Not the most elegant of titles perhaps, a shorter version just didn’t seem to do the dish justice. A disaster of a title therefore, but a dish that is absolutely delicious. When Carmen told me what her mother had made, I couldn’t help but smile, as the dish is a combination of some of my favourite ingredients. It is a happy, comforting dish that puts a smile on people’s faces. My son would say that it is impossible to go wrong when you use good ingredients, and with sweet red peppers, good gammon and melting brie cheese who am I to disagree with him.
There are two large towns either side of the village where I live, one is Cariñena and the other is La Almunia, Carmen comes from the latter. The towns, and the boroughs they represent, have jointly published a cookery book whose objective is to document the culinary heritage of the area. The book is in fact a cultural treasure and I am indebted to my wife for all her efforts in finding, and then giving me a copy of the book as a Christmas present. This book is full of great, traditional recipes and I will no doubt be sharing many of these recipes with you all.
What I also like about the book are the photographs. It is full of rubicund cooks preparing local dishes in huge cauldron like receptacles that will no doubt feed 5,000! Cooking in Spain is often much more participative; family and friends get involved in the whole process, often offering unsolicited and (sometimes) useless advice. Don’t get me wrong, this is not necessarily a bad thing, as you always have someone else to blame if the dish doesn’t turn out quite as expected!
At more or less the same time I saw Master Chef for professionals on British television. In the latter stages the contestants visited the 3 Michelin star Maaemo restaurant in Norway. The contrast between this restaurant and the local cooking style couldn’t have been more striking with the Maaemo kitchens looking more like a hospital operating theatre than anything else! At one point there were half a dozen chefs working with tweezers on the same plate of food, trying to ensure that each little leaf was in just the right position on the plate…… Crazy, or is it just me?
Restaurants and indeed many homes prepare the meals behind closed doors. Don’t get me wrong, Spanish kitchen doors can be closed too, they just often aren’t with guests going in and out at will. Spanish people, particularly outside the big cities, tend to cook outdoors where no doors exist. They share a bottle or two of wine whilst watching the meal cook. It is also a far cry from Anglo-Saxon meals which tend to be prepared behind the closed kitchen door then brought out at the last minute like a rabbit from a magician’s hat. The Spanish way of cooking allows the host to be with the guests throughout the whole cooking process.
Spaniards like their food, but I am going to quote from Peter Mayle’s book on his time in Provence, France, when after a large local meal he said “We walked home pushing our stomachs before us, oblivious to the cold, incapable of speech, and slept like the dead”. It captures for me what food should be all about. It talks to me of the real enjoyment of food, the pleasure it can bring…and yes they have gone overboard, they have eaten too much, but if you haven’t done that at least once then I would suggest you haven’t really had a sensory overload from a truly delicious meal.
So back to the recipe for today, the one that put a smile on my face just from listening to Carmen’s description of it. As it turns out it is far from difficult to make and is delicious.
Milhojas de Patata, Piquillos y Lacón
6 Baked Piquillo Peppers
Peel and dice the potatoes. Cook in water until soft. Mash the potatoes with butter and/or milk to get a smooth purée. Season as necessary.
Meanwhile thinly slice the leek and fry in a little butter until soft.
Meanwhile slice the gammon and brie.
Preheat the oven to 200ºC Conventional or 180ºC Fan assisted.
In a metal ring or loose bottomed cake tin, build up the cake with the following layers. I use a 15cm diameter loose bottomed cake tin that is 6cm high:
- One third of the potato
- All the gammon
- All the cheese
- One third of the potato
- All the peppers
– The remaining potato
– The leeks (See notes below)
Bake for 15 minutes in the lower part of the oven.
The original recipe was served with a fried egg yolk per person on the top of the cake, with the fried leeks sprinkled over. Just make a slight depression in the potato for the yolk to sit in so that it doesn’t move around. The yolks add a nice, finishing touch to the dish.
As I am always loath to throw anything away, and in this case I wasn’t going to use the egg whites for some other recipe, I just fried a whole egg and served it with the cake. For ease I put the leeks on the cake as another layer along with all the other layers.
As for the peppers, I chose Pimientos del Piquillo. These are typical Spanish peppers with a lovely rich flavour without being too spicy. The best ones are actually roasted over wood ashes to char the outer skin. The skin is then removed leaving the cooked flesh behind.
Any pepper can be used for the recipe, but pre-roasted varieties are to be preferred as they can be added at the end of the recipe without any further cooking. I am not sure of their availability outside of Spain, but with globalisation I guess they can be found. I have checked and they are available on-line, for example in Amazon.
So a local hearty meal this week, perfect for these colder winter days. Expect to see more local recipes over the coming months. The food here in my opinion is very good, uses local ingredients and is quite often relatively cheap. What more could one ask?
My suggested links for you this week are both ones we tend to eat at this time of year:
Firstly there is a link to a scrambled eggs dish that uses sweet red peppers. These are the same red peppers you will need for today’s main recipe. This dish is perfect if you have any peppers left over!
Secondly there is a link to a quiche that uses a vegetable that is local and in season here now, Swiss Chard. If you can’t get chard you could use spinach instead.
tsp – Teaspoon – 5ml
tbsp – Tablespoon – 15ml
Imperial to Metric Measurement:
1 oz – 28g
1 lb – 16 oz – 454g
1 gill – ¼ pint – 142ml
2017 Lincoln W. Betteridge