Elisabeth Luard recalls Andalucia
About two months ago, I packed up my country home in Wales and moved to London. You’ve no idea how much stuff there was. Five bedrooms, outhouses, 100 acres of woodland, an enormous library, and the whole of everybody’s debris. I had to really concentrate everything right down into what I really minded about.
When my children were small, I moved my family to Tarifa in southern Spain. It was the 1960s, not long after the Civil War. We built a house in a cork oak forest. My table (1) is from that time – made by a carpenter named Ramon Sosa, a republican who had to stay deep undercover – it’s made as a shipwright would make it, everything is tongue-and-groove. The inset tiles came a few years later, they’re from the 19th century. I don’t treat it with any respect. The children had every meal at this table, and would slide anything they didn’t want to eat into the drawers. It is the only thing that really matters to me in the whole kitchen.
Quentin Bell made the lamp (2) for us in the 1990s, from drawings I did for my husband Nicholas Luard’s book, Andalucia. It looks eccentric, doesn’t it? I said, “Quentin, what are these?” pointing to the painted motifs beneath the lightbulb fitting. And – he was an old man by then – he said: “Oh certain things spring to mind.” They’re bosoms, aren’t they? Very ample.
I don’t drink on Sunday and Monday – because otherwise you can get into the habit, can’t you! – so I have maté instead (3), which is traditionally served in a calabash gourd. I was a war baby, and when my mother remarried a diplomat and we moved to South America, there was another family. Often, on weekends, I’d be left alone with the cook, so my habits were definitely on the other side of the green baize door, which was a good thing. We’d sit out on the stoop in Montevideo, watching people go up and down, drinking maté.
This vessel (4) is what you might call the frying pan of Andalucia – metal only came in with the Moors. It is the same type of ceramic dish you see in Velazquez’s Old Woman Cooking Eggs. And the blue bowl (5) is wonderful. You can use it and feel that you’re straight back on an island in the Aegean.
The basket (6) is also from Spain. The children went to school on a donkey in Tarifa. Very inconvenient – it takes ages, all downhill. The donkey would put its head down, everyone would slide off, and you’d have to start all over again. The basket is made of esparto grass. I use it for oranges now. Interview by Dale Berning Sawa.
A glass of wine to soothe the spirit, and a chair in the shade to watch the world go by. It all adds up to happiness
The Andaluz are blessed with alegría – that measure of contentment reached by having enough sunshine, a bit of good bread to fill the belly, an olive or two for the pleasure of it, a glass of wine to soothe the spirit, and a chair in the shade from which to watch the world go by. It all adds up to happiness.
The landscape holds the key. Here are golden hills lapped by silver seas, pearl-white valleys combed through with emerald vines, ochre-veined cliffs studded with pale-trunked cork oaks and ebony-dark olive trees.
The Spaniards like their food identifiable and uncluttered, with griddle and frying-pan the chief culinary apparatus. Meat is preferred sauced with its own juices, fish and shellfish are prized for their taste of the sea. In Andalucía, the best of homegrown raw materials are prepared with one or all of the three most important native ingredients: olive oil, wine and garlic. The most widely used herbs are the great aromatics of the Mediterranean – thyme, rosemary, fennel, oregano and bay – with plenty of parsley of the flat-leaved “Italian” variety and, in Moorish strongholds, mint.
Málaga, centred on the busy port of the same name, is probably best known to sun- and sea-lovers for its long Mediterranean beaches backed by high-rise developments, but it has a hinterland rich in vineyards, nut-groves and orchards – these recipes revel in one of its great crops: almonds.
Chicken with almonds
Almonds remain an important cash-crop for the small farmers of Málaga’s province: trees were usually planted on a slope so that the nuts would roll down the incline and on to the camino real (roadside), which both man and beast travelling up and down the country were free to gather.
1 kg chicken joints
4 tbsp olive oil
1 thick slice day-old bread, broken into pieces
2 garlic cloves, skinned and chopped
A small bunch of parsley
1 tbsp ground almonds
½ tsp ground cloves
1 tsp ground cinnamon
6 saffron threads, soaked in a splash of boiling water
Grated zest and juice of 1 lemon
1 glass sherry or white wine
1 onion, peeled and finely chopped
1 Chop the chicken joints in half – it’s easiest with a hammer and heavy knife. 2 Heat the oil in a frying pan. Add the bread and garlic, fry until golden, then toss in the parsley sprigs. Transfer the contents of the pan to a food processor or a mortar. Add the ground almonds, spices, saffron, lemon zest and juice, and the sherry or wine and process, or pound with a pestle, to a thick sauce. 3 Gently fry the chicken pieces and the onion in the oil that remains in the pan (you may need to add more oil). When the chicken is lightly browned and the onions are soft, stir in the sauce. Bring to the boil, then cover and turn down the heat. Simmer gently for 20-30 minutes, or until the chicken is quite cooked, adding more water if the sauce dries up. Serve with chips and a salad.
Potatoes with almonds and saffron
The use of a single heat source and one pot is one of the most ancient ways of preparing food. The technique of cooking an oil-enriched stew right down until it fries in its own juices is applied here to a New World import: the potato.
1 kg potatoes
6-8 saffron threads
4 tbsp olive oil
50g blanched almonds, slivered 1 garlic clove, peeled and sliced 1 slice of stale bread, cubed Salt and black pepper
1 Peel the potatoes and cut them into chunks. Put them into a wide saucepan and cover with salted water.
2 Roast the saffron threads in a spoon held over a flame and tip them in with the potatoes.
3 Warm the oil in a small frying pan (skillet), sprinkle in the blanched almonds, the garlic and the bread cubes. Fry them all until golden. Transfer the contents of the frying pan to a blender, food processor or pestle and mortar. Crush them all together with a little water, tip in with the potatoes and season.
4 Bring to the boil, turn down the heat and simmer the potatoes, loosely covered, until nearly tender. Take off the lid and bubble up to evaporate all the liquid, until they are frying in their own juices. Let them brown a little before serving, piping hot.
▲ This is an extract from the forthcoming Flavours of Andalucia (Grub Street), out on 28th September