Tuesday, 30 October 2012

An Arabian Feast

It’s Eid al-Adha, and I have been cooking Al-Andalusian-Catalan food again – this time, “Panellets.”

These are small sweetmeats made of marzipan and covered in almonds or pine-nuts. The marzipan,  “masapà” in Catalan, comes from the Arabic mahsaban, which means “wooden box” according to my Diccionari etimològic. Perhaps this was the wooden box in which the sweets were offered. (Wikipedia lists a lot of other possible origins for the word, including the Arabic phrase "the king who sits still." Hmmm.)

Back to the cooking:

First, make the marzipan:

200g    finely ground almonds
200g    sugar
20cl     water – about a wine-glass full.

Add the sugar to the water and boil to make a syrup. My recipe from Cuina Catalana by Ana Maria Calera says boil the syrup to what she calls the “hard ball” stage. This means 116º on the sugar thermometer, but frankly this seems a lot of fuss for a sugar syrup, so just boil for a bit…

Cool, and add the almonds. At this stage you can also add flavouring – the scraped inside of a vanilla pod, or some grated lemon peel or pretty much anything else you like that will taste good in marzipan.

Add an egg.

Stir a lot, then put onto a marble surface and knead, for 10 minutes if you can bear it.

Second, make the panellets:

You’ll need about 200g of chopped almonds and 200g of pine nuts.
Thoroughly butter a baking tin
Heat the oven to 170ºC.

Make small balls of the marzipan – the size of a Brazil nut – and roll in the chopped almonds or in the pine nuts.

If you are in a hurry, just pop them onto the baking tray. If you are not, then dip the panellets in egg white and give a coating of icing sugar. Really, darling, the calories…

10 minutes in the oven, and you should get this:

Now resist eating them. Impossible.

Saturday, 27 October 2012

From Birmingham Jail to Palautordera

In his letter of 16 April 1963 to "My dear Fellow Clergymen" from Birmingham Jail (http://www.africa.upenn.edu/Articles_Gen/Letter_Birmingham.html) Martin Luther King Junior said:

"In your statement you assert that our actions, even though peaceful, must be condemned because they precipitate violence. But is this a logical assertion? ...More and more I feel that the people of ill will have used time much more effectively than have the people of good will. We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people."

The vocal underground, at Palautordera

We, the good people, sheep-like in our appalling silence.

Monday, 22 October 2012

Fungal growth

It's time for bolets - fungi - and the many, many boletaires - mushroom hunters - who come by here looking for the tastiest wild treats. I have absolutely no confidence in my fungal skills, so am happy to leave the selection to the experts. Here are two that I think I have identified, neither edible. The first, seen just before the recent rains, is (I think) Calvatia utriformis:

A big wolf fart (honestly, its name in Catalan...)

The second, seen just after the rains is appropriately called Estrelleta de la Pluja - Little Rain Star:

Astraeus hygrometricus

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

Quince, walnut and fig flapjack

It was a rainy weekend, so I did some baking.

Jelly on a tree

The quinces (Cydonia oblonga) are out, and so are the walnuts (Juglans regia) and figs (Ficus). Here’s a recipe, adapted from Good Food magazine’s 101 Cakes and Bakes, that combines the three:

  • Quinces           450g, peeled and cored
  • Brown sugar    25g
  • Lemon 1
  • Fresh figs        100g
  • Butter  140g
  • Light brown sugar       50g (yes, I know. I didn’t use “Light brown” – I just used “brown.”)
  • Honey 140g
  • Oats    250g
  • Ground cinnamon       half a teaspoon
  • Ground nutmeg           half a teaspoon
  • Walnuts           25grams, chopped
  • Preheat oven to 190ºC.

Slice the quinces, add the brown sugar, the fresh figs and the lemon juice, and cook over a very low heat until the mixture becomes quite dry. Use the liquidiser to produce a paste – it should be the consistency of a good paté…
Melt the butter, light brown sugar, honey and add the oats and spices. Add about half of the walnuts. Stir.
Thoroughly butter a 20cm x 20cm (approx.) baking dish. Press half the oats/honey/butter mixture into this. Spread the quince/fig paste on top. Now press the remaining half of the oats/honey/butter stuff on top of that – so it’s a sort of quince sandwich.
Sprinkle remaining walnuts on top.
Bake  approx. 30 minutes.
Mark with a knife into squares while it is still hot.
Leave to cool completely.

Eat. Leave a little for your friend.

Granola, from the Isle of Lewis

I've just made another batch of granola. It looks like the landscape of Mars, but tastes great:

It's life, Jim, but not as we know it.

My recipe comes from Ravenstar, a B&B in the Isle of Lewis. I’ve adapted it to the Mediterranean:

  • Olive oil           4 tablespoons
  • Runny honey  2 tablespoons
  • Vanilla pod      the seeds and goo from inside a 1 inch piece of pod
  • Porridge oats (small, rolled, oats)       120 grams
  • Oats (large, rolled, oats)         120 grams
  • Sunflower seeds         60g
  • Walnuts and almonds 120 grams total
  • Dried fruit – I use dried figs, apricots and raisins        120 grams total

Preheat the oven – I use the lower heating element only to avoid over-toasting the granola – to 190ºC. Oil a large baking tin.
In a pan over a low heat, mix the olive oil and the honey. Add the vanilla seeds and goo.
Add all the other ingredients except the dried fruit and stir a lot, and then tip into the baking tin.
Place in oven and bake for 20 mins, stirring every 5 minutes.
Turn oven off.
Stir in the dried fruit and put back in the oven for 10 minutes more.
Leave to cool completely, and then store in large jar.

Delicious with milk or yoghurt, any time of the day.