I'm in Spain, just an hour north west of Seville and I’ve just had the most (for me) idyllic morning wandering in a remote part of Andalucia through oak woods where the black legged Iberian pigs snuffle to find the acorns that make the famous Jamon de bellotta (cured ham) from this area so sweet and exquisite.
But today I’m picking wild plums directly from the trees, there are two types, yellow mirabelles and small wine coloured fruit that look like fat cherries, sweeter and not as tart as damsons but a similar size. Sadly, the wild figs and pomegranate aren’t quite ripe yet but the green walnuts are just at the perfect stage for pickling.
We’re staying at Finca Buenvino near Aracena, a pink washed, guest house, covered in wisteria and vines, virtually hidden amongst the chestnut and cork oak trees on a hilltop in the heart of the Sierra de Aracena.
Sam Chesterton and his Scottish wife Jeannie came to Spain in the early seventies in search of an old ruin to convert but eventually decided to build on this beautiful site close to a spring of clear water, an immensely important factor in Spain.
Much of the building material was old and traditional, local brick, terracotta tiles, metal grills, high arched doors, a panelled dining room, an intriguing mix of Scottish country house and Spanish villa with a relaxed country house feel.
Finca Buenvina has just five bedrooms, the house can be taken as a unit complete with cook and cleaner or one can just stay on as a guest and be pampered. There’s also the option of several lovely self catering cottages in the woods complete with pool. It’s quite the find for those who are seeking an alternative to Costa del Sol. Sam and Jeannie are the most genial of hosts. Jeannie cooks the kind of food that I love to eat and now their son Charlie has joined Jeannie in the kitchen.
The food scraps from the kitchen get fed to the happy hens who scratch around under the trees so there are beautiful eggs for the many Spanish egg dishes. Tapas before dinner were some of the best I’ve tasted anywhere — quail egg with morcilla, Pimenton de Padron, tortillitas.
A little shaded corner to curl up with a book or just snooze for a siesta in the afternoon and yet another memorable dinner on a terrace as the sun sets with the swifts swooping and whistling overhead.
Sam and Jeannie offer regular cooking classes and one can book now to partake in the traditional metanza early in the New Year, the next one is scheduled for around the first week in February 2020. A fascinating experience where one can learn how to butcher and preserve every scrap of the free range black pigs from the snout to the tail. Learn how to cure jamon in sea salt (Kg for every kilo of ham) and how to make a variety of chorizo and salchichon, morcilla, zarappa, chistora and a myriad of other porky treats. At the end there’s a party with a huge cauldron of guiso de cerdo, a pork stew, served with lots of beer and red wine and much merriment.
Wannabe writers can join a Writers Retreat – details for all of these options are on www.fincabuenvino.com
Here are some of the dishes we enjoyed some of which come from The Buenvino Cookbook – Recipes from our farmhouse in Spain published by Bene Factum Publishing Ltd.
Visit Cinco Jotas in Jabujo for a tour of the Jamon curing rooms to taste the very best Jamon that Spain has to offer - understand why Pata Negra is so revered around the world.
Making potato crisps at home is definitely worthwhile — a few potatoes produce a ton of crisps and nothing you buy in any shop will be even half as delicious. A mandolin is well worth buying for making chips — but mind your fingers.
125 grams pata negra de bellotta or Serrano ham, thin slivers
4-6 large, even-sized potatoes, Maris Piper, Aran Victory, Golden Wonder, Kerr’s Pink, Santé
Extra virgin olive oil or beef dripping for deep-fat frying
Scrub, wash and peel the potatoes. For even-sized crisps, trim each potato with a swivel-top peeler until smooth. Slice them very finely, preferably with a mandolin. Soak in cold water to remove the excess starch (this will also prevent them from discolouring or sticking together). Drain off the water and dry very well.
In a deep-fat fryer, heat the oil or dripping to 180C. Drop in the dry potato slices a few at a time and fry until golden and completely crisp. Drain on kitchen paper and divide between four plates. Lay slivers of jamon on top of the hot crisps and serve immediately.
1 clove of garlic crushed
800g (1lb 7½oz) ripe red tomatoes cut into quarters
50g (2oz) white bread, crust removed and cut into cubes
6 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 – 2 tbsp red wine vinegar, we use Forum
Salt, pepper, and sugar
2 hard-boiled eggs, roughly chopped
75g (3oz) strips of Serrano ham cut into slivers
Extra virgin olive oil
Shallow Terracotta Bowls
Place the garlic, tomatoes, bread, olive oil and 1 tablespoon of vinegar into a food processor — season with salt, pepper and sugar. Whizz until well blended but still slightly coarse.
Taste, you may need to add more vinegar, depending on the sweetness of the tomatoes. Chill well. If the mixture is too thick add a little water but not too much.
Serve in chilled shallow terracotta bowls with a couple of tablespoons of chopped hard boiled egg and slivers of Serrano ham in the centre of each. Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil. Eat with lots of fresh crusty bread.
Many people are familiar with the tomato version of gazpacho but this white version comes from Cordoba and is very nutritious.
250g blanched, peeled almonds
4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
4 slices of stale white bread with the crusts removed
2 cloves of garlic
2-3 spoons white wine vinegar
2 apples (or 1 bunch white grapes, or 2 slices of melon)
Mash the garlic and salt in a mortar, gradually adding the almonds until a smooth paste is attained. This can be done much more easily in a food processor. Soak the bread in water and mix into the paste along with the oil and vinegar.
Mix everything thoroughly, then add 32fl oz of cold water. The soup should have a thick, smooth consistency. Add ice cubes if desired. The fruit should be added just before serving. Apple or melon should be diced and grapes should be whole.
The proportions of garlic, olive oil and vinegar are entirely a matter of taste. This will keep for two to three days in the fridge.
2 quail per person (if small)
Salt and black pepper
Choose a couple of quail per person if they are very small. We get them plucked and gutted. Rub the quail all over, inside and out, with pinchito spice, salt and pepper; or if you cannot get it grind up cumin, turmeric, salt, pepper and paprika to a fine powder.
Preheat the oven to 200ºC/gas 6. Place the quail in a roasting tin, large enough to hold them all without crushing them together. Pour round the bottom of the baking tray a quantity of good cold tea, enough to keep the birds from drying out in a hot oven, roast for 20 to 30 minutes, basting occasionally, until golden brown and cooked through.
If you find the quail are browning unevenly, move them around in the tin during cooking. It’s ideal to have the breasts nicely browned, so that the skin is crisp, but you don’t want them to dry out. Serve with mashed potatoes and a green salad, or fresh peas or beans from the garden.
Serves one for a delicious breakfast....
2 beautiful fresh eggs
Fry the eggs in melted butter until crisp at the edges, white should be just set but the yolks still soft. Sprinkle crumbled dried chillies over the egg, some cumin seed, flaky salt, and freshly ground pepper.
Add a spoonful of rich natural yogurt and a sprinkling of chopped parsley. Eat from the pan with crusty bread.
We love quail and quails eggs, there’s so many delicious ways you can enjoy them. They’re now widely available perhaps not in your local village shop, but in many supermarkets countrywide. Several artisan producers are raising and selling both quail and quail eggs in Ireland.
We love them boiled, with a little flaky sea salt and Aleppo pepper, they’re also adorable fried and served on Spainish Mortilla or Irish black pudding on a little crouton and of course in salads.
To find out all the benefits and facts on quails and sourcing them go to www.quail.ie