Saturday, July 15, 2017


Life is just ---

Not much in life is more pleasurable than a bowl of sweet red cherries. We’ve been enjoying the fruit since early June. But, as the cherry season draws to an end, I’m going beyond the proverbial bowl of cherries.

I don’t remember eating fresh cherries as a kid. But I absolutely remember cherry pie, a favorite for the Fourth of July, made with canned cherries. When I came to Spain and found fresh cherries in the market, I bought a cherry pitting device at the local ferretería (hardware store) and produced some pretty good cherry pies. Later, I went through a few seasons of making cherry clafoutis. (My trusty cherry pitter did double-duty as an olive pitter.) But mainly, I’m happy to just pop cherries in my mouth.

Spain is in the top ten of world cherry producers and exporters. More than a third of the crop is grown in the Valle del Jerte, in Extremadura (western Spain). More than two million cherry trees cover hillsides in this protected climate, creating spectacular sights when they blossom in early spring. Cherries from the Valle del Jerte have Protected Designation of Origin.

Picotas, on the left, are sweeter than cerezas, with stems.

Two kinds of sweet cherries are grown in Spain—picotas and cerezas. Picotas, which are picked without stems, are darker, sweeter, with a crisper texture than cerezas, which are picked with stems. Both are superb. The guinda is another name for cherry in Spain, designating the sour cherry.

For my cherry-themed dishes, I'm making cherry gazpacho--fairly traditional, but with cherries as well as tomatoes--and a cherry "ketchup" to serve with marinated pork tenderloin.

Cherries add a subtle sweetness to traditional gazpacho.

Tangy cherry ketchup is a perfect accompaniment to quick-cooking pork tenderloin. Add a cherry-inflected Garnacha rosado wine from Navarra for a lovely summer menu.

 Cherry Gazpacho
Gazpacho de Cerezas

Garnish the gazpacho with crispy croutons.

 Chef Dani García at his two-star restaurant in Marbella makes a cherry gazpacho served with a powdering of goat cheese and a sprinkling of pistachios. I’m using traditional croutons of fried bread, but adding non-traditional basil that seems to complement both the tomatoes and the cherries in the blend.

If you prefer a completely smooth gazpacho, sieve it after blending to remove tomato pips and cherry skins.

Serves 4.

Chill the gazpacho before serving.
10 ounces cherries
2 ounces crustless bread (2 thick slices)
2 cups chopped tomatoes
¼ cup chopped green pepper
¼ cup peeled and chopped cucumber
¼ cup chopped onion
1-2 cloves garlic
½ teaspoon salt
¼ cup fresh lemon juice
½ cup water
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
Croutons of fried bread to garnish
Sprigs of basil to garnish

Useful tool--cherry pitter.
 Pit the cherries (you should have 1 ½- 2 cups)

Break up the bread and place it in a blender container. Add the pitted cherries, tomatoes, green pepper, cucumber, onion, garlic and salt. Pour over the lemon juice and water and allow the mixture to soak for 30 minutes to soften the bread.

Blend the mixture until quite smooth. Add the oil and blend again until the mixture is emulsified. (Gazpacho can be thinned with additional water, to taste.)

If desired, sieve the gazpacho mixture. Chill it, covered.

Serve the gazpacho with croutons and basil.

Basil is a nice complement to both tomatoes and cherries.

 Cherry Ketchup
Ketchup de Cerezas

A little tangy, a little sweet, cherry ketchup goes with many foods.

I'm serving this fruity, tangy ketchup with marinated pork tenderloin. But it would go well with turkey burgers or barbecued meat.

Ketchup should have a balance of sweet and tart. I found the cherries sufficiently sweet, so I added no sugar. After adding the vinegar to the pureed cherries, taste the mixture and add sugar to taste.

1 ½ cups pitted cherries
1 cup chopped onion
½ cup chopped red bell pepper
2-inch celery stalk
¼ cup water
Pinch cayenne
1/8 teaspoon allspice
1/8 teaspoon ground ginger
¼ teaspoon salt
1-2 tablespoons sugar (optional)
2 tablespoons wine vinegar

Place the cherries, onion, bell pepper, celery and water in a saucepan. Bring to a boil, then simmer, covered, 15 minutes until fruit and vegetables are tender. Discard the celery. Puree the cherries in a blender.

Return the puree to the pan. Add the cayenne, allspice, ginger, salt, sugar, if using, and vinegar. Bring to a boil, then simmer, uncovered, stirring frequently, until mixture thickens, about 10 minutes.
Store the ketchup covered and refrigerated. Keeps up to one week.

Pork Tenderloin in Adobo Marinade with Cherry Ketchup
Solomillo de Cerdo Adobado con Ketchup de Cerezas

Pork tenderloins are rubbed with adobo marinade with oregano.

A friend gave me a bunch of fresh oregano picked just before flowering. The pungent fresh herb inspired this adobo marinade, traditionally used to preserve pork. Here, it’s a rub for flavor. Spread it on the meat and marinate, refrigerated, at least one hour and up to 24 hours. 

Picked before flowering, fresh oregano is incredibly pungent.

I used three small tenderloins, which cooked fast, fast, in the pan. If you’re using one big tenderloin, finish it in the oven.

Serves 4

1 ½ pounds pork tenderloin
8 cloves garlic
1 teaspoon smoked pimentón (paprika)
1 tablespoon oregano
½ teaspoon salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon Sherry vinegar
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon + ¼ cup water
¼ cup white wine
Cherry Ketchup to serve

In a mini-processor, grind together the garlic, pimentón, oregano, salt and pepper. Add the vinegar, 1 tablespoon of the oil and 1 tablespoon water. Spread this mixture on the tenderloins. Place them in a non-reactive bowl or container. Cover and refrigerate.

(If you intend to finish the tenderloin in the oven, preheat oven to 400ºF.)

Heat the remaining 1 tablespoon of oil in a skillet on medium heat. Sear the tenderloin until browned on all sides, about 4 minutes.

Scrape any remaining marinade into the skillet. Add ¼ cup water and the wine. Either place the pan in the oven or cover the skillet and cook on top of the stove until pork is done to medium-rare (145ºF internal temperature). (Small ones were done in 10 minutes.)

Place meat on a cutting board to rest for 5 minutes. Slice the tenderloin crosswise, Spoon some of the pan juices over the meat. Accompany with cherry ketchup.

Pork and fruity ketchup.

Saturday, July 8, 2017


Last week, while sizzling those lamb chops with whole cloves of new garlic, I recalled that the recipe, from my book Cooking From the Heart of Spain—Food of La Mancha, also appeared in Food & Wine magazine’s special Spain issue (February 2005). I contributed eight recipes to the regular section, “Fast.” (The section disappeared a few years back, replaced by “fast” dots in F&W’s Recipe Index.)

Most of my fast recipes were authentically quick to prepare; others were adapted to use prepared foods (i.e., canned beans) to replace long-cooked ones. All were loaded with Spanish flavor: Chicken Breasts with Anisette, Seafood Chowder with Sherry and Serrano Ham, Bean and Chorizo Salad with Olives (the complete list and links to the recipes are below).

Butter beans and clams flavored with sunny saffron.

One of them, Clams with Butter Beans and Saffron, is what’s for dinner today. The F&W recipe calls for shucked littleneck clams. I don’t get fresh shucked clams in my local markets in Spain, so I used fresh Manila clams (also known as Japanese littleneck clams, they are a product of aquaculture). Steaming and shelling them added to the 30 minutes of preparation time. I did that the day before cooking the dish.

To prep the clams: Soak 3 ¼ pounds fresh Manila or littleneck clams in lightly salted cold water for 1 hour to disgorge any sand. Drain and rinse them in running water. Place the clams in a deep pan and add 2 bay leaves and ½ cup water. Bring the clams to a boil, covered. Shake the pan to move the clams around, just until the shells begin to pop open. Use a skimmer to skim the clams out as they open. Strain and save 1 cup of the broth, discarding the bay leaves. When the clams are cool enough to handle, remove the meats from the shells and discard the shells. Makes approximately 1 cup of clam meats. Clams can be cooked and shelled a day before cooking the recipe. Refrigerate the clam meats and the reserved broth.


More of a stew than a soup, but light enough for summer.

Clam Meats and bits of ham contribute all the salt needed to flavor the beans.

Clams with Butter Beans and Saffron
Almejas con Alubias y Azafrán

Don’t add salt to the beans, as the clams and their broth are quite salty.

Serves 4.

3 tablespoons olive oil
½ cup finely chopped onion
2 ounces chopped serrano ham (½ cup)
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 tablespoon fine dry bread crumbs
2 15-ounce cans butter beans (not drained)
1 bay leaf
Pinch of thyme
Large pinch of saffron threads
2 tablespoons hot water
Freshly ground black pepper
1 cup clam meats
1 cup clam broth
Chopped parsley to garnish

In a cazuela or deep skillet, heat the oil. Add the onion and cook over moderately high heat until softened, about 3 minutes. Add the ham and garlic and cook for 1 minute. Stir in the bread crumbs, then add the beans and their liquid along with the bay leaf and thyme. Bring to a boil.

A sofrito of onions, garlic and serrano ham plus saffron flavors canned butter beans.

In a small bowl, crush the saffron threads into the hot water. Add to the beans and season with pepper. Simmer the beans over low heat for 15 minutes. Add the clams and the clam broth and cook on medium-high heat for 3 minutes. Sprinkle with chopped parsley to serve.

FAST recipes that appeared in Food & Wine magazine:

More FAST recipes:

More recipes with clams:

Saturday, July 1, 2017


I’ve got garlic! The garden produced a modest heap of the flavor bulbs. I’m celebrating the harvest by cooking al ajillo. Ajillo is the diminutive of ajo, garlic, meaning “a little garlic,” you know, just a smidgin.

A heap of freshly harvested garlic. After it dries in the sun a few days, I trim the roots and stems and store the bulbs for use.

In Spanish, the diminutive, of course, means “small.” But it can also denote affection or a tongue-in-cheek opposite exaggeration. So, you say you’re using "just a little garlic," when actually it's lots and lots!

Today I’m making lamb chops sizzled with just a little (lots) garlic. (Other recipes al ajillo are linked below.)  I had these delectable chops in Las Pedroñeras, a La Mancha town that bills itself as the capital of garlic. There I learned that garlic over time gradually loses its punch. So when made with July’s newly picked garlic, the ration of cloves is minimal (one or two per lamb chop). But later in the year, when the flavor is milder, the number is increased (3 or 4 cloves per chop).

Lamb chops browned in olive oil with whole cloves of garlic are finished with lemon juice.

My fresh garlic keeps well for several months. Store garlic in a reasonably cool, well ventilated place away from direct light. Eventually, in the natural cycle of things, the garlic will begin to sprout. Then it's finished. Mine will be used up long before that.

In this recipe, the cloves of garlic are not peeled. They are lightly crushed, just to split the skins, and fried with the chops in sizzling oil. The skins protect the garlic flesh from scorching.

I like thick (1 inch) loin chops best. But, all I could get were small ones. These cook in an instant. Really. One minute per side, in a very hot skillet, just until browned. If you’re using thick chops, moderate the heat and cook them just until browned on both sides. That way they’ll stay a little pink and juicy on the inside. Serve the browned garlic with the chops. Peel the cloves or not. Let each person decide whether or not to eat them.

Serve whole garlic cloves with the chops.

Lamb chops and garlic are plated on a bed of quinoa with vegetables. Rice or cous cous or, Spanish style, fries, are good alternatives. Perhaps a La Mancha  tempranillo to accompany the dish.

Lamb Chops Sizzled with Garlic
Chuletas de Cordero al Ajillo

Serves 4.

Ajo morado, purple garlic.
2 pounds lamb chops, (8 to 12 chops, depending on thickness)
Freshly ground black pepper
Pinch of thyme
10 to 12 cloves garlic
3 tablespoons olive oil
3 tablespoons water
3 tablespoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons chopped parsley

Sprinkle the chops with salt, pepper, and thyme. Using the side of a knife, crush the unpeeled cloves of garlic lightly, just to split the skins.

Crush garlic cloves lightly to split skins.

Heat the oil in a large skillet on medium heat. Add the lamb chops and garlic. Brown the chops on one side. Turn the chops and the cloves of garlic and brown reverse side.

Remove the chops to a serving platter. Add the water and lemon juice to the remaining oil and garlic. Heat until sizzling. Pour over the chops and sprinkle with parsley. Serve immediately.

Do you dare to eat the whole clove of garlic?

More recipes for using garlic: