One of the many, many benefits of living in Madrid: impromptu day-trips to places like Toledo. To give you a little mindless entertainment on this fine Friday, here are a few shots from yesterday’s visit. Have a marvelous weekend!
Given my affinity for manchego cheese, it’s not all that surprising that any dish originating from the fine land of Castilla La Mancha would automatically appeal to me (which reminds me, Mom, be sure to add manchego cheese to your list of things to have in the fridge when I visit the US for the holidays - we wouldn’t want me to go through withdrawals now would we?). Castilla La Mancha is the community (think State, like in the US) just south and east of Madrid and home to the legends of Don Quixote, the charming city of Toledo, and of course my beloved cheese. Enough talk about these things though, I’m here to introduce you to a new dish from this region, one that is surprisingly healthy and very easy to make. It’s called pisto manchego, and might remind you a bit of ratatouille.
Here’s what you will need:
3 green peppers
A clove of garlic
A large can (29 oz. or so) of tomato puree
A touch of salt
A teaspoon of sugar
A little bit of olive oil
Some eggs (depending on how Spanish you’re feeling)
Ok, so you know the drill – quantities above are approximate as the suegra (mother-in-law) doesn’t work with actual measurements. But you’re a great chef, so this doesn’t matter, right?
First thing’s first – chop up your veggies, all of them (garlic included – slice that baby up). Now, get out a large frying pan and cover the bottom with a smidge of olive oil, then add your chopped onion and garlic. Set the heat to low and let your onion and garlic cook away.
While your onions are doing their thing, get out a large pot and add a little olive oil – just enough to slightly cover the bottom. At this time you will first add the chopped eggplant so that it’s on bottom (it takes a bit longer to cook), then the zucchini and green pepper. Set the heat to low/medium-low and cover with a well-fitted top – your veggies will be cooking themselves with the steam! Now you will just want to check the vegetables occasionally and stir them here and there. Once they’ve cooked a bit, add some salt (you’re a brilliant chef, remember? You’ll know how much to add ).
Have you been checking on your onions? I hope so. They should be about ready for the tomato puree. So now add your puree, along with a touch of salt and a teaspoon-ish of sugar. Turn the heat to high so that your sauce starts to boil. Meanwhile, give your sauce a stir or two, and then maybe cover it so that it doesn’t bubble and splat everywhere (like on my nice white blouse, thank you very much – I’ll be heading to the dry cleaner soon).
Back to your veggies. How are they looking? They should just keep on getting softer and softer until they are kind of a mush. That’s the objective – mush. Once your veggies are a bit mushy, you will want to pass them through a colander in order to extract some of the water that they have sweat out. Be sure to get out as much of the liquid as you can. Once done, throw them back in the same pot and start adding your sauce. Add enough sauce so that your veggies are covered but not swimming in it (you can use any left over sauce for pasta, pizza, or whatever apparently non-Spanish thing you think of). Mix up the sauce and veggies over low heat just to cook everything together for a few minutes. Give it a taste and add more salt if needed.
Now, if you’re feeling extra Spanish, this lovely dish should also be served with a fried egg as seen in the photo above. Note too that if you aren’t so keen on some of the veggies listed, you can just as easily only use one type of vegetable, or even add others. It’s up to you!
Don’t forget to accompany your dish with massive quantities of manchego cheese (because I said so).
It’s been awhile since I last went to Cuenca, probably a couple of years. The last time I went, I wasn’t blogging yet, so I’m glad that I can now add a little bit about the charming city hanging on the precipice of a deadly gorge ;).
We gave my family the option of going to Ávila or Cuenca, and they chose Cuenca – thankfully. I needed to visit some place that I hadn’t been in awhile. Unfortunately, when we were about 45 minutes into the drive, we discovered that several of the main roads were completely closed and that we would have to take several detours to get there. 45 minutes in, and we figured we may as well go all the way. Almost two hours later and we arrived in Cuenca where we parked in front of the Parador with the breathtaking view (quite literally breathtaking considering the steep cliff just feet away) of the old city of Cuenca and its hanging housings (casas colgadas).
Angie and I clenched each other’s arms as we carefully stepped are way across the bridge spanning the two sides of the deep valley. Every squeaky wood panel sent a shiver up my spine. I am not going to lie, I watched where Jacob stepped and carefully stepped in his footsteps (is that ridiculous?).
We managed to arrive safely on the other side and headed straight for lunch at a restaurant right at the mouth of the city. In the foyer I paid close attention to the paintings on the walls as my Spanish professor from the US, Rebeca, had told me that her father had painted them, and sure enough, I saw her last name inscribed on each painting.
We enjoyed another yummy Spanish meal as we peered out the windows of our “hanging” restaurant. The lunched was finished off by a yummy coffee liqueur that is a speciality of Cuenca. After this, we walked through the old city, stopping in shops along the way. I was somewhat disillusioned by the pungent smell in many of the shops (what was it – cheese?), almost irritated that they were ruining the impression my family would have of such a lovely city.
We came upon a hole in the wall shop (really, it did seem like a hole in the wall, what with Jacob having to duck his head constantly and the teeny tiny window in back that looked out over another steep slope). At this shop they sold loads of handmade bowls, plates etc (the shop, called Cuencos de Cuenca, literally means bowls of Cuenca) all made by an artist born and raised in Cuenca. I had to buy a few of the darling colorful tea cups.
Across the street, my aunt Kia checked out a wine and cheese shop to see if she could find any of the yummy coffee liqueur. When I entered the shop I was greeted by that strong smell again – what was the problem with this place!?? My mom and Kia made some purchases, while Jacob and I stayed behind talking with the chatty shop owner about cheese (Cuenca is in Castilla La Mancha, the home of my favorite staple food – manchego cheese). She gave us a long dissertation about how her cheese was the best artisanal cheese, and how she guaranteed it would be good. After her long speech, we felt we could hardly leave without buying some of the famous cheese (as if I ever need an excuse anyway).
We made the long drive back to the city where the Madrid Christmas lights were finally blazing. We drove up and down the Castellana and down toward Puerta de Alcala gazing at the twinkling lights all the way. We finished off the day with dinner at our favorite Madrid spot – Rubaiyat.
The next day, Jacob and I opened the manchego and suddenly our kitchen was filled with the intense odor that I recognized from Cuenca. I was skeptical – I love manchego, but this could be a stretch. One bite though and I realized how very wrong I was – best manchego ever! Lesson learned – don’t judge a cheese by its smell.