Bird song: Nightingale

Everyone has heard of the Nightingale. There are constant references to it in literature, films, music and on television. Everyone knows the Nightingale sings at night. But can you identify its song?

First it is an ordinary brownish bird which looks nothing special and is only slightly bigger than a Robin. Because of its song, I was expecting something bigger. I’m not sure I’ve ever actually seen one. But I have lain in bed at night lulled into a pleasant doze by the singing of a nightingale in the woods behind the house. When you hear it, you know it can only be one bird. Incidentally, it sings at dusk and dawn and sometimes during the day.

Its song is unstructured and varied, some phrases are very fast with a sudden change from high to low pitch, some low notes are long and slow then build to a throaty trill. Difficult to describe, beautiful to hear. Worthy of all the poetry.

Listen to the Nightingale sing at the RSPB website.

5 to remember
el ruiseñor – the nightingale
un agradable sueño – a pleasant doze
un tono bajo – a low pitch
digno – worthy
la poesía – the poetry

Listen to the song of these other birds we see in our Spanish valley:-
Great Spotted Woodpecker
Red-Legged Partridge


Our most used bird book?
Collins Bird Guide: The Most Complete Guide to the Birds of Britain and Europe [UK: Collins]

And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:
How does the Nightingale sing? #Birds in #Spain via @Spanish_Valley

Irresistible minestrone

This is our go-to winter meal. Real comfort food. A big batch makes three large meals for the two of us. It is crammed with vegetables and, as long as you stick to the basic framework, it can be varied according to what you have. It is a Jamie Oliver recipe, based on the classic Italian recipe for minestrone, but is so much more. First, it is a stew not a soup. Second, the addition of vacuum-packed chestnuts adds a glorious silkiness. Third, I defy you to be hungry after eating it.

We make a couple of amendments. Jamie includes bacon, we don’t. We add a small tin of tomato concentrate and a dash of Worcester sauce. It is pretty foolproof.

Serves 8
2 onions
2 carrots
800g butternut squash
15g fresh rosemary
15g fresh sage
100g vacuum-packed chestnuts
olive oil
2 400g tins plum tomatoes, chopped or whole
2 400g tins borlotti beans
1.2 litres vegetable stock
500g seasonal greens [we used kale]
100g dried pasta [we used slim macaroni]
small tin tomato concentrate
Worcester sauce, a dash

Peel and roughly chop the onions and carrots. Peel the butternut, discard the seeds, and chop into pieces about the same size as the carrots. Finely chop the rosemary, sage leaves and chestnuts.

Take the largest saucepan you have, heat a drizzle of oil over a medium heat. Add the onions, carrots, butternut, herbs and chestnuts and cook slowly, stirring occasionally for 15 minutes or until all the vegetables have softened.

Add the tomatoes and tomato concentrate to the pan, followed by the beans, stock and the dash of Worcester sauce. Stir, cover with a lid, and bring slowly to the boil. Leave to simmer for about 30 minutes until the butternut is cooked through.

Meanwhile prepare the greens. Remove any tough stalks then chop. If your pasta is in large pieces, wrap it in a tea towel and bash it into smaller pieces using a rolling pin. Add the greens and pasta to the pan and cook for a further 10 minutes or until the pasta is al dente. If the sauce has thickened, you can add a splash of water at this stage.

Season to taste and divide between bowls. This keeps well in the fridge so make a batch, divide into smaller bowls, cover and store to eat later in the week. It’s good with crusty bread if you are absolutely starving hungry!

5 to remember
un gran lote – a big batch
infalible – foolproof
envasado al vacío – vacuum-packed
las castañas – the chestnuts
una sedosidad gloriosa – a glorious silkiness

Don’t know what to eat for dinner tonight? Try one of these recipes:-
Something sweet to make with squash
A silky, dense chocolate cake
Red onion & cheese scones

And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:
Irresistible minestrone: our go-to winter meal #food in #Spain via @Spanish_Valley




Pasta that bites back

This pasta is a taste of Spring in a bowl, a glorious tangy mix of horseradish and lemon. It seems that the Spanish don’t grow horseradish root, or rather they don’t sell it in the supermarkets. So occasionally we bring a jar of horseradish cream from the UK just for this. This is a very Italian dish in style, very simple to make, and like all the best Italian food it is best when made with the very best available raw ingredients.

I added two extra ingredients; long-stemmed broccoli, and toasted almonds. Actually this recipe will work well with a variety of spring green vegetables; peas, green beans, broad beans would be delicious too.

Serves 4
450g asparagus
a handful of long-stemmed broccoli
450g pasta
50g butter
1 tbsp creamed horseradish
lemon juice
2 tbsp chopped chives
a handful of whole, blanched almonds, toasted

Trim the asparagus, keep the tips separate. Save the trimmings for another recipe. Pour 4cm of water into a large saucepan, add a pinch of salt and bring to the boil. Add the pieces of asparagus stem and simmer for 5 minutes. Add the asparagus tips to the pan, simmer for another 2-3 minutes until almost al dente but still firm. Drain. Now use the same pan to lightly cook the broccoli. You can prepare to this stage in advance, cool and cover.Bring a large pan of water to the boil, add a pinch of a salt and a glug of sunflower oil. Add the pasta, bring back to a rolling boil and cook, uncovered, until al dente. A few minutes before the pasta is done, melt the butter in a frying pan. Add the asparagus, stir to re-heat gently without frying. Add the horseradish cream, and a splash of lemon juice to taste.

Drain the pasta, tip into the asparagus pan and mix thoroughly. Test the seasoning. Serve sprinkled with our own chives, freshly-cut from the pot, and the toasted almonds. 

5 to remember
la raíz – root
las raices – roots
el rábano – horseradish
la crema – cream
el estilo – style


Recipe from ‘Eat Your Greens’ by Sophie Grigson [UK: BBC Books]

Don’t know what to eat for dinner tonight? Try one of these recipes:-
Very cheesy pie
Little squash cakes with a kick
Harissa salmon salad

And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:
A hot hot hot pasta for asparagus season #food #Spain via @Spanish_Valley




Bird song: Cetti’s Warbler

This non-descript bird is small and difficult to see, but its pretty name commemorates the Italian zoologist Francesco Cetti. Their song is used to signal their presence, a sort of bird ‘I’m here’, and plays an important role. The Cetti repeats the same basic phrase every few minutes so once we’ve identified it, we can track its progress across the valley. Their distinct songs have a structure unique to them and allow them to be sure they are not inadvertently mating with another type of warbler.

It is an explosive, metallic call of ‘chich’ or ‘plit’, and sometimes it seems to shout ‘chee’, ‘chewee’, ‘chewechewechewechewe’. Which, though totally irrelevant, reminds me of Chewbacca.

Listen to the song of the Cetti’s Warbler at the RSPB website.

5 to remember
la cetia curruca – the cetti’s warbler
indeterminado – non-descript
un zoólogo – a zoologist
por inadvertencia – inadvertently
aparearse – to mate

Listen to the song of these other birds we see in our Spanish valley:-
Griffon Vulture
Blue Tit


Our most used bird book?
Collins Bird Guide: The Most Complete Guide to the Birds of Britain and Europe [UK: Collins]

And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:
Do you recognize the song of the Cetti’s Warbler? #Birds in #Spain via @Spanish_Valley

Waiting for the olive harvest to begin

The olive harvest has been delayed this year by much needed rain at the last minute. Much needed by the olives, water fattens them, but irritating for the farmers who have had to delay their schedule, postpone the arrival of machinery and men. So they are patient. Rushing in too soon after rain can mean heavy machinery becoming bogged down. Yesterday the valley echoed to the sound of chainsaws as men surveyed the groves already harvested and started with the annual pruning. Smoke soon follows as the cut twigs and branches are burned. Thin spirals of pale grey twist upwards into a clear blue sky.

And the next morning, while it was still dark, car after car head into the wilds, along tracks deep into the olive groves, to pre-agreed meeting points where coffee, bread and fiery spirits are dispensed as the sun rises and the picking machines stand ready.

5 to remember
posponer – to postpone
en el último minuto – at the last minute
empantanado – bogged down
las espirales delgadas – the thin spirals
todavía oscuro – still dark

And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:
Waiting for the #olive harvest to begin in #Spain via @Spanish_Valley

A January salad

England meets the Moors… a typical English vegetable, cold and shredded, and mixed with Moorish flavours. What’s not to love? forkfulThis is an unusual and tasty salad which deserves a spot on your regular winter menu. The dominant flavour changes from mouthful to mouthful, one moment lemony [lemon juice, sumac], the next fruity [pomegranate molasses and seeds].

Don’t worry about leftovers. If there are any, they taste better the next day. Simply keep in a sealed plastic box overnight in the fridge.

This is another recipe by Gizzi Erskine.

Serves 2 hungry people for lunch, or 4 as a side salad
300g Brussels sprouts, shredded [using the slicing attachment of a food processor, or by hand with a knife]
Seeds of one pomegranate
100g pistachios, chopped
1 tbsp chopped dill
1 tbsp chopped mint leaves
1 tsp sumac
For the dressing:-
2 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 tbsp pomegranate molasses
6 tbsp olive oil [this is our own, hence the dark green colour]
sea salt
freshly ground black pepper brussels-sprouts-slicingPlace the shredded Brussels sprouts into a large bowl and set aside. dressing-ingredients-our-green-olive-oilIn a small bowl, mix the dressing ingredients and whisk until combined. Pour the dressing over the sprouts and leave to macerate for 15 minutes [a minimum, longer is fine].

When you are ready to serve, transfer the sprouts to a serving bowl. Over the top sprinkle the pistachios, pomegranate seeds, fresh chopped herbs and the sumac. Mix, and eat. bowlfulFancy a different salad? Try these:-
A fresh salad for winter
A mustardy leeks vinaigrette

5 to remember
típico/a – typical
un bocado – a mouthful
despedazar – to shred
la melaza de granada – the pomegranate molasses
la sumac – the sumac

And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:
Pistachios & pomegranates: an exotic salad #recipe by @GizziErskine via @Spanish_Valley