Archive for the ‘Spain’Category

Bravura Navarra wine hits all the high notes

albondigas de bacalao at Taberna de Haro
Spain’s D.O. Navarra wine district nestles just east of La Rioja like two lovers spooning in bed. With much the same soils, the same Río Ebro influence, and a millennium-long winemaking tradition, Navarra has everything to make great wines. It even has some of the oldest plots of the Garnacha grape in northern Spain.

Eleven Navarra producers came through Boston last night showcasing one wine each at the terrific Spanish restaurant Taberna de Haro (999 South Beacon St., Brookline, 617-277-8272, tabernaboston.com). Chef Deborah Hansen’s crew passed tapas as we tasted. Among them were the stunning deconstructed version of her salt cod saffron meatballs, albóndigas de bacalao, shown above.

We tasted blends mostly dominated by Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot. A few were jazzed up with Syrah, a newcomer to Navarra still accounting for less than 1 percent of vineyards. Without exception they were well-made wines suitable for drinking with roast meats, dishes full of ripe peppers or mushrooms, and other powerful flavors. Most were retailing at $20-$25.

Tempranillo standout


Beatriz Ochoa with Ochoa Reserva 2009 at Taberna de Haro To our taste, we were most impressed by the Bodegas Ochoa Reserva 2009. It was the only blend that placed the native Tempranillo grape at center stage. It picked up some blackberry notes from 30% Cabernet Sauvignon, and a velvety smoothness aided by 15% Merlot. Of all the wines we tasted, it was the most Spanish and reflective of the terroir.

This family-owned winery, which dates from 1845, was a pioneer in switching Navarra from mass production of inexpensive wines to lower-yield, high quality wines. Javier Ochoa, who just retired with the 2016 vintage, began the switch a generation ago. One of his daughters, Adriana, is the company winemaker now. She and her sister Beatriz Ochoa, who is general manager, represent the sixth generation of the family. That’s Beatriz in the photo above. See their whole line at the web site.

This particular wine spent 18 months in French and American oak and five years in bottle. It is remarkably harmonious, warm and welcoming, and ultimately powerful—a splendid example of fine winemaking where a French supporting cast lets Tempranillo star. It retails around $22.

What food would Beatriz choose if she was opening a bottle of Ochoa Reserva?

“Lamb chops,” she said without hesitation. “From the grill!”

17

11 2016

Strolling through Madrid’s food culture

Mercado Anton Martin in Huertas neighborhood of Madrid
A quick scan of guidebooks and the web usually reveals the most famous and trendy eating places in any city. But it’s much harder to get a handle on how people shop and eat every day. Providing such a peek at daily life was just what Lauren Aloise had in mind when she introduced her tour of the Huertas neighborhood that Pat described in her new book 100 Places in Spain Every Woman Should Go from Travelers’ Tales Press (travelerstales.com/100-places-spain-every-woman-go/).

Lauren Aloise of Devour Madrid Food ToursAn American married to a Spaniard, Aloise launched Devour Madrid Food Tours (madridfoodtour.com) in 2012. The tour of the Huertas neighborhood is one of several options led by Aloise and her small band of guides, all of whom are devoted foodies. Located just off Puerta del Sol, Huertas is one of Madrid’s oldest and most historic neighborhoods. Walking the narrow, somewhat hilly streets “is like a day in the life of a Madrileña,” says Aloise. The eating and shopping are “not that far off from what someone would do in a couple of days.” So are the tastes.

One of the highlights of the tour is a stop at the recently revitalized Mercado Antón Martín (above), one of Madrid’s traditional neighborhood food markets. “When I moved to Madrid, the market was half empty,” says Aloise. “Now it’s filled with a lot of new vendors.”

Pleasures of the Huertas streets


Huertas street scene The tour group also hits a number of smaller places off the beaten path in colorful Huertas. They might taste hot chocolate and freshly made churros, Spain’s famous mountain hams, the just-fried potato chips that Spaniards are so fond of, and a variety of Spanish cheeses. A stop at one of the oldest grocery stores in the city is a chance to taste jams, honeys, and olive oils and perhaps even select some to take home. “It’s everything a Spaniard would have in her pantry,” says Aloise.

07

11 2016

Spanish olive oils evoke taste of the country

Alexis Kerner of Olive Oil Workshop in Sevilla Developing a more refined sense of taste doesn’t have to be difficult or intimidating says Alexis Kerner, who founded the Olive Oil Workshop (theoliveoilworkshop.com) in Sevilla in 2014. Tasting, she says, is simply a matter of paying attention and becoming more sensitive to the nuances of flavor.

An American who has lived in Andalucía for more than a dozen years, Kerner never really thought of herself as having an unusually refined palate. Then she became fascinated with the many types of olive oils produced in the region. A recipient of a diploma as a certified olive oil taster from the University of Jaen and the International Olive Oil Council, Kerner offers olive oil tastings as well as trips to orchards and mills. She is bullish about the oils of Andalucía, which make up three-quarters of Spain’s production and more than that of any other single country. “The oils are bold,” she tells tasters. “They really stand out.”

Learning to taste


Olive oil sample Many olive oils—even some of the best—are packed in tins rather than glass. As a result, you can stow them in checked luggage and they will arrive safely home after a trip. Joining one of Kerner’s tastings is a good way to become a more informed buyer. Pat describes her own experience in her new book, 100 Places in Spain Every Woman Should Go, from Travelers’ Tales Press (travelerstales.com/100-places-spain-every-woman-go/).

Kerner usually selects three or four oils for her small groups to taste. Just as in wine tasting, it’s ideal to take small sips with enough air to release the aromatics in the oil.

Olive oil tasting place setting She pours the oils into pretty blue glasses so color doesn’t influence flavor. That way tasters can concentrate on discerning such subtle flavors as banana, artichoke, green almond, fig leaf, and apple. For those who think that olive oil is solely for dressing salad greens, Kerner offers a wealth of new ideas. For example, she often pours the delicate oil made from Arbequina olives over fish or even vanilla ice cream. By contrast, she likes to pour the more intense oil made from Picual olives over dark chocolate ice cream. She uses a spicy Hojiblanca oil to season gazpacho or beef carpaccio.

The workshops are sometimes held at Oleo-le (Garcia de Vinuesa 39, www.oleo-le.com), a compact shop that specializes in olive oil, and carries many artisanal small-production oils not otherwise available. It is one of the best places in Sevilla to select those tins to fill the nooks and crannies in a suitcase.

03

11 2016

New book stimulates an appetite for Spain

100 Places in Spain Every Woman Should Go cover
Pat’s new book, 100 Places in Spain Every Woman Should Go, has just been published by Travelers’ Tales Press (travelerstales.com). In many ways, the book cover photo of a woman striding confidently through the Alhambra captures the deep allure of Spain. Perched on a hillside in Granada and backed by mountain peaks, the Alhambra is a masterpiece of Moorish artistry and a touchstone of a storied and turbulent past.

Pat’s choices for the book do touch on Spain’s most celebrated sites and cities. They range from the futuristic Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao that sparked a city renaissance to La Sagrada Familia in Barcelona. Architect Antoni Gaudí’s phantasmagoric basilica has been more than 130 years in the making and is finally nearing completion.

paella cooking But many chapters celebrate the smaller pleasures that come from making a connection with people and place through food. That might be eating some of the best paella in Spain at a beachfront restaurant in Valencia. Or it could be spending the afternoon on a tapas hop through San Sebastián, a city that takes food very seriously.

One sweet stop


Serving at Chocolateria San Gines We never visit Madrid without stopping at Chocolatería San Ginés (Pasadizo San Ginés 5). As Pat writes in the book, it’s one of the most reassuring places in the city. Opened in 1894 and almost never closed, it’s also one of the few remaining traditional chocolaterías. You can count on a plate of freshly fried churros and a cup of thick, rich hot chocolate any hour. (Many bars and cafés serve hot chocolate and churros in the morning and again at tapas time. But they often buy the churros from a small factory and reheat them.)

Hot chocolate at San Ginés (www.chocolateriasangines.com) is truly a revelation. It is so thick and rich that a spoon will almost stand up in the cup and a haunting spice lurks beneath the deep chocolate flavor. Late night club-goers and ladies with shopping bags enjoying an afternoon treat all agree: The only way to get the last delicious drops of chocolate from the cup is to mop the bottom with a bit of churro.

100 Places in Spain Every Woman Should Go is available from Amazon.com and from local booksellers.

31

10 2016

Sherry takes back the bar

Tio Pepe sherry sign in Puerta del Sol
When we were in Madrid in October, we were happy to see that the Tío Pepe neon symbol darkened by the corporate forces at Apple had switched sides of Puerta del Sol and was lighting up the plaza again from atop El Corte Inglés department store. (See above.) The bright lights seem symbolic of the broader rehabilitation of the image of sherry. For a long time, drinking sherry implied that you were were old, prissy, British or all three.

Sherry by Talia BaiocchiBut now that cream sherries (a hideous adulteration of sherry by blending with sweet wine) are all but a thing of the past, cocktail-savvy drinkers are embracing real sherry in all its complex, nuanced forms. And though we’re a little late to the party, we want to call our readers’ attention to a fairly new book, Sherry: A Modern Guide to the Wine World’s Best-Kept Secret by one of the best wine and spirits writers to come along in a generation, Talia Baiocchi. It’s a great introduction to the wine and makes simple good reading. It’s also a good guide to visiting Spain’s Sherry Triangle if wine is foremost on your agenda.

The editor of the online magazine PUNCH (www.punchdrink.com) was captivated with sherry when she first started tasting the good stuff. So off she went to Spain to chronicle the wine, its production, and many of the leading bodegas that export to North America. She also includes a number of recipes and cocktails, including the directions for a Sherry Cobbler, the number-one cocktail in 19th century America. Classically, it consists of 3 ounces of amontillado, 3/4 ounce of simple syrup, a lemon wheel, an orange wheel, a glass of crushed ice—and a straw. “Don’t forget the straw,” Baiocchi says. The Sherry Cobbler actually popularized the drinking straw way back when.

09

12 2015

Real meat and potatoes in Córdoba

steak at El Churrasco in Cordoba Because La Mezquita—the 10th century mosque partially inhabited by a 16th century cathedral—is the biggest attraction in Córdoba, many travelers think they should be eating a North African diet long on eggplant and fried fish. But Córdoba is also in the heart of one of Spain’s chief beef-raising regions, and the venerable Restaurante El Churrasco (Calle Romero 16, Córdoba; tel: 957-290-819; elchurrasco.es) serves some utterly delicious steaks grilled over oak charcoal. We made an overnight stop in the ancient city so we could visit the mosque in the pre-tourist silent hour before the morning Mass (trust us—it’s much more spiritual without the tour groups), and we enjoyed a typically extended Spanish Sunday afternoon feast at El Churrasco.

smoked sardine at El Churrasco Before we got down to business with the steak, we enjoyed a sampling of several tapas in lieu of appetizers. That included some fried eggplant with classic Córdoban salmorejo (a gazpacho variant thickened with pureed bread to the texture of a dip) and the restaurant’s pride and joy, a prize-winning smoked sardine with guacamole and tomato compote on a piece of toast. The photo at right shows the morsel. Those sprouts? They’re sprouted poppy seeds, which gives the umami-laden bite a nice snap of spice.

Poor Man's Potatoes at El Churrasco One thing you might notice about Córdoban cuisine is that it sometimes seems that every dish is garnished with a little chopped ham and hard-boiled egg. That included a nice seasonal batch of shell beans sauteed in olive oil (Cordoba also produces some of Spain’s best olive oil). El Churrasco also served an interesting but different take on a Spain-wide standard, patatas a lo pobre, or Poor Man’s Potatoes. The traditional version calls for sautéeing thin slices of potato in olive oil with some minced garlic, salt, and minced parsley. As shown here, El Churrasco used small cubes of parboiled potatoes and sautéed them with bits of serrano ham until lightly browned. At the last second, the kitchen stirred in an egg and soft-scrambled it with the spuds. The approach was simple but the results were delicious.

And then came the steak (and a bottle of Rioja).

08

11 2015

Casa Patas for flamenco and food

artichokes with ham at Casa Patas in Madrid
We almost always advise travelers in Spain who want to catch a flamenco show to skip the meals that are offered as part of an espectaculo. In most flamenco clubs, or tablaos, the meals are overpriced and gastronomically underwhelming. It’s better to eat elsewhere and agree to ordering a drink with the show as part of your admission.

An exception is Casa Patas in Madrid, which functions more like a bar-restaurante with a show in the back than it does like a traditional tablao. It’s a bar with strong Andalucían overtones, lots of Andalucían hams, and lots of sherry on the menu. But the kitchen does a pretty good job with a lot of classics of the Spanish table. On our most recent visit (last week), we had failed to reserve a show in advance, so we did the expedient thing: We went 90 minutes early to get on the wait list (there are always some no-shows) and killed the waiting period by sitting down to eat and drink. One of the biggest surprises was a plate of alcachofas con jamón, or stir-fried artichoke hearts with ham. This version (shown above) was one of the best we’ve had in a long time, with tasty artichokes and a mince of air-dried ham, served in a puddle of olive oil with a roasted red pepper.

flamenco performers at Casa Patas in Madrid As is always the case at Casa Patas, the show did not disappoint either, even though we ended up with very peripheral seats. The establishment was founded by flamenco musicians, and Casa Patas is a mainstay for touring professionals—sort of like small jazz clubs can be for journeyman musicians in the U.S. You get to see the hard-working pros who haven’t settled into being a house act at one of the flamenco tablaos.

Casa Patas is at Calle de los Cañizares, 10; tel: +34 913 69 04 96; www.casapatas.com. Show prices vary with the acts. We paid €36 each.

23

10 2015

San Antón: Madrid’s best market makeover

slicing ham at San Anton market in Madrid
Madrid has been renovating and updating its historic fresh food markets in recent years, starting with the transformation of Mercado San Miguel next to Plaza Mayor into a jewel box full of tapas bars and high-end deli food. But we’re even more impressed with Mercado San Antón in Chueca. The market is a symbol of how that neighborhood—once the part of town where you went to buy sex or drugs—has become one of the hippest and most gentrified parts of the central old city. FYI, about the nastiest stuff you’ll find on Chueca streets these days are some shoes with 15-centimeter spike heels in the shops on calle Augusto Figueroa.

entrance to Mercado San Anton market in Madrid The Mercado San Antón isn’t exactly a temple of food like La Boqueria in Barcelona or the Mercado Central in Valencia. We think of it as the parish church of food for the fairly hip, fairly young crowd in Chueca. The basement has a small SuperCor supemarket for the essentials—laundry detergent, canned white asparagus, cheap wine, Coca-Cola in 1.5 liter bottles, etc. The real food is on the first level, where the market stalls have everything from perfectly selected fresh fruit in season to one of the best curated fish stalls we’ve ever seen. Madrid is in the middle of the country far from the fishing ports, but Madrileños so love their fish that the wholesalers overnight the catch to the capital. There wasn’t a cloudy eye to be seen on the mackerel, cod, hake, or grotesque whole monkfish. As befits a great market in Spain, all the ham is cut fresh, as in the photo above.

The second level is even more amazing than the fresh food. It consists entirely of tapas stalls, a wine bar, a pastry/ice cream/coffee stall, and a few tables around the edges. At mid-morning when people are shopping for food, it’s placid. From 2 p.m. until 5 p.m., it’s a madhouse as people come for a cheap lunch. Some tapas cost as little as €1, as indicated in the image below. You can also get a tuna or an eggplant empanada, a small pork steak and fries, or—at the stall of creative tapas, a fancy burger topped with foie gras for less than €6.

The top level is a restaurant operated by the Jabugo ham group Cinco Jotas. It’s not all thin, precious slices of Iberian ham served with Manchego and sherry. The menu includes a wide range of meat and fish dishes. Half the restaurant is on an outdoor terrace, which solves the Spanish need to smoke all through the meal now that indoor dining is smokefree by law.

Mercado San Antón is at calle de Augusto Figueroa, 24; tel: 913-30-07-30; www.mercadosananton.com. The market is open daily from 10 a.m. until midnight.

tapas at Mercado San Anton in Madrid

18

10 2015

Off to Spain. Again.

Pat making photos from CentroCentro in Madrid
Readers who’ve been following us for a while know that we have a special love for Spain and its varied cuisines. In fact, if you just plug “spain” into the search box to the right, you’ll find multiple pages of posts about Spain and Spanish food stretching back to November 2009, when we wrote about the fabulous blue cheese of the Picos de Europa, Cabrales, and gave you a recipe for Cabrales with sauteed apples, walnuts, and honey.

Peruse those pages and you’ll find recipes for authentic paella, patatas riojanas, and a number of other Spanish classics. There are also some Spanish-inspired originals, like saffron shortbreads and orange and almond tart.

We’re heading back to Spain this week for some extended research, with stays in Madrid, the wine country of Toro and Rueda, a stopover for prayer (literally) in Córdoba, and longer stays in Sevilla and Palma (Mallorca). We have meetings and visits scheduled to flesh out research for about 40 essays in the new book Pat is writing, 100 Places in Spain Every Woman Should Go, for Travelers Tales. Publication is scheduled for fall 2016. We’ll try to keep you apprised of tastes we encounter along the way, but given our busy schedule on the road, new posts may have to wait until early November.

Pats subject By the way, if you were wondering, the photo above is Pat taking pictures from the observation deck on CentroCentro, the former main post office building on Plaza de Cibeles in Madrid. She’s taking a picture of the Metropolis office building at the corner of Calle de Alcalá and Gran Vía, the first Madrid thoroughfare designed for the automobile. Inaugurated in 1911, the Metropolis is a rare Beaux-Arts beauty in what Madrileños hoped would become the new modern district of the city.

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13

10 2015

Truffles, cheese, and honey for dessert

Manchego cheese with honey and truffle
One of our favorite breakfast dishes in Spain is a plate of sliced Manchego cheese drizzled with honey and served with a bit of membrillo (quince jelly). For dessert, the ewe’s milk tang and saltiness of Manchego pairs exceptionally well with black truffle.

MANCHEGO CHEESE, HONEY & BLACK TRUFFLES


Serves 2

6 oz. wedge of Manchego semi-curado (aged at least 6 months)
2 tablespoons of chestnut or acacia honey
10 grams black truffle
crackers for serving

Remove rind from Manchego. Lay wedge on its side and slice into 7-8 triangles of cheese. Arrange on a plate and drizzle with honey. (The easy way is to dip a butter knife in the honey and “paint” it on the cheese.) Shave black truffle over the top. Add crackers to the plate and serve with a glass of late-harvest muscat, Hungarian Tokaji, or Pedro Ximenez.

26

07 2015