Where we're going this evening - Spain
I love it - so much so that I have spent more years than I care to think about (and certainly more money than I dare think about) attending night classes in order to learn Spanish. The ol' grey matter is not cut out for languages, though, and despite working hard and gaining a GCSE along the way, something refuses to 'click'. I can read a newspaper (generally), and order food - and even write a letter, but don't try to talk to me in Spanish unless you want me to look back at you blankly. Hey ho.
That does not stop me appreciating the good food - and the weather isn't too shoddy either - so what else do we know about Spain?
About twice the size of the UK, Spain has just about three quarters of the UK's population. It is occupies a prominant possition to the west of Europe with borders to France and Portugal, and it's but a short hop across the Strait of Gibralter to north Africa.
In the late middle ages when it was very fashionable to jump on a boat and claim the first bit of land you came to as yours, the Spanish where right up there with the Brits 'exploring' the world - which is why so much of South America has Spanish as their first language. In fact, Spanish is the most widely spoken language in the world.
Spain is a Catholic country, a Monarchy and has a well developed economy. Well, it is now - Spain was troubled by a civil war in the early 1930's after which General Franco ruled for the next thirty years. Once he died in 1975, the monarchy was restored, economic growth flourished, and even those troublesome regions always wanting to go it alone settled down with some autonomous rule agreed.
More recently, Spain has joined in with the rest of Europe, and enjoyed good income from tourism - although what with property prices having a serious hiccup, corruption at local government level and a world recession affecting tourism, things aren't so good for the Spanish now.
Mind you, part of the problem, it seems to me, that in common with some of the Greeks and Italians, certain sections of the Spanish population think that taxes are something that happen to other people, but then wonder why there is no money in the pot to pay out for pensions, schools, hospitals, infrastructure etc etc.
Whilst this rumbles on, at least there is a fine climate to enjoy, and the food is terrific - so lets say hola to our Spanish amigos and see what's on the menu...
The national dish of paella - short grain slow cooked rice with meat/fish/seafood - is a cert here, but it is difficult to choice what else to cook, as we are severely spoilt for choice.
In the end, I decided to put a number of tapas dishes together, and thought about the ones that I most enjoy eating when I am away. Tapas are small dishes traditionally served in bars with a drink - like a small dish of nuts, or a cube or two of tortilla; olives; or maybe a bit of chorizo and cheese. Tapas as we know it now is a bit more substantial - if the traditional portion can be likened to going to he pub and having a bag of crisps with your pint, the modern day tapas is more like having a sandwich at the bar, and a bowl of chips too.
Let's see how we get on.
Paella - recipe from my head
Coat paella rice with oil in a wide pan, then add chopped onion, sweet peppers and garlic and fry until fragrant. Meanwhile keep a pan of stock/white wine just warm on the hob. Gradually add the stock/wine to the rice, ladle at a time & let the rice absorb. Once nearly soft, add fish pieces/prawns/cooked white meat/peas. Give it all a stir & serve with crusty bread.
Spanish potatoes - fry halved new potatoes in a little oil with sliced onion and sweet pepper. Add a little chili & mustard then add passata and stock and simmer gently until the potatoes are tender.
Sauteed garlic mushrooms - sautee mushrooms & garlic in olive oil, leave on a low heat until cooked then add a squeeze of lemon & serve in a dish with a sprinkle of parsley
Garlic tomatoes - halve small tomatoes, place cut side up in a roasting dish, tuck in thyme sprigs and garlic cloves. Drizzle with olive oil and roast until tomatoes begin to char. Squeeze garlic over tomatoes & serve with parsley garnish.
Prawns in garlic oil - fry chopped garlic and hot chilis in briefly in oil then add large prawns. Keep turning prawns till coated with oil and heated through. Give a squeeze of lemon and serve with crusty bread
Albondigas (meat balls) - mix beef/pork mince with breadcrumbs, an egg, milk and grated parmesan with nutmeg, salt and pepper. Make into small balls & saute. Add sauce (made of chopped tomatos, onions, & basil) and simmer until meatballs are cooked.
And what have we learnt?
- Overcooking paella rice will make your final dish not dissimilar to a savoury rice pudding.
- There is something to be said for putting more wine in the glass, and less in the paella. After all, the paella is pretty happy to have veg stock used instead, which cannot be said for my wine glass
- Albondigas as made by mama in the Tenerifian kitchen do not taste like the ones I made tonight. I should have stuck with my first instinct which was to raise a quizzical eyebrow at the mention of including parmesan cheese.
- The Spanish like garlic - and it's a good job that I do too, as I reek of the stuff, as does my kitchen, clothes and will do for ages yet, I suspect.
- Small portions of a lot of different stuff is a faff, even if each dish is pretty simple to make
- Not to neglect the drink - just because I knew that I wasn't going to do a sweet for this evening's dishes, I missed a prime opportunity to made a whacking great jug of sangria. Or maybe it wouldn't taste the same without the sea/beach/sun? In the interests of research, I should have given it a whirl.
And out of 10?
- for the paella - a tasty 8/10 - this marred only by the fact that I overcooked the rice slightly - although the mixed smoked fish, meat and prawns were delicious.
- for the tapas - a solid 7/10 - the prawns (not shown) were particularly good and very much akin to the 'real thing' - also the potatoes similarly authentic in taste (although they could have been spicier). The mushrooms & tomatoes were great, and so easy. The whole was let down slightly by the albondigas - I know that each kitchen will have it's own favourite recipe, but really - what was I thinking with parmesan cheese? Certainly worth trying to find a recipe to give a more familiar taste. Or I could just go back to Tenerife.