Two years ago, I was fortunate to visit Barcelona. I survived on Gaudi’s art and tapas bars for a week and signed off with a Lobster Paella in la Barceloneta before I continued to historical Valencia; I was marvelled with the Spanish landscapes of olive and mandarin trees and finished my trip in the freezing capital city of Madrid with hot chocolate con churros.
What influences the Spanish cuisine is history and location. Surrounded by the waters, on the Iberian Peninsula; seafood leads Spain’s gastronomy and classifies the country as having a Mediterranean diet. The rest of Spain is a varied landscape made up of mountains, rich farms, and widespread coastlines; all together providing the variety of fresh products of cured hams, vineyards and olive, and fresh fruits and vegetables.
The history of Spanish food was influenced by many cultures that passed or settled in Spain; starting with the Phoenicians, followed by the Greeks, the Romans, the Carthaginians, and the Jews. However it was the Moors who had the highest impact on Spanish cuisine, during their long reign. They introduced fruits and light seasonings into the Iberian diet, rice and saffron, cinnamon, and nutmeg and bestowed Spain the famous “gazpacho”.
With the discovery of America, new food squeezed themselves into Spanish pantries to include tomatoes, vanilla, chocolate, various beans, and potatoes.
Eating in the street is a Spanish culture. Churros are mostly sold in winter, particularly in the north; while the traditional bocadillo or bocata, served as a snack everywhere in Spain from taverns and tapas bars to cafeterias, and at home; made with a rustic barra de pan or baguette-style bread loaf, filled with various ingredients and seasoned with sauces like mayonnaise, aioli, ketchup, mustard, or tomato sauce.
Last week I attended the NSW Food and Wine festival at Hyde Park, and nibbled on a shredded beef bocadillo. I could tell from the weather that both angels and demons were dying with envy! The filling was cooked on slow fire in tomato sauce and seasoned with a hint of mayo. Nothing extravaganza but the taste was just incredible for $14.00 from Nomad on Surry Hills.
Speaking of good and evil, the origin of churros is unclear. Do we care?
One theory is they were brought to Europe by the Portuguese; another theory is that they were made by Spanish shepherds. Wherever they came from, they arrived safe and sound at San Churro all over Sydney for as little as $8.95 for 3 churros dipped with your choice of chocolate.
The history of chocolate is full of bed time stories that involve heroes, miracles and victory of good over evil. It is believed that the great Spanish explorer, Hernán Cortés, arrived in Mexico, early 1500’s, looking for wealth and made his way to Tenochtitlan to witness the famed riches of Emperor Montezuma and the Aztec Empire. Montezuma introduced Don Cortes to his favourite drink xocolatl – a bitter, thick drink made from ground cocoa beans and infused with spices and chilli.
In 1520, the Spanish attacked a peaceful Aztec festival. Montezuma was killed and the Aztecs forced the Spanish out of the city of Tenochtitlan. After regaining their strength, Cortes was made Captain General and Governor of Mexico and returned to Spain on a ship loaded with cocoa beans. Monks in monasteries known for their pharmaceutical skills were chosen to process the beans and adjust the drink to Spanish tastes and discovered that chocolate tasted even better served hot.
The King so moved by the drink that he rules its consumption to be exclusively for the enjoyment of the nobility. For the next 100 years, chocolate remained a guarded secret of the Spanish aristocracy until the Queen of Spain became very ill. The monks offered the Queen a drink of hot chocolate. Mysteriously, before their very eyes, the Queen was recovered. Upon witnessing this miracle, the monk declared chocolate was a gift from God and one that deserved to be shared and enjoyed by all. Yeaaaaaaaaaa!
To make a classic Bocadillo: Drizzle bread rolls with olive oil, rub with garlic cloves and grill in the oven until golden. Combine tomatoes in a bowl with extra virgin olive oil, vinegar, sea salt and black pepper. Rub tomato mixture into the bread then top with Serano jamon and Manchego Cheese.
To make chocolate con churros: Combine 1 cup of water and 100g of unsalted butter in a medium saucepan and bring to the boil over high heat. Cook and stir for 3-4 minutes or until butter melts. Remove from heat. Add 1 cup of plain flour and ¼ tsps. of salt and stir with a wooden spoon until well combined and the dough comes away from the side of the saucepan. Cover with plastic wrap and set aside for 15 minutes or until cool. Add 3 eggs, 1 at a time, beating well after each addition, until well combined. Spoon dough into a piping bag fitted with a 2cm-diameter fluted nozzle. Add enough vegetable oil to a large saucepan to reach a depth of 6cm. Heat to 180°C over medium heat (when oil is ready a cube of bread will turn golden brown in 15 seconds). Use a small sharp knife to cut the dough, pipe four 10cm lengths into the oil. Deep-fry for 1-2 minutes or until golden brown. Use a slotted spoon to transfer churros to a plate lined with paper towel. Dust with icing sugar. Repeat with the remaining dough, reheating oil between batches. Meanwhile, combine 200g good-quality dark chocolate, coarsely chopped and 1 cup of milk in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Cook, stirring, for 5 minutes or until chocolate melts and the mixture is smooth. Arrange churros on a platter and serve with chocolate dipping sauce.
If you don’t believe in miracles, you certainly should believe in magic!