Sunday, May 25, 2008

In the Mood for Spanish

My brother recently returned from a month-long holiday to Spain and Paris and came home carting a bag full of delicious edibles for this grateful and gluttonous sister. There were macarons from Pierre Herme, jamon serrano from Barcelona, jamon iberico bellota from Bellota-Bellota in Paris (check out Chubby Hubby's post on this gorgeous ham), and a hunk of Manchego cheese.

Perhaps Spain's best known cheese, Manchego is typically made from sheep's milk in the central region of La Mancha. I like to think of it as the pecorino of Spain since it has a similar brittle texture and a sharp, nutty taste.

I used my stash to make a tapas of delicate triangles of bread fried in olive oil, layered with quince paste and topped with chopped toasted pine nuts. The honeyed flavour of quince paste provides a wonderful contrast to the sharp cheese, while the flavour of the olive oil which the bread is fried in just ups the whole Spanish-ness of it all. The recipe I used is from Spain and the World Table, a fantastic book filled with easy-to-follow recipes and lots of great information about Spanish ingredients, dishes and produce.

For this classic tapas of cheese-stuffed dates rolled in serrano ham, I used some leftover blue cheese that I had in the fridge and added a sprinkling of cocoa nibs for added depth and crunch. This surprising inspiration I gleaned from the same book, which uses figs instead of dates, but the principle remains the same. You could pop these sweet-salty dates straight into your mouth, but a short blitz in a hot oven intensifies its flavours, making the salty ham saltier, the sweet dates sweeter and endowing the blue cheese with added robustness — turning it all, quite literally, into a taste sensation.

More manchego went into this crab pasta, which is based loosely on a recipe for crab ravioli in Cocina Nueva, another book I turn to often when in the mood for Spanish. Plenty of freshly picked crabmeat is folded into a tomato sauce that is richly flavoured with carrot, leek, brandy, white wine, thyme, garlic and bay leaves. Before serving, the sauce gets a shot of cream infused with a flurry of Manchego shavings and a bay leaf.


Blogger Dee said...

It's almost half ten and I have no business thinking about food after a gluttonous dinner, but how not to!
I'll have a huge serving of the pasta please :)

10:22 pm  
Blogger Patricia Scarpin said...

These look amazing. I love jamon and love cheese. Your photos are breathtaking!

12:51 am  
Anonymous S said...

Ooh, these look super yummy! This comes from someone suffering from major tummy ache from over indulging in Barcelona too...

7:33 pm  
Anonymous Aun said...

ooohhh... nice pix. We just got back with our own stash of goodies. (Which required us to buy a meat slicer, which S did a couple days ago!) Come over one day soon if you are in the neighborhood.

7:43 pm  
Anonymous Joy the Baker said...

You have one good brother! Lucky you! I am absolutely smitten by your stuffed dates. TCocoa nibs too? And a touch of heat? That's inspired. Thank you so much for sharing!

3:43 am  
Blogger FooDcrazEE said...

wish i can have some . . .

2:27 pm  
Blogger Inne said...

I haven't had Spanish food for ages and it looks all equally delicious! The cocoa nibs sound like an interesting touch.

11:21 pm  
Blogger Lizzie said...

I just came across your blog, your photos are stunning. May I ask what camera you use?

I love Spanish food, but sadly haven't been to Spain (except a daytrip in Barca)....yet!

4:24 am  
Anonymous Annie said...

These look absolutely lovely. Any cheese sounds delicious (Manchango especially, never tried it!). Thanks for linking me :) Am looking forward to more posts from you!!


2:06 pm  
Anonymous Sophie said...

Gorgeous pictures - especially the dates! I just found my way here via Tastespotting.

Manchego is a lovely cheese (a bit difficult to get in the UK so I ate mountains of the stuff when we had our holiday in spain last year!). I'm looking forward to a slightly different cheese and ham fest when we go to Parma in a few weeks time.

6:17 pm  

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