A few years ago I visited Spain for the first time when I walked 500 miles along the Camino de Santiago from St. Jean Pied de Port to Santiago de Compostela. I had studied Spanish many years earlier at school but felt I really needed a refresher so took a few one to one classes with the wonderful Ana Pan Huertas Ferguson, packed my rucksack and set off on the adventure of a lifetime.
The walk took me through mountains and fields, towns and villages, plains and cities. Along the way I met some amazing people, slept in monasteries and municipal sheds and ate in a different place every night for 35 nights. I ate simple “pilgrim” meals most evenings and these varied significantly from place to place but I ate an amazing ensalata mixta in Pamplona, churros y chocolate in Burgos, incredible tapas and pastries in Leon, a shared meal of chicken and chorizo near Astorga and flan, flan, flan and more flan – always there was flan.
After such an amazing introduction to Spanish food it was inevitable that it would feature at the Unseen Restaurant at some point – that point was last Friday night. I have really enjoyed experimenting with Spanish food over the last few years and, having put together a seemingly simple menu I foolishly took 17 bookings. The first challenge this presented was furniture removals, sofas and tables were re-jigged, chairs were borrowed and my sitting room became one long table, set for dinner with mis-matched cutlery and glasses.
Preparing the food was a joy, the smells and colours a delight and of course I had to taste everything as I went along… The real difficulty when working alone is plating up and serving 17 plates of hot food so the soup was chilled, the tapas served on big platters designed for sharing and 2 lovely guests helped me to get the fish out quickly so all was good (I think).
I served gazpacho; a chilled tomato soup flavoured with spring onions, cucumber and sherry vinegar. This was followed by three tapas – chicory with Picos de Europa cheese and walnuts, pimientos de Padron and pan con tomate (tomato bread). Picos de Europa is a creamy, flavourful blue cheese from the Picos mountain region and the pimientos are small, sweet peppers from Padron which are served roasted and sprinkled with sea salt. Apparently one in every twenty or so peppers has a chilli kick but my guests ate 2 kg of the blighters and no one admitted to finding a hot one. The tapas were followed by a main of cod Bilbaina – pan fried cod loin with a sauce of mini plum tomatoes cooked in sherry and sherry vinegar, sweet, sour and satisfying. The meal was rounded off with tarta de Santiago; a citrusy almond tart accompanied by a very un-Spanish clotted cream – well we are in Cornwall.
Seventeen people fed, pots cleared and it was time to relax and catch up with my guests. I finished this marathon exactly the same way I finished my marathon walk – with a very large glass of red wine and a slice of tarta de Santiago.
Recipes for these dishes all came from Modern Spanish Cooking by Sam and Eddie Hart.