Almond eyes

Elis­a­beth Luard re­calls An­dalu­cia

The Guardian - Cook - - Front Page - Elis­a­beth Luard is a food and travel writer and il­lus­tra­tor. Flavours of An­dalu­cia (Grub Street) will be pub­lished on 28th Septem­ber; @elis­a­beth­lu­ard

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.

Serves 4-5

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.

Serves 4

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

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