The food of Spain is as varied as the many regions of the country. From the mountains of the Pyrenees in the north, to the furthest south where Africa is but a short sea crossing away, the inhabitants have adapted the cooking influences of their neighbours and made them distinctly their own.
A defining feature of Spanish food is the subtlety of taste. Not for the Spaniards the fiery spicy flavours of some cuisines; their preference is for deliciously flavoured food, with each element complementing the others. Fresh meats and sea-foods are to be found abundantly in every town and village, and herbs provide a natural accompaniment not as the star of the meal but playing a vital supporting role. You’ll find them being sold, freshly harvested, in local markets.
Favourite Spanish herbs
Parsley, rosemary, thyme, and bay are the most popular herbs in Spanish households.
- In Spain, butchers and greengrocers, as a matter of course, add a handful of parsley to your shopping bag. Try blending parsley and garlic with olive oil, extra virgin preferably, for a simple sauce for plain meat and fish dishes.
- Rosemary has a very strong flavour and is used in small quantities. Stick a few sprigs in a joint of lamb before cooking and brush with olive oil. Use the stripped stems as skewers and add some to your barbecue fire for extra flavour.
- Like rosemary, thyme grows well in the dry Spanish terrain. Use it to flavour olives or to make your own thyme vinegar or oil. It also goes well with poultry, pork or rabbit.
- Bay is sold by the branch and can be found hanging in most Spanish kitchens. Use it to flavour slow-cooked stews or infuse it in warm milk for a white sauce.
But if there is one herb that really says ‘Spanish’, it has to be garlic. Rarely will you find a Spanish recipe that doesn’t include a clove or two.
Very garlicky recipes!
Alioli (garlic mayonnaise sauce)
- 2 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped
- generous pinch of salt
- 2 egg yolks
- about ½ pint olive oil
- juice of ½ lemon
Mash the garlic and salt together to make a paste. Gradually whisk in the egg yolks. Add half the olive oil, a drop at a time, beating very well, until you have a soft buttery sauce. Beat in 1 tablespoon lemon juice. Finish beating in the oil. Season and add more lemon juice to taste.
Tostadas (mushrooms on garlic bread)
- 4 oz mushrooms
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 teaspoon sherry
- French bread
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
Preheat the oven to 180ºC, gas mark 4.
Wipe the mushrooms, remove the stems and slice thinly. Heat 1 tablespoon of oil and when it’s hot add the mushrooms, salt and sherry. Cover and leave to cook gently for about 10 minutes.
While the mushrooms are cooking slice the bread and place in one layer in a baking tray. Drizzle over 2 tablespoonfuls of oil. Bake for about 8 minutes, turning once.
When their liquid has been released drain the mushrooms. Spread each slice of bread with alioli and top with mushrooms. Replace on the baking tray and grill under a hot heat until the garlic mayonnaise just starts to bubble.
Tapenade (olive and anchovy paste)
- 400g Spanish pitted black olives
- 50g anchovy fillets
- 75g capers
- 2 garlic cloves, peeled
- 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1 dessertspoon lemon juice
Drain the olives, anchovies and capers well. Place all the ingredients in a liquidiser or food processor and whiz until you have a paste with a good spreading consistency. Add more oil if necessary.
Tapenade will store in a sealed jar in your fridge for a couple of months. Spread on toast or use to liven up vegetables.