Leche Frita…or Fried Milk

We recently had a lovely Spanish Sunday lunch with family and friends. Lunch on Sunday in Spain, especially when the weather is good and you can cook outside, often means paella. Although it wasn’t warm enough to eat in the garden, we did manage some pre-lunch drinks in the sunshine and we fired up the paella burner to cook outside.

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Starters were typical. Plates of jamón and cheese,  lettuce with anchovies, croquetas and prawns to peel and dip in alioli.

Dessert caused me a little stress.  Not making it, you understand.  Just deciding what to make. Where we come from in Spain doesn’t claim to have the most exciting desserts in the world. Pretty much every restaurant will offer the same selection. Flan (which we know better as creme caramel ). Natilla (a little portion of cold custard with a biscuit similar to what is called a Rich Tea biscuit on top). Arroz con leche (cold rice pudding cooked with cinnamon and sprinkled with cinnamon). Fruit or ice cream. Hmmmm.  Ok, but nothing to get over excited about.  The fruit is usually pretty good and depending on the season you can enjoy figs, melons, peaches, custard fruit, pomegranate and strawberries.  

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Folk seem to get their sugar fix from turrón and the little cakes, pastries and doughnuts served after a meal with coffee. I asked Big Man for advice and he requested Leche Frita which is something his family used to enjoy when he was young. The ingredients are few and cheap. It’s not a sophisticated dish and I was a little unsure as to how my lunch guests would react. I was amazed at how well it went down. They enjoyed the lightness and simplicity of the dish and the delicate flavour of the custard (which is what you make from your milk). If you’re a person who finds stirring risotto therapeutic,  this one’s for you as you can’t make it in a hurry.

Ingredients to serve six to eight people

  • 800ml full fat milk
  • A large slice of lemon zest
  • A stick of cinnamon
  • 80g cornflour
  • 80-100g sugar (this doesn’t need to be very sweet)
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • Vegetable oil for frying
  • Icing sugar and cinnamon to dust the finished slices of Leche Frita

Pour the milk (reserving about 100 ml and return this to the fridge) into a saucepan with the sugar, lemon zest and cinnamon. Bring almost to boiling point, stirring to dissolve the sugar, remove from the heat then cover and leave to stand for 15 minutes.

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Add the cornflour to the cold milk and dissolve.  Remove the lemon zest and cinnamon from the infused milk and pour in the milk and cornflour. Heat very, very gently, whisking or stirring for about 20-30 minutes. You don’t want the milk to catch and burn while you thicken the milk. It’s ready when it has become very thick.  Run a spoon through the middle of the mixture and if it doesn’t return quickly to the middle of the pan, you’re done!

Lightly oil a shallow square or rectangular dish with some vegetable oil and pour in the thickened milk. Smooth the surface and leave to cool in the fridge for an hour or so. Ideally it will be about 2cm thick.

Prepare a large frying pan with vegetable oil to a depth of about 2cm and heat the oil. Not quite as hot as for cooking chips, but a good medium heat. Have a tray lined with kitchen paper ready and in a bowl put about 4 tablespoons of icing sugar mixed with about half a tablespoon of cinnamon.

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Tip the leche/custard out onto a tray or flat board and cut it into portions (I made triangles) and dip as many will fit into your frying pan in one go into the beaten egg. Make sure the pieces are well coated and put them onto a plate until you are ready to fry your first batch.

Put the egg coated pieces of leche into the hot oil and fry on each side (a couple of minutes) until golden brown. Place onto the kitchen towel and allow to cool while you cook the next batch.

When it’s cool enough to handle, dip each piece in the icing sugar and cinnamon mix. It can be served warm or cold and keeps well in the fridge (covered) for about 48 hours. Don’t expect it to be crispy, this is meant to be soft inside and out.  You can reheat gently in the oven or microwave and sprinkle a little extra icing sugar over to serve. If you want to be a bit grand, make a fruit coulis to dip the pieces into. Lovely as a dessert or teatime treat and very typical of Andalucía.

 

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There’s (almost) no such thing as a free lunch….

So, here we are, back in Spain. The sun is shining, the horrible hot wind we get in southern Spain (El Terral) has finally died down and we’ve caught our breath from the long drive.  We’re very lucky to have two lovely homes, but when you get back to a house that has been shut up for a few months, you find that the dust monsters have been to visit. We managed avoidance tactics for a few days with a combination of going out to catch up with people, and staying in feeling grumpy and full of cold (me)/Man Flu (Big Man) germs.

Finally the day came when we couldn’t ignore The Big Clean Up any more and today we made a start. Mrs and Mrs Mop began a vaguely systematic attack on the house and garden and, while there is still plenty more to be done, we felt satisfied that we deserved a nice lunch in the garden. Spring and autumn are perfect for outdoor lunchtime dining. Sometimes you get a lovely warm day in winter or a cool summer day which also permit al fresco lunches…but you definitely make the most of those perfect days.

In Spanish terms, it was almost dangerously vegetarian (well, apart from the seafood and salami). We didn’t worry, the village fiesta is upon us and we know we’ll be eating our own body weight in grilled meat and pinchitos (little kebabs) over the next few days. What did make us smile was the fact that pretty much everything we were eating had been gifted to us by kindly friends and family, or recycled from another meal. It’s good to be a frugal houseperson when the food is this good!

Lunch included:

Salmorejo (my very favourite cold soup) made from stale bread and tomatoes given to us by kindly brother-in-law. These are the ripe and ugly tomatoes which are used for soups and sauces

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Garnished with hard boiled eggs from kindly neighbour who adopted our chickens and jamon (bought from local butcher)

Salad made with leftover prawns and squid which had been barbecued the night before and avocados from kindly neighbour who also keeps us supplied with oranges later in the year to make marmalade.

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Tomato, mint and onion salad made with “tomates para picar” (tomatoes for chopping up!), again from kindly brother-in-law and mint from our garden.

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Salads dressed with our own olive oil and juice from our lemons

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Cheese and salchichon (salami). Salchichon given to us by kindly local bar owner as a welcome home present.

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Dessert was figs from our tree and apple sorbet made with apples from kindly cousin. Inspired by Rosemary’s ice cream making, I dug out my own ice-cream maker. To serve 2 people – 500g apples (peeled and cored), cooked with 2 tablespoons of sugar, 2 tablespoons of lemon juice then blended, cooled and churned in my machine. Maybe I should make more Apple Roses – I certainly have enough fruit!

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I drank a glass (or two) of Spanish wine, but Big Man was clearly feeling a bit nostalgic for England and opened a bottle of English beer.

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I thought we’d bought those beers with us as gifts for kindly friends and family. Ooops!

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PS. You know we hate waste here….the prawn shells are now bubbling away to make stock…maybe we’ll have an “arroz caldoso” in the next few days…

Fideuá de Pescado y Mariscos – Fish and Seafood Noodles

If Paella and Arroz Caldoso are half sisters to the Italian Risotto, then Paella and Fideuá are first cousins. The famous Paella is known to most of us, a delicious rice and seafood (or meat) dish which comes from the Valencia region of North East Spain. Less well known, outside of Spain at least, is its cousin…the Fideuá. It´s very similar to a paella but made with Fideos (short noodles). Fideos come in different sizes in Spain from very thin (called Angel Hair pasta) for dropping into broth right through to almost the thickness of spaghetti. This dish tends to use the ones at the thicker end of the scale, as they need to stand up to a little while cooking in the delicious broth.

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Amounts used are flexible, use what you have, and play around with the ingredients. Like arroz caldoso, it’s quicker to cook than a paella and is a typical everyday lunch dish, for tucking into with a spoon (a plato de cuchara – a “spoon” dish), with lemon juice squeezed over and plenty of delicious bread. We can’t decide if we prefer arroz caldoso or fideuá caldosa – try them both and let me know what you think! I know Celia from Fig Jam and Lime Cordial enjoys making Arroz Caldoso for her family…Celia, I hope you like this version too!

Approximate Ingredients for 4 people (as a main dish)

  • 250g prawns (less if already peeled) – if they have the shells on peel them and use them to make a fish stock, if not use water or a cube
  • About 250g of mixed fish and shellfish (I used some white fish fillets but when I have mussels or clams I add them in too)
  • Half a red pepper finely chopped
  • A thin green pepper, finely chopped
  • A couple of tablespoons of peas
  • 2 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 large tomato peeled and finely chopped or half a cup of tomato conserva
  • 1 tablespoon of tomato purée
  • 1 teaspoon of sweet pimentón
  • A pinch of saffron
  • Seasoning
  • Olive oil
  • Approx 400g Fideos

Start by making a sofrito or tomato sauce. Lightly fry the garlic until soft then add the peppers and peas. Add the pimentón and saffron, cover the pan and let everything sweat gently until soft then add the tomato. Simmer for another 10 minutes.

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For 4 people (and a soupy fideuá) add about 1.5 litres of stock and simmer for a further 10 minutes. If you have a paella pan, cazuela or a deep frying pan that you can use to serve, transfer the liquid to this. Now add your fideos – about 100g per person, but follow any guidelines on the packet. When they are about half cooked, add the fish (biggest chunks first) then the shellfish. Taste and season as necessary.

For a thick, dryer dish (more the consistency of a paella) you may need to use less liquid or just cook this way and spoon out some of the liquid at the end (save it for a light soup with some thin fideos thrown in!). Equally, if it looks a little dry as you are cooking it, just add a ladleful or two of hot stock.

Serve like paella with lemon juice, crusty bread and wine. A spoonful of alioli is also great with this dish.

Like a paella, you can vary the ingredients to make your fideuá according to what you have available. Make it veggie, or use meat instead of fish. It may not be absolutely authentic, but the influence will be there and the taste will be just as good!

Scallops Pil Pil

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When we´re Up the Mountain, we enjoy fresh fish from the coast several times a week from Fish Man. When we´re in England we are based on the south coast, so benefit from a wonderful local fishmonger or a trip to The Stade (the fisherman´s beach) in nearby Hastings where we can choose from an incredible range of fresh fish.

Recently (before heading back to Spain) we treated ourselves to some fresh scallops with their roe and decided to cook them Gambas Pil Pil style with plenty of fresh crusty bread to mop up those delicious spicy, garlicky juices.

Normally I´d cook this in a terracotta bowl which goes onto the stove top but foolishly hadn´t taken any to England with me. No problem, I used a small frying pan!

Ingredients to serve 2 people

  • About 4 – 6 tablespoons of olive oil
  • 4 fat cloves of garlic peeled and thinly sliced
  • 1 or 2 dried birds eye chillies
  • About a level teaspoon of hot pimentón (or chilli powder)
  • Sea salt
  • 6-8 fresh scallops

Put all the ingredients except the scallops into a pan and start on a gentle heat “poaching” the garlic for 2-3 minutes. Now turn it up and when it starts to sizzle, gently drop in the scallops and cook for a further 1-2 minutes until the scallops are cooked through (this will depend on how thick your scallops are).

Serve sizzling hot and be prepared for lots of smacking of lips and licking of fingers.

Lomo en Manteca – Confit of Loin of Pork

So, I translated this dish as confit, as it sounds so much more appetizing than “slow cooked in lard”.  Let me tell you how I come to be posting about this delicious dish.  Do you find that you´ve struck up friendships through your blog? I bet the answer is yes.

Someone forgot to tell the ladies it was Singles Day at the local bar...

Well, a blogging pal of mine, Mad Dog, has a bit of a passion for many things Spanish, due to having worked in Barcelona.  We exchange e-mails and ideas from time to time and for some very strange reason recently, we were talking about lard and how it has fallen out of fashion.  He sent me info about it and I was amazed to learn that weight for weight, it has less cholesterol than butter.

Anyway, I´ll leave it to him to tell you more another day, I´ll move on to the fact that lard most definitely has not fallen out of fashion in Spanish cooking. Round here, if you´re not using olive oil, it´s lard.  Even in cakes.  Many of the more traditional dishes use lard and it was very common to preserve pork in lard for the winter months, after the matanza, or pig killing.  Back in those days the meat was stored in big earthenware pots and slabs of pork were dug out and used as needed.

Pork loin, slowly cooked in lard is a common dish still and is served cold and thinly sliced as a tapa, or warmed through or refried for a “plato de los montes” (a mountain dish) with egg, fried potatoes, fried peppers and chorizo and morcilla for an immensely filling meal.

To recreate this dish nowadays is very simple. Quantities are not that important as it will all depend on how much meat you are using.  Nowadays people tend to cook it frequently and store it in the fridge – so no need for mountains of lard to cover kilos of meat.

An optional but highly recommended stage is to take your piece of boneless pork and the night before cooking rub it with a large garlic clove, sprinkle some salt over, add a small amount of white wine and chopped thyme and forget about it until the next day.

You will need enough pure lard which, when melted, will cover the pork when it is in a container.  Cut the pork into thick slices (about 10cm wide), remove any garlic and thyme clinging to it and put in a pan with the lard on a very low hear.  Cook very slowly until the meat is cooked through but not browned. Some people mix a little olive oil in with the lard, that´s up to you.

Now either leave the meat in the cooking pot if you do happen to have a nice earthenware one or transfer it to a storage container and leave to cool. The lard will revert to solid form and cover the meat.  When you want to serve it, remove the meat from the fat, covering over any pieces that become exposed.  This will keep for several weeks at least, but if you plan on storing it for longer (which is probably unlikely), don´t salt it before cooking.

As a tapa, slice thinly and serve with a chilled glass of your favourite wine or beer, a little slice of bread and a few tangy olives.  Old men in flat caps are optional.