Saturday, April 14, 2018


Where does pasta come from? No, it wasn’t brought from China by Marco Polo in 1292, as the story goes. Pasta, as a cooked paste made of flour and water, may have originated in Persia and migrated throughout the Middle East along with Arab traders. Although the Romans had some sort of pasta, it was Moorish invaders who introduced hard durum wheat to Sicily—a toehold in Italy—and to Spain. 

Pasta in medieval times wasn’t made in the varied shapes and calibrations that we know today. It was more like a poor folks’ stand-in for bread—unleavened balls of dough, hand-rolled and dropped into the cooking pot.

Pasta "rags" cook in a stew with chicken and artichokes.
Spain’s traditional cooking still has some of those kinds of pastas. This is one, andrajos, which means “rags,” so-called because the cooked pieces of pasta look like tattered old clothes. Originally it was a simple soup made by field laborers, consisting of foraged vegetables and greens stewed with garlic and olive oil to which hand-made pasta was added. Filling and sustaining.  

If hunters supplied rabbit, hare or partridge, meat would be added to the pot as well. Shepherd’s might have added pieces of lamb. On church days of abstinence, the stew is cooked with bacalao, salt cod. Today andrajos is made with chicken.

Pasta soaks up the savory liquid and thickens the stew.

Raggedy Pasta

1 ¼ cups flour + additional for rolling out
1 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup water + additional to make a soft dough

Knead to make soft dough.
Place the flour and salt in a bowl. Add 1/3 cup of water and mix until all the flour is dampened. Add enough additional water (approximately 2 tablespoons) to make a soft dough that can be formed into a ball.

Turn the dough out on a lightly floured board and knead it until smooth and stretchy. Cover with a cloth and let the dough rest for 30 minutes.

Roll dough out thinly.

Divide the dough into 4 equal pieces and roll each into a ball. On a lightly floured board, roll out each ball of dough as thinly as possible into a disk approximately 9 inches in diameter. There's no need to make perfect circles, as the pasta will be broken up in cooking. Place the disks on a clean cloth until ready to add to the chicken stew, at least 1 hour and up to 24 hours.

Cook the pasta disks in the stew or in a pot of boiling salted water, using two forks to tear them into “rags.”

Saffron gives the broth a golden hue.

The stew is easier to serve if chicken skin and bones are removed.

Chicken Stew with Pasta “Rags”
Guiso de Pollo con Andrajos

The chicken thighs can be left whole or, for easier serving, stripped of skin and bones and the pieces returned to the pot with the pasta.

Trim the artichokes and add them to the pot immediately, so they don’t need to be soaked in acidulated water. To eat the artichokes, pick them up by the tips and bite off the meaty heart, discarding the leaves, or use a knife and fork to separate the heart from the (inedible) leaves. Frozen artichoke hearts can be used or substitute another vegetable such as chard, asparagus or fava beans.

Serves 4-6.

1 ¾ pounds bone-in chicken thighs
Freshly ground black pepper
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
1 carrot, chopped
½ teaspoon saffron threads
½ teaspoon black peppercorns
1 clove
1 teaspoon coarse salt
3 cloves garlic
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
½ teaspoon cumin
6 ¼ cups water
Sprig of thyme
Sprig of mint
1 bay leaf
2 medium artichokes
Pasta dough for andrajos rolled in disks
Chopped mint to serve

Sprinkle the chicken thighs with salt and pepper. Let them come to room temperature.

Heat the oil in a heavy pot. Brown the chicken pieces slowly, 10 minutes. Add the onion and carrot and continue sautéing until onion begins to brown.

Crush the saffron in a mortar with the peppercorns, clove and coarse salt. Scrape it into a blender with the garlic, parsley and cumin. Add ¼ cup of the water and blend until smooth. Add the spice mixture to the pot with the remaining 6 cups of water and 1 teaspoon more of salt. Add the sprigs of thyme, mint and bay leaf. Bring to a boil, then simmer, covered, 30 minutes.

Cut out the fuzzy choke.

Cut away artichoke stems and snap off outer leaves. Use a serrated knife to cut the artichokes in half. With the tip of a knife, cut out and discard the fuzzy choke. Add the cut artichokes immediately to the pot with the chicken. Continue cooking until artichokes and chicken are tender, 30 to 40 minutes more. 

Put disk of pasta into bubbling liquid.

Remove chicken pieces and artichokes to a serving bowl. With the remaining liquid bubbling, place one of the pasta disks into the pot. Gently push it down with the back of a wooden spoon. Add a second pasta round in the same manner, then the remaining two disks. Use two forks to tear the pasta into raggedy pieces. Let it cook until tender, 10 minutes.

Remove and discard skin and bones from the chicken. Return the pieces of the meat to the pot with the artichokes. Reheat.

Serve the stew with chicken, artichokes and pasta rags sprinkled with chopped mint.

Chopped mint enhances the flavors of this stew.

Another recipe for hand-made pasta:

More pasta recipes:

Saturday, April 7, 2018


Have you finally used up all the colored Easter eggs? At my house, I set out to make an old favorite recipe for using hard-boiled eggs—huevos dobles, “double” eggs, so-called because they have eggs on the inside and eggs on the outside. They are stuffed, napped in croquette batter, dipped in beaten egg then coated in crumbs and fried.

Something went wrong. I think the coating batter (béchamel) was too thick, because it just didn’t adhere to the eggs. Believe me, I tried various remedies before I walked away from that fiasco, leaving lumps of stuffed eggs and congealed béchamel in the fridge overnight.

Next day, I didn’t even try to start over, but turned my ingredients into a completely different dish. I put the deviled eggs in an oven dish and spooned thinned-down béchamel sauce over them. A little grated cheese and under the broiler for a few minutes.

Eggs are stuffed with ham and spinach, deviled with hot pimentón. Coated with béchamel, they are browned under the broiler.

Those eggs were delicious! Definitely worth cooking up some eggs just to make them. I served them as a starter with salad greens. A day later, I reheated remaining eggs on a bed of spinach with a thinned-out blob of béchamel and called it lunch.

“Deviled” is the terminology for spicy flavorings, such as mustard and/or cayenne. These stuffed eggs have, not cayenne, but spicy-hot pimentón (paprika). You can use either smoked or unsmoked pimentón. Caraway seeds are a brilliant addition to the egg stuffing. Use either serrano or cooked ham in the mix. For a vegetarian version, omit the ham and increase the chopped onion and spinach.

Serve these stuffed eggs bubbling hot or room temperature.

Serve eggs as a starter. Or, maybe, brunch?

Stuffing has chopped spinach and ham.

Stuffed Eggs Gratin
Gratinado de Huevos Rellenos

6 hard-boiled eggs
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 tablespoons finely chopped onion or scallions
2 tablespoons finely chopped ham
½ cup chopped spinach
¼ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
¼ teaspoon hot pimentón (paprika) or pinch cayenne
Pinch of caraway seeds, coarsely crushed
1 tablespoon milk
Bechamel sauce (recipe follows)
2 tablespoons fine dry bread crumbs
2 tablespoons grated cheese
Additional pimentón to finish
Additional olive oil to drizzle on top of eggs

Peel the eggs and cut them in half. Remove yolks and place them in a small bowl. 

Stuffed eggs.
Heat the oil in a small skillet and sauté the onions 2 minutes, until softened, but not browned. Add the ham and spinach. Cook, stirring, until spinach is wilted and any liquid is cooked off. Scrape the mixture into the bowl with the yolks. Add the salt, mustard, pimentón, caraway and milk. Mash the yolks until fairly smooth. Press the mixture into the hollows of the egg whites, mounding it slightly.

Preheat broiler. Lightly oil a shallow oven dish.

Place the eggs in the dish, separating them slightly. Spoon béchamel sauce over the eggs. Sprinkle the tops with bread crumbs and grated cheese. Sprinkle with a little pimentón and drizzle oil on top of eggs.

 Minutes under the broiler to gratin the eggs.
Place the eggs under the broiler until the sauce is bubbling and browned on top, about 4 minutes. Serve the eggs hot or room temperature.

For the béchamel sauce:
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons flour
1 ¼ cups milk
Freshly ground black pepper
Pinch of hot pimentón

Combine the oil and flour in a small saucepan. Cook it, stirring, for 2 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and whisk in the milk until mixture is smooth. Return to the heat and cook, stirring, until the sauce is smooth and thickened. Season with salt, pepper and pimentón. Cook the sauce, stirring, 4 minutes. 

Here are the "double eggs," that didn't work out this time.

More recipes for stuffed eggs:

Saturday, March 31, 2018


When my two boys were growing up, the nearest neighbors in our valley were the Fernández family, with five kids. My two and those five ranged over the bancales (terraced land planted in fruit trees), down into the arroyo and occasionally up into the sierra behind the houses. Whether school day or weekend, promptly at 6 pm their mother emerged from the house to call, “Fernando!” (Fernando was the youngest of the clan.) “A merendar. Rocio! Tomi! Merienda!”  

Call the kids! Merienda is served.

 The tribe—often including my kids—assembled in the big kitchen for the afternoon snack that would tide them over until supper at 8:30 or 9. Merienda consisted of bollería—sweet rolls and buns—or a sandwich, with juice, batido (milkshake, actually flavored milk), or on special occasions, thick, hot drinking chocolate. One of the favorite merienda items was pan con chocolate, squares of chocolate sandwiched in a bollo de leche, a soft bread roll. A bowl of fresh fruit completed the merienda menu.

For grown-ups, merienda is similar, but accompanied by café con leche or tea or, for workmen finishing a day’s labor, a small beer. Some cafés specialize in afternoon cakes and pastries especially for the merienda.

Industrial bollería—varying degrees of packaged junk food—has replaced much of the locally made rolls, buns, cookies and small sandwiches. But some old-fashioned meriendas still appear, in homes and cafés. Picatostes is one such. Picatostes are pieces of fried bread. They can be savory, like croutons, or sugared.

For merienda, a plate of crunchy fried bread dredged in sugar to go with drinking chocolate.

One version of picatostes is identical to torrijas—the favorite dessert for Holy Week and Easter. Torrijas are slices of stale bread dipped in milk (or sweet wine), then egg and fried, Somewhat like French toast, they are sprinkled with sugar or drizzled with syrup. But the version I like best is nothing more complicated than sticks of fried bread, dredged in sugar. Much like churros, they are just made for dunking in thick, hot chocolate.

The thick chocolate, called chocolate a la taza, can be prepared from bars or granules of chocolate that come with sweetening and with starch for thickening. If you’re making the chocolate from scratch see this recipe for Hot Drinking Chocolate.

My son Ben and grandson Leo, enjoying chocolate con picatostes for afternoon merienda.

Picatostes are just made for dunking!

Picatostes are crunchy and sweet.

This hot chocolate is almost as thick as pudding.

Dip strawberries in the chocolate too!

 Sweet and Crunchy Fried Bread

Cut sandwich loaf into thick strips.
Use a loaf of unsliced bread, at least two days old, preferably with a dense, compact crumb. Cut it into strips about 1 inch wide and 3 ½ inches long. I used 10 ounces of a sandwich loaf (pan de molde), to obtain 18 picatostes.

The strips of bread can be cut in advance of frying. Seal them in a plastic bag until ready to use.

After frying and cooling, the picatostes can be stored in an air-tight container. They will stay crisp a few days.

1 unsliced loaf of bread, at least 2 days old
Olive oil for frying (about 4 cups)
½ cup sugar
Cinnamon (optional)
To serve: Thick drinking chocolate or honey

Fruit as an accompaniment

Cut the bread crosswise into 1-inch slices. Cut the slices into thick strips.

Heat the oil in a deep skillet until it is shimmering. Have ready a plate with paper towels and a tray with the sugar.

Fry bread in olive oil until golden.

Fry the strips of bread in batches, turning them as they become golden-brown. They’re ready in 2 minutes. Remove with tongs or skimmer and drain briefly on paper towels.(When cool, olive can be strained and used again.)

Drain the picatostes on paper towels.
Dredge in sugar.

Dredge the fried bread in sugar while it is still warm. Let the picatostes cool. Sprinkle with cinnamon, if desired.

Serve the picatostes with thick, hot chocolate for dipping. Or, drizzle them with honey that has been boiled with a little water. Accompany the picastostes with fruit.

Hot chocolate is as thick as pudding!

Another kind of fried bread, typical for Easter: Torrijas.

Savory fried bread (croutons): Chickpea Puree with Crisp Croutons.

More merienda recipes:
Lemon-Scented Tea Cakes (Magdalenas).
Mallorcan Sweet Rolls (Ensaimadas).
Crisply Olive Oil Cookies.
Spanish Sandwiches.