Saturday, September 13, 2014


Stuffed squid in tomato sauce.

My crop of bell peppers was so disappointing this year. I grow peppers just for making my favorite stuffed pepper recipe. Sure, I could buy them, but something else stuffable caught my eye at the market. Squid!

Squid--perfect pouches for stuffing.
The squid’s cylindrical body pouch makes it ideal for stuffing. What’s in the stuffing? I like the ground-meat stuffing that I learned from village cooks years ago. But, the stuffing could be of tuna or other fish; of chopped egg and bread crumbs, of cooked rice.

I’m also partial to fresh tomato sauce, so appropriate this time of year. However, almond-garlic sauce is also used for stuffed squid.

Use this meat stuffing for stuffing peppers, eggplant, tomatoes, onions or just for making meatballs. The chopped tentacles and wing flaps of the squid give the stuffing mixture complexity.

Tender squid, meat stuffing, tomato sauce.

Calamares Rellenos
Stuffed Squid

To skin the fresh plum tomatoes, I pop them in the microwave. Then I puree them coarsely in a blender for the sauce. I use a mini-food processor to finely chop the onions.

The squid are good served with rice, pasta or patatas fritas, Spanish fries.

Serves 4.

2 pounds whole squid (4 large, 6 medium or 8 small)
1 thick slice bread, crusts removed
1 egg, beaten
1 ounce serrano ham, chopped
1 tablespoon pine nuts
12 ounces ground meat (pork and beef mixed)
1 hard-cooked egg, chopped
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
2 cloves minced garlic
Freshly ground black pepper
Grating of fresh nutmeg
2 tablespoons flour
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
1 ½ pounds plum tomatoes, peeled and chopped
1 bay leaf
½ cup white wine
Roasted red peppers or canned piquillo peppers

Prepare the squid for stuffing. Pull off the fin flaps and reserve them. Gently pull the head and tentacles out of the body pouch.

 Cut off the tentacles above the eyes and reserve the tentacles. Discard the rest of the innards. 

Ink sac, located on the innards.

The ink sac, a silvery strip on the innards, is not required for this recipe.

Quills look like plastic strips.

Grasp the top of the quill, the squid’s cartilage stiffener—it looks like a strip of clear plastic—pull it out and discard it.

Pull off skin.

Pull off the dark skin on the body pouch and clean out the insides. Wash the pouch. Remove dark skin from fins as well. The squid is now ready for proceeding with the recipe.

Soak the slice of bread in water to cover until it is softened. Squeeze out the water and crumble the bread into a bowl. Add the beaten egg, chopped ham and pine nuts.

Chop the squid tentacles and fins and add to the bowl. Add the ground meat, chopped cooked egg, parsley, garlic, ½ teaspoon salt, pepper and nutmeg. Combine thoroughly with a fork. Use this mixture to stuff the squid body pouches.

Stuffed and ready to cook.

Close them with toothpicks and dust them lightly with flour (flour helps to prevent oil from splattering when frying). Use any remaining stuffing mixture to make meatballs.

Heat the oil in a cazuela or pan. Brown the squid lightly on all sides. Remove them to a plate. Add the onion to the pan and sauté until it begins to brown. Add the tomatoes, bay leaf, wine and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Return the stuffed squid (and meatballs) to the pan with strips of roasted red pepper. Cover partially and simmer 30 minutes. Turn the squid over and cook 30 minutes more. (Test one of the meatballs for doneness. Avoid piercing the squid pouches—they’ll shoot juice like a geyser!)

Remove toothpicks from squid before serving. Large squid can be sliced crosswise. 

Squid stuffed with meat.

Squid served with a mound of white rice.

Saturday, September 6, 2014


We were five at table for lunch, all us semi-professional eaters—cooks, food writers, restaurant critics and guides. (See, I totally avoided saying “foodies.”) Málaga food mavens.

Our leader was Shawn Hennessey, she of Sevilla Tapas (I wrote about Shawn and Sevilla tapas here ), who was spending a week in Málaga. Shawn brought us together and chose a venue. (I had balked at going all the way to Málaga to eat sushi, so it had to be Spanish or, anyway, “Spanish.”)

Here I am at lunch with new friends, from left, Andrew Forbes , travel writer and communications consultant ; Victor Garrido, Málaga guide, and Fred Shively, photographer . Shawn Hennessey took the photo.
So, here we were at El Tres, which bills itself as “alta cocina clásica,” a mash-up of Spanish, Basque and French, right in the center of Málaga—not a tapas bar, but a proper restaurant (wonderfully comfortable chairs and welcome air conditioning on a blazing-hot day), part of Grupo Gorki which has several restaurants and bars in Málaga.

Presented with the carta, the menu, we dithered. For €47 per head (including wine), we could have a nine-course tasting menu. Or, we could exercise choice, with a la carte starters ranging from €12 to €23 and mains from €18 to €28. Many of the a la carte choices offered the option of media-ración, a half-serving.

A tasting menu is a good way to get to know a restaurant’s specialties. But, then you are locked in to what the chef wants you to eat. Shawn, who has plenty of dining-out experience, solved the dilemma—we ordered half-portions of eight different dishes on the a la carte menu—three starters, five mains—and split each of them between five of us (Shawn is an expert at divving up portions), providing a generous bite of each.

Here’s what was for lunch.

Porra antequerana
Two taste-teasers—a classic porra antequerana, sort of thick gazpacho cream with garnishes of chopped egg and ham, and a leek terrine with a smear of monkfish liver pâté and parmesan cream.

Porra is very similar to salmorejo, a Córdoba dish. Someone asked me, "what's the difference?" I don't rightly know. (My recipe for salmorejo is  here.)

Smoked eel terrine--divine.

Starter. Silky and rich, smoked eel terrine layered with sweet williams pears. Gorgeous. Best-liked dish by all of us, even Andrew who claimed he wouldn’t eat eel! Of course, we were famished and our palates were fresh.

Vegetable menestra.

Starter. Menestra de verduras con velouté of jamón ibérico, a vegetable melange, each one cooked to crisp perfection, with the unctuous ibérico ham as garnish.

Smoky rice with octopus and rabbit.

Starter. Arroz meloso de conejo y pulpo de roca al sarmiento (rice with rabbit and octopus, smoked over vine shoots). This was my favorite dish of all. Meloso rice has a juicy, creamy texture, somewhat like risotto. The smokiness brought together the mar y montaña—sea and mountain—of pairing octopus with rabbit.

Hake in green sauce with clams.
Entrée. Merluza de pincho en salsa verde, almejas y patatas confitadas (line-caught hake in green sauce, clams and confit potatoes). My second favorite dish—a classic rendition of a Basque dish (my recipe for this dish appears here.

Monkfish with artichoke.
Entrée. Rape envuelto en guanciale con crema de cangrejos y alcachofas (monkfish wrapped in cured pork cheek with crab cream and artichokes). The sauce was based on a traditional Málaga dish, with ground almonds as a thickener. Monkfish is a “toothsome” fish, as chewy as meat. The cured pork made it unusual.

Juan José López prepares steak tartare.

Entrée. Steak tartar de solomillo de ternera gallega (steak tartare made with Galician beef, prepared tableside). Classic.Galician beef is the finest.

Shawn snaps the steak tartar and tweets it to the world. (Follow her on Twitter @SevillaTapas.)

One bite--crispy roast pig.

Entrée.  Cochinillo con su piel crujiente y confitura de manzana (suckling pig with crispy skin and apple confit). Succulent. Time to switch to red wine!

Squab with carrot purée.
Entrée. Pichón deshuesado con puré de zanahoria y tostada de higaditos (boned squab with carrot purée and toasts topped with livers). Loved this, my third favorite.

The chef at El Tres is a young malagueña, Rosa Serrano, who has been in the kitchen since the restaurant opened in April.

Our made-to-order tasting menu worked fine. Enough food and a wonderful variety of tastes. Personally, one bite of steak tartare was enough. I’d rather have my beef with nothing. And, I could happily have eaten much more of the hake in green sauce and the squab with carrot purée. Good reason to return to El Tres.

El Tres
Calle Strachan 7; Málaga center
(34) 952 22 33 64
Open for lunch and dinner; closed Sunday.

One bite--smoky rice with octopus and rabbit.
One bite--flaky hake in green sauce with clam and potato.
One bite--menestra of vegetables with ham.

Saturday, August 30, 2014


Sweet corn--not Illinois, but not bad.

You can take the girl out of Illinois, set her down in Spain beneath an olive tree, but you can’t take the CORN out of the girl. Corn is deep in my memory bank. Acres and acres of field corn growing all around the town where I grew up (yes, this is where high fructose corn syrup comes from). Grocery stores with heaps of sweet corn in the summer.  Best of all was Sunday dinner at Aunt Gail’s farm in southern Illinois with sweet corn picked from the garden to go with the fried chicken, green beans and sliced tomatoes. Uncle Gene said you could hear the corn growing and, on a quiet summer's evening, I would go stand among the tassels and listen. I was sure that murmur was the sound of corn pushing upwards.

The first few years in Spain, we tried growing sweet corn, getting family to send us seeds for Illini Chief Super Sweet, a hybrid developed in Illinois.  Our Spanish friends thought we were nuts. They swore corn was only to feed to hogs. Even when we gave them some to taste, they turned up their noses. The indignity, too, of eating it right off the cob!

Corn did not do well in the poor, sun-baked soil on our hillside in southern Spain and we gave up growing it. But, a few years down the pike, I discovered a local source for sweet corn. Inland, on the vega, the fertile plain, of Antequera, some Americans associated with an evangelical church in Torremolinos were growing the real stuff.

Guys peddled the corn at intersections on the main highway. Trips to the airport in the summer meant a stoplight purchase of corn.

The Antequera farm, now a rehab center (Asociación Real de Rehabilitación de Marginados), is still growing corn, now marketed in the big hypermarkets up and down the coast as King Corn, el Rey de Maiz.

While Spaniards have been willing to accept canned corn kernels as edible (indiscriminately tossed in mixed salad, I detest them), I’m guessing most are still not eating corn-on-the-cob.

Mostly I serve corn-on-the cob not so differently from back in my Illinois girlhood. Only, instead of butter or, god forbid, margarine, I serve it drizzled with extra virgin olive oil. For an especially Spanish twist, I make a dressing, aliño, with ½ tsp smoked pimentón (paprika), 2 tbsps extra virgin olive oil, 2 cloves minced garlic, ½ tsp coarse salt and 1 tsp chopped parsley.

Corn, of course, is a New World plant, which may explain why it took so long to be naturalized in Spain. But, then, so are tomatoes, beans and peppers and they are totally accepted here.

Two areas of Spain where corn has long been part of the diet are Galicia in the northwest and the Canary Islands in the Atlantic off the coast of Morocco (yes, the archipelago is part of the Spanish nation). Galicia uses cornmeal in yeasted bread, pancakes, empanadas. Canary Islanders use a type of cornmeal, gofio, made from toasted grain that is ground to flour. And, corn-on-the-cob (piñas de millo or maíz) goes into typical stews such as puchero and potaje.

Potaje canario with corn, vegetables and pork.

This Canary Islands potaje seems especially appropriate to the season, with many late-summer vegetables as well as the corn. Heading into fall, other vegetables can be included as well—cabbage, chayote, sweet potatoes, carrots and chard are all typical. If desired, serve the soup with a side of escaldón, a cornmeal mush made with gofio and the broth from the soup pot. Because gofio is a toasted flour, it does not need cooking. (If Canarian gofio is not available, use Venezuelan arepa flour, which also is a precooked cornmeal.)

For vegetarian potaje, just omit the meat.
Potaje Canario con Verduras
Canary Islands Vegetable Pot with Corn

Stewing beef can be used instead of pork. For a vegetarian version, omit the meat and add 2 tablespoons of olive oil to the soup.

Serves 6.

1 pound pork ribs
10 cups water

1 cup chopped onion
2 tomatoes, peeled and chopped
1 teaspoon salt
2 cloves garlic
½ teaspoon cumin
Pinch of saffron (or substitute pimentón, paprika)
1 cup cooked or canned chick peas or pinto beans
2 or 3 ears of corn, cut crosswise in thirds
2 cups diced pumpkin or butternut squash
2 cups diced potatoes
1 cup garden cress
2 cups diced zucchini
1 cup green beans
Escaldón as an accompaniment (recipe follows)

Hack the slab of ribs in half crosswise, then cut each rib. Place the ribs in a soup pot with the water, onion, tomatoes and chickpeas. Bring to a boil, then lower heat to a simmer.

In a mortar crush the salt, garlic, cumin and saffron. Dissolve in a little of the broth from the pot and stir it into the pot along with the chick peas. Cook until the meat is almost tender, 30 minutes.

Add the corn, pumpkin, potatoes, cress, zucchini and green beans. Taste for salt and add more if needed. Cover and cook until vegetables are tender.

Serve the pieces of pork ribs, chick peas, corn and vegetables in soup plates with some of the broth.

Corn Meal Mush

Serve escaldón as a side dish with soup. Add mojo sauce.

1 ½ cups gofio (precooked corn meal)
3 cups boiling stock from the soup pot
Salt, to taste
Mojo verde (cilantro chili sauce, recipe here)
Sliced red onions

Place the gofio in a heatproof bowl. Stir in the boiling liquid. Stir until the mixture is fairly smooth, about the consistency of mashed potatoes. Add salt to taste.

Serve dribbled with mojo verde and red onions that have been salted and dressed with vinegar.