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.

Seafood Salad (1)

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.

Seafood Salad (3)

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!

Calamares Rellenos – Stuffed Squid

When you´re away from home, although now we seem to have two homes (and how very lucky and blessed we are to be in this position) there are things that you miss. Of course, the most obvious is loved ones, but with technology, keeping in touch, even face to face phone calls and cheap flights make the distance shorter.

Other things like a special pillow, or a favourite garment which was left behind sometimes make you feel nostalgic. For me though it’s all about the kitchens. If I could combine the contents of both kitchens and magically transport them with me backwards and forwards….but well, that’s just silly. Although I can look up favourite and remembered recipes on the internet, it’s not quite the same as flicking through a well loved cookery book, often late at night propped up in bed with that comfy old pillow.

Calamares Rellenos (1)

Getting back to Spain allowed me to become reacquainted with some old ‘friends’. Most recently it has been Moro, the Cookbook by the husband and wife team, Sam and Sam Clark. Must get confusing in their house when someone rings up.

The first recipe for the moment was inspired by one of theirs for stuffed squid – of course, I made a few changes based on what I had available, here’s my version. This is a fabulous dish for entertaining (although easy to prepare for an everyday meal) as you can prepare it ahead up until the final griddling of the squid, which only takes about 5 minutes.

Calamares Rellenos (6)

To serve four as a main course

  • 8 medium squid (no larger than about 30cm) I used to enormous ones to serve 2. These should be cleaned and the tentacles and wings separated from the body
  • 8 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 large Spanish onion finely diced
  • 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped (I crushed)
  • ½ red pepper finely diced (not in the original recipe)
  • 2 fresh bay leaves (or use dried)
  • 200ml fino sherry (or a dry white wine)
  • 1 large buch flat leaf parsley, finely chopped
  • 2 hard boiled eggs, finely chopped
  • ½ teaspoon of hot pimentón (not in original recipe)
  • Salt and Pepper
  • Finely chop the squid wings and tentacles (I kept the tentacles whole and cooked them on the side).

Gently fry the onions and peppers (if using) for about 15 minutes until soft and the onion is starting to turn brown. Add the bay, garlic and chopped squid and cook for about 3 minutes then add the seasoning, half the parsley and the fino. Cook for a further couple of minutes until the wine has almost evaporated then remove from the heat. Remove the bay leaves and stir in the chopped egg and most of the rest of the parsley, check the seasoning and adjust if necessary.

Use this mixture to stuff the squid, securing with a cocktail stick to keep the filling in. When you are ready to eat, heat a griddle pan until it is smoking hot and cook the squid for about 5 minutes, turning to ensure that it is charred all round.

Serve with a drizzle of olive oil, a piece of lemon and the rest of the parsley sprinkled over.

Chargrilled Squid and Courgette

Now that I’m back Up the Mountain I am enjoying catching up with some of my cookery books. A favourite chef/author of mine is Rick Stein, I love the simplicity of most of his recipes and his passion for fish and the sea. In fact, he’s my imaginary chef boyfriend…a man who like to cook fish and used to have a Jack Russell. What more could a girl want?

Ok, enough of my middle aged fantasies and onto a simple recipe inspired by one from his book Fruits of the Sea.

Squid, sardines & Salad (4)

Ingredients (to serve 2 as a main course or 4 as a starter)

  • 4 small squid cleaned but left whole
  • 1 large courgette cut into thick strips
  • 1 small chili finely chopped
  • 2 cloves of crushed garlic
  • Olive oil
  • Salad

Marinate the squid in the oil, chili and garlic for about 30 minutes and cook on the barbecue (or in a very hot griddle pan) until slightly charred. While the squid is cooking, brush the courgette with a little olive oil and barbecue alongside it.

Make up a salad with the freshest ingredients and a vinaigrette with lemon juice in place of vinegar and add some grated lemon zest to it.

Cut the squid into bite sized pieces and serve it with the courgette on top of the salad. Pour a glass of wine, put your sunglasses on and pretend that it’s sunny….because here it’s been doing a very good impression of not being summer for the last few weeks.

Groundhog Day Peperonata

If you haven’t seen the film Groundhog Day, you won’t know what I’m talking about. In summary, it’s about a man who wakes up each morning and experiences the same day over and over and over again. Of course, he learns from his experiences and it all ends well.

When we got back Up the Mountain we were dreaming of months of rest and long lazy days which did not involve DIY, house repairs or anything to do with a paintbrush. There was a slightly damp smell in the house which we put down to the very wet winter which Andalucía has experienced and the fact that our house has been unheated and unlived in for quite some time.

Alas, we were deluding ourselves and some damage caused a few years back by a leak in the roof plus the wet winter has caused a significant amount of damp, particularly in my beloved “despensa” or larder.  Today we had to remove everything, including the shelving, from the despensa.

Groundhog Day (2)

The house is in chaos and we are climbing over things to get from one place to another. It will all be put right soon, I know, but I think we both had a moment or two today of wanting to run away and hide from it all.

Groundhog Day (3)

Salvation lay in the freezer and with the arrival of Fish Man with fresh calamares.  Last summer’s produce was tucked into the freezer and there it awaits us.  I cooked a quick peperonata (for which there are quite possibly as many recipes as there are Italian Mammas) and served it with calamares cooked on the griddle pan and drizzled with our olive oil and some sweet balsamic vinegar.

Ingredients for the Peperonata (serves 4) Serve hot or cold

  • About 500g of crushed tomatoes
  • 1 large onion finely sliced
  • About 4-6 large peppers (use a mix of colours if you can) cut into bite sized chunks
  • 2-3 large clove of garlic, crushed
  • A small glass of red wine (optional)
  • Fresh herbs (I used oregano but basil is also good)
  • Olive oil
  • Seasoning

Peperonata (3)

Simmer the garlic and onions in a little oil until soft, then add the peppers. Turn up the heat and fry until the edges of the peppers start to turn brown.  Add the tomatoes, herbs and wine (if using) season lightly and simmer for about 30 minutes until reduced and the sauce thick and the peppers starting to melt.

Squid with Balsamic (1)

Taste and adjust the seasoning and remove any large pieces of herbs. Great too stirred into pasta but I love it best eaten cold with a little squeeze of lemon juice and plenty of crusty bread.

For a quick lesson on how to clean squid (calamares) if you can’t find it ready prepared, take a look here.

Ok, lunch break over, back to work Chica!

So…you want to make a Paella?

Finally, I thought it was about time I put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) for this classic recipe. I went to a local expert, he´s called “Chef Colorin” and he makes the paellas for all the local fiestas. Be warned, there are LOADS of photos in this post, but I hope you enjoy seeing the process.

Of course, he wasn´t going to just  sit down with me over a glass of wine and give me the recipe. Much better than that, I was going to join in with the cooking. Fantastic, I thought, how many are we cooking for then Chef? Oh, not too many he told me, only 420 on Sunday. Get there about 11am he said, and we´ll show you the ropes.

Not one to balk at such a challenge, and I even wore the exceedingly unflattering hat (yes, I´ll show you the photos). It was one of the hottest and windiest days we´ve had for a while, so we couldn´t even put a shelter up for shade. Hey ho, the show must go on, and of course, it did.

We used 3 Paella pans which make 140 portions each. Feel free to adapt for smaller groups! The ingredients below are per 140 person pan.

Start with your base stock which is made in large 50 litre pots, sheltered from the wind today with a clever little device which goes round the base of the gas ring.

Into each pot goes 800g of stock cubes to 50 litres of water (at home, you´d probably use home made chicken or fish stock), 5 bay leaves, 2 tablespoons of sweet pimentón, 200cl of dry white wine, 500g each of chopped peppers and garlic, 1kg of monkfish, assorted fish bones, 400g of chopped tomato and 4 kilos of prawns with their shells on. Bring to the boil then simmer for about 20 minutes or so. Chef added 14 sachets of paella food colouring to the mix but at home we´d use saffron or turmeric.

Strain out the prawns, fish etc.

Then, wearing your glamorous outfit, count out 280 prawns (that´s so that everyone gets at least 2 each) and pull any meaty bits of fish off the bones. First come, first served on any extra prawns!

Lookin´good Chica, and rockin´that mesh hat look!

Is your fire ready to cook? I hope so, we´re going to begin.

Heat 3 litres of olive oil in your pan and add 8 kilos of chopped pork and season with salt to taste. Fry gently for a few minutes.

Now add a couple of heaped tablespoons of sweet pimentón.

Next comes a kilo each of red and green peppers and 250g of chopped garlic. Don´t forget the seafood – 2 kilos of chopped squid.

Stir gently while making silly faces.

Big Man has a go wearing the “Sherry Server” hat from Jerez!

Time to add 4 kilos of chopped tomatoes and a kilo of sliced roasted peppers.

Open the bags of rice carefully – 14kg for 140 people, which translates to 100g per person at home.

Such concentration – I take my work very seriously!

Add to the pan.

Stir gently into the sofrito with your giant paddle.

Now add30 litres of stock (which is 2 litres of stock per kilo of rice, plus a little extra – at home you would add 200cl plus a dash per 100g of rice…see, not so complicated!).

Keep that rice moving without burning your legs on the fire underneath the pan.

The professionals in action…

It´s much harder than it looks! (And don´t forget to taste).

Rookie cooking….

Remove from the heat and sprinkle over those prawns and the fish you set aside.

Was he trying to sneak one of my carefully counted prawns?!

Phew, job done. Time to show off an enormous loaf of bread baked by a local baker.

While we´re eating, you can enjoy a vaguely arty shot of a clean paella pan (don´t forget to oil it after washing up).

PS. Am off to London tomorrow for a week so will try to keep up with all your lovely blogs and comments, but apologies if some have to wait until after 20th June. Hope you enjoyed the paella making as much as I did, sorry it was so long but I really enjoyed putting it together. I do have to admit though, I was quite glad to take my “uniform” off and sit down in the shade of an olive tree with a large glass of tinto de verano.

Best Friends and Favourite Foods

I am truly blessed when it comes to friends. I have some extra special best girlfriends who have been there for me through the good and the bad, the happy and the sad, the youth and the wrinkles. Ria and I met at school, a wonderful convent in South London, and have been best friends ever since.

We laughed through our school days, she sent me stamps to write to her when I went to University as I was poor and she was earning. She also gave me a sewing box as a going away gift and still, to this day, gets me to adjust her clothes and sew on buttons. We even worked at the same company for a few years and mopped up the tears through tough endings to relationships in later years.

She invited me to a weekend with friends in Scotland without telling me we would be walking part of the West Highland Way. She knew I would have refused, but we had fun and I forgave her, eventually.  Then I told her she was doing a run to raise money for Charity and she didn´t complain once.

Hot, sweaty but very happy with what we achieved!

We know and love each other´s families like our own, and also know our way around each other´s kitchens. Very important indeed.

When we both hit 40 within a month of each other (not soooo long ago), we threw a massive party then went off on a Round the World Trip.  I have a lovely photo of us on our last day before we headed back to London. It was taken in Hong Kong on the Kowloon ferry. We don´t look glamorous, or made up. In fact we look exhausted, a little chilly, but happy. We had spent about 3 months in each other´s company 24/7 and not a cross word or row, just fun, laughter and quite a few adventures.

I moved to Spain permanently six years ago, and we had to find a new way to make things work across the miles.  E-mails, phone calls and of course, visits.

So, when your best buddy comes to visit you don´t want to spend too much time in the kitchen as there is talking, laughing, dog walking and wine drinking to be done.

We barbecued squid which we enjoyed in the sunshine.

We ate what we jokingly called a “deconstructed chicken salad sharing platter for friends” – cold cooked chicken, spiced cauliflower, a platter full of delicious vegetables and topped with blanched then grilled asparagus with a lemon dressing and mayonnaise. Perfect for sharing.

And of course, my best friend knows how much I adore curry, so several happy hours were spent in the kitchen cooking up a storm, or the “Cortijo Curry” as we called it. Goat curry, tarka dhal, spinach and tomato curry, poppadums and roti.

I´ll share the recipes with you soon, but now I´m tired, happy and sad, and rather full up, so I´ll leave you with a photo of the perfect dessert for friends who don´t have time to make dessert.

Squid with Garlic, Lemon and Parsley and a “How To”

We´re very lucky Up The Mountain to be able to get hold of fresh fish, even though we live 45km from the coast.  Having said that, I do keep fish in my freezer and cleaned squid is one of those things that keeps well and seems to suffer no ill effects from freezing. We don´t get a visit from Fish Man on Mondays, becuase there is no fishing on Sundays, but this morning he drove up, and this is what we bought.

One of the effects of little Alfi´s run in (literally) with Fish Man´s van is that when he hears him approaching and bipping his horn, he runs and hides under the nearest table, shaking and looking very sorry for himself.  Whilst I don´t like to see him frightened, at least I know he has learned a very important lesson as far as cars and dogs go.

Today I´m going to give you a super easy way of cooking squid, which I know can be quite scary looking. I´m also going to tell you how to clean them if you ever do get lucky enough to get hold of fresh squid for either cooking that day or freezing for another day.

Feeling brave?  Come on then, get those kitchen gloves on and let´s get cracking.

First of all you need to grab hold of that squid like you mean business.

Now pull the legs and anything that comes with them out and put to one side for the moment.

Now pull out the spine which looks like a sliver of clear plastic. Sorry this is a bit blurred – Big Man was in charge of photos and was excited about eating squid!

Rinse the body (including the inside) and go back to the legs which you will pull or snip away from any mucky bits in the middle just below the “eyes”. Still blurry, still excited!

From the centre of the legs (which are really tentacles!) pull out the hard centre core (or beak).

Rinse the legs and contemplate your bowl of lovely clean squid. Well done!

Now you can either cut the squid up or leave it whole.  For battered squid rings (covered in flour and deep fried)  “A La Romana”, you´ll need to slice. Today we´re just going to keep it very simple.

Sprinkle with salt and olive oil and put onto a hot griddle or into a frying pan (no oil needed as you have already put some on the squid). Keep the heat high, they´ll need a couple of minutes on each side depending on their size.  When the flesh is no longer opaque but a good white colour, turn and continue to cook.

Remove from the heat when done and either drizzle with salsa verde and lemon juice, or add some finely chopped parsley, garlic and lemon juice.  Serve with plenty of delicious crusty bread to mop up those amazing juices.

And if you can´t get hold of fresh squid, oriental stores often sell packets of squid tubes frozen which are very good!

January Seafood Stew

Warms Your Cockles

It´s a grey old Saturday in January here, with no particular plans for the day.  I hear a loud “toot, toot” outside and my heart lifts. Fish Man is here.  Although we live in an isolated part of the mountains, we´re not entirely cut off.  In fact, food-wise we could probably survive without ever going shopping.  We have our chickens and the vegetable garden of course.  We have goatherds who sell us a goat for the freezer, or a lamb too come to think of it.  Bread Man stops daily and leaves me a lovely crusty loaf, the grocery man comes at the weekend with all sorts of exciting things, even the man with gas cylinders stops at my door.  But two or three times a week we have the excitement of Fish Man.

The downside is that we´re pretty much the last stop on his route, so he often doesn´t get to us until about 1pm.  Sometimes he´s sold out of most things, but if I ask him for something specific, he saves it for me.  Usually that´s Pulpo (Octopus) or Raya (Skate) which we love.  The upside is that he´s usually keen to get back to Malaga, where he lives, for his own lunch, so prices come down so that he can shift the last few things, or he throws in a few goodies for free.  He gets up early and heads off to Malaga fish market then sets off up the mountains to the villages around where we live.

Weekends in Spain are not about the weekend roast but about Paella, which we all know and love.  In Andalucia, they just call it an Arroz, a “rice” which is just like Paella but often served with more stock.  A soupy Paella, if you like.  Otherwise it´s a Fideua, which is exactly the same but made with short, thick noodles, called Fideos.  This morning I bought half a kilo of small prawns and eight medium sized squid.  I grabbed a small packet of mussels (removed from the shell and frozen) from my freezer and a couple of small fillets of hake which were also in the freezer.  Because it´s a bit of a trek to the supermarket, and of course there are things that can´t be bought our of the back of a passing van, I tend to keep my freezer pretty well stocked with things I can grab in the morning and defrost quickly.

I asked Big Man what he fancied – Paella, Fideua, Seafood Soup, Stew?  A stew, it was decided, so I started to get things ready.  What you need for four people with “normal” appetites, or three “greedy guts”, or two “greedy guts” with enough leftover to turn into a soup that evening with a drop more stock, is:

  • About 2 cups of peeled prawns (keep those shells, we´re going to make stock)
  • About 500 grams of cleaned squid cut into chunks
  • A cup of mussel meat
  • A medium fillet of white fish, cut into chunks
  • Half a red pepper, finely diced
  • A stick of celery, finely diced
  • Half and medium onion, finely diced
  • A third of a courgette, finely diced (optional)
  • Three fat cloves of garlic, crushed
  • Half a tin of chopped tomatoes
  • About a litre of fish stock.  Either cover the prawn shells with water, add a few bat leaves, a chunk of onion and boil for about 8 minutes or use a cube

You can use any fish or shellfish you like really, and if you don´t have a lot of fish, you can thicken the stew up with a few noodles, or serve it as a soup with plenty of stock. Otherwise you could use rice and turn it into a paella – it´s up to you!

So, you start by sweating the peppers, onion, celery, garlic and courgette. Again, if you have other vegetables you want to use, feel free.  Peas or broad beans are good, but best thrown in at the end with the fish as they don´t need much cooking.

Beautifully Chopped!

Add your tomatoes and continue cooking gently for a few minutes.  I usually cook this in my favourite pan – a large, deep, non stick frying pan.

Now add your stock.  It will look rather dull and unappetizing at this point, rather like watery tomato soup.  Fear not.  Now you´re going to boil it, but not too fiercely, for about ten minutes and reduce it by about a third.  Pour yourself a glass of wine if you don´t already have one in your hand.  If not, why not?  If you want to serve this for guests, prepare it to this point, even the day before (but keep it in the fridge) and forget about it.

...with tomatoes
...with stock

When you´re ready to eat, heat the stock to a simmer and put all your fish in.  Start with the squid as it will take about 30 seconds longer than the rest.  Simmer gently for about 3-4 minutes and then serve.

If you think it´s not going to be enough to go round, or you fancy something a little more “robust” add your noodles before the fish and when it is almost cooked through, add the fish.  About a mug full would be good for this quantity leaving you with some soup and some thickness to the finished dish. The temperature has dropped here, and we´ve lit the fire, so we´re going with some Fideos today for a more filling meal.

If you want to make a paella (although the courgette is not very traditional, but hey, it´s your dish, you can do what you like with it), add the rice before the fish and cook for about 20 minutes.  A mug and half would be good – you want it drier than the soup, but keep an eye on it and add a little boiling water if it looks like it might dry out before the rice is cooked.  Add the seafood, stir, lower the heat and cover with a lid and leave to simmer for 3-4 minutes.  Turn the heat off and then leave to “rest” for about 5 minutes.

Action Photo!

Serve in large, deep bowls with plenty of fresh lemon to squeeze over and a sprinkle of chopped parsley.  Crusty bread and a salad are all that you need to go with this.  Delicious.  The Mediterranean in a bowl.