The pleasure of exaggerated, unreliable nostalgia can't be underestimated. Who hasn't enjoyed sitting round a table after a good meal and a few glasses of very reasonable Tempranillo, remembering the gustatory horrors of childhood with affection? Bread and dripping for breakfast; sugar sandwiches; Shepherd's Pie for seven made from half-a-pound of economy mince; happy days indeed! Everyone's got a favourite, but I suspect that very few would dream of eating by choice the stuff they were forced to eat as a kid. The skin off lumpy, school dinner custard? Boiled-till-grey sprouts? I'll pass, thanks.
|Alcútar this morning|
During the Second World War, and despite his overt Nazi sympathies, Franco exported fruit, nuts, wine and fertiliser in huge quantities to Britain and the US while all those products were desperately needed at home. It wasn't until the late-Fifties that nutritionally-deficient Spanish diets began to improve. Even today it's possible to see the effects of the Hungry Years. When was the last time you saw someone displaying the bandy-legged legacy of childhood Rickets? I saw a chap this morning, as I walked down from the bakery, waddling side-to-side, hobbling into the doctor's surgery. He would have been around seventy; just the right age to have suffered malnourishment as an infant.
The big difference between the fare of poverty here and in other places I know, is that the dishes that remind people of those bad times are often some of the most delicious. Migas was originally a way of using up breadcrumbs, cooked with nothing more than olive oil, garlic and water; waste not, want not. Nowadays, made with wheat polenta, it is a speciality of many local restaurants and a staple for communal village meals during fiesta. I love it. It's as satisfying and as versatile as couscous and is accompanied by all the good local produce such as morcilla, longaniza sausage, sardines, a chopped salad, known as pipirana, deep-fried green peppers, and melon. In a future post I'll get Sole to give me a masterclass on its preparation.
Another class act from the losing side of the class war is Guiso de patatas: the most delicious thing you can make from the cheapest thing you can buy from the butcher - bones. This isn't an Alpujarran invention, although quite a few people will claim it to be. It's a soup whose recorded history can be traced back to the fifteenth century, and one of the first recipe books in European history, written by Roberto de Noia, head chef at the court of Fernando I of Naples, based in Barcelona. So, it's a Catalan invention, but tell a Castilian or an Andalusian and they'll fight you for it!
There are so many words for soups and stews in Spanish that it's easy to get confused. What is the difference between a guiso, a potaje, a puchero, a cocido, and a sopa? Precious little. I know there are plenty of people who will claim that each different incarnation of a dish consisting of meat, veg and stock has an essential feature that makes it one thing or the other, but I'm too much of a stupid foreigner to bother much about what seem to be pretty abstruse distinctions.
What is important is that these dishes are absolutely excellent. There really isn't anything I'd rather have for a winter's lunch than a bowl of something like this. I was in the butcher's shop in Cádiar o Saturday when I saw the knobbly line of vertebrae separating the ribs from the shoulder of pork in the display cabinet. "What could I do with that?" I asked. The butcher's shrug put me in my place. "There's nothing better to do with neck bones than make a guiso." Had he been a teenager, he might have added, "Duh!"
So, that's what I did, using a method cobbled together from a couple of conversations; one with the butcher, the other with a neighbour. Here's how it goes:
Guiso de patatas
1 kg (2 lb) pork neck bones, ideally with a good bit of meat attached
100ml 6 tablespoons) of olive oil
1 large onion, roughly chopped
1 large red pepper, roughly chopped
2 cloves of garlic, roughly chopped
3 carrots, cut into 2-3cm (1") chunks
2-3 Bay leaves
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon pimentón
250ml (1 cup) white wine
250ml (1 cup) stock (I used chicken stock, you use what you like)
3 large potatoes, peeled and cut into 2-3cm (1") chunks
1 tsp each of sugar, salt, black pepper
a few dashes of balsamic vinegar to taste
|Browned bones on the left, sweating veg on the right|
|Just enough water to cover the bones|
- Cut the neck bones into chunks, one vertebra per chunk. The butcher will do this for you, I'm sure. Heat the olive oil in a big, heavy-based saucepan or stockpot on a medium-high heat. Brown the meat on all sides, remove with a slotted spoon and set aside.
- Pour off about half the oil and add the onion and red pepper and cook, stirring, for a couple of minutes. Then add the garlic, carrot, bay leaves, turmeric and pimentón and stir until everything is coated with oil and spices. Turn the ring to minimum and cover the pan. Leave to cook sweatily for 5-10 minutes.
- Return the bones to the pan, add the stock, wine and enough cold water to just cover the bones. Bring to the boil then reduce the heat to minimum, cover again and leave to simmer for 1.5 hours. Just forget about it, go and update your Facebook status and have a game of Candy Crush!
- After those 90 usefully-employed minutes, add the potatoes, sugar, salt and black pepper and taste the broth; see if it needs a little zip of balsamic vinegar. If so, do so.
- Cover again and simmer for a further 30 minutes. And that's it. If you're a refined kind of person you might like to take the bones out of the soup, pull off and return to the pan any meat that hasn't already fallen off, and then discard the bones. Personally, I don't bother. I just stick a plate in the middle of the table and pick out the inedible bits as I eat.
Serve it with nothing more than a decent bit of bread. The length of the cooking means that you extract all the flavour it's possible to get from the cheap cut of meat. It doesn't look much, but the quality is in the tasting... a bit like me!