Saladitos, as the name suggests, are both savory (salado) and small (-ito). Sold by the dozen at bakeries across town, these puff-pastry bites come with a variety of fillings, including sobrasada, ham and cheese, pâté, tortilla de patata, tuna and even hot dogs (a Spanish take on pigs in blankets). Made to be eaten by hand, saladitos are usual suspects at birthday parties and aperitivos with friends.
Although they are typically ordered from bakeries, saladitos are simple to make at home with store-bought puff pastry. They add a festive touch to any occasion, even if it’s just cocktail hour for two.
Saladitos have always been on the menu at Mateo’s birthday parties. Given his October 31 birth date and my American nationality, I felt pressure (self-imposed) the first year to add Halloween-themed treats to the snack table. Although the “spooky” seven-layer bean dip topped with sour cream cobwebs went over well among our friends, it was not a hit with the kids.
Ever since, we’ve stuck with local birthday party favorites: crustless white-bread sandwiches filled with ham, cheese, chorizo or Nocilla (Spain’s take on Nutella); plates heaped with gusanitos (puffed snacks akin to Cheetos); sheet-pan pizzas from the local bakery; tortilla de patatas; empanada murciana; and dozens of assorted saladitos.
Like nearly everyone in my neighborhood, we are apartment dwellers, so we never host the party at home. The weather can be iffy on Halloween, so we’ve always rented one of the many party spaces nearby. These budget-friendly locales have two key features: a play structure for the kids, never without a ball pit, and a big refrigerator to keep the beer cold for the parents.
We of course did not host a birthday party this past fall, and I can’t say I missed it. I imagine that birthday parties around the world have a similar frenetic energy that delights children and exhausts parents. The constant whiz of primary-colored balls from ball pits flying through the air. The constant reminders that balls from the ball pit do not belong on the trampoline. Etc.
Here, birthday parties crescendo with the manic tempo of the Spanish birthday song performed by the 1980s children’s music group Parchís—the go-to soundtrack for blowing out the candles. It’s all downhill from there.
Yet I’m happy to see birthday party invitations begin to trickle in again after a long hiatus. We’re slowly beginning to gather again, in small groups, outdoors and with masks. I wonder when we’ll return to the ball pits?
In the meantime, we’ll continue to celebrate with Parchís and festive foods like saladitos.
With store-bought puff pastry, saladitos are a cinch to make at home. Typical fillings include sobrasada (my favorite), chorizo, sausage, ham and cheese, pâté, tortilla de patata, tuna mixed with tomate frito and pieces of hot dog. There are no hard and fast rules, however, so feel free to experiment.Saladitos can be made ahead on the same day, but are best the day they are baked. They’re perfect with lager, preferably ice-cold.The yield depends on the size of your puff pastry sheet. We used 11-inch (30-cm) sheets of puff pastry and got 36 saladitos.
Store-bought puff pastryrectangular or square, preferably all-butter
Sobrasada (see notes), sobrasada and cheese, chorizo, sausage, ham and cheese, pâté, tortilla de patata (cut into strips), tuna with tomate frito (see notes), hot dogs, etc.
Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C/Gas Mark 4) and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
Lay the puff pastry sheet flat on a separate sheet of parchment paper. Using a pizza cutter or knife, cut it into strips with a width of about 3 inches (8 cm).
Spread or arrange your filling of choice down the center of each strip, then roll the strips up tightly around the filling, enclosing it completely.
Cut each strip into 1–1½-inch (2.5–4-cm) pieces and place on the prepared baking sheet. Leave space between the pieces to allow for expansion and bake them in batches if necessary. Brush lightly with the egg and sprinkle with sesame seeds, if using.
Bake for about 15 minutes, or until puffed and golden. Remove from the oven and slide onto a rack with the parchment paper underneath to cool.
Serve at room temperature on the same day.
Sobrasada, the spreadable pimentón-spiked sausage originally from Mallorca, is my favorite saladito filling and is worth seeking out in Spanish specialty shops like the Spanish Table and La Tienda. Sobrasada is also excellent on toast and keeps for months in the refrigerator.The tuna filling in saladitos is similar to that used in the empanada murciana, minus the hard-boiled egg.
When friends invite us over for lunch in Spain, more often than not, I make cookies. While I still think my friends would like me if I showed up empty-handed, or with a bottle of wine (which I do on occasion), cookies express friendship like little else.
These pecan cookies have become an all-time favorite among my family and friends here. Baking enhances the natural sweetness of the pecans, which fuses irresistibly with the vanilla notes and the brown sugar that caramelizes against the baking sheet.
More than a treat for the senses, these cookies are also a way to savor and share a taste of home. Uniquely American (“America’s native nut,” as the American Pecan Council website proclaims), and relatively novel in Spain, pecans surprise more than other cookie additions like chocolate chips, walnuts or raisins. They invite stories of oak canopies, screened porches and languid summer days.
Although my Spanish friends do not share my nostalgia, they seem to know that these cookies are much more than a token hostess gift.
½cup(113 g) unsalted butter,at room temperature and diced
¾cup(150 g) brown sugar(light, dark or muscovado), packed
1egg,at room temperature
1teaspoonpure vanilla extract
1¼cups(150 g) all-purpose flour
1cup(110 g) pecan halves, finely chopped
Preheat the oven to 350ºF/180ºC (see Notes) and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
Cream the butter and sugar together by hand or using a stand mixer with the paddle attachment. Beat in the egg, followed by the vanilla extract and salt.
Stir in the flour and pecans (on low speed if using a mixer) until just incorporated.
Drop small mounds of dough (about a teaspoonful) onto the prepared baking sheet, spacing them about 2 inches (5 cm) apart.
Bake for 8–10 minutes, until lightly browned on top and golden around the edges (see Notes).
Slide onto a rack with the parchment paper underneath to cool.
Deborah Madison says to bake these cookies at 375ºF (190ºC), but they tend to burn too quickly on the bottom at this temperature in my oven, so I bake them at 350ºF (180ºC). Try both and see which works best in your oven.
Sometimes the dough spreads out as it bakes, and sometimes it doesn’t. I’m sure there’s a scientific explanation for this, but it’s nothing to worry about as the cookies are delicious both ways.
The dough freezes well and can be baked without defrosting. To freeze, scoop out teaspoonfuls of dough onto a parchment paper-lined tray and freeze until solid, then transfer to a freezer bag. Bake as indicated, adding a few minutes to the baking time.
Hello everyone! I hope you’re having a lovely spring wherever you are. I wrote about this empanada a while back tucked into another post about Murcia’s annual spring fiestas. There’s no citywide party this year of course, but at least we can make festive foods to honor the season. Here’s an updated recipe for this picnic and party classic.
In her cookbook The Food of Spain, Claudia Roden writes, “Empanadas, large savory pies, are a symbol of Galicia, while empanadillas, small turnovers, are a specialty of the Balearic Islands and Valencia.” To which I ask, “Hey, what about Murcia?” Both empanadas and empanadillas are specialties here, too! Murcia often gets left out like this.
Yet the empanadas in Murcia are some of the best I’ve had anywhere, and they are among the foods I crave when I’ve been away for any length of time. The main ingredient that sets the empanada murciana apart from similar pastries in Spain is the sweet pimentón in the dough, lending it a more intriguing flavor, if you ask me, and a deep golden hue. The traditional filling has just three simple ingredients that are pantry staples in Spain: eggs, olive oil-packed tuna and tomate frito, a sweet and jammy tomato sauce.
These are the basic building blocks, yet every empanada murciana is slightly different, depending on the cook’s preferences. The dough can be made with or without a leavening agent, and the proportions and textures of each ingredient in the filling vary. Some like their tomato sauce chunky, while others like it smooth. In some cases, the sauce oozes out, and in others, there is just enough tomato to hold the other ingredients together. My favorite empanada murciana has flaky olive oil-rich pastry and a balanced blend of fillings.
This is a recipe for the most basic, traditional version of the empanada murciana. Feel free to adapt the filling to your tastes. Some people add roasted red peppers and even peas to the mix, for example. I like to keep it simple.
Here’s hoping that by next year we’ll be able to gather again to celebrate the events that make each place unique! In the meantime, I’ll be eating my fill of festive foods like the empanada murciana.
The tomate fritoIn Spain you can buy good canned tomate frito, which makes assembly quick and easy. If you live in Spain, Murcia-made Sandoval is one of my favorite brands, and Mercadona’s tomate frito artesano is also quite good. I have not tried this recipe with jarred tomato sauces in the US, which tend to be quite different in flavor and texture, but it’s worth a try if you have a favorite. Otherwise, it’s easy, if a bit time consuming, to make your own Spanish-style tomate frito. I’ve used canned whole tomatoes here because I like to control the size of the chunks, but you can also use diced or crushed tomatoes. If you have good fresh tomatoes, by all means use them. The amount of sugar you’ll need depends on the tomatoes you use—the final sauce should be sweet rather than acidic, so correct the acidity as needed. The tomato flavor is quite prominent in the filling, so make sure you love the taste of your sauce.You can make the tomate frito up to several days in advance and store it in the refrigerator. It also freezes well, so go ahead and double the amount for your next empanada murciana.The doughEmpanada dough is relatively easy to make, based on a simple ratio: equal parts olive oil and white wine, to which you add pimentón, salt and as much flour as you need for the dough to come together (“lo que admita,” as my friend Inma says, “as much as it takes”). You can mix the dough in a food processor or by hand.The empanada murciana has two traditional shapes, rectangular and circular. Mine tend to be somewhere between a rectangle and an oval, which isn't noticeable once it’s cut it up. Yield: You can cut the empanada into large pieces for a substantial snack for 6 to 8 people or cut it up into smaller squares (about 1½ in.) as an appetizer or part of a larger picnic spread. The recipe also doubles well, making one extra-large empanada (as pictured in the photos), if you’re serving a crowd.
¼cupextra virgin olive oil
2(28-oz.) cans whole peeled tomatoes, drained and with any bits of skin and the core ends removed (about 4 pounds fresh tomatoes, peeled and diced)
1tablespoonsugarplus more to taste
½teaspoonsaltplus more to taste
⅔cup(150 ml) mild flavored extra-virgin olive oil
⅔cup(150 ml) dry white wine
3¼cups(400 g) all-purpose or pastry flour
1(5-ounce) can tuna packed in olive oil, drained,or use 2 (2.75-oz./80-g) cans
Tomate fritosee recipe below to taste (I usually use about 1 cup)
Prepare the tomate frito
Combine the olive oil, tomatoes, sugar and salt in a Dutch oven. Cook over medium heat, stirring, until the sauce begins to bubble.
Reduce the heat to low and gently simmer, uncovered, for 45–50 minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking and burning. If you have used canned whole tomatoes, break them up with the spoon as you go. Continue cooking until the sauce is reduced, jammy and sweet. Add more sugar and salt to taste.
Allow to cool and use immediately or store in the refrigerator for up to several days or in the freezer for up to several months. Makes about 1½ cups (I use this amount for my empanada).
Prepare the dough
Preheat the oven to 350ºF (180ºC).
In the bowl of a food processor or a large mixing bowl, pulse or stir the olive oil, wine, salt and pimentón together until the seasonings have dissolved.
Add the flour and pulse or stir just until well blended. The dough will be a bit shaggy and sticky, but will not cling to your fingers like pizza dough due to the high olive oil content.
Prepare the filling
Place the tuna in a medium bowl and break it up with a fork. Add the tomate frito and stir until well combined, then stir in the eggs. Alternatively, you can place each ingredient directly onto the dough, starting with the tomate frito.
Assemble and bake
Divide the dough into two pieces, one slightly larger than the other. Between two sheets of parchment, roll the larger piece of dough paper into a rough 12 × 16-inch (30 × 40-cm) rectangle, about ¼-inch (5 mm) thick. Transfer to a baking sheet and carefully peel off the top sheet of parchment paper (reserve to roll out the second piece of dough). Cover the base with the filling, leaving about a ¾-inch (2-cm) border.
Place the second piece of dough on the reserved sheet of parchment paper and top with another sheet. Roll into a rough rectangle slightly smaller than the first (big enough to cover the filling), about ¼-inch (5 mm) thick. Remove the top layer of parchment paper and carefully invert over the empanada base—this is most easily done between two people, both holding one corner of the parchment paper in each hand. That way you can hold the sheet with the dough facing down over the base (the dough sticks to the paper) and center it well before setting it down. Peel off the parchment paper.
Fold the bottom edges of the dough over the top and seal by pressing your finger around the seam, making a dimpled border. Pierce the top of the dough all over with a fork to allow steam to escape, making sure the tines go all the way through.
Brush the surface of the dough with beaten egg, then bake for 30–40 minutes, until golden.
Let cool for about 10 minutes on the baking sheet, then carefully transfer to a cooling rack with the parchment paper underneath (once again, this is easiest with two people).
Let cool to room temperature, then cut into squares.
Serve with ice-cold lager, or with vermouth over ice with a slice of lemon and a few anchovy-stuffed olives (as pictured below).
Tortilla de patatas (a.k.a. Spanish omelet or Spanish tortilla)
Spanish cuisine varies widely from region to region, but the tortilla de patatas unites them all.
Made with a few staple ingredients—oil, potatoes, eggs and sometimes onions—tortillas are deceptively simple. Although the ingredients are basic, making a tortilla can be daunting. Especially if (like me) you don’t have a lifetime of tortilla memories in your brain, packed with visual and tactile cues, as many Spaniards do.
While it doesn’t take a pastry chef’s precision, several factors can make or break the tortilla. One is the potatoes. As they poach, will they disintegrate? Or will they hold together just enough, without remaining hard at the core? Much depends on the quality, texture and age of the potato you use. This is perhaps the biggest wild card, as you don’t always know how your potatoes will behave until they’re in the oil.
The fat, too, is also important, of course—a mild flavored olive oil is generally best—but this factor is easy to control before you begin.
The most unnerving step for relative tortilla novices like me is the flip. As the Spanish expression dar la vuelta a la tortilla suggests (it literally means to flip a tortilla, and figuratively to turn a tide), the flip involves a decisive reversal. And, like turning a tide, it also requires premeditation: you must have a truly nonstick pan and a plate or lid of the right size, or the flip will fail.
The ideal tortilla de patatas
In Spain, what constitutes the ideal tortilla de patatas is the subject of eternal debate.
With or without onions is the main point of contention. Spaniards can generally be divided into three tortilla camps: vehemently pro- or anti-onion (the concebollistas and sincebollistas, respectively) and those, like my husband, who can go either way.
Other existential differences include how the potatoes are sliced (thin, thick, or diced) or fried (to a crisp or slowly poached); the proportion of potato to egg; how set the eggs in the center are; and on and on. Usually, the tortilla one’s grandmother or mother makes is the gold standard.
Just as you can find a bad croissant in France, you can also find bad tortillas in Spain. A dry or cake-like texture, burned eggs, potatoes that are more al dente than tender—these are all defects of a bad tortilla.
Plenty of epic tortilla fails like the one pictured above made the rounds of social media in Spain under confinement last spring, when those who normally leave the tortilla making to their moms took to the stoves to prepare their beloved comfort food.
Ultimately, the ideal tortilla de patatas is a matter of taste. I’m with José Capel, the food critic for El País, on this one: me gustan todas, con y sin , a condición de que sean buenas (I like them all, with or without [onions], as long as they’re good).
In other words, you’re free to add what you want, but don’t call it a tortilla de patatas (unless you want your ten minutes of fame in Spanish newspapers and Twitter feeds).
Adding chorizo is one of the main crimes we Anglosajones commit when making a Spanish omelet.
As this Spanish writer says, “Chorizo is a fantastic invention, but tossing chorizo into a beer does not make it a Spanish beer.” The same goes for omelets.
Martha Stewart has committed all of the Spanish tortilla sins in her versions—with chorizo, bell pepper, or this baked version that “maintains its Spanish accent with a pinch of saffron.”
I’m sure those egg dishes are delicious, but they’re not tortillas de patatas.
So yes, tortillas are simple. But there are certain unwritten rules to follow. And there’s a bit of magic that occurs in the skillet as the humble ingredients come together into an excellent tortilla. That magic comes with observation and, above all, practice.
As I mention above, there are infinite ways to prepare a tortilla de patatas. To find your favorite, experiment with different varieties of potatoes, fats (olive oil, sunflower oil or even lard), thicknesses, potato-to-egg ratios, and levels of doneness in the center. It may take a few tries to find "the one."This recipe is based on my gold standard, my mother-in-law's tortilla—I someday hope to be able to whip one up as she does, without thinking twice. Her tortilla is on the thin side, and the center is just set. It’s tender and moist, but does not ooze out the center when you break into it, as some prefer. Sometimes she adds onions, sometimes she doesn’t, and I like it both ways. It’s perfect for cutting up into small squares and spearing with toothpicks for picnics and fiestas.You can make a bigger or smaller tortilla—a good rule of thumb, according to my mother-in-law, is 4 to 5 eggs per 2¼ pounds (1 kg) of potatoes (although this, too, is a matter of taste). The amount of oil you need depends on the size of your skillet.For the flip, a light, perfectly nonstick skillet is more than half the battle. You also need a plate (or a pan lid with a smooth lip) that has a larger diameter than the skillet and that is stable when you invert it over the skillet—you don’t want the plate sliding around as you flip. You can also use a plate that fits just inside the skillet, with no room to spare. (To take the thrill out, you could buy a double pan, sold as a tortilla pan in Spain and as a frittata pan in the US.)
2¼ pounds(1 kg) waxy potatoessuch as Yukon Gold
Mild olive oil or sunflower oil for poaching the potatoes
½–1medium onionvery thinly sliced (optional)
4–5large eggsat room temperature
Peel the potatoes, then cut them in half lengthwise and place flat on the cutting board. Cut into thin half-moon slices crosswise (about ¼-inch thick). Alternatively, you can hold the potato over a bowl and cut off thin, slightly irregular slices with a paring knife, as my mother-in-law does.
Rinse the potatoes in several changes of cold water until the water is clear when you swish them around. Drain and pat dry.
Pour about 1½ inches of oil into a medium skillet and heat it over high heat until shimmering. If you drop a piece of potato into it, it should sizzle upon contact. Add the potatoes, a few pinches of salt, and a little more oil if needed to cover. Stir to coat the potatoes, then lower the heat to medium. Cook until the potatoes are completely tender, all the way to the core (15-20 minutes)—you’re looking to poach them rather than fry them, although a little browning around the edges once the potatoes are fully cooked won’t hurt (depending on who you ask). Rotate them delicately from time to time as they cook, and don't worry if they begin to break apart a bit (you just don't want an oily puree). If you're adding onions, add when the potatoes are partially cooked, about halfway through the cooking time.
Using a slotted spatula or spoon, transfer the potatoes to a colander set over a bowl to let them drain. Taste for salt and sprinkle with a bit more if you wish. When the oil has cooled, strain it through a fine-mesh sieve and save it in a jar to make your next tortilla. Wipe the skillet clean.
Place the eggs in a bowl and add one pinch of salt per egg. Whisk until well blended. Add the potatoes and gently stir until coated.
Heat 1 tablespoon of the potato-poaching oil in the skillet over medium-low heat and pour in the potato and egg mixture. Using a flexible spatula, tuck the egg in around the edges of the skillet to make a rounded side and to ensure the tortilla isn’t sticking. As the tortilla cooks, shake the pan a bit to prevent sticking. Cook until the egg is set and lightly golden on the bottom but still a bit runny on top (about 5 minutes).
Okay, here it comes. Invert your plate of choice over the skillet and place your hand firmly over the top. Grab the skillet handle in the other hand, lift it off the burner, and flip it over quickly and decisively. If all has gone well, your tortilla is now on the plate. Return the skillet to the burner and slide the tortilla back in with the uncooked side down. Tuck in the edges again and continue to cook for 4 to 5 more minutes, until the tortilla is just set in the center, or done to your liking.
Either flip or slide the tortilla out onto a clean, dry plate.
Serve warm or at room temperature, cut into wedges or mini squares.
Despite my best intentions to keep bread fresh, I sometimes wait too long to make French toast or freeze it, and it’s beyond pleasantly crisp. This often happens with supermarket baguettes, which are irresistible when recently baked at midday, but rubbery by the evening and hard enough to break teeth by the following day.
I usually toss such bread into a cloth bag in my kitchen to make bread crumbs “someday.” But, admittedly, these hard bits often end up in the trash can, eventually, in moments of clutter-clearing frenzy.
At least they used to, for I’ve recently discovered a new favorite way to use bread that is past the French toast window—the painssaladière.
Like the pissaladière, the traditional Provençal tart, this version consists of a thin crust topped with heaps of sweet, slow-cooked onions and briny olives and anchovies. But in the case of the painssaladière, the crust is made with recycled stale bread (hence the French word for bread, pain, in the name).
Now I keep all of my odd bits of stale bread until I have enough to make a painssaladière.
A second life for unsold baguettes
More than a revelation and waste-saving measure in my home kitchen, this recipe also reflects a growing trend in France, where bakers are joining efforts to reduce boulangerie waste.
In this episode of the recommendable French food podcast, On va déguster (where I discovered the painssaladière), journalist Estérelle Payany reports on initiatives to reduce the over 50,000 tons of unsold bread destined for the trash heap in France every year.
The Kolectou project, for instance, has recuperated nearly 30 tons (and counting) of unsold bread via TADAAM, a cake mix of sorts made with ground recycled bread for professional and home bakers alike.
Expliceat, another French zero-waste initiative, has recycled countless baguettes with its patented bread-recycling machine, le Crumbler (love it). Around France, a growing number of bakers are turning their unsold bread into cookies, muffins, tart crusts, and new breads—converting literally tons of would-be waste into an income source—thanks to le Crumbler. “It’s the best investment I’ve made in my thirty years in the profession,” says one happy baker.
I think about these bakers and le Crumbler as I grind up stale bread for my painssaladière and can’t help but smile.
Adapted from On va déguster.This recipe invites improvisation with different types of bread and cheese in the crust, which is tender and somewhat spongy, depending on how thick you make it (feel free to experiment with different pan sizes to find your perfect thickness). I've recently been tossing herbs into the crust batter for extra flavor, and particuarly like herbes de Provence with the onion topping.I’ve only made the onion version so far, because I love it, but can imagine endless possibilities for the toppings, too. I always add anchovies (after baking), but, as you can see in the photo, I keep half anchovy-free for my son. Excellent warm or at room temperature, the painssaladière, like the coca, is great for picnics.
For the onions
3½lb.(1.5 kg) yellow or white onions
Extra-virgin olive oil(optional)
Leavesof 3 sprigs thyme and 1 sprig fresh rosemary, finely chopped (see Notes)
3anchovy fillets, finely chopped, or 1 tbsp colatura di alici (optional)
For the crust
4½ oz.(125 g) stale bread(see Notes)
1cup(250 ml) whole milk or water
3tbsp(30 g) flour
½cup(50 g) grated hard cheese(see Notes)
1tspherbes de Provence or another herb(optional)
For the topping
Black olives,pitted or not
Drained anchovy fillets(optional)
Extra-virgin olive oil,for drizzling
Salt and pepper
Prepare the onions
Thinly slice the onions.
Place the onions in a Dutch oven with the bay leaf, a few pinches of salt, and a generous drizzle of olive oil, if you like (see Notes). Cover and cook over very low heat, stirring occasionally, until tender, jammy and lightly golden, 1-2 hours (depending on the burner strength). Uncover toward the end of the cooking time to allow excess liquid to evaporate. (Don't reduce too much, though, as the onions will continue to cook in the oven.)
Stir in the herbs and season with salt and pepper.
Stir in the anchovies or colatura di alici, if using.
Prepare the crust
Preheat the oven to 350ºF (180ºC) and grease a 12-inch (30-cm) tart pan with parchment paper. (I tried greasing the pan with oil as per the original recipe, and the tart stuck to the pan).
Cut or break the bread into big pieces and soak it in the milk for 15 minutes, until more or less softened. Stir and break up the bread more as necessary to ensure even soaking.
Drain any excess liquid (I’ve never had any), then process until smooth in a food processor or blender.
Stir in the flour and grated cheese until well incorporated. Add the herbes de Provence, if using. Taste for salt, then stir in the egg.
Spread the batter across the base of your tart pan in a more-or-less even layer with the back of a spoon or by pressing with plastic wrap—the batter is quite sticky.
Blind-bake the crust for about 15 minutes, until completely set and lightly golden around the edges.
Remove from the oven and cover with the onions.
Arrange the olives over the top. If you’re using anchovies, you can add them here, too—I personally prefer to add them after baking.
Bake for 30–40 minutes, until the onions and crust are golden.
Serve warm or at room temperature.
The times I’ve made this tart, I haven’t had the fresh herbs on hand, so have used about 1 tsp of herbes de Provence with good results.
I suppose you could use all shades of stale bread here, from slightly stale to hard as a rock. I’ve always used the latter. And I’ve only used French-type breads in the recipe, rather than sandwich bread, but it’s worth a try. Combinations of white and multigrain breads work well, too.
As for the cheese, I’ve always used Parmesan, because that’s what I typically have on hand, but the original recipe suggests cheeses like Cantal, Salers and sheep’s milk Tomme.
The original recipe says to cook the onions in their own juices without adding oil, but I always add a good drizzle.
Like many of you around the world, I’ve baked more bread since March than ever before in my life*. Out of the infinite breads to choose from, I’ve felt most drawn to those that require no or minimal kneading. Although I feel the romantic tug of sourdough love stories, the reputation of this ancient bread-making technique has thus far deterred me. Words like high-maintenance and fickle come to mind—two adjectives I’ve had enough of over the past year.
This make-ahead, slow-rise and nearly-no-knead coca is, too me, a perfect bread for these troubled times. The antithesis of high-maintenance and fickle, this recipe produces consistently excellent results with minimum effort, as long as you plan ahead. It is also versatile (another adjective I value more than ever these days) and welcomes improvisation with any toppings you have on hand.
Let’s talk cocas
Also known as tortas, cocas are the Spanish take on flatbread. They come in countless sweet and savory forms throughout Catalonia, the Balearic Islands, Valencia and Murcia. Some cocas are sponge cakes, some are flaky and crisp, and others, like this recipe, are akin to their more famous Mediterranean cousin, the pizza. In fact, according to the Mercado Little Spain website (the José Andrés project), “cocas are the original pizza.” Of course José Andrés would say that.
Although it’s impossible to know which really came first, the history of the coca and pizza are undoubtedly intertwined in the ancient Mediterranean past.
While I see this humility as a strength (there is no holy grail like the New York or Neapolitan pizza hanging overhead as you make a coca), José Capel, the food critic for the Spanish daily El País, laments that this “jewel” of Spanish cuisine has been eclipsed by the pizza. He lauds efforts like those of chef Pep Romany in Alicante to honor the coca by making it a star in local haute cuisine.
“Will Spanish cocarías (coca shops) take off in the future?” Capel asks in this 2017 article, “or will we continue to speak only of pizzas and never of cocas?”
While I can’t imagine Spanish cocarías supplanting New York pizzerias any time soon, I’m all for championing the coca movement from my home kitchen.
I invite you to join me.
*According to NPD BookScan, bread cookbook sales in the US alone grew by 145% in the first three quarters of 2020*.
I discovered this coca recipe in El Comidista, the always entertaining and inspiring food section of the Spanish daily newspaper El País. Spanish cooks use a variety of leaveners to make their cocas rise, ranging from sourdough to beer. This recipe uses a small amount of yeast and a long rising time (at least overnight) in the refrigerator, resulting in excellent flavor and texture. It is based on Spanish bread guru Ibán Yarza’s genius Unidad Basica de Masa (Basic Dough Unit), a simple, versatile dough. The opposite of high-maintenance. As for the toppings, the sky’s the limit. I’ve provided some ideas below, but feel free to improvise with what’s in your fridge. Excellent warm or at room temperature, cocas are a good make-ahead option for a picnic or tapas spread.
Makes 2 cocas
For the dough
Scant 1cup(240 ml) water
2¾cups(350 g) all-purpose or bread flour, or 2 cups (250 g) all-purpose or bread flour + 1 scant cup (100 g) spelt or whole wheat flour (I love the spelt version.)
1½tsp(7 g) salt
3gfresh yeast or ⅓ tsp (1 g) instant yeast
Escalivada (my favorite),with or without anchovies (see Notes)
Roasted red peppers,with or without sardines
Caramelized onions,with or without pine nuts
Thinly sliced veggies like zucchini, onions and tomatoes,drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with salt
Tapenade and goat cheese
Anything else that strikes your fancy
Extra-virgin olive oil, sugar and pine nuts
A day ahead
Place the water in a large bowl or dough tub, add the yeast and swish to dissolve. Add the remaining ingredients and stir until just blended. Cover and let rest for 10 minutes.
Without removing the dough from the bowl, flatten it into a rough rectangle with your fingertips. The dough will be very shaggy and sticky (as you can see in the first photo in the original recipe). Fold the dough in three, business letter-style, then flatten and fold it in three once more.
Let the dough rest, covered, for 15 minutes, then flatten and fold in three twice more as above.
Cover well and refrigerate overnight (or up to 2 days).
The next day
Scrape the dough onto a well-floured surface and divide it into two equal pieces. With your fingertips or a rolling pin, flatten each piece to a thickness of about 1/4 inch. You can make any shape you like—circles, ovals and rectangles are all common coca shapes. To fit two on the same baking sheet, I like making long, narrow ovals, measuring roughly 13 x 5 inches each. If the dough shrinks back easily, let it rest for 10 to 15 minutes and try again.
Transfer the dough to a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and cover loosely with a kitchen towel or plastic wrap. Let rise for 1–1½ hours, until puffy.
Preheat the oven to 475°F (250°C). Brush the entire surface with a thin layer of extra-virgin olive oil and cover with your topping(s) of choice. Less is more here—if the toppings are too dense, the crust underneath will remain soggy.
If you are making a sweet coca, use your fingertips to make dimples in the dough, then sprinkle it with sugar.
Bake for 10–15 minutes, until the coca is golden.
Enjoy warm or at room temperature.
Click here for an escalivada recipe I published on this blog a while back. I like to add the anchovies after baking so that the flavor melts into the coca, but the anchovies do not disintegrate.
This time of year, we literally get to enjoy the fruits of my husband’s labor. He’s an apricot breeder, which means that throughout the short and intense season in May and June, quickly ripening apricots overtake our kitchen counters and refrigerator shelves and drawers. We eat them fresh, of course, but there are so many that we also make tarts and jams and share bag-loads of apricots with anyone willing to take them. If you lived nearby, I would share apricots with you, too.
If you’re not an apricot fan, it may be because you’ve never had a great one. Even in Mediterranean climates, where apricots thrive, good ones can be hard to come by. They do not tend to travel well, and if they don’t turn mushy in the trunk of your car on the way home, one day in a warm kitchen will do the trick.
But if you can get your hands on a great apricot, and you are not already an apricot fan, one bite may convert you as it did me. A great apricot threatens to overpower the senses—the charming red blush on the skin, the sunny orange flesh, the floral and sweet yet enticingly tart aroma and flavor. I discovered this fact relatively late in life, after moving to Spain. In fact, I don’t recall any apricot before this time that left any impression on me at all besides the “Apricot” doll from the Strawberry Shortcake collection. Although I’ve accumulated far more delicious apricot memories in the years I’ve lived in Spain, I nevertheless think of Apricot every time I step into my kitchen this time of year. What did they ever put in her hair to make such an indelible scent?
For my son, it will be a different story. Apricot was one of his first fruits, and his papá’s apricots will be one of his earliest food memories. Perhaps someday he’ll long for this taste of his youth.
I hope you can sink your teeth into some great apricots this season. And if they ripen a bit too much, don’t fret, make a tart! The tart pictured below, Verlet’s Apricot Tart from Patricia Wells, is one of my favorite ways to enjoy and share the season’s bounty. This is of course a French tart—in Spain, the most traditional way to eat apricots is the way you see my son eating his in the photo above. But since I began making it twelve years ago, Verlet’s tart has become a perennial crowd favorite among my Spanish family and friends.
Baking intensifies the tartness of the apricots, which complements the sweetness of the buttery crust. With a dash of almond extract and a sprinkling of ground almonds, this pastry also takes brilliant advantage of the affinity between apricots and almonds, two stone fruits in the same genus (Prunus).
With so many new memories, the scent of apricots in my kitchen grows richer every year, evoking so much more than a fragrant childhood doll.
Since I follow the online recipe more or less to a tee, I have provided a link rather than writing up the recipe here. The only modification I make is that I do not add almond extract to the filling, because I find the bitter almond taste stands out too much. But I do love the subtle flavor that the ground almonds add to the cream. If you cannot get good fresh apricots, this tart is also delicious with peaches.
What are your favorite apricot recipes? I’m always looking for more ways to use them ;).
This cake has become a lifeline for me in the long stretches of time between breakfast and lunch and lunch and dinner in Spain. With 50% whole-wheat flour and no refined sugar, it is a slightly healthier take on the classic Spanish bizcocho, or teacake, made with olive oil, yogurt, orange juice and orange zest. The cake is luxuriously moist and packed with bright citrus flavor. With a cup of coffee and a square or two of dark chocolate, it has gotten me through many mornings and afternoons.
On the surface, I have adapted to the late lunch and dinner times in Spain. Unless we want to eat alone, we must adapt to the local rhythm, wherever we are. But I realize that I still see the Spanish mealtime hours with foreign eyes, particularly now that I have a child. Trying to feed my fussy two year old his “early” dinner at 8 pm, for instance, I daydreamed about my friends in the States who had their children in bed by this time, cutting the witching hour short.
Now that my son is four—and more Spaniard than American—the hours have gotten easier. He no longer melts down during our (early) 8:30 pm weeknight dinners. In his perspective, this is dinnertime on school nights—any earlier would mean less playground time. And 2 pm, when he gets out of school, is, for him, a normal time for lunch. In his second year of the infantil cycle—for children aged three to six—his school day starts at 9 am and ends at 2 pm, without a lunch break! (My need to add an exclamation point here betrays my lingering outsider perspective…)
With such late meal times, snacks are vital, especially for children. The mid-morning almuerzo and the mid-afternoon merienda have to be substantial enough to sustain energy and keep melt downs (my son’s and my own) at bay.
Rather than a lunch, I pack a snack for my son in his school bag, following guidelines from his teacher (see the chart below) that encourage variety and discourage too many convenience foods. (As in many industrialized countries, childhood obesity is on the rise in Spain, which is a whole other topic.) So it’s a sandwich on Monday, cookies or homemade bizcocho (quick bread or teacake) on Tuesdays, fruit on Wednesdays, cereals and grains on Thursdays and dairy on Fridays.
This orange olive oil cake, which I pack along with nuts and dried fruit, has become one of my staples for my son’s Tuesday snack. It has also become one of my own snack-time staples.
With an olive oil cake on the counter, the Spanish mealtime hours do not feel so foreign. I am at home.
I make this cake in my Thermomix, the do-it-all kitchen appliance from German engineers, although you could, of course, also use a stand mixer, another type of food processor or mix the batter by hand. The recipe is adapted from a Spanish Thermomix recipe and calls for grinding the sugar into superfine crystals, which in theory makes the cake more tender. I haven’t yet tried making the cake without the grinding step, so can't vouch for the results.I love the crisp edges the day the cake is made, but think the flavor is even better after a day, covered, on the counter.
1¼loosely packed cups180 g unrefined brown sugar
Zest of 1 orange
½cup(120 g) plain or Greek-style yogurt
Scant ½ cup(100 g) mild-flavored extra-virgin olive oil (see Notes)
¼cupfresh-squeezed orange juicefrom about ½ orange
1½teaspoonsbaking powder(see Notes)
¾cup(100 g) all-purpose flour
¾cup(100 g) whole wheat flour
Preheat the oven to 350ºF and butter and flour a 9-inch round cake or springform pan.
Grind the brown sugar into very fine crystals in a food processor. Add the orange zest and pulse several times to grind the zest and evenly distribute it throughout the sugar.
Add the eggs to the sugar and mix on low speed until pale and frothy.
Add the olive oil, yogurt and orange juice and mix until blended.
Sift in the flours, baking powder, baking soda and salt and mix on low speed until just blended.
Pour the batter into the greased pan and bake until the cake is golden and a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean, about 30 minutes.
Allow the cake to cool in the pan for 10 minutes and then remove it to a cooling rack. Serve once the cake is completely cool. If you like, you can dust it with confectioners’ sugar for decoration.
This cake keeps beautifully on the counter, covered, for several days.
Be sure to choose an olive oil whose flavor you enjoy, because you will taste it in the cake. If you cannot find a mild extra virgin olive oil, try “light” olive oil US, which has been refined and is not as pungent.
If I had to capture early spring in Murcia in just a few words, fava beans would have to be among them. In the markets, woven baskets overflow with tangles of bright green fava bean pods. Shelled, the beans make their way to the table in a variety of traditional dishes, from omelets to stews to sautés.
Many locals like to snack directly on the raw beans, which are firm and slightly bitter. This time of year, it is not unusual for restaurants to drop a handful of pods on your table to peel and enjoy like peanuts.
Growing up in Florida, fava beans were not on my culinary radar. But since I moved to Murcia nearly a decade ago, I have come to love this legume—among the most ancient Mediterranean crops—in all of its guises. Every year, I particularly look forward to making this early spring stew, inspired by a similar recipe in one of my favorite Spanish cookbooks, The New Spanish Tableby Anya von Bremzen.
The stew is loaded not not only with fresh fava beans, but also artichokes, another of my favorite vegetables at their prime in early spring. Sherry and serrano ham give the dish a decidedly Spanish flair. As the name “stew” suggests, this is not a flash-cooked affair. Instead, the vegetables simmer until tender with garlic and onions in a rich, ham-infused broth. Raw garlic and parsley pounded to a paste and stirred in before serving add bright speckles of spring green and a lively garlic kick.
Early spring stew with fava beans, artichokes and serrano ham
Adapted from The New Spanish Table by Anya von BremzenWhen using fresh fava beans and artichokes, this is not a quick recipe—there is a lot of paring and shelling to be done. But your time will be rewarded. If you have young children in the house, shelling fava beans is a perfect task for little hands. In fact, my four-year-old son loved the work so much that he got mad at my husband for shelling too quickly and claimed the final handful for himself! I haven’t actually tried the stew with frozen artichoke hearts and fava beans, but I’m sure that’s delicious, too, if you cannot get the ingredients fresh. Von Bremzen suggests fresh or frozen peas or soybeans as a fava bean substitute.Von Bremzen's recipe also calls for green beans and potatoes, but I wanted to focus on my favorite ingredients, so used more artichokes and fava beans and left these other vegetables out. She has you do all of the prep work in advance, but I like to prepare the artichokes while the onions are slowly cooking with the ham to streamline the process a bit and to give the onions richer flavor.Enjoy this early spring stew as a tapa, side dish (it's excellent with fish) or light meal, with bread, of course!
11/4-inch thick slice serrano ham or proscuitto, about 1.5 ounces (40 grams), diced
4large garlic clovesminced and divided
1 1/2 to 2cupschicken brothplus more as needed
2tablespoonsminced flat-leaf parsley
Cook the shelled fava beans in a pot of salted boiling water until they are just tender, about 4 minutes, depending on their size. Drain the beans and run them under cold water to stop the cooking process. Once the fava beans are cool enough to handle, gently press them between your fingers to pop the tender green centers out of the skins. Set the beans aside.
Meanwhile, heat the olive oil over medium heat in a large pot. Stir in the onions and diced ham and reduce the heat to low. Let the onions slowly cook, stirring occasionally, while you prepare the artichokes. Reduce the heat to very low if the onions begin to brown.
Fill a medium bowl with water and squeeze in the juice from the lemon. Clean and quarter the artichokes (here are some excellent instructions), dropping the quarters into the bowl to prevent browning. Since the stems are also delicious when cooked, I like to peel them and leave a 1- to 1 1/2-inch tail.
When the artichokes are ready, the onions should be soft and beginning to turn golden (it took me nearly 30 minutes to prepare the artichokes – I'm slow). Stir in half of the garlic and the artichoke quarters. Reduce the heat to low, partially cover the pot and cook, stirring occasionally, until the artichokes have begun to soften, about 10 minutes. Add another tablespoon of olive oil if the pot seems dry. Pour in the sherry and increase the heat to high. Cook the sherry for about 1 minute, allowing it to reduce slightly.
Add enough chicken broth to just cover the vegetables and bring the liquid to a simmer. Cook the stew over low heat, partially covered, until the artichokes are completely tender, about 20 to 30 minutes, depending on their size. Add more broth as needed to keep the artichokes barely covered. Once the artichokes are done, add the fava beans and cook until they are tender, about 5 more minutes.
Place the parsley and remaining garlic in a mortar and pound them into a paste using a pestle. A pinch of salt can help. Stir the paste into the stew and cook for another minute to allow the flavors to blend. Season with salt and pepper to taste and serve warm.
Spring in Murcia has begun with a cold north wind, but I still feel summer breathing down my neck. Come April, suffocating heat could appear any day, robbing us of a proper spring. It happens every year. The pressure is on to crank up the oven and bake and roast as much as I can while I still appreciate the added warmth in my kitchen. This is a perfect time to make escalivada, one of my favorite foods in Spain.
Simple, versatile escalivada—a roasted Mediterranean vegetable dish of Catalan origin—is cherished throughout the country. It can be a salad, a side dish or a condiment, and it pairs perfectly with other Spanish favorites like jamón and tortilla de patatas. The exact composition can vary, but most versions of escalivada (sometimes spelled escalibada) contain roasted red peppers, eggplants and onions; tomatoes and garlic are other popular additions.
In Catalan, the name escalivada means cooked over a flame or embers, the traditional means of making the dish. In fact, purists argue that the only way to cook escalivada is over fire, and that the dish is missing something essential without the smoky flavor the flames impart, although many home cooks make a respectable escalivada in the oven. As an apartment dweller myself, I say that a delicious oven-roasted escalivada is far superior to no escalivada at all.
One of the best things about escalivada is that it is a cinch to prepare. To make an indoor version, you simply place your vegetables in a hot oven on a baking sheet and forget about them for an hour or so, removing them when the heat has done its work to make them ultra-tender and sweet on the inside. The hardest part (let’s not get too lazy here) is peeling the vegetables once they are cool enough to handle, removing any seeds and tearing the tender insides into thin strips. Minimal dressing is all you need to enhance the natural flavors—a sprinkling of fine sea salt and a generous drizzle of the most flavorful extra virgin olive oil you have.
The result is a jammy escalivada that you can eat throughout the week in a number of different guises, if you make a large enough batch. Alone, escalivada is excellent with fish or meat (or jamón) or simply for dunking bread. You can also eat it as a main-dish salad, topped with fillets of high quality olive-oil packed tuna and some black olives. Or use it on flatbread or pizza, or chopped up and mixed with eggs to make a veggie-packed Spanish omelet or scramble. You get the idea. One of my favorite ways to eat escalivada is on toasted country bread with anchovies, whose saltiness beautifully complements the sweet vegetables.
If only I’d made more….Well, there’s always next week, as long as the north wind continues to blow.
I've come across two different approaches to roasting the vegetables for escalivada in the oven—the minimalist approach, i.e., roasting the vegetables uncovered on a baking sheet (parchment-lined or not) and the slightly-more-involved approach, i.e., brushing the vegetables lightly with olive oil and wrapping them individually in aluminum foil before placing them on the baking sheet. I've tried both and have to say I like a blend of both methods. I preferred the red peppers and eggplants roasted uncovered and the onion brushed and wrapped, because the onion gets tender more quickly this way. I've written the recipe accordingly, but recommend trying the different methods yourself to see which you prefer.The quantities are also subjective. I particularly love the sweetness of the red peppers in this dish, so used three big ones, but, of course, feel free to adjust the amounts according to your taste, what looks good at the market and how much space you have on your baking sheet (my oven in Spain is smaller than most ovens in the US). When adding garlic, keep in mind that the flavor will intensify over time if you have any escalivada left over.As for the sizes of the vegetables, I like to use smallish eggplants, which I find have a sweeter flavor, and small to medium onions, which don’t take forever to roast.
2-3small to medium eggplants
2small to medium onions
6tablespoonsflavorful extra-virgin olive oilor more to taste
2-3garlic clovessliced in half lengthwise
Preheat the oven to 400ºF (200ºC). Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
Rinse and dry the vegetables. Place the red peppers on the baking sheet whole. Pierce the eggplants with a fork and place them on the baking sheet. Lightly brush the onions with olive oil, wrap them in aluminum foil and place them on the baking sheet.
Bake the vegetables until they are collapsed, completely tender (check the eggplant and onion by piercing with a fork) and charred in places. In my oven, this took about 45 minutes for the eggplants and peppers and about 1 ¼ hours for the onions. When you remove the peppers from the oven, place them in a covered bowl or in a sealed plastic bag for 15 minutes to allow them to steam, making it easier to peel them later. When the peppers are cool enough to handle, peel them, remove the seeds and cut or tear the flesh into thin strips, working over a bowl to catch the juices. Peel the eggplants and cut or tear them into strips similar in size to the pepper strips. Finally, peel the onions and slice them into strips.
Arrange the vegetables in a single layer on a serving plate, either by type or alternating rows. Tuck the garlic slices between the layers, drizzle everything generously with olive oil and season with salt to taste. Allow your escalivada to rest for 30 minutes at room temperature so the flavors can develop. If you store your escalivada for any longer, be sure the vegetables are covered with olive oil, cover the dish and place it in the fridge. Allow the escalivada to come to room temperature before serving.
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