Little Piggies and Potato Cakes

Near our village in Spain is another village with a restarant run by a lovely lady called Belén. Belén means Bethlehem in English, so although a bit unusual for English speakers, her name is quite apt as we creep up towards the Christmas season. Sorry, I promised myself I wouldn’t mention the C word until well into December and it’s only the 2nd today.

Belén runs a good bar and restaurant with all the usual offerings plus a few slightly different ones. An item on her menu is called “Guarrito” which translated means “little wild boar”. I don’t know if this is a typical dish, we’ve certainly never seen it anywhere else, so of course had to order it. And once ordered, we loved it and often go back for a little tapas of this with a glass of wine. So, what is “guarrito”? It’s simply thick slices of jamón cooked in a little olive oil (and Belén serves them on fried bread which makes them extra naughty and extra nice).

Guarrito (2)

We always said that these little morsels would be fantastic with a fried egg and baked beans, in a Full English Breakfast style. Or as a supper dish. Or any time really. So of course, now we make guarrito at home in England until we can get back to visit Belén again.

To accompany the guarrito I was inspired by Frugal’s Gluten Free Potato Cakes. He uses gram (chick pea) flour instead of regular flour and I pretty much followed his recipe with the addition of some roasted red peppers.

Being the sort of Chica who always cooks army rations instead of regular sized portions, I still had a little mashed potato left the following day, so I made another potato cake to go with some grilled meat and salad.

Ingredients to serve 2

  • About a cup of mashed potato
  • One beaten egg
  • Half a roasted pepper
  • A tablespoon of crème fraiche
  • Salt and pepper

Mix all the ingredients together and then blend with a hand blender or mash thoroughly – the mixture will be quite runny. Don’t panic!

Using a heavy based frying pan, pour in a little oil and get it quite hot. Now pour in the potato mix and turn the heat down. Cook slowly for about 10-15 minutes until it starts to get crispy. If you’re feeling brave slide it out onto a plate and then flip it back into the pan to cook the other side in the same way. For the fainter hearted, pop it under the grill until it starts to brown a little then flip and continue to fry.

Potato Cake (2)

Slide it out into a serving plate and enjoy your potato (pan) cake sliced into portions. Crispy on the outside, creamy soft in the middle. Now how economical and delicious is that?!

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Griddled Scallops with Seared Jamon

Ooh, that sounds a bit restauranty doesn´t it? Well, you can see from the photo that it really wasn´t, but it was quick and delicious and a perfect New Year´s Eve starter for the two of us. Who wants to spend hours in the kitchen when there´s champagne to be drunk for goodness sake?!

Scallops (1)

Back here on the South Coast of England, we are lucky to have access to freshly caught fish and shellfish. Rye Bay Scallops (caught locally) are delicious and even have a festival to celebrate their glory. Lucky us, perfect for a special treat.

Ingredients (for 2 people)

  • A few handfuls of your favourite salad (we used rocket and baby plum tomatoes)
  • 3 scallops with their coral per person
  • 6 thin slices of jamon (or use 3 slices of prosciutto cut in half)
  • A salad dressing made from olive oil, lemon juice, a splash of soy sauce, half a teaspoon of honey and salt & pepper (go easy on the salt because of the soy sauce)

Heat a griddle pan until it starts to smoke and then quickly sear the jamon/prosciutto for a few seconds on each side.

Jamon a la plancha (1)

Remove from the heat and cook the scallops for about a minute on each side (or less if you like them less cooked or they are not very thick).

Put a layer of salad on a plate then 3 slices of jamon followed by the scallops.  Season the salad, drizzle with the dressing, serve with lemon and enjoy.

Habas con Jamon – Broad Beans with Cured Ham

Now, if there was a prize for the least photogenic dish in the world, this one would be up there with the final contenders. It´s a very simple and tasty dish, especially made with the young tender broad beans which are in season right now. Our vegetable patch is delivering nicely and I make these regularly.

And then I take a photo. But to no avail. Broad beans braised slowly for about 30 minutes just don´t look pretty. You have the photos to prove it here. Sigh. If only they were as photogenic as Roger´s beautiful beetroot. But what they lack in looks, they make up for in taste, you´ll just have to believe me on this.

It´s quite a versatile dish – it is served here as a tapas, a side dish or with fried or poached eggs as a light supper dish. It can also be mixed into beaten eggs and made into a tortilla or huevos revueltos (scrambled eggs).

Ingredients

  • 500g of young broad beans (podded, but keep the skins and slice them into 1cm pieces)
  • 1 medium onion finely chopped
  • About 6 cloves of garlic peeled and sliced lengthways in half
  • 100g of finely chopped jamon (or use lardons or pancetta)
  • Olive oil
  • Seasoning
  • Sweet pimentón (optional)

The Spanish way of making this dish is to braise the onion, garlic and beans (pods and skins) in olive oil until tender. It does taste wonderful but this is how I do it.

Bring a large pot of salted water to the boil and  add the bean pods and skins and cook for about 4-5 minutes until just starting to become tender. Drain. Put about 2-3 tablespoons of olive oil into a deep frying pan that has a lid (or that you can cover with foil) and gently poach the onions and garlic (with the lid on) until they are soft.

Another dish..another day...and no, still not pretty!

Now add the beans and continue to cook gently, stirring to mix the beans into the oil every so often, with the pan covered. They will simmer and braise until very tender. Near the end of the cooking time add the jamon which will also cook through. I also like to add a sprinkle of pimentón when I add the jamon, but this is not typical. Taste and season if necessary and serve hot or cold.

For a similar dish using runner beans, take a look at this recipe.

Big Man and I are heading to the UK tomorrow. We have packed our umbrella as I think we have a few rainy days awaiting us. I won´t have access to e-mail but I look forward to catching up with you all next week – hope it´s a good one for everyone!

Sopa de Picadillo – Chicken Soup Spanish Style

Cloudy is good, clear is bad!

The first time I ate a bowl of chicken soup in Spain, I was a little surprised by the way it looked. I was staying in my rented Cortijo in the middle of nowhere, with my lovely, crazy landlords living in the adjacent house and popping in on me at weekends to make sure I was fine. In true Spanish Mama style, my landlady often bought me things to eat, just to make sure I was going to stay nice and well rounded.

One lunchtime she came over with a bowl of chicken soup. I was surprised because in the UK a good chicken stock is clear, transparent…and highly valued for these attributes. What I had been presented with was cloudy, almost a yellowy white in colour. It smelt amazing and the bowl was packed full of other goodies too. Pieces of chicken, fine noodles, chopped hard boiled egg and jamon and some pieces of fresh mint. I was also instructed to squeeze lemon juice into my soup.  Then off she trotted, happy to have kept her (not so) starving tenant alive to see another sunny Andalucían day.

Of course, once I had tasted it, I was in love. Such deep chicken flavours, quite a salty (but not disagreeably so) taste and the tang of lemon and mint. The name of the soup, Picadillo, comes from the verb Picar. This means to chop finely or into small pieces. Hence the final additions of hard boiled egg and jamon.

This is not a recipe, more a method. Spanish chicken stock is made with whole joints of chicken (I use thighs and legs usually), salted pork bones and salted pork belly with plenty of fat on it.  If you can´t get the last two ingredients use a couple of pork ribs and a piece of normal pork belly or a thick slice of pancetta.  Add a couple of bay leaves, about 4 cloves, 1 or 2 dried chilies (optional) and cover with water. I also add in a few carrots and sticks of celery, but this is not typical. If you have not used salted bones, add salt to taste and check again at the end of cooking.

Now boil it fast for about 10 minutes, this is when the water will turn cloudy, then turn down the heat and simmer for at least an hour. Strain the stock and leave it to cool, you will then be able to remove the layer of natural fat from the meat which will set on the surface.

Remove the bones, bay leaves, cloves, chilies and discard. To serve a typical Sopa de Picadillo, boil up the stock, add some fine angel hair noodles and the chicken (pork belly too if you used unsalted)  and cook until the chicken is warmed through and the noodles are cooked. Sprinkle over hard boiled egg and jamon (or use lardons or pancetta) and if you have some fresh mint to infuse in the soup it really adds a special touch. Don´t forget the squeeze of lemon too!

Like most chicken soups, it is claimed to be the cure for all ills, but you don´t need to be feeling under the weather to enjoy it.

Not for the fainthearted! Slow Cooked Pig´s Trotters

Slow Cooked Pig´s Trotters

So, are you ready for this?! You may know that in Spain, especially the south, the pig is a highly prized beastie.  We start at the top with the aristocratic pig that is the “Pata Negra” (which translates as the Black Hoof) who is fed on acorns and snuffles round in a life of luxury until he is turned into the most expensive Jamon in the world. At the other end of the scale, after the regular jamones and normal cuts of meat have been consumed and enjoyed, we´re left with all the other bits that most people think would be best consigned to the bin.

Well, not so here, and in many other countries and cultures too.  If they could turn the “oink” of a pig into a soup in Spain, I´m sure there would be a recipe for it.  Pig´s trotters are pretty common place in butchers and supermarkets here.  No need to place a special order as they are often put into stocks and soups, or boiled up with chick peas for their dish “Puchero”.  Sometimes though, they have a starring role all to themselves and this recipe is one which comes from Big Man´s mum, to one of his sisters and on to me.

I was told that this, like many other Andalucían dishes, was the poor folks´ food.  When the Matanza (pig killing) was carried out in the autumn, the “extras” such as the tripe, trotters, tail and ears were given to those who had helped out in payment for their services.  Because there was so little (or no) meat on them, the cooks had to get creative to add flavour and use long, slow cooking to tenderise the food.

I have to confess, I´m not a big fan, but I love the sauce from this dish.  Pig´s trotters, when cooked, are rather gelatinous and involve a lot of chewing and then spitting out of all the little bones.  It doesn´t bother me, but Big Man loves them so much that I make a pot for him every so often to enjoy all to himself whilst I tuck into something like aubergines or curry – which do nothing at all for him.

It´s a slightly long winded, but not complicated process to make this dish as you need to plan several days ahead. Give it 5 to be on the safe side.  Here´s how to do it if you´re feeling adventurous.

For two people as a main course

  • 8 pigs trotters split into halves or quarters (they usually come like this or ask your friendly butcher to help you out)
  • Salt about 6 tablespoons
  • 2 bay leaves
  • About 12 peppercorns
  • 6 cloves of garlic
  • 2-4 small dried chilies

For the sauce

  • 3 cloves of garlic peeled and cut in half lengthways
  • 1 large slice of stale bread
  • A few strands of saffron soaked in water (or use a heaped teaspoon of paella spice mix)
  • Half a teaspoon of hot chili powder (pimentón)
  • Olive oil
  • About 12 peeled almonds
  • Salt to season

On the first day salt the trotters, put into the fridge for 24 hours

Salting the trotters

On the next day and for 48 hours, de salt them by submerging in a pot of fresh water which will need to be changed about 3 times per day

The day before you want to eat them you need to put them into a large pan with a lid, cover with water and add the garlic, bay leaves, chilies and peppercorns.  Bring to a boil and then simmer for about 2 hours or until really tender.  The trotters will start to fall apart and you need to end up with half the liquid you started with.  You may need to top up the water during cooking.

For the sauce you need to fry the garlic, almonds and bread in a small amount of olive oil until browned and then put into a jug with the saffron and it´s water plus about 2 ladles full of the water from the trotters.  You add the pimentón and then blend with a stick blender until you have a thick purée.

Pour this into the pot with the trotters and simmer again for about half an hour.  Add salt to taste and then cool and refrigerate for at least 24 hours.

In the fridge the gelatine will cause the whole thing to solidify.  When you warm it up to eat it, it will all return to a liquid state and you´ll have sauce again.  This isn´t typically served with anything as you have to eat it with your fingers which get incredibly sticky!  I love the sauce though and serve it with plain boiled rice.

This is not a dish that will be to everyone´s liking, but for those of you willing to try it, it has a wonderful flavour. Do let me know if you´re brave enough to give it a go!

Croquetas de Jamon – Spanish Ham Croquettes

Love ´em or hate ´em – my friends and family seem to be divided in their opinion of croquettes.  I´m most definitely in the “Love” camp, as is one of my god daughters who can eat them non stop.  Big Man sits in the other camp and every now and then I try a new batch on him to see if I can convert him.  He loved the Falafel I made recently, which are pretty “croquettey” in my view, so I haven´t given up hope.

Love, love, love ´em!

Croquettes in Spain are generally made with a béchamel base to hold them together, rather than potato, which is the way I´ve always done them.  I´ve never tried to make them Spanish style, but after making a fish pie the other day I had a small bowl of béchamel sauce left over and I thought I´d give them a go.  What with having dogs and chickens, it´s unusual now for me to have many leftovers in the fridge.  The chickies get the sad vegetables, salad and fruit (if I haven´t already turned them into soups or jams) and the dogs get bones and scraps of meat.  Anything else should go onto the compost heap, but there never seems to be enough left!

Croquettes can be made from any filling, but I really recommend searching through your fridge and using up any little scraps of leftovers.  I had a small bowl of cubed jamon which hadn´t gone into the soup and a few leaves of chard which were looking a bit floppy, so my decision was made.  Other suggestions could be cold veg, tuna, leftover chicken, cheese, hard boiled eggs…ooh, I could go on, but I´ll just get on with telling you how they were made.

Not a lot of photos today as my hands were getting mucky (despite wearing latex gloves) when making the croquettes and Big Man wasn´t around to take snaps for me.

Ingredients used were:

  • About 2 cups of cold béchamel which had gone quite solid.  If you need to make it from scratch, use about 250-300ml of milk for your béchamel and then leave it in the fridge to get really cold.
  • About a cup and a half of filling – I had a cup of very finely chopped Spanish jamon and a cup of shredded chard which, when cooked, reduced to half its volume
  • A tablespoon of plain flour
  • Salt and pepper
  • A beaten egg
  • Dried breadcrumbs for coating the croquettes
  • Oil for deep frying
  • A pair of latex gloves if you don´t want to get too mucky and a couple of tablespoons
Mix it all up

 

Start by mixing your filling into the béchamel and season to taste. Add the flour to bind together slightly.

Beat your egg in a shallow bowl and prepare another bowl with some breadcrumbs.

Take heaped spoonfuls of the mixture and shape either by hand or with the spoons into croquettes.  I went for the traditional cylinder shape but this is really up to you.  As soon as you start to work with the béchamel it will soften (hence my recommendation of using gloves!) but persevere as things will get easier once you get to the breadcrumb stage.

Roll your croquette in the beaten egg mixture.  Using a spoon to lift it in and out and spoon the egg over seems to help here, then drop it into the breadcrumb mix.  Roll it around and then put onto a plate. 

When all your croquettes are ready, and I got eight pretty big ones from the above mixture, pop them back into the fridge for at least an hour or until you are ready to cook them.

Get your oil nice and hot, once it starts to smoke, turn it down a little and gently drop the croquettes in.  They probably take less than a minute to cook – just enough time for the outside to turn a golden brown and the centre to warm up.  Lift them out with a slotted spoon onto some greaseproof paper and then to a serving plate.  You can make them in advance and then gently warm them up for a few minutes in the oven if you are not serving straight away.

Pour yourself a nice cold glass of white wine or dry Spanish sherry and imagine a hot Andalucían summer´s evening in a noisy tapas bar while you enjoy your Croquetas de Jamon!