours or overnight.

When you are ready to eat, bring the seafood and beans back to almost room temperature and add your salad ingredients. Mix, taste and adjust the seasoning. Plate up and garnish with the chilli and lemon zest.

Perfect as a filling main course, a special starter or as part of a celebration antipasto. Buon appetito!

Shallow Fried Cod with Vegetable and Saffron Risotto

Ok, so the photo doesn’t do this dish much justice but I’m an honest Chica and I don’t have photoshop. We also eat ridiculously late so there’s no natural light. But what I show you is a delicious meal which would also be an amazing light vegetarian lunch or supper without the cod.

The risotto is creamy and delicately flavoured and, as a bonus, pretty healthy and low in fat too as it contains no cream or cheese. Granted, coating cod in flour and frying it in olive oil sort of cancels that out, but fish and olive oil are good for us, we all know that, so not only does this taste great it’s good for you too!

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Ingredients to serve 2 hungry people (and we’re always hungry)

  • 1 large piece of cod cut into about 6 large chunks and lightly coated in seasoned flour
  • About 150g risotto rice (I used carnaroli)
  • Approx half a litre of hot vegetable stock into which you dissolve about 5 strands of saffron
  • One roasted red pepper peeled and finely chopped
  • Half an onion finely chopped
  • 4 cloves of peeled and crushed garlic
  • 1 small courgette cut into fine dice
  • 1 large ripe tomato, peeled and finely chopped
  • About a dozen mangetout beans, finely shredded
  • Olive oil
  • Seasoning
  • Lemon to serve

The risotto is made in the usual way – start by softening the onion and garlic in a few tablespoons of olive oil, then add the pepper, tomato and courgette and cook until the courgette has softened. Add the rice and make sure it is coated in oil before gradually adding a ladleful of hot stock. Cook until the stock has been absorbed then add the next ladleful. Continue in this way until the rice is just starting to lose its bite.

At this point heat olive oil in a deep frying pan to a depth of about 1cm (you can also either deep fry or use less oil if you prefer). When the oil is very hot, gently lower in the cod pieces and cook on each side for 2-3 minutes until golden brown.

While the cod is cooking add the shredded mangetout to the rice and a final ladleful of stock. Taste and season then place the cod on top of the rice. Turn off the heat and leave the rice to rest for a few minutes before serving with wedges of lemon to squeeze over.

Florentines – Chica Finally Makes Something Sweet

I know, I know, I can’t remember the last time I posted a recipe for something sweet and a little naughty. We all have to be naughty sometimes don’t we? And these bite sized Florentines really hit the spot and are a perfect gift to take along when you go visiting.

Florentines

I made these recently when we went for lunch with a pal to my parents. We’re not really a family of dessert eaters generally, but a little treat like this with a cup of strong coffee after a perfect lunch is a great way to round things off. And I know my mum has a soft spot for these little almond and chocolate biscuits so that was a good enough reason for me to have a go at making them.

They’re not all that difficult to make, you just have to keep an eye on them at each stage so that you don’t end up with burnt nuts (and nobody wants burnt nuts do they?!). Set aside a couple of hours and put a pot of your favourite coffee on to brew and you’ll enjoy a wonderful, creative afternoon making these sweet treats.

Ingredients

  • 3 tbsp butter
  • 3 tbsp golden syrup
  • 3 tsp flour
  • 100ml double cream
  • 50g/2oz flaked almonds toasted
  • 20g chopped hazlenuts
  • 100g/4oz dried sour cranberries and glace cherries finely chopped
  • 150g/5oz good quality dark chocolate broken into pieces (I did a few with white chocolate too)

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  1. Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas 4.
  2. Heat the butter, syrup and flour in a pan over a medium heat, stirring continuously, until the butter has melted
  3. Gradually add the cream, stirring continuously until well combined.
  4. Add the nuts and fruit and mix well until combined.
  5. Line a couple of baking trays with greaseproof paper and place teaspoonfuls of the florentine mixture onto it. Space the teaspoonfuls out at 2.5cm/1in intervals so they don’t merge together when heated.
  6. Transfer the florentines to the oven and bake for about 10 minutes, or until golden-brown. Keep an eye on them to ensure they don’t burn.
  7. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool on the tray, then transfer the florentines to a cooling rack. Be patient here, they need to be cool otherwise they will break easily when still warm and soft.
  8. Bring a little water to a simmer in a pan. Suspend a heatproof bowl over the water (do not allow the base of the bowl to touch the water). Add the chocolate pieces and stir until smooth and melted.
  9. Turn the florentines so that the flat base is facing upwards. Spread the melted chocolate over the florentine bases and set aside to cool and set. I used a pastry brush to do this.

Although keeping them in the fridge will cause the chocolate to lose its shine, I found that the warmth of my kitchen caused them to soften so I kept them cool. This crisped them up and they tasted great!

Inspired by a BBC Recipe

Potato Topped Pizza and a Walk Up the Mountain

If, like me, you don’t fear the carbs (although realy I should), this is a tasty and economical pizza to feed a crowd. And then you take the crowd out for a walk to burn off the carbs!

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Ingredients

  • One Quanity of Pizza Dough
  • About 2 cups of chopped tomatoes or your favourite pasta sauce
  • 1 large potato, boiled in its skin then peeled and cut into chunks
  • 1 ball of mozzarella, chopped into bite sized chunks
  • 1 clove of crushed garlic
  • Half a cup of grated cheese (I used a mix of parmesan and emmental)
  • 3 spring onions, finely chopped
  • 1 tin anchovies in olive oil (optional) omit for a vegetarian version

Turn the oven onto the highest setting while you prepare the pizza.  Put the tin or tray you will be using into the oven to heat up

Roll out your dough to fit the tin and place it on some greaseproof or baking paper. Cover with the tomato sauce. Mix the potato, cheeses, spring onion and garlic together in a bowl and spread this mixture over the pizza. Lay the anchovies over the top and pour over any oil from the tin.

Slide the pizza onto the hot tray (with or without the baking paper) and bake for about 12-15 minutes until the cheese starts to brown and the pizza is crispy.

Hope you enjoy the walk, click on the photos to see them in more detail.

Know Your Onions – Onions Braised in Wine and Balsamic Vinegar

What a funny expression that is. I struggled to find a decent explanation for it, although we use the expression to mean “knowing a lot about a subject”. If anyone can enlighten me, I’d love to know more!

Over on the beautiful prairies of the Midwest of America, our very dear friend Celia goes along each year to a big swapping fiesta. She usually comes home with some exotic and adorable creature like a white peacock or beautiful Boo the dog. Here, swapping is rife but generally restricted to gluts of fruit and vegetables and also poultry and eggs. As we’re not around so much right now, we can’t offer much but our dear friends and neighbours are busy keeping us supplied with delicious goodies.

Yesterday Big Man said he was popping out to see a man about some onions, as you do, and this is what he came home with.

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A lot of onions. And we’re due to be heading back to England in about a week, so there’s no way we can pack them into the car…we’d be asphyxiated by onion fumes. Time to get creative with onion recipes. Well, there’s Up the Mountain Onion Soup, of course. And maybe a caramelised onion tart. How about something different? Memories of my godmother, who came from the north of Italy, near Venice, and her method of cooking tiny onions in balsamic vinegar inspired me. I’m not sure if it’s exactly her recipe, but the taste was very similar and definitely worth buying onions to make specially.

Ingredients

  • Onions
  • Balsamic Vinegar
  • Olive oil
  • White or red wine
  • Salt and pepper
  • A few stems of a hardy herb like oregano (or you could use thyme or rosemary)

Chop the tops and bottoms off the onions so that they will sit flat in a deep frying pan or saucepan. Season with salt and pepper, drizzle over the balsamic vinegar (I used about 2 tablespoons for approximately a dozen onions), the same quantity of olive oil and pour over a glass of wine. I used Vino del Terreno (this translates as Wine of the Earth or Terrain) which is a wine many of our neighbours produce, a little rough and slightly sweet but oh so good with salty food. Scatter over the herbs and cover tightly with a lid or foil.

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Bring the pot to boiling point and then reduce to the lowest heat possible and cook gently, turning the onions once or twice, for about an hour. Just before serving, remove the lid and turn up the heat to reduce the delicious cooking liquid slightly. We ate these onions hot as a side dish but they would be delicious served at room temperature as a tapas or starter.

And just in case you don’t like wine but do like dogs (clearly not braised in wine and balsamic vinegar) here is a completely gratuitous shot of my pups Luna and Alfi hoping I don’t notice they are hogging the sofa.

No Dogs On The Sofa Please
No Dogs On The Sofa Please

 

And when she got there, the cupboard was bare … Almost Panzanella

You know what it’s like when you get back from a holiday and there’s nothing in the fridge apart from a sad carrot and a stinky piece of cheese you thought might just last until you got back? Yes? I thought so! Well, imagine how little there was at home for us after an absence of almost 5 months. A deeply sad situation. Thank god for the local bar/restaurant where we were welcomed with open arms on our first night and sent home with bread, tomatoes and onions to see us through the next morning.

After my favourite Spanish breakfast I got to thinking about how inventive we can all be when we have very little to play around with. Every country has a dish for leftover bread and the Italian bread and tomato salad called Panzanella came to mind.

Sunshine is a glorious extra!
Sunshine is a glorious extra!

We have litres and litres of our very own beautiful olive oil which was milled just a few weeks ago and our lemon tree is loaded with lemons. I added a tin of tuna from the larder (not very authentic but what the heck) and a handful of parsley from the garden. Honestly, I should leave the fridge bare more often so that I can remember to enjoy dishes like this.

Ingredients (you choose the quantities)

  • Stale bread cut into small cubes
  • Roughly chopped tomato and onion
  • Chopped parsley (basil is more authentic though)
  • A finely chopped clove of garlic
  • Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
  • Lashings of olive oil and plenty of lemon juice or wine vinegar
  • Add some chopped cucumber if your fridge is being kind to you
  • Optional – a tin of tuna (omit to keep it vegetarian)

Put all the ingredients (except the seasoning and dressing) in a bowl and mix with your hands. Dress lavishly with oil, add lemon or vinegar to taste and season. Mix again with your hands, squishing the tomato a little so that the juices run out. Leave it for at least 10 minutes so that it can absorb all those wonderful flavours and enjoy!

Crab, Lemon, Chili and Ricotta Ravioli and Mushroom and Tomato Ravioli

That’s a whole lot of ravioli, but as Chgo John will confirm, if you’re going to make ravioli, you may as well make plenty!

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A previous ravioli making session confirmed that they’re much easier and more fun to make if you work with friends. A recent Sunday lunch with girlfriends was a hands on affair – cooking first, eating later, but all accompanied with laughter, wine and chatting.

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We made half a kilo of pasta (500g of flour with 5 eggs, salt and a splash of olive oil) and two fillings. Weights are approximate, but will make filling for about 25 ravioli per filling and you may find you have enough pasta left over for making a little batch of tagliatelle.

Lemon & Chilli Filling

  • About 200g fresh ricotta
  • Approx 200g cooked crab meat (white and dark)
  • 1 teaspoon of fresh grated ginger
  • The grated zest of a lemon
  • 1 small red chilli, deseeded (or not!) and very finely chopped
  • Salt and pepper

Mix all the ingredients together, taste and adjust seasoning and use to fill your ravioli. We served these with melted butter melted butter mixed with a little crème fraiche, lemon zest and fresh rosemary with parmesan.

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Mushroom Filling with Tomato Sauce

  • 1 dozen medium sized mushrooms and stalks very finely chopped and fired gently with 2 cloves of crushed garlic and 1 teaspoon of finely chopped rosemary until softened
  • About 125g mascarpone cheese
  • ¼ teaspoon of smoked pimentón
  • ½ ball of mozzarella, finely chopped
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • About 2 cups of thick homemade tomato sauce
  • Fresh parmesan

Mix together the mushrooms, pimentón, mascarpone and mozzarella to form a paté type paste, season and adjust if necessary. Use to fill your ravioli and serve with tomato sauce and freshly grated or thinly sliced parmesan.