A Cooking Day in Málaga: Preparing Spanish Dishes in Andalucía

Spain is a country that’s easy to get lost in. I don’t mean the culture or the romanticism – I mean, GPS systems are absolute crap, and it’s easier to end up on the wrong road than it is to arrive to your destination calmly and on time.

Stuck in our constant chatter, Mickey and I missed our exit, had a local forget we were following him to Almogía, and ended up on a dirt road. I called Mayte, one of the women behind A Cooking Day, and she told me she hadn’t heard of the town we’d just driven through.

“There will be wine,” Mickey soothed. “There is always wine on a Spanish table. Don’t stress.”

 As it turned out, we were in Mayte’s driveway, but wouldn’t find that out before turning around again. But Mickey was right –  as soon as we’d sat down in the airy courtyard of her country house, dripping with Bougainvillea and antique lanterns, I felt at ease and over my road rage.

Mayte and Keti announced the menu before anyone had been introduced – ajoblanco, a citrus salad with cod and spring onions, fideuà and quince pastries, plus homemade bread. As with any Spanish weekend meal, we’d snack our way through the process, eating olives they’d marinated and malagueño cheese with homemade fig marmalade.

Prepping our meal

After meeting fellow blogger Robin Graham and his partner, as well as locals Ute and Sergio, wicker baskets were distributed and we went into the small huerto to pick fruit. Oranges, persimmons, figs and lemons are ripe at this time of year, and we’d be using several in our recipes.

Once back in the house, we donned aprons. Robin and I set to peeling shrimp while Mickey and Sergio pounded almonds using an iron mallet and a stone, a traditional method. As an American used to my fish coming headless and my chicken breasts cleaned, it was refreshing to know that we were truly making farm to fork food.

Mayte’s kitchen is spacious and modern, blended seamlessly into a century-old farmhouse that’s full of interesting pieces from her travels around the world. She and Keti, a longtime friend, set up the cooking classes in both English and Spanish earlier this year. They cater groups of two to just six, ensuring that everyone will get their hands dirty.

There would be blanching, chopping and stirring, but not without a glass of Rioja and a few stolen almonds.

Making our Food

First up? Kneading the bread and preparing it to rise. Mine refused to cooperate with me, and coupled with my lack of kitchen skills, I was toast. Ha. The day was a bit damp, causing the bread to need more time to bake and rise. I took another sip of beer.

We focused on the ajoblanco next, peeling away the case and chopping garlic – it was a dish I’d surprisingly not tried before. Mayte dumped everything into the blender and turned it on, and we were sipping it a short time later between nibbles of our baked bread and organic olive oil (Mayte’s recipe is below).

As we peeled the oranges we picked and chopped them, along with the ripe spring onions, the shrimp shells we’d discarded and the monkfish boiled in separate pots to serve as brother for the fideuà noodle dish that would be our main plato

Keti showed us a family secret – frying the noodles with a bit of oil and garlic so that they’d not get too hard later. As a last-minute addition, we made a simple alioli sauce of egg whites, garlic and olive oil to accompany this traditional noodle dish that resembles paella. 

La sobremesa

Nearing 4 o’clock, we  sat down to eat. The fireplace crackled as Mayte served us the salad. While I didn’t think I’d be too keen on mixing salted cod with oranges and onions, the malagueña salad was surpassingly good and felt layered, despite its simplicity.

Our bellies were happy and in good company around the table. Sobremesa is a Spanish term that refers to the conversation and camaraderie that always seems to happen around a table. In fact, the work for striking up a conversation is entablar, which perfectly encompasses sobremesa chat. I chose to bring Mickey because I knew she’d be right at home. Like me, she loves wine, food and good conversation.

As Keti finished the fideuà, we drank up, a rich Rioja that blended well with all of the flavors on the table. The noodles were cooked perfectly, creamy and with the right amount of flavor. Again, I was taken back at how flavorful something so simple could taste.

The Takeaway

For someone who loves food and dabbles in cooking, the outing was a fun was to spend a day. We rolled up our sleeves and got to see the process through, from picking the fresh fruit to taking the quince pastries out of the oven. Perhaps by my own election and in the name of art (and Camarón), I didn’t cook as much as I expected.

Mayte and Keti are personable, helpful and patient, and they make great company. I appreciated that they came up with a menu that pleased palates from five different countries and our two vegetarian counterparts, and the food was simple enough to repeat, yet filling and delicious.

Ajoblanco
Print
Ingredients
  1. 150g almonds
  2. 2 cloves of garlic
  3. 2 slices of bread (crust optional)
  4. 1/2 glass of extra virgin olive oil
  5. 1 litre of water
  6. salt and white wine vinegar to taste
Instructions
  1. Blanch the almonds blanching hot water until the skin peels off easily. Peel and chop the garlic cloves into fine bits. Soak the bread in water to soften it, then break it apart into smaller pieces. Put everything in the blender with the olive oil, a bit of vinegar and salt, and blend until you get a fine paste, adding some water if necessary. Add a litre of water and the salt and vinegar to taste.
Notes
  1. Tip: day-old bread works best for this recipe.
Adapted from Adapted from A Cooking Day Blog
Sunshine and Siestas http://sunshineandsiestas.com/
 Mickey and I were gracious guests of Mayte and Keti of A Cooking Day, but all opinions belong to me. A Cooking Day is available to speakers of English, Spanish or French for 50€ a head, which includes the materials, food and drink, plus company. Mayte’s cortijo is located just off the A-7, right outside of Málaga. For more information, consult their website.

Picking Winter Fruit in Southern Spain

In the winter months, citrus fruits, figs, mushrooms and chestnuts are ripe and ready to be picked. Olive oil harvests begin, and crops like pumpkins, avocados and leeks begin to pop up in supermarkets.

As a kid growing up in the icy Midwest, we’d often have raspberry and tomato plants, which only came around in the summertime. My grandpa lived in Orange County and would send us navel oranges as holiday gifts – without fail, there’s always one at the very bottom of our stockings on Christmas morning.

Coming from a country that pumps horomones into everything we consume, Spain is a breath of fresh air. Horomone-free, that is. I have learned to live with seasonal products. Strawberries comes in the early spring, sardines are best eaten in the months without an R in the name, and tomatoes are available year-round, thanks to greenhouses in nearby Los Palacios. Winter means fig jam, roasted chestnuts and zucchini soup.

As part of our day in the malgueño countryside, Mickey and I searched a small orchard for the ripest figs, lemons, and oranges. Honeybees continued to flit around the fruit that had fallen to the ground and smashed open. Sergio crushed a few ripe olives, showing us how oil was traditionally extracted from Southern Spain’s star crop. Mayte explained how to pick the best fruit, which had been victim to little rain this year.

Later that day, our hand-picked lemons would dress up our fideuà, the oranges formed the base of a fresh salad with spring onions and cod, and the fleshy part of the figs were devoured, turning our lips red.

My experience at A Cooking Day was offered to me for free by Mayte and Kety. My opinions, and the extra calories, are all mine.

Tapa Thursdays: Castañas

cred where cred’s due

I never knew that ‘chestnuts roasting on an open fire’ was actually a thing until moving to Seville.

When the weather turns crisp (which finally happened last week), peddlers wheel out large carts that have a hole cut in the middle, under which coals are heated, and the chesnuts, called castañas, are roasted.

Castaño trees are all over Southern Europe, and the prickly nut is making a comeback in the gastronomic world. During the winter months, they’re picked up off the ground, roasted and scooped into paper cones. I always see kids reaching for them under the sheen of Christmas lights along Avenida de Constitución. I’m reminded of when I was a kid and my mom would take us to downtown Chicago to see the lights and windows at Field’s, and then treat us to Frango Mints and Garett’s Popcorn.

What they are: European chestnuts.

How they’re made: You can easily pick up a half kilo of chestnuts in the produce section of a supermarket and roast them at home by sliting an X into the hard shell and baking them for 30-35 minutes on 220°C. Or, if you’re lazy like me, you can just buy them from a vendor.

Goes great with: Chestnuts are a fantastic snack on the street (and they’re probably the only things you can eat on the run and not have a sevillano stick up their nose at you). They taste smoky and a tad sweet at the same time.

Have you ever eaten chestnuts?

 

Tapa Thursdays: Gazpacho

I have never been one to stand up to the hot summer sun in Seville. I made the poor decision one year to cycle home from my friend Stacy’s house at 3pm. In August. Trying to beat the Sevici’s 30-minute limit.

I was shaking by the time I got home, and the Novio had to stick me in the shower, clothes on, so that I’d cool down. After that, it was a cold glass of gazpacho and I felt immediately better.

When the temperatures start to rise in Seville, I find that my only defense are cold showers, the AC in our living room and an always full glass of gazpacho.

What it is: A cold, tomato-based soup made of little more than tomatoes, green peppers, cucumber, salt, garlic, olive oil and vinegar. It’s not only a simple dish, but it’s simple to make! Often, a garnish or onions and cucumbers is sprinkled on top, and some choose to eat the dish (well, drink it, really) with croutons on top, too.

Where it comes from: Gazpacho is said to have been invented by the Arabs, but it’s now a staple in Andalusian gastronomy, thanks to the hot summer days. Variations are numerous, including gazpacho manchego, which I tried in Calpe, or by substituting tomatoes for anything else. My favorite? Watermelon gazpacho!

Goes great with: The Novio and I usually use gazpacho as a primer to just about anything we’ll eat. It’s also perfect for practicing the Spanish habit of hacer el barquito, or mopping up the remains with a piece of bread.

Where to get it in Seville: I prefer to make my own gazpacho, though I have fond memories of my first few days in sweltering Seville, drinking it by the glass full in the original Bodeguita Romero on Antonia Díaz.

Are you a gazpacho fiend? Have  certain go-to tapa, or want to see something featured on Sunshine and Siestas? Leave me a message in the comments!

Tapa Thursdays: Gurumelos

I will buy you a beer if you knew what a gurumelo is before this post. I mean it.

Santiago confessed to never having been to Plaza del Salvador, so I knew just where to take him on a perfect, late winter day in Andalusia. The morning cold had given way to a cloudless blue sky, whose bright color set against the albero and salmon colored buildings of the square was dreamy on a day like today. As we sidled up to the bars for a beer, I bumped into my coworker, Helen.

Indeed, she was the fourth person I’d ran into in the center. If the world is a handkercheif, Seville is that pañuelo folded into fourths.

But, I digress. This post is about FOOD glorious FOOD.

Two beers were ordered for my friend and I, and he quickly ordered a revuelto de gurumelos. I had no idea what a gurumelo was, but since Santiago is Galician, I could only assume it was some kind of fish. He’d ordered to quickly, not even bothering to ask if I liked what he’s shouted across the busy bar to the bartender. I HATE eggs, making reveueltos one of my most disliked foods, along with ensaladilla rusa.

I asked Santiago what gurumelo was, and he grasped for the word in English. “Funghi, I think,” he stammered, not quite sure. Sweet, I also dislike mushrooms.

In the end, the revuelto was perfect – light, con su puntito de sal, and tasty, plus peppered with potatoes and bits of ham. The texture of mushrooms tends to throw me off, but this stuff was a perfect way to catch up with an old friend.

What it is: A large mushroom, named so for its weight (up to 1 kilogram!). Its characteristics are its fleshy white cap.

Where it comes from: The gurumelo is commonly found in the southerwestern part of the penninsula; in nothern Huelva, Badajoz and Portugal, to be exact. Because they’re only picked and sold in springtime, go get one quick or look for them in a supermakret or market. Here are some recipes for inspiration.

Where to eat it: La Antigua Bodeguita, one of the bars located adjacent the Iglesia del Salvador, is honestly the only place I’ve ever even seen mention the fungus. The bar is open daily for lunch and dinner though the tables are outside.

Tapa Thursdays: Carillada (Braised Pig Cheek)

When I say I’ve eaten every part of the pig, I seriously am not joking. While my family is more about beef and chicken than pork, having a partner whose family business revolves around the acorn-munching cerdito means that we’ve often got a small gama (offering) of swine in our fridge.

While I don’t eat all of it for knowing better, Kike did trick me into eating carrillada, and I’m all the better for it:

Pig cheek is lean, tasty and quickly becoming my favorite party of the pig. In fact, it reminds me of coming home to pot roast after school during the harsh Chicago winters I grew up with.

While various versions exist (including a tasty Christmas thought-provoking version with dried cloves that Kike makes), my favorite is traditional carrillada with potatoes and carrots, perfect for a chilly winter day.

Lasaña de Carrillada with mashed potatoes at Barajas 20

What it is: The lean cut of pig cheek, often called the carrillera in a butcher shop or meat section of the supermarket. It’s often cooked on low temps for hours to make sure it’s tender.

Where it’s from: Carrillada is typical all over Spain, though the pork-producing regions of Western Andalusia, Extremadura and Gijuelo are rumored to have the freshest cuts.

Where to get it in Seville: This dish is about as common on menus in Seville as salmorejo is, so new ideas for incorporating the meat have become popular. At Pura Tasca (Calle Numancia, 5 in Triana) and Barajas 20, you can find ravioli filled with the meat, oft served with mashed potatoes as above. If you’re looking for the traditional version, I recommend Barra 20 in Bellavista or Zahora in Los Bermejales.

If you’re willing to make the drive, there’s an unassuming roadside restaurant on the A-92 highway near Antequera with carrillada so tender and braised with sweet Pedro Ximénez wine. This is, without a doubt, the best carrillada I’ve ever tried.

Goes perfectly with: A robust glass of red wine. If you’d like to make carrillada in your own kitchen, try this recipe by Lauren of Spanish Sabores, and enjoy the smells as you wait for it to slow-roast!

If you like tapas, tell me which ones you’d like to see featured on Sunshine and Siestas? Here are my picks for the Five Must-Try tapas in Spain. Alternately, there are more pictures on Sunshine and Siestas’s Facebook page.

 

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