A high of 73 degrees during the first week of November is an open invitation to spend the weekend on the coast. I have become a complete beach whore since I moved to Southern Spain. And I can’t break myself of this addiction. Why would I want to? Our beaches in Granada are pebbly, hardly a grain of sand. Sometimes this can cause excruciating pain as you hobble from your towel to the sea. You simply adapt. And what small bit of foot ache can’t be cured by some great food and wine?
No meal on the coast of Granada is complete without an “espeto de sardinas” (sardines grilled on an open fire). You have not had a real sardine until you taste these with a slightly smoked flavor. And wash them down with a cold glass of San Miguel beer. This is true beach food.
A local winery named Calvente produces the perfect dry yet fruity white wine to accompany some clams in garlic sauce and the best octopus I have ever had in my life. Here it is smoked for hours over an open fire then tossed with garlic and parsley and served with a cabbage salad and alioli. This is what weekends are made for!
No reason to skip the cheesecake or crema catalana for dessert. A glass of my all time favorite liqueur over ice to help digestion? Yes please. Patxaran is made with sloe berries (endrinas) and produced mostly in Navarra and the Basque Country but Granada has it’s own small production as well. The best way to enjoy the sunset over the Mediterranean.
My dear friend Alex and I spent a few days kicking around Madrid this summer. We have spent loads of time together in Madrid in the past 10 years but normally we are trailing around with group of 13 year olds. This time we were alone and free to do as we liked. Needless to say this involved quite a bit of wine and some great food to go along. I think the first time that Aex and I met I took him and the other teachers to one of my favorite places in the center of Madrid, La Casa Del Abuelo. I have been there with many people and it is also a favorite of my Mom and Sisters when they visit.
La Casa Del Abuelo opened in 1906 and began to offer wine and “bocadillos” or small baguette sandwiches to clients. During the Civil War and after there was a shortage of flour in Spain and bread became worth more than gold so El Abuelo began to offer shrimp with wine. To this day generation after generation have been enjoying their special house wine and shrimp and prawns served grilled, in garlic sauce or fried and served on a stick with a spicy dipping sauce. The latter is my personal favorite. Paired with a “chato” of their sweet house wine is a bit of heaven. A couple of the other “Abuelo” restaurants have a more extensive menu (with the same delicious wine) but I prefer the original spot, standing up and tossing the shrimp tails on the floor.
At the beginning of the summer Luna and I were blessed and invited to the beach with some dear friends. We had a wonderful time enjoying great food, laughter and plenty of “mini-people” conversations. The big people conversation usually happened after midnight and only if we lasted that long after a day of eating, drinking and swimming. If I were to describe all of the amazing food we ate I would have to write a book. Between the homemade Italian-accented dishes of my friend Carmen and the beach restaurants, my palate, tummy and heart were in heaven. The homemade recipes are a secret of course. But I have the flavors memorized in my mind.
Two of our favorite Spanish staples are seasoned fresh tomato salad and fried eggplant. Usually they are pretty straight forward and simple. But, at the chiringuito (beach restaurant) in Malaga we had the absolute best of both. The “Tomate Aliñado” was a pleasant surprise. Usually this “salad” is simple sliced tomato with olive oil, salt and fresh garlic. But this one was extra special. Fresh tomato, capers, toasted garlic, parsley, balsamic dressing and the perfect bit of anchovies on top. The surprises didn’t stop at the tomato.
The same afternoon we also had Luna’s all time favorite, fried eggplant. Under the batter fried eggplant covered in sugar cane syrup was a surprise slice of goat cheese. When cut up and mixed together the goat cheese and sugar cane syrup made the perfect combination. Although I always enjoy the traditional recipes in Spain, an imaginative variation can definitely make a difference. Especially when sharing it with friends and enjoying the sound of waves and sea water on your skin. A view of the Mediterranean also adds a nice touch, especially with a gorgeous woman passing by. She looks like she needs a cold beer! Lucky for her the beach bar has a special cooler to take one down to the beach!!
We don’t use the television in our house unless there is an emergency of some sort. But, my new friend, influenza, and I have become quite bored during our required resting period. So, I took the advice of a dear friend and watched an episode of Kitchen Nightmares with Gordon Ramsey. Just by chance, the episode that showed up first was titled Spanish Pavilion. On Chef Ramsey’s first visit to the restaurant he ordered the garlic chicken or pollo al ajillo, a very well-known dish here in Spain.
The name of the dish first brought up a fond memory in a bar years ago when I was still a tried and true vegetarian. My friend Cristi, also a vegetarian at the time, and I were out with a group of random people. We ended up in a conversation with a woman who was completely dumbfounded by the mere thought of us not participating in any carnal consumption. She went on and on for an extremely long time with every possible proposal to convince us to change our ways. My friend and I nodded and smiled politely for as long as we could. But when the woman, disheartened, expressed her true sadness that we would never try her “pollo al ajillo” we lost it and continued on laughing about it throughout the night and for the next five to six years. Actually, we still laugh about it.
Back to the Nightmares. When Chef Ramsey tasted his garlic chicken at the Spanish Pavilion, he lifted up a wing and unveiled about two cups of olive oil on his plate. I almost spit my chamomile at the screen. I was immediately taken to one of my favorite towns near Granada, Guejar Sierra. The amount of olive oil on Chef Ramsey’s plate didn’t even compare to the amount of olive oil in the majority of the typical dishes in Guejar. Pollo al ajillo being one of those. The food is delicious in the town but my husband and I often giggle about the amount of oil used. And one afternoon having lunch with my Mother along the river near Guejar we calculated 1 cup and a half of olive oil per dish that we ordered. We have no shortage of olive oil here. I need to take Ramsey to Guejar.