A cassoulet of aubergines

The first day of October rain is welcomed with relief by the olive farmers around here. It has been a dry summer and spring, and the olive trees need rain for the last couple of months of the year so they fatten up. So, cozy inside while the autumnal rain does its stuff, we wanted something warming to eat. So we made good use of the bag of aubergines brought by our neighbour. This is a vegetarian Spanish-y version of the traditional French dish cassoulet. The recipe is by Nigel Slater. It is the sort of dish to eat with a fork, serve yourself a generous helping.

Serves 4-6
2 aubergines
Olive oil
2 onions, roughly chopped
3 cloves garlic, peeled and thinly sliced
250g fresh tomatoes, skinned and roughly chopped
2 bay leaves
4 sprigs fresh thyme
3 sprigs fresh rosemary
A little tomato puree
2 400g tins haricot beans, drained and rinsed
250ml vegetable stock
For the crust:-
120g white bread
1 tbsp fresh thyme leaves
Olive oil

Pre-heat the oven to 200°C/Gas6. aubergines-browning-in-panFirst prepare the aubergines. Discard the stems, slice in half lengthways, and then in half again. Warm 3-4 tbsp of oil in a deep, heavy-based casserole dish. Fry the aubergines in the oil until they are soft and nicely golden on the cut sides. Remove from the casserole, and set aside. aubergines-browned-set-asideadd-herbs-to-panAdd the onions to the same pan, add a little more oil if necessary. Cook gently for 10-15 minutes until soft and pale honey-coloured. Stir in the sliced garlic.To the casserole dish, now add the tomatoes, bay leaves, whole sprigs of thyme and rosemary, and tomato puree. Stir and cook for 5 minutes. haricot-beans-drainedadd-beans-to-panAdd the haricot beans, aubergines, a seasoning of salt and black pepper, and vegetable stock. Partially cover and simmer for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile prepare the crust. Turn the slices of crusty bread into breadcrumbs in a food processor, then stir in the thyme leaves. spoonful-of-toppingready-to-go-into-the-ovenWhen the casserole is ready to go into the oven to bake, scatter the breadcrumb mixture over the top, and drizzle over a little olive oil. Bake in the oven for 25-30 minutes until the crust is crisp and the cassoulet is bubbling around the edges. just-out-of-the-ovenThis is delicious and has quickly become a favourite in our house.

5 to remember
engordar – to fatten up
el puré – the puree
claro/a – pale
alrededor de los bordes – around the edges
la corteza – the crust

If you feel hungry, try these recipes:-
Cheesy scone bake
A sweet creamy frittata
A non-classic tortilla

And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:
A cassoulet of aubergines #recipe by @NigelSlater via @Spanish_Valley http://wp.me/p3dYp6-1So

Caqui, on and off the tree

The calix is the most distinctive part of the caqui/persimmon/sharon fruit, staying attached to the fruit after harvesting and remaining on the ground after the rest of the fruit has been eaten or decayed. In botanical terms, the fruit is actually a berry [as is the tomato] and has a high glucose content. Some fruits are more astringent than others, containing a high level of tannins, but it is these fruits, unpalatable when under-ripe, which are the sweetest when fully-ripe. If you can lift the calix away easily, the fruit is ready for eating. If you want to speed up the ripening process, try wrapping the fruit in paper and putting in the sun for several days.

5 to remember
el calix – the calix
adjunto/a – attached
más distintivo/a – most distinctive
un alto contenido de glucosa – a high glucose content
astringente – astringent

And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:
Caqui, on & off the tree: persimmon #trees in the #secretvalley in #Spain via @Spanish_Valley http://wp.me/p3dYp6-1R3

Harissa salmon salad

This recipe can be made two ways: quickly by opening two tins and a jar, or more leisurely by poaching a salmon fillet, making your own harissa paste and cooking lentils. It is a creamy spicy salad which can be made hot hot if preferred by increasing the amount of red chilli added, and can even be served hot in winter.

Serves 4
4 new potatoes, cut into ½ cm dice
1 tin 400g brown lentils
120g 0% fat natural Greek yogurt
1 tbsp harissa chilli paste
1 garlic clove, crushed
1 small red onion, thinly sliced
Large handful of fresh parsley [we added fresh chives]
1 fresh red chilli, deseeded and thinly sliced
1 200g tin of wild red salmon, flaked [we used freshly poached salmon]
Freshly ground black pepper

Boil the potatoes in lightly salted water for 10 minutes or until tender. Drain and set aside. Meanwhile cook the lentils if using dried, or heat the tinned lentils in a saucepan.

To make the dressing: combine the yogurt with the harissa and garlic.

When you are ready to eat, fold the dressing into the lentils, add the onion, herbs, chilli and potatoes. Season to taste. Spoon into a serving bowl, and scatter salmon flakes over the top.

If you like this, try:-
A Super Green Salad
Smoky Spring Onions and Asparagus with Lime
Cauliflower Salad with Spinach Yogurt

5 to remember
desecado – deseeded
la pasta de harissa – the harissa paste
combinar – to combine
cuando estes listo – when you are ready
dispersar – to scatter

 

This recipe is by TV chef Anthony Worrall-Thompson.
‘The Essential Diabetes Cookbook’ by Antony Worrall Thompson [UK: Kyle Books]

And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:
Warm & spicy harissa salmon salad #Recipe by @AntonyWT via @Spanish_Valley http://wp.me/p3dYp6-27H

Bird song: Griffon Vulture

Spain has the biggest colony of Griffon Vultures in the whole of Europe, in 2008 there were 25,000 birds. We are lucky enough to see them soar over our valley, often so high they are pinpricks which disappear from sight and then reappear. They are scavengers, tidying up the campo of dead animals, mostly circling in pairs or larger groups. They can reach heights of 10,000m or higher. It is exceedingly rare to see a solitary Griffon.

The longest-lived Griffon survived in captivity to the age of 55. So the Griffons which circle above our house could have been doing so since the early Sixties… the Beatles, the Stones, the first Apollo flights to the moon.

I have been a bit cheeky to feature the Griffon in my ‘Bird Song’ series, because the bird is mostly silent apart from the odd bit of hissing when it is eating. Which I didn’t know until I started researching, and thought you might not know too.

5 to remember
la colonia – the colony
el buitre leonado – the Griffon vulture
la totalidad de – the whole of
tenemos suerte – we are lucky enough
un carroñero – a scavenger

Listen to the song of these other birds we see in our Spanish valley:-
Green Woodpecker
Black Redstart
Hoopoe

And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:
Do you know what sound the Griffon Vulture makes? #Birds in #Spain http://wp.me/p3dYp6-28C via @Spanish_Valley

Walnuts, almost ready

The walnuts are almost ready, the husks are splitting and the nut is visible inside. They haven’t fallen from the trees yet though, so perhaps there is another week to wait.

Harvesting is simple: just pick them from the ground where they have fallen. To check for ripeness, open a nut: if the tissue between the kernel and the shell is brown, they’re ripe. If a good few have fallen, the rest may fall too if you give the tree a shake [do it the Spanish way and spread an old blanket or sheet on the ground first].

The next step is to remove the husks. Wear gloves to do this, as the tannins will stain your hands brown. Once the husks are removed, wash the shells with a high-pressure hose. Inspect the nuts and discard any with discoloured or cracked shells. Lay them in the sunshine to dry. Before storing, open a few to test for dryness. If you can open the shell easily with a nutcracker, and the nut inside can be broken in two, they are ready to eat.

Walnuts will keep in their shells for several months. If storing the shelled nuts, keep them in an airtight container.

For recipes including walnuts, try:-
Lighter Brownies
Walnut Teabread
Roasted Cauliflower Salad

5 to remember
las cáscaras – the husks
visible – visible
la madurez de – the ripeness of
el núcleo – the kernel
los taninos – the tannins

And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:
The #walnuts are almost ready to harvest #nature http://wp.me/p3dYp6-256 via @Spanish_Valley

Fifty Shades of Gold #36

Yellow lichen on walnut tree. March 10, 2014

And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:
Yellow lichen on walnut tree in the #secretvalley in #Spain via @Spanish_Valley http://wp.me/p3dYp6-2aW

September in the valley

The dead tree looks no different, really, in September than it does in June or July. Except for the lack of something: it is the favourite resting post of bee-eaters. But they have left now for Africa and we miss their swooping presence, the flash of blue and bronze, their song.  Although the bee-eaters may have sensed the approach of autumn, for us September is summer. At the beginning of the month, daytime temperatures rise to around 32°C, falling overnight to 18°C. As October approaches, the daytime heat is more likely to be 26°C. Nine hours of sunshine a day. No rain. Skies are clear, though towards the end of the month we may start to see a few clouds. September is my favourite month.

5 to remember
la falta de algo – the lack of something
el poste de descanso – the resting post
abalanzando – swooping
la presencia – the presence
el flash de – the flash of

And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:
The tree without the bee-eaters: September in the #secretvalley #Spain via @Spanish_Valley http://wp.me/p3dYp6-28f