If you are longing for a taste of simple Spanish food you’ll need to head away from the main drag — off into the back streets and out into the villages in the wooded hillside.
Malaga, the point of entry into Andalucía for many, is worth lingering in for a few days. The Picasso Museum in the town of the artist’s birth is definitely worth a browse and Cathederal de la Encarnacion is awe inspiring. Don’t miss the Centro Pompidou either and stroll along the Pedregalejo seafront and eat the freshest fish in one of the many chiringuitos.
For breakfast, seek out crispy churros to dunk in a glass of hot chocolate. They are a speciality in Malaga and a must do for breakfast.
For tapas, check out Meson Iberico, on Calle San Lorenzo 27, it opens at 8.30pm. Book ahead or else be ready to queue. Be there by 8.15pm if you want to get a seat at the counter or by the window ledge, you’ll need to sharpen your elbows and make a dash as soon as the doors open.
The tapas are traditional, made from superb ingredients and as a result are memorably delicious. We enjoyed a plate of wafer-thin slivers of jamon Iberico from Cinco Jotas, perhaps the best pata negra in Spain, made from the hams of the long-legged black Iberian pigs, reared in the dehesa oak forests and fattened on acorns.
You can’t imagine how the delicious flavour lingers in your mouth — food for the gods. We also had tender whelks, octopus a la Gallega sprinkled with paprika and flakes of sea salt. The briny sweet clams were memorable as were the crisp little tortilla aux Camorones (shrimp fritters).
Finally, there was a plate of little broad beans with two quails eggs and a few slivers of jamon melting over the top. There were many other temptations but by then I was defeated but Meson Iberico goes to the top of my Malaga list.
Next day, we drove out into the countryside to Gaucín, one of the prettiest of the famous pueblos blancos villages of Andalucia. The drive over the mountains from Malaga is spectacular and even more awe-inspiring from Gaucin and even more so onto Ronda. This Moorish city is teeming with tourists but it is definitely worth seeing the El Tajo Gorge under the Punta Nuevo (built in 1735). While you are there, pop into the Inglesia de Santa Maria church.
Back in Gaucín, breakfast at Brena Verde was my favourite find in Guacín. Here, the cheery cook sent plate after plate after plate of tortas fritta out of the kitchen, irregular-shaped squares of bubbly fried dough to eat drizzled with local honey. We loved them and sent lots of compliments to the kitchen so the cheery cook invited me into the kitchen to watch her making the frittas and shared the recipe.
Sleepy Guacin is about 45 minutes from the closest beach but we found several river bathing places with pools of varying depth. The grandchildren spent hours building dams, chasing dragonflies and watching little fish swimming around them in the river. Can you imagine the joy? It brought memories flooding back of swimming in the river Goul outside the village of Cullohill in Co Laois when I was a child.
We stayed at Molina del Carmen in Guacín, a former olive oil mill with some of the old machinery still intact. It’s now a complex of five chic interlinking apartments that can be rented individually or as a complex complete with a pool, perfect for a multi-generational family holiday.
The views from the terraces are jaw dropping. The rock of Gibraltar is clearly visible and Morocco is a mere 35 minutes ferry ride away. The village has lots of cafes, pubs and artist studios and is less than an hour from the closest sandy beach.
You may even chance on a festival or féria as we did with feisty prancing horses, a greasy pole competition to win a jamon, and free community paella — a real and enchanting glimpse of Spanish country life.
Serves 10-12 as a tapa
To Serve: Aoili
Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a sauté pan. Add the chopped garlic and chilli and cook for 1-2 minutes. Add the chopped tinned tomatoes, tomato purée and paprika. Season with salt, freshly ground pepper and sugar. Simmer for 5-8 minutes or until slightly reduced.
Meanwhile, heat 2.5cm olive oil in a frying pan. Dice the potatoes into 2.5cm pieces. Dry on kitchen paper. Cook the potatoes in the hot oil until light golden brown in colour and tender all the way through.
While the potatoes are cooking, liquidise the sauce and add the sherry vinegar. Return to the pan. When the potatoes are cooked, remove from the oil and drain on kitchen paper. Season lightly with some sea salt.
Heat the sauce, taste.
Serve the potatoes on a plate, drizzle with the sauce and a good dollop of aoili.
For the Choux Pastry: 150g strong flour (Baker’s)
To make the Choux Pastry:
Sieve the flour with the salt onto a piece of silicone paper. Heat the water and butter in a high-sided saucepan until the butter is melted. Bring to a fast rolling boil, take from the heat. Note:
Prolonged boiling evaporates the water and changes the proportions of the dough. Immediately the pan is taken from the heat, add all the flour at once and beat vigorously with a wooden spoon for a few seconds until the mixture is smooth and pulls away from the sides of the saucepan to form a ball. Put the saucepan back on a
low heat and stir for 30 seconds to one minute or until the mixture starts to furr the bottom of the saucepan. Remove from the heat and cool for a few seconds.
Meanwhile, set aside one egg, break it and whisk it in a bowl. Add the remaining eggs into the dough, one by one with a wooden spoon, beating thoroughly after each addition. Make sure the dough comes back to the same texture each time before you add another egg. When it will no longer form a ball in the centre of the saucepan, add the beaten egg little by little. Use just enough to make a mixture that is very shiny and just drops
reluctantly from the spoon in a sheet.
To make the Churros:
Heat the oil in a deep fry to 180C.
Mix the cinnamon with the caster sugar and pour onto a flat plate.
Put a medium-sized, star-shaped nozzle into a piping bag. Fill with choux pastry.
When the oil is hot, pipe strips of choux pastry, about 6.5cm long, directly into the hot oil. They will puff up, so do just a few at a time. Cook until crisp and golden brown, drain on kitchen paper.
Toss in cinnamon sugar and dunk in hot chocolate.
Sam and Jeannie Chesterton of Finca Buenvino in Andalucia, recently introduced me to this little gem. They are so easy to make and completely addictive — kids also love them and they make the perfect little bites to nibble with a drink, preferably a glass of Fino or Manzilla. This is totally brilliant way to use up leftover boiled potatoes.
The tortillitas are made in minutes and can be served as part of every meal from breakfast to supper.
For the Aioli:
Whisk the eggs in a bowl, add the diced potatoes, season with salt and freshly ground pepper and add the herbs.
Heat about 5mm (¼inch) of oil in a frying pan on a high heat, cook a teaspoonful of mixture and taste for seasoning. Correct if necessary.
Continue to cook the mini tortillas as needed, using a scant dessertspoon of the mixture for each. Cook on one side for about 1-2 minutes, flip over and continue to cook on the other side for a similar length of time, or until slightly golden.
Drain on kitchen paper and sprinkle with a few flakes of sea salt.
Serve hot, or at room temperature with a blob of Aioli.
To make the aioli
Put the egg yolks into a bowl with the crushed garlic, mustard, salt and the white wine vinegar (keep the whites to make meringues). Put the oil into a measure. Take a whisk in one hand and the oil in the other and drip the oil onto the egg yolks, drop by drop whisking at the same time. Within a minute you will notice that the mixture is beginning to thicken. When this happens you can add the oil a little faster, but don’t get too cheeky or it will suddenly curdle because the egg yolks can only absorb the oil at a certain pace. Taste and add a little more seasoning and vinegar if necessary.
If the mayonnaise curdles it will suddenly become quite thin, and if left sitting the oil will start to float to the top of the sauce. If this happens you can quite easily rectify the situation by putting another egg yolk or 1-2 tablespoons of boiling water into a clean bowl, then whisk in the curdled mayonnaise, a half teaspoon at a time until it emulsifies again. Finally add the saffron if using and taste for seasoning.
Getting produce to market
I’m always delighted to hear of alternative routes to market for farmers and food producers where they can still direct and get a larger percentage of the retail price. The Country Markets, Farmers Markets and models like Neighbourfood are good examples but recently I met a farmer O’Brien from Thrasherstown near Whitechurch in Co Cork who sells his fresh eggs from a vending machine outside the Co-Op in Midleton every week.
Date for your diary
I look forward to appearing at Joe McNamee’s Grub Circus at the All Together Now music festival (Aug 2-4) at Curraghmore Estate, in Co Waterford as part of a panel debate entitled, Back to the Land, which will take a solution-driven approach to discussing the impact of industrial agriculture, biodiversity loss and climate change to the earth’s soil. Information: www.alltogethernow.ie
Upcoming Wine & Cheese Festival
For all you wine and cheese lovers check out the latest summer food festival presented by Eatyard – The Wine and Cheese Festival which is running from August 8 to 11 in the Iveagh Gardens in Dublin. There promises to be a stellar selection of boutique wine and cheese vendors. wine-n-cheese.com