Borreta

Borreta
Borreta

This is a very traditional winter stew from the Serra de Mariola area—a  crossroads of mountain ranges on the edge between Valencia and Alicante provinces.

Not even a century ago, this area was not very well communicated: picture uphill and downhill winding roads perched on the deep cut carved by a seasonal river over centuries, or a really strenuous hike uphill to then downhill and uphill and downhill again, a few times (if you didn’t like the other road, per chance).

So the natives of this particular corner of Spain developed very unique and distinctive signature dishes. It’s quite unusual for many of them to be featured in restaurants outside of their birthplace, let alone international restaurants which are more keen on popular dishes such as paella or tapas.

But they are so tasty, comforting… and cheap!

This recipe is adapted from the recipe in the “La cuina de la serra de Mariola” book (by Mila Valls and Ana Valls), which is a fantastic collection of local recipes and anecdotes.

Ingredients (for two people)

  • Four cloves of garlic
  • One onion
  • A medium sized potato
  • A red pepper (or dry pepper if you can find it)
  • ~100 gr of fresh cod
  • A good bunch of Swiss chard (or spinach, up to your preferences and availability-the traditional is Spinach)
  • Two eggs
  • Olive oil

Preparation

This dish is very easy to make: we will slice and chop ingredients, add them to a deep pot. Then we will add water and bring it to a boil. But let’s not anticipate…

Chop the onion somewhat finely:

Chopped onions
Chopped onions

And same for the pepper. Actually, the tradition is to use dried red pepper, of the sort you would use to preserve the summer harvest so you could use it when the cold weather came, but funnily I haven’t been able to find them yet in London (I have a hunch they might sell them in Spanish deli shops). Maybe ‘sweet chilli’ could work, but I haven’t chanced the risk of making my borreta taste Mexican! So I’m just using sweet red pepper.

Chopped red pepper
Chopped red pepper

Then peel the garlic cloves. I didn’t slice them because I wanted their flavour in the stew, but I didn’t want to eat them. So the idea is to remove them once cooked, but before serving (except if you forget like me and end up serving your spouse a bowl with three garlic cloves 😅).

Peeled garlic cloves
Peeled garlic cloves

Peel the potato and dice it. Not too big not too thin either… somehow like cubes, so they don’t break too much when cooking.

Peeled and diced potato
Peeled and diced potato

Wash the chard—wash it a lot! They often have so much soil on it!

The best way I have found to clean the chard well is to submerge it in water in a bowl and let it dissolve the soil and etc, then give it a good shake, drain, and wash again (maybe a few times, until you see no soil or sand come off).

Chopped Swiss Chard
Chopped Swiss Chard

Then wash and add a tiny little bit of cod to the pot. This is a 100g fillet:

Cod fillet
Cod fillet

This fillet came with skin (on the other side, which is why you can’t see it). I tried removing it before cooking but it’s impossible–it’s just too attached. The solution is to cook it with the skin, and remove it with something sort of blunt, like a spoon, when it starts to come off. Then it might break down further, giving the soup a great ‘fishy’ taste.

Once all the above ingredients are in the pot, add enough water to cover all of them and then a bit more, depending on how much you like soups. This is meant to be a soupy stew. Add a dash of olive oil. Cover with a lid, and bring to a boil.

When it starts boiling, reduce heat and simmer for about 20-30 minutes. Sometime around 15 minutes is a good time to check if the fish skin is coming off, as described above.

When things are pretty cooked: potato pieces are breaking down nicely, the fish is visually hard to spot, etc, it’s time to do two more things:

  1. check for salt, correcting if needed, and the…
  2. add the eggs!

Crack one egg per person, and carefully place it over the stew. Perhaps bring the heat up to boil them faster! Here they are right after being placed on the stew:

Eggs dropped on the stew
Eggs dropped on the stew

And here they are after cooking and setting. The food is ready!

Borreta, ready to eat!
Borreta, ready to eat!

To serve, use deep bowls. Take the eggs first, then “top up” with as much stew as you want.

Random trivia

Borreta means ‘fluff’. I want to think it is because of the fish being dissolved and adding some ‘fluff’ to the dish.

Each time I ask for fillets like this at the fishmongers they ask me something along the lines of “is this ALL you wanted?” or “this is just A SMALL FILLET, you know?”. Yes, yes, I know. I just want a tiny bit of flavour on my dish, thank you very much, judgmental fishmonger 🙄

The original recipe calls for dry salted cod, which I have, again, been unable to find in London. I haven’t really tried very hard, to be honest. Possibly a Portuguese deli would set me up pretty quickly, but for now, I’m happy with the fresh cod! If you use dry salted cod you need to de-salt it first by rehydrating it in water, and changing the water a few times. It’s a bit tricky in that way…

Shops selling dry fish and other dried goods used to be a very common sight in my town about 30 years ago. They were named “salazones” (“salted goods”) or “ultramarinos” (“from overseas”, because they also sold exotic products from far away… like big fish!). I really dreaded walking past one of them, as the smell was SO ABSOLUTELY INTENSE I could barely withstand it. Often I’d devise plans such as holding the breath, or sticking my nose inside my clothes, or covering my nose with my hands… and nothing would work as the smell was just unbeatable.

Chickpea omelette

This morning, I was wondering what to have for breakfast when I remembered I had a bunch of chickpeas leftover from yesterday’s dish: rice with Swiss chard. And I had an idea: why not have a chickpea omelette?

Like that dish, this is also a very economical dish, and quite easy to make. The hardest skill required is to know how to flip the omelette without breaking it, although I gave some tips for that on the herb omelette recipe.

Ingredients (for 2-3 portions)

  • 6 eggs
  • 1 onion
  • 1 garlic clove
  • Parsley
  • Half a 400g tin of chickpeas, drained
  • Olive oil

Preparation

Takes about 45 minutes.

  1. Mash the chickpeas using a fork or a mashing accessory
  2. Peel and thinly chop the onion
  3. And the garlic clove
  4. Place some olive oil on a pan, set on a high heat and start frying the onion and garlic
  5. Crack the eggs and pour them on a bowl, and whisk them
  6. Wash and chop the parsley, add to the bowl
  7. Add a touch of salt
  8. Add the chickpeas to the bowl and mix everything vigorously so there are no lumps of chickpea paste – this is how it’d look like:Chickpea omelette mixture
  9. When the onion and garlic are fried (onion soft, garlic golden), add a touch more oil to the pan and then add the egg, chickpea and parsley mixture to the pan, and mix everything together
  10. Set to a high heat, and cook the first half
  11. Then using the tricks on this post, flip the omelette and cook the other side
  12. Serve and enjoy!

This is a dish which is often cooked with the leftovers of a popular stew called “cocido”, instead of using tinned chickpeas or specifically cooked chickpeas. That makes the omelette even tastier, as the veggies have all the flavour from the stew! Plus also the tinned chickpeas are a bit too hard for this dish and it takes longer to mash them.

When using stew leftover, you end up with a more colourful dish as it might contain all sorts of vegetables: potato, carrot, green beans, cauliflower, cabbage… and it’s fairly common to actually make vegetable croquettes with these.

It just occurred to me that this could also work very nicely with a touch of spice on it to add some ‘heat’ – perhaps some red chilli.

The other great thing about this dish is its versatility: you can have it for breakfast, or in your lunch box (as it keeps and warms up nicely), or even for dinner – it’s a very common Monday dinner (as you might have had the stew on Sunday).

Cheese omelette with friends

Or: I’LL EAT EVERYTHING WITH PROTEIN AFTER GOING TO THE GYM (AND YET MORE)

Ingredients

  • A Gruyere cheese omelette/scrambled eggs hybrid
  • Some bacon strips (already cooked, from M&S)
  • LOTS of rocket and watercress salad
  • Sliced red pepper
  • Dash of olive oil of course

I don’t really think this needs preparation instructions!

I was so hungry after today’s training! The only thing I don’t quite like about the bacon strips is they’re so goddamn salty 😟

Bacon and egg muffins

Bacon and egg muffins in the oven tray

My partner surprised me this morning with this breakfast experiment!

They were very tasty and now we want to experiment with other fillings: mushroom? cheese? spring onions? spinach? perhaps something sweet? We’ll see!

Ingredients

  • Eggs (2 per person)
  • Bacon
  • Pepper
  • Milk

Preparation

Takes about 30 minutes.

  1. Turn the oven on to about 180C
  2. Slice the bacon rashers in small pieces, and fry in a pan
  3. Beat the eggs with a dash of milk so it’s a bit more liquid than an omelette
  4. Add some pepper
  5. Mix in the fried bacon
  6. Mix everything thoroughly
  7. Place in the muffin cases – we used silicon cases but I reckon it should work with any other type of case!
  8. And place in the tray
  9. Put in the oven
  10. Bake for about 20 minutes or until you see they start to get colour
  11. Take them off the oven and the cases and serve.

We had them with a slice of toasted bread and a cup of STRONG breakfast tea 💪🏼

Also, even if they look very tall in the picture, they will deflate really quickly as they cool down. Just like other egg souffles…

Funny fact: I had been meaning to bake this type of muffins for a while, and I finally got round to buy these cases this week, but I hadn’t had time to even unpack them yet. And there goes my partner this morning searching for a suitable recipient for the experiment… and voilà! I produce these cases out of my bag, as if per ✨magic✨!

How serendipitous!

Herb omelette

herb omelette
I tried to make coucou, but failed…

This morning I set out with the grand plan of making a delicious coucou, but I didn’t quite succeed. I was too cautious with the amount of herbs, added way less than I should have and so I ended up with a herby omelette, but actually that’s not a bad thing either!

Ingredients

  • Eggs (about 2-3 per person)
  • Herbs:
    • Dill
    • Chives
    • Parsley
    • Spring onions
  • Oil for frying
  • Hazelnuts

For reference, these are the herbs I used, before slicing them. Way too little!

the herbs: dill, chives, parsley, spring onions

Preparation

Takes about 30 minutes, for 2 people.

  1. Wash the herbs and remove any mushy bit if any. We want the best herbs for this!
  2. Then slice them sort of finely, with a knife or scissors, whatever is easier.
  3. I used already roasted hazelnuts, but if yours aren’t, lightly roast them now using a pan on a low heat, until they acquire some colour (I’m assuming you’re using hazelnuts without their skin on!).
  4. Crush the hazelnuts. I used a pestle and mortar.
  5. In a bowl, prepare the eggs: beat them until the yolks and whites are mixed.
  6. Add a generous amount of oil to a pan, then set on a high heat. When it’s hot, add the spring onions first as they’re the sturdiest of the set. Reduce the heat a bit. Stir to avoid burning the onions.
  7. When the onions are soft, add the chives, stir and wait until they get soft too.
  8. Add the parsley and dill, stir.
  9. Add the hazelnuts.
  10. Add the beaten eggs, mix everything nicely.
  11. Set a flat, wide dish aside. Oil it so it becomes a non-adherent dish. We’ll use it to flip the omelette!
  12. Using a spatula try to separate the omelette from the sides of the pan. When it stops breaking apart and seems pretty solid underneath, it’s time to flip it.
  13. Lift the pan from the heat, place it over the oiled dish and quickly flip it so the top bit is underneath now
  14. Lightly oil the pan again
  15. Using the spatula to kindly push, slide the omelette from the dish back to the pan. Holding the pan handle, give it a horizontal shake so the omelette stays flat and contents are nicely distributed (sometimes they can fold)
  16. You might need to flip the omelette a couple more times, just make sure it doesn’t get TOO dry
  17. And eat it!

I served it with one of the pitta breads from Thursday’s halloumi experiment, which I  toasted, sliced and infused with really great Spanish olive oil and some pepper and salt, plus also a few cute tiny tomatoes, because why not?

 

So, not exactly the kind of very green dish I thought I’d produce, but not bad either! It smelled and tasted great.