last summer i spent 4 weeks at spanish school in sevilla. it was a great time; blanca was doing work experience at ferran adria's second restaurant - el bulli in hacienda benazuza. i was able to regress for the month, forget london and working life. the first day, i arrived at school certain of my bohemian credentials - extended vacation, shorts everyday, i didn't have my duffle coat because it was too hot ...
i quickly realised that the school had an ongoing exchange program with many european schools and that the majority of my colleagues were 19 year old philosophers and dreamers. despite being only 29, i was soon revealed to be the oldest in the school. matters got worse during the open sessions where we would talk about ourselves in spanish. my demographic facts were drastically at odds with my bead wearing colleagues ...
- not only had i contemplated a job, but i'd actually gone out and got one
- i had in fact held onto that job for 8 years
- i owned an apartment in london (i didn't mention the mortgage)
- i was married
- i supported franco (this isn't the whole truth, but to the eyes of a student, i think this is how i seemed)
i was given up as a lost cause when, one day, i had to make a presentation on spanish life. i came to the part where i would talk about food ... my professor, a born and bred sevillana, sat forward eagerly waiting to hear of my love for their food. she was, shall we say, disappointed when i contrasted it to the rest of spain; i confidently stated that andalucia was the worst and that the restaurants were over priced and unexciting. if you have been to the south, you may feel that this is unjustified, but there are elements of truth ...
- the best food in the south of spain is to be found in homes, not in restaurants.
- the best food outside of the home is the tapa. for variety, use of local produce and ingenuity they are unsurpassed. the southern style of "comer de pie" (eating on foot) is the real reason that there are not many "classical" restaurants.
- and, if i'm honest, after 4 weeks in sevilla, it is true that we were a little bored with just good tapas and were thirsting for some other food*.
ever since our gastro experiences in sevilla, we have been eager to take any opportunity to search out the great food of the south. with this in mind we took a daytrip from guadix to cordoba to have lunch with one of blanca's cousins; antonio-luis. this is a 400km roundtrip and may seem a little extreme, but cordoba is the renowned home of salmorejo (thick tomatoe soup) with which i had fallen in love with last year in sevilla. the city is a world heritage site with a beautiful mosque / cathedral (mezquita) and jewish neighbourhood (la juderia). we went to the incredible bodegas campos restaurant. this is one of the best restaurants i've been to in spain.
in writing this blog, i am using as reference "gazpachos, sopas y ajos blancos" (enrique mapelli lopez), my spanish isn't perfect, but i think this means "gazpachos, soups and ajos blancos". i am conscious of the fact that i am reading a spanish book to write an english blog as i sit on a train in tokyo, but hey, i won't let the details get me down.
three soups, based around the gazpacho concept, form the trinity of cold andalucian soups. they share the same core ingredients; bread crumbs, garlic, olive oil, water and salt. if anyone gets the chance, read the chapter that breaks down each ingredient, it is the closest thing to culinary poetry that i have ever read (mostly because i don't understand a lot of it). i will attempt to summarise.
each ingredient brings its own specific attributes to the soup. their history in combination goes back as far as the roman legions and columbus who all carried similar provisions. white bread for sweetness, thickening, energy and digestibility. garlic for flavour and medicinal properties (i.e. working as an antiseptic). olive oil for flavour, texture and health benefits. water as these soups serve the purpose to rehydrate and refresh from the hot andalucian sun. salt to bring out the flavour, replace lost body salt and build the appetite for the next course.
typical gazpacho andaluz contains:
- 100g bread crumbs
- 4 teeth of garlic
- 2dl olive oil
- 2dl vinegar
- 100g cucumber
- 100g green pepper
- 250g tomatoes
- some cumin
- 1l to 1.5l of cold water
in a mortar mash the bread, garlic, cumin, salt and olive oil and leave to absorb for 30 minutes. add the remaining ingredients and water to taste. for garnishing use 100g cucumber, 100g green pepper, 100g tomatoes and 100g crudités all chopped. this recipe is somewhat vague, but, in spain there is a saying; there are as many gazpachos as there are gazpacheros. i'm not going to be too anal about the details here.
salmorejo is made all over spain, but heralds from cordoba. a typical recipe contains:
- 10 red tomatoes
- 1 slice of bread
- 4 teeth of garlic
- 0.5l olive oil
- 1 egg yolk
- 0.25l of water
mix all in the blender and serve with an egg in quaters and some olive oil drizzled on top. you could also serve this with ham or orange slices on top.
ajo blanco (white garlic) most likely originates in malaga.
- 200g almonds
- 4 teeth of garlic
- 2 slices of bread
- 0.5dl of olive oil
- 0.5kg of ice
- salt and pepper
scald the almonds in hot water to get rid of the skin. grind all the ingredients together. pass through a colander and add water to thin. for garnish, 20 pealed grapes and 20 balls of melon. cordoba has a reputation for serving with apple slices. the ajo blanco in cordoba had shrimp ... this was the best that i've ever had!
* i don't want to give anyone the impression that there is no good food in sevilla or andalucia. in fact, 90% of the fun is in finding the great places. for anyone visiting sevilla i recommend bar eslava it saved us more than once!