Tag Archives: Spanish countryside

A courgette and halloumi feast

This is a vegetarian meal worthy of guests, a feast, a celebration. It explodes with flavours and textures. Nothing is shy. Mint. Garlic. Basil. Beetroot. Lemon. If I was served this in a vegetarian restaurant, I would be delighted. There are four separate elements to the meal, which alone means it is probably best served as a celebration dinner rather than a mid-week meal. My favourite element? I’m hard-pressed to choose between the courgette and halloumi mixture, and the hazelnut pesto. Sadly I can’t tell you the cook responsible for the recipe, other than that it was featured in The Times Magazine. I plucked it from a pile of torn-out recipes because I fancied making something with halloumi.

Serves 8
For the courgettes and halloumi:-
5 tbsp olive oil
juice and zest of 4 lemons
3 garlic cloves, peeled
8 courgettes, cut into 5mm slices
1.2kg halloumi, cut into 5mm slices
a bunch of mint, leaves roughly chopped at the last minute
freshly ground black pepper
For the beetroot:-
16 small raw beetroots, unpeeled, washed and leaves trimmed to 3cm [1.6kg total weight]
olive oil, for brushing
freshly ground black pepper
Leaves from 4 sprigs of thyme
For the hazelnut pesto:-
200 whole hazelnuts
100g basil leaves
100g parmesan, roughly grated
zest and juice of 2 lemons
400ml extra virgin olive oil
4 garlic cloves, peeled and left whole
For the chickpeas:-
4 x 400g tins chickpeas, drained and rinsed
4 tbsp olive oil, for roasting
4 tbsp finely chopped fresh rosemary leaves, plus extra for sprinkling
2 tsp garlic powder [optional, I did not use]
2 tbsp soft brown sugar [optional, I did not use]

Preheat the oven to 200°C / Gas 6. First, put the whole beetroots into a large roasting tin. Brush or roll them in olive oil so they are well covered. Sprinkle with the thyme leaves. Bake in the oven for 1 hour or until they are soft and cooked through. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool.

Once they are cooled, remove the skins using a sharp knife and fork. It is better not to touch them as beetroot juice can stain anything it touches. Cut away the root and stalks, then chop the beets into 5cm chunks. Set aside until ready to serve. This can be prepared the day before.

Reduce the oven temperature to 190°C / gas 5.

If you prefer to eat your nuts with skins, omit this next stage. Spread the hazelnuts on a baking tray and cook in the oven for 7-10 minutes until the skins have darkened and the nuts are golden underneath. Rub the nuts between clean tea towels to loosen the skins.

To assemble the pesto, put the nuts and other pesto ingredients into a food processor. Blitz to your preferred texture, I like some crunchiness. Put into a storage box and set aside until serving. This can be prepared the day before.

Drain and rinse the chickpeas, then dry between two layers of kitchen towel. Put them into a bowl and toss with olive oil. Add the remaining ingredients and stir so everything is coated. Tip the chickpeas onto a baking sheet and roast for 20 minutes or until just starting to turn golden and crispy. Sprinkle with extra chopped rosemary, and set aside. This can be prepared the day before.

Prepare the flavoured oil for griddling the courgettes and halloumi. Heat the olive oil in a small frying pan over a medium heat, add the lemon zest and garlic. Bring to a simmer then remove from the heat and set aside so the flavours infuse into the oil.

When you are ready to griddle, remove the garlic and zest from the oil, add the lemon juice.

Preheat a griddle pan until really hot. Now griddle the slices of courgette and halloumi, brushing each first with the lemony oil. Do not put the oil into the griddle pan. Resist the temptation to move things around in the pan, otherwise the pieces will not gain the distinctive brown stripes. Each piece will need cooking for only about 2-3 minutes, until charred and tender. Sprinkle with fresh mint.

Serve the courgette and halloumi salad with the chickpeas, roasted beetroot and hazelnut pesto. What would I do differently next time:-
Griddle the courgettes and halloumi using plain olive oil, to save time
Add a squeeze of lemon juice to the griddled courgettes
Serve with a large amount of fresh mint leaves
Don’t worry about the size of the beetroots you use, large ones work just as well

Note: I have omitted sea salt from the ingredient lists as I find halloumi contributes enough salt to the overall combination of flavours.

5 to remember
una celebración– a celebration
explota – it explodes
carbonizado y tierno – charred and tender
para ganar tiempo – to save time
la combinación general de sabores – the overall combination of flavours

If you feel hungry, try these recipes:-
A fresh cherry cake
Harissa salmon salad
Sweet potatoes + coconut + ginger

And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:
A courgette & halloumi feast #Spain #recipe https://wp.me/p3dYp6-2lw via @Spanish_Valley




Beautiful moth

Moths are almost impossible to identify but I was lucky with this lichen-like one. Discovered hiding behind the cushion on our outdoor sofa, he is beautifully-marked like an old-fashioned lace doily in shades of cream, coffee, earth and pewter with minute specks of gold.

I’m pretty sure it is a small ranunculus, mamestra dysodea, with a 30mm wingspan.

5 to remember
casi imposible – almost impossible
identificar – to identify
bellamente marcado – beautifully-marked
el peltre – the pewter
minúsculo – minute/tiny


Collins Photoguide: Complete Mediterranean Wildlife [UK: Collins]

And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:
In shades of cream, coffee, earth & pewter with minute specks of gold #moths & #butterflies in #Spain https://wp.me/p3dYp6-2nq via @Spanish_Valley  

A tiny moth

This moth may be tiny, about the size of my thumbnail, but he was not deterred by my presence as I pottered around in the kitchen. He sat on the kitchen window and didn’t flinch as I raised the external blinds, did the washing up and boiled the kettle for tea. I searched through both my butterfly books but finished without an answer to his identity. His stripes ran the gamut of mushroom colourings, from dark brown to chestnut and pale milk.

I hoped that, because of his clear markings, he would be simple to identify. I was wrong. If you recognize him, please let me know. When I returned five minutes later, he had vanished.

5 to remember
mi presencia– my presence
las persianas externas– the external blinds
la gama de– the gamut of
un champiñón – a mushroom
él había desaparecido – he had vanished


‘Butterflies and Moths: a Pocket Guide’ [UK: Dorling Kindersley]

And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:
A tiny moth #Insects & #moths in #Spain https://wp.me/p3dYp6-2po via @Spanish_Valley 



Bird song: Barn Owl

If you see an owl, it is most likely a Barn Owl. It is sometimes about by day in winter, and in summer can often be seen hunting before dark – lots of hungry mouths to feed means the parents cannot be exclusively nocturnal. It is a medium-sized with a wingspan just under 1m and has a large head, but the easiest way to identify it is by its white underside and underwings.

There is no fluting song from this owl. It does not hoot [that’s the Tawny]. You may hear hissing and snoring from its nest, or a shrill or high squeak of alarm or when courting. Adults and juveniles will hiss like a snake to scare intruders. It nests in big holes, for example in a tree, a stack of bales or a building.

Listen to the Barn Owl’s shriek at the RSPB website.

5 to remember
si tú ves  – if you see
una lechuza comun – a Barn Owl
nocturno – nocturnal
una envergadura – a wingspan
identificar – to identify

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


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 Barn Owl shriek? #Birds in #Spain via @Spanish_Valley http://wp.me/p3dYp6-2af

Fifty Shades of White #7

A sunset in March: white clouds, pink edges. March 19, 2016

And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:
A sunset in March: white clouds, pink edges #Spain via @Spanish_Valley http://wp.me/p3dYp6-2bD

An hour in the life of a baby snake

Most of the afternoon, we didn’t spot the guest lounging beside the swimming pool. A baby Montpellier snake – identified by his spotted skin, which will become fairly uniform as he matures – lying almost entirely hidden by the long thin shadow of the pool railing. Thin, thinner than the size of my little finger, he was about a foot long, curled up around himself in S’s. Then he awoke and stretched, his head nudging into the strong March afternoon sun. About 24°C.

And then he spotted us, or felt the vibration of our footsteps, and he made a break for it. Dropping into the water, at first he swam along the edge. But with each attempt to climb out, wriggling the front half of his body to dry land, he failed to get his tail out of the water. And so he swam out into the deep water. A quick and efficient swimmer, next he swam to the steps where he stuck his head about the surface and gulped air before heading off again. 

By now, we feared he was stuck. And so we intervened with the pool net. We left him to dry in the sun. When we returned thirty minutes later, he was gone.

[photo: Wikipedia]

We know there must be snakes around us in the countryside but rarely see them, except for dead snakeskins. The adult Montpellier snake [above] grows up to 2m long, is active during the day and eats lizards. It is not dangerous to humans.

‘Field Guide: Reptiles and Amphibians of Britain & Europe’ [Collins]

5 to remember
el invitado– the guest
una serpiente bebé– a baby snake
mi dedo meñique– my little finger
la mitad delantera– the front half
treinta minutos más tarde-thirty minutes later

And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:
An hour in the life of a baby snake #Nature in #Spain https://wp.me/p3dYp6-2jE via @Spanish_Valley 

Bird song: Woodpigeon

Is this the most familiar of all bird song? The dreamy coo-ing of the Woodpigeon is familiar here as they fly in flocks across the valley, out over the village and into the hills. Sometimes, the Woodpigeon’s coo-ing sounds muffled, as it it is hiding its head in its feathers. A pretty sound and, actually, a pretty bird, although like most common things we forget to notice it. The pink-breasted Woodpigeons mingle here with the also common Stock Doves which have a noticeable green glossy patch on the neck.

Listen to the Woodpigeon sing here at the RSPB website.

5 to remember
una paloma – a woodpigeon
soñador – dreamy
una bandada de pájaros – a flock of birds
perceptible – noticeable
un parche – a patch

Listen to the song of these other birds we see in our Spanish valley:-
Short-Toed Eagle
Willow Warbler


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 Woodpigeon sing? #Birds in #Spain via @Spanish_Valley http://wp.me/p3dYp6-2a9