Saturday, October 3, 2015


When I prepared a new edition of my first-ever cookbook, COOKING IN SPAIN (1987; 2006), I edited it down from more than 400 recipes to fewer than 300. The reason was to allow space for a fresh format and a more cook-friendly display of recipes. 

First edition of my first cookbook, COOKING IN SPAIN.

What was my criteria for cutting recipes? I thought about which dishes were still part of Spanish cooking. And, I considered whether my audience (English-speaking home cooks who wish to explore Spanish cuisine) would likely use the recipes. For instance, did I really need to include three different recipes for cooking tongue? Probably not, so I deleted two.

One of the recipes that didn’t make the cut was “Brazo de Gitano de Patatas,” or “’Gypsy’s Arm’ Potato Roll,” a roulade of mashed potatoes with meat filling. It just seemed really old-fashioned.

Then a couple weeks ago my favorite TV chef, Enrique Sánchez on Canal Sur Andalucía, prepared a cold version of brazo de gitano, with a filling of tuna and vegetables. (See that show here.) I was reminded of what a good dish it is, never mind how old fashioned. So, I pulled out my first edition of COOKING IN SPAIN. Here’s that recipe, resurrected.

I still can’t say why it’s called “gypsy’s arm,” a name that’s also used for a sweet cake roulade, except that the roll sort of looks like an arm. 

Why is this roulade called "gypsy's arm"? Well, it does sort of look like an arm---

“Gypsy’s Arm” Potato Roulade
Brazo de Gitano de Patatas

Use mature baking potatoes (such as russets) for this recipe. You can use pimiento-stuffed olives instead of olives plus chopped piquillo peppers. I used the rest of the can of piquillo peppers to make an easy sauce to serve with the roulade (that recipe is here.) Serve the roulade hot, room temperature or cold. It serves 4 as a main course or 6 to 8 as a starter or as part of a buffet meal.

2 ¼ pounds medium potatoes
3 tablespoons olive oil
½ pound ground pork
½ teaspoon ground cumin
½ cup finely chopped onion
½ cup finely chopped green pepper
1 clove garlic, chopped
1 pound plum tomatoes (about 6), peeled and chopped
Freshly ground black pepper
1 egg yolk, stirred with 1 teaspoon water
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
½ cup pitted olives, chopped
2 tablespoons chopped piquillo pepper
1 egg, beaten with 2 teaspoons water
Hot pimentón (paprika)

Cook the unpeeled potatoes in water to cover with 1 teaspoon salt until they are tender when tested with a skewer, 15 to 20 minutes. Drain and cool the potatoes.

Heat the oil in a skillet and brown the ground pork, breaking it up as it cooks. Add the cumin, onion, green pepper and garlic and continue frying until onion is softened, 5 minutes. Add the chopped tomatoes, 1 teaspoon salt and black pepper. Cook, uncovered, stirring frequently, until tomatoes are thickened and all of the liquid has cooked off, about 15 minutes.

Mash or rice potatoes.
Peel the potatoes and either mash them or put them through a ricer. Season with 1 teaspoon salt and a grind of pepper. Stir in the egg yolk. Fold the chopped parsley, olives and piquillo pepper into the mashed potatoes.

Preheat oven to 375ºF.

Line a baking sheet with oven parchment. Spread the potato mash on the sheet into a ½-inch thick rectangle, approximately 12 inches X 9 inches.

Spread potatoes on parchment.
Spread meat filling on potatoes.
Spread the pork and tomato filling on top of the potatoes. Starting from the long side of the rectangle, use the parchment paper to roll the potato slab over the filling, just as you would roll up a jelly-roll cake.  Brush the roll with beaten egg and sprinkle with pimentón. (Use smoked pimentón, if desired.)

Use paper to roll potatoes.

Bake the roulade until lightly browned on top, 20 minutes. Let rest 5 minutes before slicing. 

Slices of the roulade reveal meat filling.

Piquillo pepper "ketchup" goes well with the potato roulade.

Saturday, September 26, 2015


 How many kilos of almonds did we pick this year? It’s a heap of almonds. A basketful. I read that the price of almonds has almost doubled from last year, to 9 euros a kilo. My grandson, Leo, who helps me pick them, can add to his savings account.

Then I realize that the price is probably for shelled almonds. And, shelling them by hand is tedious, we can tell you. Leo and I spent a couple hours to get about 4 cups.

The price is up because demand worldwide has increased and because California, which produces more than 80 percent of the crop, has suffered drought, reducing production. Spain, the world’s second producer of almonds, uses this nut so extensively that it has to import almonds. Growers are extending almond plantations, finding the crop more profitable than either citrus or olives.

The almond appears in the Spanish kitchen, from soup to nuts! Ajo blanco is the chilled white gazpacho based on ground almonds. Turrón, nougat, and marzipan are two beloved candies made with almonds. Crushed almonds go into sauces such as pepitoria. (At the end of this post are links to more recipes with almonds.)

A vendor of candied almonds in the village plaza.
Today I am making garapiñadas, crunchy caramelized almonds. In the village where I live, they’re made at street stands. The vendor uses a round-bottomed copper pan, for good heat conduction. He adds a sprinkling of vanilla, which wafts a delicious aroma up and down the street and lures the customers.

And, the important secret--he adds the sugar in three stages, so it caramelizes in layers, creating a thick and crunchy covering. He stirs almost constantly with a wooden paddle. Passing tourists are offered a free sample. After that, they’re hooked, because these crunchy-sweet almonds are totally addictive.

Lacking a copper pan, I used a round-bottomed rolled steel (not stainless) wok. The round bottom keeps the caramel from getting stuck in the corners. (Afterwards, boiling water loosens any caramel left adhering to the pan.)

Vendor offers samples.

Crunchy Caramel Almonds

Makes 3 cups candied almonds.

1 cup sugar
½  teaspoon vanilla extract
½  cup water
2 cups almonds (not skinned)

Divide the sugar in 3 parts.

Almonds bubbling in sugar syrup.
Put 1/3 cup sugar, the vanilla extract and all of the water in a heavy pan, preferably round-bottomed. Bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Add the almonds. Cook, stirring constantly, until the syrup thickens and begins to adhere to the almonds, about 3 minutes.

Sprinkle with 1/3 cup sugar. Stir the almonds constantly until the sugar begins to melt and adhere to the almonds.

Sprinkle with the remaining 1/3 cup of sugar. Continue stirring, just until the sugar coats the almonds. Remove from heat and turn the almonds out onto a baking sheet. The whole process takes about 5 minutes.

When cool enough to handle, separate the almonds that are stuck together.

Treats! Crunchy candied almonds.

Here are links to more recipes using almonds.
CHRISTMAS ALMOND SOUP (Sopa de Almendras para Navidad)
ALMOND PUFFS (Suspiros de Almendras). 
CARDOONS WITH ALMOND SAUCE (Cardos en Salsa de Almendras).
MONKFISH SOUP (Sopa de Rape)
MEATBALLS IN ALMOND SAUCE  (Albóndigas en Salsa de Almendras).

Saturday, September 19, 2015


Let’s push the restart button on summer. In southern Spain, we didn’t have summer, we had a preview of desertification—July temperatures were the highest on record and August almost as hot.

The vegetable garden didn’t die—drip irrigation kept plants alive. But the tomato, eggplant and pepper plants simply didn’t flower or set fruit. It was too hot for bees to do their job, so zucchini, cuke and melon vines had no pollination. (Though, blessedly, the mosquitoes deserted too.)

Eggplant beginning to flower.

Now that the weather has cooled somewhat, plants have revived. I’m picking eggplants, peppers and tomatoes and there are more to come. Now’s the time to enjoy those summer vegetables! Here are recipes for stuffed eggplant and for fresh tomato sauce cooked in the oven.

Eggplant shells are stuffed with meat and topped with grated cheese.

Meat-Stuffed Eggplant
Berenjenas Rellenas de Carne

You can use the ground meat of your choice—beef, pork, lamb, or chicken--for this tasty stuffed eggplant, spiced with freshly grated nutmeg. I prefer ground chicken thighs. With a salad on the side, it makes a light luncheon or supper dish. Cured Manchego cheese is best for topping the eggplant.

Serves 6.

3 medium eggplants (about 12 ounces each)
3 tablespoons olive oil
¼ cup chopped bacon
1 cup chopped onion (1 medium onion)
4 cloves chopped garlic
¼ teaspoon cumin seeds
1 pound ground meat
1 teaspoon salt
Grated fresh nutmeg (about 1/16 teaspoon)
Freshly ground black pepper
½ cup fresh or canned tomato sauce
½ cup water
3 ounces grated Manchego cheese (1 cup)
Smoked pimentón (paprika)
Tomato sauce to accompany the eggplant (see recipe below)

Preheat oven to 375ºF.

Remove and discard stems and leaves from eggplants. Cut the eggplants in half lengthwise. Slash the flesh at 1 ½-inch intervals. Place the eggplants in a single layer in an oven pan and brush with 2 tablespoons oil. Bake until fork-tender, about 20 minutes. Alternatively, place the eggplant halves cut-side down, two at a time, on a microwave-safe plate. Cover with plastic wrap. Microwave on high for about 4 minutes. Drain off accumulated juices.

While eggplant is baking, heat remaining 1 tablespoon of oil in a large skillet and sauté the bacon 1 minute. Add the onion and garlic and fry 3 minutes. Add the cumin seed and the ground meat and continue frying on high heat, breaking up the meat, until it loses its red color, 2 to 3 minutes. Add salt, nutmeg, pepper, tomato sauce, and water. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer, covered, 20 minutes.

Ready for stuffing.
When eggplant is cool enough to handle, scoop out the flesh and reserve the shells. Chop the flesh and add it to the meat in the skillet. Uncover the skillet and cook 5 minutes more or until most of liquid has cooked away.

Arrange the eggplant shells in a single layer in baking pan. Spoon the meat filling into the shells. Top with the grated cheese. Sprinkle with pimentón. Add enough water to cover the bottom of the pan.

Bake, uncovered, until cheese is melted and filling is bubbling, 15 minutes. Allow to stand 10 minutes before serving.

Stuffed eggplant is served with millet pilaf (recipe here).

Roast chopped fresh tomatoes to make sauce.

Roasted Fresh Tomato Sauce
Salsa de Tomate al Horno

While the oven was on to finish the stuffed eggplant, I roasted chopped tomatoes with olive oil, then pureed and sieved it to make a thick tomato sauce to serve with the eggplant.
Use about 3 pounds of ripe tomatoes. Cut out the cores, slash the skin on the bottoms and either drop into boiling water or microwave on high until skins pull off easily. Allow to cool, then slip off the skins. Chop the tomatoes coarsely in a food processor.

Spread 1/3 cup olive oil in a shallow baking pan. Add 1 cup chopped onions. Roast in a medium-hot oven (375ºF) until onions are slightly browned. Add all of the chopped tomatoes and 2 cloves garlic, lightly crushed. Sprinkle with 1 teaspoon salt, freshly ground black pepper. Add a bay leaf and any herbs—parsley, basil, oregano, celery. Bake the tomatoes, stirring occasionally, until they are thick, about 45 minutes.

Let the tomatoes cool slightly. Remove the bay leaf and garlics, then puree the tomatoes in food processor or blender and put through a sieve. Serve the sauce hot, room temperature or cold.

Tomato sauce.