Well here we are again, with a brand new year before us, and what better way to start the year than with a look at one of my favourite places. I have wanted to share the Tena valley in Spain with you for some time. I did publish one article last year with a recipe from the area, Sopetas and other Spanish alcoholic beverages!, but I hardly did the place justice. I have visited the valley a number of times over the last 25 years, and although it hosts a couple of my favourite places, on reflection I have not been there as often as I would have liked. Perhpas I do need a New Year’s resolution after all?
Of the larger towns in the valley floor, the most beautiful one for me has to be Sallent de Gállego, in many ways hidden at the very head of the valley. On the road that winds up through the valley nothing can be seen of the town, then there is one last tunnel, one last bend, before one of the most splendid of views, the reservoir of Lanuza and in the distance, the Foratata mountain with Sallent at its feet. Many of the postcards of the area portray this scene, and for good reason.
Although the town of Sallent is at over 1300m (4,250ft), a reasonable height in itself, those of you who know me however won’t be surprised when I say that I am always keen on going uphill, be it cycling, running or walking. To that end there are a couple of spots that I particularly like that are at an even higher elevation. The first place I would mention is the Arrieles tarns. At some 2240m (7,350ft) above sea level it is quite a hike, but the last tarn right on the border with France is a joy to behold. Cradled between the nearby peaks like a glassy jewel, its ice-cold waters make an excellent spot for a cooling dip after the long hike!
The second spot I would mention are the Peaks of Hell, but at 3,082m (10,111ft) it feels more like a hike to heaven than hell. There are actually three peaks, with an arête between the three, that requires a sure foot and a head for heights. The worst I guess is knowing that every precarious foot forward will have to be retraced on the way back. There is in fact no way down from the third peak, one has to turn around a walk back the same way. Precarious it may be, but the view is simply spectacular…… you are in every respect on the top of the world……
There are many, many more spots in and around the village that really are worth a visit, but all this climbing up and down mountains does leave one with somewhat of an appetite. What way better therefore than to assuage one’s hunger than with the Olla Tensina, a typical dish from the Tena valley.
“Tensina” is an adjective applied to all manner of things from the Tena valley. When I was told to catch the Tensina, the bus that runs from the nearest city up the valley to Sallent, I originally thought that Tensina meant bus in the local dialect! I must admit to my shame that on this occasion it took me quite a while to catch on! So, with that cleared up, that just leaves me with the word “Olla”, which means a large cooking recipient often used for stews. So there you have it, a Spanish stew from the Tena valley:
Olla Tensina / Tena Valley Stew
Serves 2 people
90g Dried chickpeas
30g Dried beans
1 Bay leaf
75g Borage stems
½ Black pudding
1 Fresh chorizo sausage
Soak the chickpeas and beans overnight in separate bowls with an abundance of water.
Always season the dish at the end, as salt can make the beans hard during the cooking process.
Cook chickpeas and beans on a low heat in an open pan with the bay leaf. They can be cooked together, but for better control I prefer to use two separate pans.
They should be bubbling slowly. Add in small amounts of cold water as they start to become dry. The cold water “shocks” the beans and helps the cooking process.
Although the pulses will take some time, start on the borage and onion now as the onion puree needs to be added to the pulses.
Chop the borage stalks to bite sized pieces and cook in a little water. Once tender drain, reserving the cooking liquid.
Meanwhile roughly chop the onion and fry in a little oil until soft. Blend to a purée with some of the water from the borage.
Add into the pulses whenever they lack liquid. Add the remaining water from the borage as required once the onion puree has been used up.
When the chickpeas and beans are ready put them together in the one pan. Chop the chorizo then peal and chop the black pudding and add into the mix together with the borage.
Heat through which will also break up the black pudding, and serve.
If you are thinking of travelling to Sallent de Gállego and like me you enjoy the countryside, the flora and the fauna, revelling in the quieter more natural unspoilt places that still exist, then there are a couple of periods in the year that you will want to avoid.
Firstly there is the winter skiing period and secondly a couple of weeks in July when the town is taken over with the summer concerts. Outside of these two busy periods the town is quieter, the amenities more available and you will probably find it cheaper too!
Borage is a very common and typical vegetabke in this area in winter. It can sometimes be difficult to get outside of the immediate area. If you can’t get it where you live you could substitute it with another local vegetable, Swiss chard or perhaps even spinach.
For some other winter recipes why not try:
For Liebre con Alubias (Hare and Bean Stew) click here.
For Spanish Rancho (Traditional Stew) click here.
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