Tuesday, October 29, 2013

My Top Ten Spanish Ingredients

It's the last Tuesday in 31 Days of Spaintastic, so I thought I'd share with you a pantry list rather than a specific treat. This way you can throw a little bit of Spain into your own recipes.

1. Obviously, number one is olive oil. Liquid gold. Seriously people, the flavour of that 100% pure olive oil you buy at home? It's got nothing on this. Fresh, earthy, lemony, heavy, light, there are as many options as varieties of olives. We buy ours from a cooperative in cases - three five-litre jugs, to be exact.

Use it: salad dressings, frying eggs (frying anything really - as long as it is actually really real olive oil, and you have enough of it in the pan, it will not smoke or go rancid), on toast, for baking, and on your hands before you wash the dishes.

2. Pimenton. Introduced to Spain by Christopher Columbus, Spanish paprika is packed with flavour. If you like sweet, go for "dulce", made from sweet round red peppers. If you can take a bit of heat, go for "picante", made from a blend of longer, hotter chili varieties. The peppers are dried and smoked for about two weeks to layer and intensify the flavours.

Use it: salads, instead or along with salt and pepper, on deviled eggs with tuna, pork chops or chicken, or, to be really Spanish, in homemade sausage...

3. Saffron. Because yellow food colouring is just gross, and it's cool to say "azafran". It's worth the price for the real deal - think of all the work that goes into getting the stigmas out of the crocuses! To get a kilogram you'll have to pick through 170,000 flowers, which would take around 50 hours... It's also more interesting: did you know people who used to sell fake saffron were executed under the Safranschou code? True story. It will turn your food yellowy-orange and give it a hint of honey flavour.

Use it: in rice (you'll see it well), on chicken or seafood, and on cauliflower.

4. Garlic. There are no vampires in Spain. I know this because there is a whole lotta garlic going on! The best is from Chinchon, a town near Madrid.

Use it: You know. Try it raw as a rub(rub it around your salad bowl, then toss it - garlic flavour without garlic breath) or roast it for something sweeter. Yummm!

5. Rosemary. It's a good thing we grow this on the farm - we use it a lot! It's got a kind of rural, fresh, outdoorsy taste.

Use it: in stews, especially with lamb.

6. Pimientos de piquillo. These red "little beak peppers" are roasted, skinned and packed in olive oil. If you open a jar, you may just eat them all as a snack...

Use it: in salads, stuff with tuna salad, heat them up with b├ęchamel, serve with cream cheese on baguette rounds, puree for fish sauce.

7. Sherry vinegar. It's vinegar made from...sherry! From Jerez, this stuff is light and crisp without being overly acidic. Even Tall Guy, who doesn't like vinegar, will eat this.  

Use it: on salads, to pickle your own vegetables, to pickle small anchovies (boquerones). You'll need the olive oil and garlic for that one.

8. Lemons. Lemons in Spain consistently smell and taste like lemons. You know how sometimes you get those waxy, pale ones that hardly have any juice in them and you can't even smell if you rub your nose with them? Not me!

Use it: to accompany cold drinks, fish and rice dishes, and to make coffee cake (lemon-olive oil cake is a favourite of mine).

9. Garbanzos - chick peas. I used to only like this Spanish staple in hummus, but they're growing on me thanks to Elise and her lemon cake... Madrilenos use garbanzos in cocido, their famous soup.

Use them: in all kinds of soup, as a side, roasted with pimenton to replace croutons in salad or for a snack, or in lemon cake.

10. Jamon Serrano. Spanish cured ham. I am not a fan, but if you want to cook Spanish, you'll need a giant smoked pig leg on your counter to keep the natives happy. It is the most popular, important thing in my kitchen and it makes me crazy! It drips lard and has a distinct smell. Apparently by eating a slice a day I will grow to love it, and apparently I am crazy because I am the only person on Earth who doesn't love it. If I do grow to love jamon one day, it will be our jamon - it comes from organic, acorn-fattened pigs on the family farm.

Use it: eat it on its own, thinly sliced, or on toast with olive oil, chopped up in hot and cold soups, as a garnish for just about anything.

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