Griddled Aubergines with Salsa Verde and Tomatoes

Our recent month in Spain was less of a holiday and more of a race to get through a list of household chores and maintenance, family visits and dealing with banks, bills and bureaucracy. Still, it had to be done, and there were of course a few special times of relaxation and fun with family and friends. Sometimes, though, it was nice just to have a couple of hours at our little cortijo (that’s a house in the country in Spain) and relax with a meal and a bottle of wine.

Berenjenas y Limones 001

The weather was all rather unpredictable going from an initial 40 degrees which knocked us sideways, to down below 20 degrees.  Then it jumped around from lovely to grey and cloudy, rainy and windy, then back to lovely. Honestly, we could have been in England! When we did have a comfortably warm day, we fired up the barbecue and cooked and ate outside. Some days we ate meat, but after a few weeks of a meat heavy diet, we craved vegetables. Luckily we were gifted an awful lot of salad so made a local gazpacho. Sounds weird but it works, trust me!

Big Man is not a fan of aubergines, but he did give this dish a go and grudgingly agreed that it was “comestible” – that’s Spanish for edible! Luckily we also had salmorejo (another variation of the more traditional gazpacho) my very favourite summer soup, to save him from fading away and I feasted on most of the absolutely delicious aubergine.

Ingredients (to serve 2 as a main course)

  • 1 large aubergine sliced into ½ cm slices lengthways and brushed lightly with olive oil on both sides
  • Some salsa verde (Spanish style) or just make up a mix of fresh olive oil with some finely chopped garlic, herbs and a pinch of salt
  • A large tomato, finely chopped
  • A finely chopped chilli (optional)

Fire up the barbecue if the weather permits or heat up a griddle pan. I never salt my aubergines as I really don’t find them bitter. Feel free to do this if you like, but don’t, of course, brush them with oil until you’ve rinsed them.

Berenjenas y Limones 004

Grill lightly on both sides and drizzle over some salsa verde. Cover tightly with foil or cling film so that they sweat slightly, and absorb the dressing at they cool down. Serve at room temperature with the tomato and chilli sprinkled over. That’s it, easy eh?!

For another grilled aubergine dish, take a look here.

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Just a Perfect Day….

So, Sunday 1st July, and it´s been a pretty Perfect Day here Up the Mountain.

(I´m just enjoying the song for the music, not looking into the deeper meaning here)!

We packed up the car with dogs, chairs and a picnic and headed down to a shady picnic area near a local lake. Of course, there was Jamon y Queso (ham and cheese).

No Spanish picnic would be complete without tortilla, and we also had some fried, salted peppers (although they were sweet today, not spicy).

And plenty of gazpacho to cool us down.

Then after chilling out, we headed off to watch the football….a glass of tinto de verano got us in the mood.

And … well…I went for the red shirt in the end. I figured, Spain is home, and home is where the heart is….Sorry Papá 4-0 to Spain against Italy!

It was a Perfect Day.

PS. Off again to the UK for a few days on Tuesday, so I´ll catch up with you all when I get back on Sunday.

Couscous – Two Ways

Now that the heat seems to have arrived (and looks to stay), we make the shift to summer food. Fast cooking, not so much time spent in the kitchen, and a lot of cooking on the barbecue…as long as we can find a shady spot for it.

Couscous ticks a lot of the boxes as it´s so quick and easy to prepare, and provides a blank canvas to work with. I´m sure many of you have your favourite ways of preparing it, and I´d love to hear what they are. Here are a couple of ways I´ve served it recently. Both versions serve 4 as a side dish and were made with 1 cup of cous cous prepared according to the packet instructions and served chilled.

Couscous with Mushrooms and Courgettes

  • 1 medium onion, 1 cup mushrooms and 1 medium  courgette all finely chopped and sautéed until soft.
  • Mix with the cous cous, season and dress with olive oil, lemon juice and some finely chopped parsley.

Couscous with “Gazpacho”

  • Inspired by our summer favourite, I mixed the cous cous with finely chopped red onion, tomato, cucumber, green pepper and mint and dressed it (after seasoning) with olive oil, white wine vinegar and some finely chopped mint.

Two simple dishes to inspire and feed you.

Gorgeous Green Gazpacho

Green. Gorgeous. Good.

Who says Gazpacho has to be red?  Well, if you promise not to tell the Andalucían gazpacho Police…I say it doesn´t!

In the vegetable garden at the moment, our cup overfloweth. Some things just can´t be canned or frozen – like cucumbers.  And those little green thin skinned Spanish peppers are best eaten fresh in salad, stuffed or fried.

I wanted to find a new way of using up some of my “greenery” and came up with this version of gazpacho.  It´s a stunning colour, tastes rather like juiced vegetables and I´m sure must be amazingly good for you and packed with vitamins.  Probably an excellent pick me up for the morning after the night before too.  We just drank it chilled as a pre lunch appetizer.

Here´s what I used, but if you do decide to give it a go I´m thinking celery, avocado and lime juice might also be great additions.

Two thin green peppers, one small cucumber (peeled), a small clove of garlic, a small bunch of parsley, 4 large leaves of raw chard (or spinach).

In a blender mix the vegetables with about 3 tablespoons of olive oil, white wine vinegar and salt (to taste) and a litre of ice cold water.

Blend until smooth, add a few ice cubes and chill until needed.  Looking as gorgeous as it does, it just has to be good for you!

Gazpacho as we know and love it

In Andalucia we don´t eat tomatoes...we drink them!

So, now we come to the Gazpacho most people are familiar with – the iced tomato and vegetable soup famed the world over (well, almost!).

It is served both as a soup here and as a drink.  In most homes it comes in a glass.  In fact there is a wonderful advert for my favourite Spanish beer, Cruzcampo, which celebrates all things Andalúz.  One line in the voice over says something along the lines of “In Andalucía we don´t eat tomatoes, we drink them!” (If you have time to watch it, it´s worth it, even if you don´t understand Spanish, just to see a few snippets of summer life in Andalucía).

Every housewife will give you a slightly different recipe, adding her own little tweaks (more of this, less of that). Some use stale bread, some don´t. I tend not to unless I want to serve it a little thicker as a soup which can then be garnished with little chopped cubes of the same vegetables that go into it.

So, without further ado, here´s how I make mine.

Peeled Tomatoes, Green Pepper, Red Pepper, Onion (optional) Peeled Cucumber, Salt, Water, Olive Oil, White Wine Vinegar.

It´s difficult to give quantities. If my tomatoes are lovely and red, I use less red pepper. Sometimes I don´t use onion.  But the green pepper and the cucumber do give it that distinctive fresh taste, so try not to leave them out.

A few simple ingredients

Today I used 4 large plum tomatoes, one thin green pepper, a small amount of red pepper and a small chunk of onion and half a small peeled Spanish cucumber.

Put all the vegetables into a jug or the food processor.

Put into your jug or blender

Start with one level teaspoon of salt, 3 tablespoons of vinegar, 1 tablespoon of olive oil and about half a litre of water.

Add water, vingegar, oil and salt

Now it´s time to start blending.  Add more seasoning, vinegar and water as you go along if you want to.  Today I added another tablespoon of vinegar (you remember they like it “alegre” or lively here right?!) and about another 250ml of water to thin it a little.

...and blend!

Then chill until you need it.  If you have put onion in it´s fine on the day you made it but I find it starts to “ferment” a little if you have any left over.  Also, while standing in the fridge it may start to separate a little with the water at the bottom and the vegetables on top – just give it a stir before serving and it will be fine.

Big Man gets arty with the vegetables

Now, go and put on a straw hat, a paso doble on the cd and lie back in a shady spot and sip on your ice cold Gazpacho.  Or ga-pacho, as they tend to say here! These Andaluces and their habit of dropping the “s” sound….most confusing!

Salmorejo Cordobés – Another kind of gazpacho

 

Creamy Salmorejo

As promised, another version of the famed Andalucían gazpachos.  This one originates from the beautiful city of Córdoba, and is my favourite version of all.  It is different in that it uses very few ingredients but can be served three ways – very thick as a dip with small breadsticks (known as Picos), medium thick garnished with chopped hard boiled egg and jamon or tuna as a chilled soup starter, or diluted with water as a refreshing drink.  So…three dishes in one!

Ingredients for this are few and it will serve from 6 (as tapas) to 2 (as a soup) approximately:

  • 2-3 slices of stale bread without the crust (should be a fairly dense bread rather than sliced white from the supermarket)
  • About 500g of tomato, cored and peeled (I had one HUGE tomato as you can see in the photo) but usually the volume of the tomato once in the jug is a little more than the volume of the breadcrumbs
  • A chunk of red pepper (optional)
  • Half a clove of garlic (don´t recommend you use more or it will overpower the taste the taste of the salmorejo)
  • Vinegar
  • Water
  • Olive oil
  • Salt

Once again, the holy trinity of water, salt and vinegar appear but we´ll use very little water this time.

Dribble a very little amount of water onto the bread which you will have put into a mixing jug, and leave for a minute or two to absorb it.

Start with bread and water

Add the tomato and pepper if you are using it.  The truly authentic recipe doesn´t use red pepper, but after wondering why my salmorejo never looked as red or tasted as sweet as anyone else´s, I was let into the secret of the locals round here – red pepper!

Tomato and Red Pepper

Add your garlic, a teaspoon of salt, a tablespoon of vinegar and at least two tablespoons of olive oil and start to blend with the hand blender.

Add Vinegar and Salt

You need to get this really smooth, almost like a purée.  The more oil you add, the smoother the mixture will be, although I tend to go easy on it just for the sake of my waistline!  Taste every so often and adjust the salt and vinegar to your liking.  Again, it should be “alegre” or lively in flavour.

Start to blend

When you´re done, leave to chill in the fridge for about an hour.

Get it smooth and thick

Traditionally it´s served in a deep earthenware bowl (to maintain the freshness) with chopped hard-boiled egg and jamon on top.  Some people substitute the jamon for tinned tuna but I guess chopped bacon would also be nice.

It´s also great as a dip or sauce served with little breadsticks (like very short grissini) or croutons.

Gazpacho Andaluz – Like You Never Knew It

Soup or Salad? So confusing!

Ok, so I say the word Gazpacho, and what do you think of? A bowl of a chilled tomato based soup, with chopped pepper, cucumber and possibly more tomato floating on top?  I´m right, aren´t I?!  Ok, so enough with the questions.  You´d be right of course.  But you´d also be wrong.  Well, not wrong exactly, just probably not aware of the different versions of Gazpacho that exist in Andalucía.  Gazpacho is Andaluz (i.e. from the Andalucían region of Spain) rather than Spanish.  Just as Paella is Valencian and not Spanish.

It´s all getting complicated, so maybe I should start at the beginning.  Andalucía has always traditionally been more reliant on agriculture (farming, olives, goats and pigs) than industry.  Based on hard labour through grafting on the land, or the “campo”.  So what did those hungry labourers do at midday, apart from take a well deserved rest in the shade of an olive tree, that is? Well, they took their lunch, or the makings of it, with them.  Life was, and still is, fairly tough for a lot of people.  Poverty reigned and many of the traditional dishes came about through necessity.  Ask any older person here what the key ingredients of a gazpacho are and they´ll tell you “water, vinegar and salt”.  And it´s true, they go into all the versions.  The reason for this was to make you thirsty.  And therefore drink more water, and thus feel full up.  Your belly was full of liquid and stopped you craving more food.

So, we have our country men with a twist of salt, a bottle of vinegar and a knife.  Water came courtesy of a nearby stream, and the vegetables that went into their gazpacho were those that could be found in the countryside around them.  Sometimes tomatoes, peppers, onions.   Other times wild leaves, oranges or a melon. 

The gazpacho you see above looks, and actually tastes, like a very finely chopped salad in a bowl of iced water.  I won´t lie to you, that´s pretty much what it is!  When I first came here, I admit that I didn´t really “get” it.  Now that time has passed and I´ve endured quite a few very hot summers, it all makes sense.  A chilled bowl of iced salad/soup, with a little tickle of salt and vinegar, the tang of fresh mint and the crunch of all my favourite summer vegetables goes down a treat when you can´t face doing anything more energetic than swatting a fly away and adjusting your sombrero.

Our village prizes this version of Gazpacho so much that it has a three day Fiesta Del Gazpacho dedicated to it every first weekend in August!  All good fun, although we tend to slake our thirst afterwards with a cold beer or a few glasses of wine.  And then, when we´ve cooled down, we all take to the dance floor and Paso Doble until dawn.  Happy days.

If you want to try it, you´ll need (roughly, as the quantities are really down to you) for four bowls:

  • Half a lettuce heart finely shredded and chopped (this is what you will do with all the vegetables)
  • Half a green pepper
  • A medium tomato, peeled
  • Half a sweet onion
  • About a third of a normal cucumber, peeled or one small Spanish cucumber
  • About 15 large mint leaves
  • A handful of broad beans if you have them (optional)
  • White wine vinegar
  • Salt
  • Iced Water
  • Some Ice cubes

Mix all the salad ingredients in a large bowl and pour over water so that the vegetables are just covered.  Gradually start to add salt and vinegar to taste (they tend to use a lot of both here, but go steady until you get a flavour you like).  The locals say it should taste “alegre” which is happy or lively! Add a few ice cubes and leave for at least half an hour so that the mint really infuses the water, then ladle into bowls, lower yourself onto a comfy chair in the shade of an olive tree, tilt your sombrero over your eyes and enjoy.

Go one, give it a go, you might like it!  And it´s a wonderful way of getting your “five a day”…

Big Man´s Birthday

 
Birthday Roses from our garden

Now, I am very much of the opinion that birthdays are to be celebrated.  Whether you´re 4, 24, or 94….life is a wonderful celebration and what better than to mark the start of a new year in your life than with a little something special.

Big Man came from a very large family, and once he and his siblings had gone beyond the age of celebrating with a small cake and a cup of hot chocolate all round, birthday celebrations became a thing of the past. Then he met a crazy English/Italian woman who wanted to live in Spain with him, and who loved to mark an occasion with a bottle of something and a cake.  The poor dogs were “christened” so many times that they began to get over excited every time we opened a bottle of Cava.

Yesterday we took a day out for ourselves and went to visit a town I had not previously been to.  About 100km away from us (albeit by some very twisty mountain roads) lies the beautiful Baroque town of Priego De Cordoba.

The day was hot and humid.  This was unexpected as we had dressed for cooler weather.  First we had a wander through the little alleys of the old town.  For me, geraniums are the typical flowers of the Mediterranean and the people of the Province of Cordoba are rightly very proud of their patios and displays of flowers.

Geranium Heaven
Peaceful Patio

 

When the heat became too much we retired to the courtyard of a restaurant in the shadow of the old castle. While we tried to make our minds up over what to eat we dithered over ordering a cold beer or a glass of Gazpacho to quench our thirst.  Oh well, “just order both” we thought, and what a great idea that was.

Decisions, Decisions...

Cold glasses of wine followed with an amazing starter which was called “Sephardic Salad” on the menu.  It consisted of a selection of vegetables slowly braised in olive oil and garlic and served cold with lots of bread and small local twisted breadsticks to dip and dunk.

"Sephardic" Salad

Main course was Rabo de Toro, or oxtail cooked slowly with pink peppercorns and served with sauté potatoes.  Delicious. When I can figure out how to do it I´ll add a link to my recipe for this.  Sorry, I´ve tried but can´t seem to work it out!

Rabo De Toro with Pink Peppercorns

We were too full for pudding but ordered strong coffees with a separate glass of ice.  You add sugar to your hot coffee if you take it, then pour the coffee over the ice and wait a moment for it to chill your coffee.  Perfect.

Spanish Iced Coffee

Suitably refreshed we headed into the castle and I overcame my fear of heights to climb to the top of the tower for some beautiful views of the city.

Feeling wobbly...but it was worth it for the viewA quiet spot outside the Castle walls

 

Then we headed back through the old streets to what used to be the “Royal Butchers and Slaughterhouse”.  Sounds grisly, but it was a beautiful, shady patio with a fountain bubbling away in the centre of a columned courtyard. 

Just a perfect day...

We stopped a while and just soaked up the atmosphere.  Big Man agreed that birthdays are most definitely for celebrating, it was a very special day.