Sunday, 27 April 2014

Catalan Style Broad Beans

The spring vegetables are here, broad beans, peas, spring onions and fresh garlic.  The cherries are starting to turn pink and the birds are starting to gather around ,it won't be long before we hear the melodious song of the Golden Oriole, a lover of cherries.  The Hoopoe, Bee Eater and Swallow have already arrived and are busy nest building, spring is finally here..
I'm having a good crop of broad beans this year but I have had to spend quite a bit of time wiping the black fly off the pods and leaves.  The ants, well they are always present in my veg garden.  Luckily for me that the garden is full of ladybirds, so help is at hand.
This dish of broad beans is served as a tapa in bars but can also be served as a starter but I must warn you that it is very rich in flavour.  I have included white pudding, not easily available outside of Spain, so this can be omitted but the black pudding cannot as it is an integral part of this lovely dish.  A trip down the butchers to buy the meat and at the same time I picked up a few tips. I was told some people add a small glass of white wine, some add a glass of sweet muscatel wine and some a splash of anise based alcohol. The choice is yours to experiment. 
Serves 4 as a starter
1 kg of fresh, tender broad beans, shucked weight
2 spring onions, the large type
2 fresh garlic cloves
200 g pork belly
150 g black pudding
150 g white pudding, optional
100 g Serrano ham or pancetta
1 bay leaf
2 ripe tomatoes
sprig of mint
large pinch of aniseed
Olive oil
Salt and Pepper

How to go about it

Prepare the meat, cut the pork belly and ham or pancetta into strips.  Slice the puddings into half moon slices.  Finely chop the onions and garlic.  In a frying pan heat some olive oïl and add the pork and ham and gentle fry until they start to give their fat, add the onions, garlic,bay leaf and anise.  Gentle cook this until the onion is transparent.  Cut the tomatoes in half and grate the tomato over the pan leaving behind the skins, let this cook gentle for about 10 minutes.  Add the broad beans, season with salt and pepper and cook for 10 minutes, moving the beans constantly.  Lastly add the black and white pudding and the few leaves of torn mint, cook for 5 more minutes.

Saturday, 8 March 2014


Tapenade is traditionally made with anchovies but in this recipe I have used tuna.  You can serve it with boiled eggs, bread and crudités.


350 g black olive with stones, get the type of olives preserved in oil
150 g tinned tuna in oil
1 tablespoon capers
2 tablespoons olive oil
Juice of 1/2 lemon

How to go about it

Stone the olives and place in a blender with the capers and blend for a few seconds, it should be coarsely blended, not puréed.  Put in a bowl and mix in the tuna, lemon, oil and pepper.  Chill before serving.

Lemon Marmalade


1.250 g lemons
Juice of 4 lemons
1 liter water
1.400 g sugar

How to go about it

Extract the juice of the 4 lemons.  Cut off the tops and bottoms of the rest of the lemons and finely shred the lemons, you could use a mandolin for this or the grating attachment on a food mixer.  Put the shredded lemons with the juice and water in a large saucepan.  Bring to the boil and cook until the lemons are soft and translucent.  Take out the pips at the same time when the rise to the top of the water.  Then add the sugar and boil for 30 - 40 minutes. Test that it is set by putting a bit on a cold saucer.  Lemons have a lot of pectin so this marmalade sets easily.  Put into sterilized jars.

Wednesday, 26 February 2014

Almond Biscotti


I was unsure whether to use their Italian, Spanish or Catalan name when giving this post its title but in the end I chose the name by which they are known in England - Biscotti.  They are called Cantucci or Cantuccini in Italy, Carquinyoles and Carquinyolis in Spain and Catalonia.

The almond plays an important part in the cuisine of all the Mediterranean countries, you'll find it equally in savoury and sweet recipes, rich in vegetable protein and calcium it is an ideal food for anyone looking to improve their diet.

My recipe contains aniseed, mildly addictive for horses and humans.  I spent my youth trying to catch difficult ponies walking for hours in ever decreasing circles in the hope of catching some cunning New Forest pony who would outwit me every time. Until someone told me that a bit of anise oil on a sugar lump will turn you into the equivalent of the pied piper for horses.  I  suspect it is the same for people.  When I offer these to house guest, I watch them returning to the biscuit jar all day long, one is never enough.

The secret to making a biscotti (means twice cooked in Italian) is to cook them so they rise a little and are cooked but still pale on the first cooking.  Then they are cut and cooked again in order to dry them out.  So you end up with a biscuit that is hard and dry but melts in the mouth.  You don't want to break your teeth!  I always make a large batch as they keep for months in a jar.


500 g plain flour
350 g sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 tablespoon vanilla sugar
2 teaspoons aniseed's
250 g whole, unpeeled almonds
5 large eggs

How to go about it

Preheat the oven 180°c.  Prepare 2 large baking trays and put baking paper on each one.  In a bowl mix flour, sugar, baking powder, vanilla sugar, aniseed and almonds, mix all together.  Lightly beat the eggs in another bowl and add to the flour bowl until you have a sticky dough, you might not need all of the eggs.  It will be sticky.  Turn out onto floured work surface, have extra flour available if needed. Divide into 6 equal parts.  If you like you could weigh it and divide by 6 to make it more equal.  Roll each amount into a long sausage shape and place 3 on each tray.  Bake trays separately if your oven doesn't bake evenly for 25 minutes a time, keep an eye on them as they can burn easily, especially underneath.  They should be light golden.  Roll off of the tray and paper and cut diagonally.  Put paper back on the tray and place cut biscotti, cut side down on paper.  When they have all had the first cooking reduce the oven to 100°c and then put both trays back in the oven and bake for 1h30.  Turn off oven and leave them in the oven overnight, with out opening the door.  Next day put them in a jar or other airtight container.

Mhajeb - Moroccan Squash Pastries

I love these little filled pastries that are eaten in Morocco and Algeria.  They can be filled with whatever you fancy, in these I have used squash and chicken with spices.

Makes 8


400 g fine semolina
200 g plain flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
500 ml water

1 Chicken breast, finely shredded
1 small onion, finely sliced
450 g of grated squash or pumpkin
2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
2 teaspoons paprika
1 teaspoon ginger
2 teaspoons ground cumin
pinch of chilli flakes
1 large teaspoon of tomato purée
salt and pepper

How to go about it

First make the dough;  mix the semolina, flour and salt in a mixing bowl, add enough water to make the dough, about 275 ml.  Turn out on to a work surface and knead for 10 minutes at the same time sprinkling with the rest of the water, you might not need all of it.  The dough should be soft and supple.  Rub some oil on it and cover and let rest for 40 minutes.

While the dough is resting make the filling.  Gentle fry the onion in oil for 5 minutes then add the garlic and cook for a further 3 minutes.  Put in the chicken and spices and season with salt and pepper and cook for 3 minutes.  Then add the grated squash and tomato purée with and couple of tablespoons of water, cook on a medium heat for 5 minutes, adjust the seasoning.  Let cool completely. Divide the filling into 8 portions in the pan.

Oil the work surface and your hands and turn out the dough and divide into 8 balls.  Take a ball and gentle smooth out the dough, leave it slightly thicker in the centre where the filling will go, you will be able to get the dough quite thin.  Place a portion of the filling and fold over one side, then the other, making a long rectangle.  Fold over one of the long sides of rectangle, the last side is folded underneath to make a square parcel.  Make the rest of the Mhajeb then gentle fry on each side until golden, about  5 minutes on each side.

Monday, 24 February 2014


I always say that it is the winters that make it worth while to live in the Mediterranean and not the summers. It is nearly always sunny and most days it is possible to eat outside. Here in Catalonia they like to take advantage of this and have many fiestas that involve eating.

Clotxa (pronounced clotcha) is a sandwich of the countryside.  It can be made with sausages or other vegetables but traditionally it is made with salted preserved sardines, tomatoes and onions. It was made famous by a village called Riba-Roja d'Ebre.  A village by the river Ebro in the south of Catalonia.  Many villages of this region are now having Clotxa fiestas.

Serves 2-4


1 round 1 kg loaf
4 tomatoes
4 small onions
4 salted sardines (you can use any salted fish, such as kippers or smoked eel)
Extra virgin olive oil

Prepare a BBQ or heat the oven to 230 c. If you are cooking in the oven you can wrap the tomatoes and onions in foil and place in the oven.  Pan fry the sardines for a few minutes on each side.

Wait until the flames have died down and you are left with the hot embers.  Place the tomatoes and onions (unpeeled) on the heat and cook for about 10 -15 minutes, turning to cook all sides.  Place the sardines on the BBQ  and cook for a minute on each side.  While everything is cooking cut the loaf in half and carefully cut out the centers and reserve.  As soon as the everything is cooked and cool enough to handle peel the tomatoes and cut out the core and squash into the center of the halves, then peel the onions and do the same.  Skin the fish and take out the bones and add to the halves.  Drizzle in a good amount of olive oil into each half and then replace the bread in the center, squash down and cut into quarters if you like and eat.

Friday, 14 February 2014

Curly Endive Salad with Romesco Sauce

This salad is called Xato (pronounced chato) in Catalonia.  It is tradionally made with tuna, anchovies and raw salt cod, I have left out the salt cod for this recipe as it is not to everyone's taste.  Escarolas (curly endives) are now in season and you will see that a lot of villages in Catalonia having this traditional salad with competions for making the romesco sauce.

To make authentic Romesco sauce you really need Ñora or Choricero dried peppers, you can buy them from Spanish suppliers online.  If you make it without it will not be the same and in my mind it is worth to source them, they come dried on a string and can be hung up in the kitchen.  If you have a garden or greenhouse you could grow them.



Serves 4


1 escarola (curly endive)
Small tin of anchovies in oil
Tin of tuna in oil
50g black olives in oil

For the Romesco sauce

2 tomatoes, cut in half
15 Almonds
15 Hazelnuts
slice of rustic bread
7 garlic cloves
75 ml extra virgin olive oil
2 Ñora or Choricero
Splash of red wine vinegar

How to go about it

First put the dried peppers in a small bowl and cover with boiling water and leave for a few hours to soak. Wash the escarola, use only the really light green leaves, save the outer, darker green leaves and use in a soup if you wish.  Put the drained escarola in the fridge to crisp up.

The romesco can be made in the oven or in a frying pan.  Add a couple of tablespoons of olive oil to the pan and gentle fry the whole unpeeled garlic cloves, keeping one back to add raw.  If you prefer a milder flavour of garlic then cook all the cloves.  In the same pan fry a piece of bread and tomatoes.  Dry fry the nuts. Or you can roast the ingredients in the oven 160c for 20 minutes, roast the nuts for only 10 minutes and keep an eye on them as they burn easily.  You can make this in a pestle and mortar or use a hand liquidizer.  Scrap of the flesh from the peppers, skin and seed the tomatoes and mix with all the other ingredients add the vinegar at the end, just a teaspoon to lift the flavour a bit. Loosen the sauce with a splash of boiling water and toss the escarola in a bowl with the romesco,  you might not need all of the sauce, you can save it for another day.   Arrange on plates and top with anchovies, tuna and olives.

Catalan Bread with Tomato

I get pregnancy type cravings for Pan con Tomato or (Catalan spelling) Pa amb Tomàquet, it's a basic thing but taste divine.  You can eat it as it is or top it with Serrano ham or Manchego cheese for example.


Country style bread
Extra virgin olive oil,  Arbequina if you can get it
Manchego cheese
Jamon Serrano

There are two ways of making it. The traditional way is to rub a cut tomato onto bread or toast.  You usually use a special tomato for this method which is called a hanging tomato.  These tomatoes are dried on the vine in a dry place for winter.  They have a particularly thick skin which makes them ideal for this preserving method.  The odd one goes rotten but more or less they will keep for months in this way.

Hanging Tomatoes

Bread rubbed with hanging tomatoes

The modern way of making tomato bread is to grate the tomato into a bowl add olive oil and salt and then spread it onto the bread or toast.

You can rub garlic onto the bread first, this is better suited to toast as the hard crust makes it a natural grater.

Then rub or spread tomato onto the bread.  If you rub the tomato onto the bread, drizzle olive oil onto it afterwards.  Sprinkle with sea salt and top with your chosen topping.

Monday, 3 February 2014

February in the garden

I've never written about my vegetable growing on this blog, which is a shame as a lot of the produce in my recipes comes from my garden.  I first starting growing vegetables about 14 years ago when we rented a house just behind the coast in Spain.  I was a complete novice but went out and bought a book called 'El gran libro del Huerto Moderno', the big book on the modern allotment.  I understood none of it but with the help of diagrams and the dictionary I proceeded.  There was a farmer called Louis who looked after the surrounding fruit farm who started to give me help.  Off I went and bought tomato and pepper plants and spent hours planting them in neat rows, only to be told by Louis that I'd done it wrong.  When did you plant these he'd ask, yesterday I'd reply, well they all have to come up, you've planted them wrong. In Catalonia things are planted down in a trough and watered by the flooding method, it's so dry it's the best way to get water to the roots.

So I proceeded with planting and thanks to beginners luck, sun, water and advice from Louis, everything grew really well. As Louis used to say I was growing a bit of everything, things that weren't normal to grow in the area, I loved it.  Then disaster struck and my husband was admitted to hospital with a serious health problem and my days were taken up in the hospital, I just had enough time to water the garden.  He recovered but during this intense time my allotment was coming to fruition, the tomatoes were dropping off the vines, the melons were exploding, the lettuces were being eaten by the snails, all my hard work was going to waste.  Then one day when I came back from the hospital, I parked the car by the allotment and slouched over the steering wheel and wept with stress and worry.  I didn't see Louis on the land but I heard him tap on the car window.  He took one look at me and said 'Nena, hay que aprovechar la cosecha', you must take advantage of the harvest.   It really stuck in my mind, I'd spent money on manure, plants and not to mention the hours of work.  So off I went to the ironmongers and bought loads of jars and a tall saucepan and started to bottle the produce.

This was the start of a passion in my life.  Working the land is like marmite, you either love it or hate it.  I still marvel at how you plant a seed then a few months later you have food on your plate.  Everyone has the way of doing it but more or less we all have to follow the same road for growing.  Respecting the seasons and crop rotation.  It's a shame that more people don't have access to land.  It's a constant learning curve, I'm always picking up new tips.  I confess to looking at other people gardens, so I can learn more from how they plant things.  I can spend hours looking at seed catalogues, dreaming of growing all the vegetables.  One thing I have learnt is that try not to grow more than you need.

This winter I don't have much growing, I'd normally have a lot more winter lettuces, endives and escarolas but I missed the planting in November.

I had my manure delivered this week, so I have been busy ploughing this into the land.  I'll be planting my potatoes at the end of this month.


Broad beans


 Purple sprouting

Cavolo Nero

Almond Blossom

Managed to plant the potatoes at the weekend just in time with the moon.