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.

Slow Cooked Ox Tail – Rabo De Toro

So, the damp weather was looking like it was going to continue, and my yearning for comfort food followed the same pattern.  I love casseroles and braised dishes with lots of sauce to be slurped up with a spoon or soaked up with bread or creamy mashed potato.  It was time to make something warm and comforting.  A hug in a casserole dish.

Hearty Winter Food

Oxtail used to be, I understand, a cheap and cheerful cut of meat to buy.  It needs long and slow cooking, so this probably influenced the price.  It now seems, from my recent visits to the UK, to be a bit of a “gastro pub” highlight and the price has correspondingly increased.  Even in Spain, where it´s sold as “Bull´s Tail” it´s no longer that cheap a cut of meat to buy.  But hey, sometimes you´re worth that little bit extra and it´s that delicious, it´s worth all the love and long cooking it needs.

I made a large pot of this delicious casserole which gave me 2-3 main portions plus enough meaty sauce left over to give me a further 2 hearty bowls of oxtail flavoured soup.

Here´s what you need:

  • 1 ox tail, cut into slices. Your butcher should do this, or it will come ready prepared.  Mine weighed about 1.2kg
  • 3 medium carrots, diced
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 2 medium courgettes, diced
  • 2 sticks of celery, diced
  • 3 fat cloves of garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 jar or tin of cannellini beans
  • 1 tin of tomatoes, crushed or chopped
  • 2 heaped teaspoons of tomato puree
  • 1 bottle of red wine, less a glass for the cook
  • 1 mug of water or stock (beef, chicken or vegetable)
  • Salt and pepper
  • Approx 2 tablespoons of plain flour
  • 2-3 tablespoons of olive oil
  • A large, deep, ovenproof dish with a lid

 

Take One Ox Tail...

 

Chop. Chop

First prepare all your vegetables and put them to one side.  No need to keep them separate as they´ll be cooked together.

Now coat your pieces of ox tail in flour and after heating the olive oil in the ovenproof dish, brown them on all sides.  Don´t rush this part as, if you over crowd the pan, the meat will steam and not brown.  Put the ox tail to one side.

Start to brown...

In the same pan, and with the oil that remains, add the diced vegetables and make sure they all get coated in oil.  Put the lid on and let them sweat for about 5 minutes.

Turn your oven on low (about gas mark 2).

Put the meat back into the pot, add the beans, tomatoes and tomato puree, stir and bring it up to a simmer. 

Bring to a simmer

Now add the wine and water, season lightly (you can adjust this when the dish has finished cooking) and bring it to a simmer once more.

Put a lid on the pot, and the whole thing now goes into the oven where it will cook slowly for at least 4 hours. I like the sauce to thicken a little so it usually ends up cooking for 5-6 hours.  It won´t dry out, you have plenty of liquid in there.  Every couple of hours check on it and give it a stir.  If it does look like it´s getting too dry for your taste, add a mug of boiling water.

When the cooking time is up (and it´s a very forgiving dish), take it out and check for seasoning.  If it´s too liquid, simmer on the hob to reduce a little. You can eat it immediately if you wish, but it´s a dish which really does improve if left until the next day.  Leave to cool completely.  If you find your have a layer of fat on the top the next day, you can remove this before heating up and serving.

It looks like a lot of meat, but it´s nearly all bone.  How many it serves depends on how hungry you are and how much sauce, vegetables and potatoes you serve it with. Any leftover sauce and can be diluted slightly with stock or water and served as a filling soup another day.