Empanada murciana

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.

Empanada murciana

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.

Empanada murciana

The tomate frito
In 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 dough
Empanada 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.

Ingredients

Tomate frito

  • ¼ cup extra 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)
  • 1 tablespoon sugar plus more to taste
  • ½ teaspoon salt plus more to taste

Dough

  • cup (150 ml) mild flavored extra-virgin olive oil
  • cup (150 ml) dry white wine
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons sweet pimentón
  • cups (400 g) all-purpose or pastry flour
  • 1 egg lightly beaten

Filling

  • 1 (5-ounce) can tuna packed in olive oil, drained, or use 2 (2.75-oz./80-g) cans
  • Tomate frito see recipe below to taste (I usually use about 1 cup)
  • 2 hard-boiled eggs diced

Instructions

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

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).

Can I add chorizo?

While modernist chefs have deconstructed the tortilla de patatas, and Ferran Adrià has famously made a tortilla with potato chips, if you venture beyond the three to four classic ingredients, you’re making a different dish.

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.

Let’s get to it!

Tortilla de Patatas

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.)

Ingredients

  • pounds (1 kg) waxy potatoes such as Yukon Gold
  • Mild olive oil or sunflower oil for poaching the potatoes
  • ½–1 medium onion very thinly sliced (optional)
  • 4–5 large eggs at room temperature
  • Salt

Instructions

  • 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.

Painssaladière – Recycled Bread & Onion Tart

Beyond breadcrumbs

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.

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Painssaladière – Recycled Bread & Onion Tart

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.

Ingredients

For the onions

  • lb. (1.5 kg) yellow or white onions
  • 1 bay leaf
  • Extra-virgin olive oil (optional)
  • Leaves of 3 sprigs thyme and 1 sprig fresh rosemary, finely chopped (see Notes)
  • 3 anchovy fillets, finely chopped, or 1 tbsp colatura di alici (optional)

For the crust

  • oz. (125 g) stale bread (see Notes)
  • 1 cup (250 ml) whole milk or water
  • 3 tbsp (30 g) flour
  • ½ cup (50 g) grated hard cheese (see Notes)
  • 1 tsp herbes de Provence or another herb (optional)
  • 1 egg

For the topping

  • Black olives, pitted or not
  • Drained anchovy fillets (optional)
  • Extra-virgin olive oil, for drizzling
  • Salt and pepper

Instructions

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.

Notes

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. The original recipe says to cook the onions in their own juices without adding oil, but I always add a good drizzle.

Coca – Spanish Flatbread

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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.

Cocas, like pizzas, are an ingenious combination of basic ingredients abundant in the region: wheat flour, olive oil, salt and seasonal produce. Although there are traditional cocas (like the coca de trempó, coca de recapte and coca de San Juan), there is no single authentic recipe, and certainly no international regulations like those of the Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana. The coca is unpretentious, whatever you want it to be.

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*.

Coca—Spanish Flatbread

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.

Ingredients

Makes 2 cocas

    For the dough

    • Scant 1 cup (240 ml) water
    • cups (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.)
    • tsp (7 g) salt
    • 3 g fresh yeast or ⅓ tsp (1 g) instant yeast

    Topping ideas

    • Escalivada (my favorite), with or without anchovies (see Notes)
    • Roasted red peppers, with or without sardines
    • Caramelized onions, with or without pine nuts
    • Sobrasada
    • 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

    Instructions

    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.

    Notes

    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.
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    Apricots!

    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.

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    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.

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    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.

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    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.

    Verlet’s Apricot Tart from The Food Lovers’ Guide to Paris by Patricia Wells

    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 ;).

    Sustenance – Orange olive oil cake with whole wheat flour

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    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.

    Orange Olive Oil Cake with Whole Wheat Flour

    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.

    Ingredients

    • loosely packed cups 180 g unrefined brown sugar
    • Zest of 1 orange
    • 3 eggs
    • ½ cup (120 g) plain or Greek-style yogurt
    • Scant ½ cup (100 g) mild-flavored extra-virgin olive oil (see Notes)
    • ¼ cup fresh-squeezed orange juice from about ½ orange
    • teaspoons baking powder (see Notes)
    • ¼ teaspoon baking soda
    • ¾ cup (100 g) all-purpose flour
    • ¾ cup (100 g) whole wheat flour
    • 1 pinch salt
    • Confectioners’ sugar optional

    Instructions

    • 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.

    Notes

    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.

    Early spring stew with fava beans, artichokes and serrano ham

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    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.

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    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.

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    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 cookbooksThe New Spanish Table by 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.

    Happy spring!

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    Early spring stew with fava beans, artichokes and serrano ham

    Adapted from The New Spanish Table by Anya von Bremzen
    When 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!

    Ingredients

    • 2 cups shelled fresh fava beans about 2 pounds/1 kilogram unshelled
    • 6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
    • 1 large onion finely chopped
    • 1 1/4-inch thick slice serrano ham or proscuitto, about 1.5 ounces (40 grams), diced
    • 6 medium artichokes
    • 1 lemon
    • 4 large garlic cloves minced and divided
    • 1/3 cup dry sherry
    • 1 1/2 to 2 cups chicken broth plus more as needed
    • 2 tablespoons minced flat-leaf parsley

    Instructions

    • 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.

    Oven-roasted escalivada

    IMG_4957Spring 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.

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    If only I’d made more….Well, there’s always next week, as long as the north wind continues to blow.

    Oven-roasted escalivada

    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.

    Ingredients

    • 3-4 red peppers
    • 2-3 small to medium eggplants
    • 2 small to medium onions
    • 6 tablespoons flavorful extra-virgin olive oil or more to taste
    • 2-3 garlic cloves sliced in half lengthwise
    • Salt

    Instructions

    • 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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    Aletría – History in a pan

    Stopping to look, I find traces of Murcia’s history everywhere—in crumbling bits of medieval wall around the city; in ruins beneath the cathedral; in my husband’s black hair and olive skin; in my son’s deep-as-midnight eyes; and, especially, in local foods like aletría.

    Aletría—saffron-seasoned pasta cooked in the same pan with short ribs, artichokes, tomatoes, red peppers and potatoes—reveals layers of the past just as an archaeological excavation would.

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    The name aletría comes from an Arabic word for dried pasta, iṭriyah, and the dish is very similar to ittrilla, which appears in an anonymous thirteenth century cookbook from Al-Andalus. In the medieval version, noodles simmer in a broth made with fat-rich cuts of meat and seasonings like salt, pepper and coriander; before serving, the dish gets sprinkled with cinnamon and ginger.

    Today, the foundation is the same—you cook the noodles in a flavorful meat broth—but the dish has dropped most of the Moorish seasonings and taken on ingredients that reflect new rulers, like pork, and New World discoveries, like tomatoes.

    I found myself thinking about the layers of aletría on a recent visit to my favorite museum in Murcia, the Museo de Santa Clara, which provides another way to look at the city’s strata.

    The museum is part of a working convent, where a handful of elderly nuns continue to live in their cloistered community. Like many religious buildings in Murcia, the convent was constructed on top of Moorish remains, in this case a luxurious palace to different Arab rulers in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries.

    On the ground floor, devoted to Murcia’s Islamic past, I gazed upon remnants of the palace and reconstructions of intricate archways and a Moorish garden with a reflecting pool. Upstairs, I soaked in the history of the convent and its patron, Saint Clare of Assisi.

    As I looked at the layers, I could see all of the forces that had shaped the city, and dishes like aletría, more clearly.

    Here were the foundations of my son’s gaze and the basic building blocks of this stew that has nourished Murcia for generations.

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    Aletría

    To make aletría, you follow the same basic techniques used in making paella – the pasta cooks in the pan with the vegetables and meat, soaking up flavor of the broth – but this dish is more forgiving, because it is easier to overcook rice than pasta.

    A similar dish minus the bell peppers, artichokes and potatoes, called fideos a la cazuela, is made in other parts of Spain.

    The final amount of water you need depends on many factors, such as the speed of the boil, the surface area of your pan and the exact amount of pasta you use. Add more hot water as needed to keep the ingredients just barely submerged. The final dish should be nearly dry rather than soupy. The cooking times are approximate, too. It may take more time, for instance, for the meat to become tender and the potatoes to cook.

    • 4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil, divided (plus more as needed)
    • 1 red pepper, cut into thick strips
    • 2-3 artichokes, cleaned and quartered
    • 1 medium or 2 small potatoes, peeled, cut into 1-inch cubes (not so little that they’ll disintegrate into the stew), then rinsed in water until the water runs clear
    • ½ kilo (1 lb) short ribs, cut into 1 ½-inch lengths
    • 2 tomatoes, cut crosswise and grated down to the skin using the large holes of a box grater
    • 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
    • 1 pinch saffron
    • Powdered yellow food coloring (optional – see notes)
    • 1 lb (500 g) thick fideos (see notes)

    The first step is to sear all of the ingredients separately to concentrate the flavors. Heat 2 tbsp oil over medium-low heat in a heavy casserole or deep skillet. Add the red pepper strips and a pinch of salt. Cook the peppers, turning them frequently, until they have softened and are lightly brown on both sides, about 10 minutes. If the peppers brown too quickly before softening, lower the heat. Remove the peppers from the skillet and set aside.

    Raise the heat to medium, add another tablespoon of olive oil, the artichoke quarters and a pinch of salt. Sauté the artichokes until they are lightly browned on all sides and begin to soften, about five minutes. Remove the artichokes with a slotted spoon and set aside.

    Add another tablespoon of olive oil if necessary, the cubed potatoes and a pinch of salt and sauté until lightly golden on all sides. Remove and set aside.

    Generously season the ribs with salt and pepper. Once again, if there is not much olive oil left in the pan, add another tablespoon and increase the heat to medium-high. Sauté the ribs until they are nicely browned on all sides, turning frequently. The idea is not to cook the ribs, but to sear them and seal in the juice and flavor.

    Once the ribs are browned, reduce the heat to medium, stir in the minced garlic and cook for a minute or two until the garlic is fragrant. Add the grated tomato and cook, stirring frequently, until the tomato has lost much of its water, about five minutes. Cover the meat with water (about 2 cups/500 ml) and stir in the pinch of saffron and powdered yellow food coloring, if using. Bring to a boil and then reduce the heat until the water simmers steadily. Cook uncovered until the ribs are nearly tender, about 20 minutes, then add the artichokes and potatoes. Add more water to cover if needed and more salt to taste. Continue simmering until the potato is half-way cooked (about 10 to 15 minutes).

    Add another 2 cups/500 ml of water to the pan and bring to a boil. Stir in the pasta and red pepper and reduce the heat to a steady simmer. Taste the broth for salt, adding more as needed. Cook the pasta uncovered until it is al dente (about 11 minutes – follow the instructions on the package). Add more hot water as needed as you cook to keep the ingredients submerged. The final stew should not be soupy, but it should have a bit of broth. Remove the pan from the heat and let it sit for about 5 minutes before serving.

    Notes: In Spain, use No. 2 fideos, or break long, thin pasta such as spaghetti into one-inch (2.5-cm) lengths. My mother-in-law adds a handful of pasta per person plus an extra handful “for the pot”.

    Since saffron is a luxury ingredient, many home cooks in Spain rely on a sprinkling of powdered yellow food coloring to give dishes like paella and aletría a desirable sunny color that would take far too much of the exquisite spice to obtain.

    Ensalada murciana – A tomato salad for all seasons

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    In many places, tomato salad is a symbol of summer—of warm, sunny days and cool, refreshing meals. But in Murcia, tomato salad is a year-round treat. And I do not mean salad made with the nondescript, greenhouse-produced tomatoes that can be found in Spanish markets even in winter. I’m talking about the ensalada murciana (Murcian salad), yet another genius combination of Mediterranean pantry staples that is made, not with fresh, but with canned tomatoes, which are tossed together with oil-packed tuna, onions, hard-boiled eggs, cured olives, and, of course, a good glug of extra virgin olive oil.

    Why Murcian salad? As is the case with many local dishes, it is impossible to pinpoint the exact origin, but the salad has been ubiquitous for long enough to take on the name of the city itself. This makes sense, because tomatoes (both fresh and canned) are emblematic of the huerta, the fertile lands within and surrounding Murcia that have long been recognized for their agricultural potential—traces of Roman irrigation systems have been discovered in the area, which were expanded and improved upon by the Arabs who founded and ruled the city for centuries. Tomatoes of course came later, brought back from the Americas in the 16th century. Tomatoes thrive in Murcia’s huerta, so it is logical that canning eventually became an important local industry, too.

    I love the tomato-packed ensalada murciana because it is easy to make and can be thrown together in any season. Served chilled in the summer, it refreshes like gazpacho, and at room temperature in winter, it adds a splash of sun and sea (and Murcia) to the table.

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    Ensalada murciana

    This salad can be served as a tapa or side dish, or as a light dinner or lunch. It improves as it sits, so should be made at least an hour (and up to a day) before you plan on serving it.

    Most home cooks and bars toss all of the ingredients together, which of course helps the flavors meld. Yet some high-end restaurants artfully arrange their top-quality tomatoes, tuna, olives and eggs on a plate and then sprinkle them with sea salt flakes and drizzle the olive oil over the top. This is a good option for luxury canned tomatoes and tuna, where you really want each ingredient to shine.

    The steps here are just basic guidelines, because it really doesn’t matter what you add first (or how much you add) to the bowl. Feel free to improvise as they do here in Murcia, as all of the quantities can be adjusted according to your preferences or what you have on hand.

    For 4-6 people:

    • 1/2 – 1 small onion, thinly sliced
    • 1 28-ounce can of good quality tomatoes, drained
    • 1 5-ounce can of tuna packed in olive oil, drained
    • 2 hard-boiled eggs, chopped
    • 1/2 cup small black olives (such as Niçoise – see note)
    • Extra virgin olive oil, to taste (start with 2 tablespoons and add more as you like)
    • Salt, to taste

    Soak the thinly sliced onion in a bowl of ice water for ten minutes to make it easier to digest. Drain and set aside.

    Roughly chop the tomatoes (I do this right over the bowl) and place them in a large bowl along with their juice. Break up the tuna and add it to the bowl. Stir in the onions, chopped eggs and olives. Add salt to taste (I don’t tend to add much, since the tuna, tomatoes and olives already contain salt). Drizzle as much olive oil as you want over the salad and then toss everything together. Cover and chill for at least one hour before serving for the flavor to develop.

    Remove the salad from the refrigerator at least 15 minutes before serving (depending on the season) so that it is not ice cold (which dulls the flavors). In fact, in the winter, I prefer to eat ensalada murciana at room temperature. Serve with plenty of bread for dipping.

    Notes: The traditional olive used is a small, black (and brine-cured) Spanish variety called cuquillo. If you cannot find cuquillo olives, Niçoise olives are a good substitute.