Roasting all the things

We didn’t really know what to have for dinner, but we also had a lot of random vegetables that we had to eat before they went off. One pepper… another single potato… an aubergine… a fennel… What to do with all these bits and pieces?

The answer, obviously: roast all of them in the oven!

Then we had them with some olive oil (of course), a bit of chorizo and a fried egg (“for protein” 😅). And I made a salad for lunch the following day ✌🏻

Ingredients

Basically any random vegetable that you might have in your fridge, but in our case:

  • 1 potato
  • 1 aubergine
  • 1 red pepper
  • 1 onion
  • 1 fennel
  • Tomatoes
  • Garlic cloves
  • Olive oil
  • Paprika
  • Pebrella (if you have it) or oregano
  • A piece of chorizo (optional)
  • One egg per person (optional)

If you skip the chorizo and eggs, this could be a totally vegan dish. Do as you feel!

Preparation

  1. Put some water on a pot so we can lightly boil the fennel before roasting it (that way it will be tender). Set the heat to high.
  2. Set the oven to 200C
  3. Cut any ugly bits off the fennel, chopping off the ends and perhaps the outside leaves. Wash off any soil. When the water is boiling, add the fennel to it.
  4. Prepare one or more trays (depending on how many vegetables you want to get rid off), oiling them lightly or perhaps adding some aluminum wrap if you don’t want things to stick to your tray
  5. Peel or wash very thoroughly the potato (sometimes I like to keep the skin), and slice lengthwise. Lightly cut the flat sides so they get better cooked. Then place on the trays.
  6. The aubergine is pretty tedious to peel, so I don’t. Wash it carefully and slice it like the potato, and place on the tray too.
  7. Peel a few garlic cloves, slice them and place them on the aubergine slices. It adds a nice garlicy flavour!
  8. Peel the onion, slice it in four parts and place on the tray.
  9. When the fennel seems to have softened a bit, take it out of the pot, and (slice in 3 or 4 parts, place in tray)
  10. This is our tray of things that will take longer to cook: Aubergine, potato, fennel and onion
    Add a bit of olive oil and salt, and place in the oven so it starts cooking. 
  11. And now for the tray of delicate things that take less to cook: the tomatoes and pepper.
  12. Wash the pepper and slice longitudinally. Remove any seeds, and place on the tray.
  13. Wash the tomatoes and slice in somehow thick slices (don’t go too thin or they just evaporate down to nothing). Place in the tray, and then add some olive oil to everything, and sprinkle with pebrella or oregano over the tomatoes.  And place it in the oven.Pepper and tomatoes on the tray
  14. Keep an eye on the food as it cooks. Some things take less to cook, so you might need to take a tray out and remove some of the ingredients to prevent things from burning. Vegetables being roasted in the oven
    TIP: If it’s hard to look at the tray underneath because the oven light is on top, you can use your mobile phone’s flashlight function as a “lantern”.
  15. When things are cooked to your liking (e.g. some people prefer the potatoes more done and crispy, others prefer them tender…), arrange them in dishes, ready to serve. Roasted vegetables
  16. Optional: Right after turning the heat in the oven off, take a piece of chorizo, peel the skin off, slice it in two and place them in the oven to gently warm up while we cook the eggs. This will release its smokiness and soften the fats, so it’ll take a darker colour. Chorizo pieces
  17. Optional: Fry the eggs, and place on the dishes. Fried egg
  18. Add some paprika on top of the potatoes. I’m using smoked paprika like the one in this recipe.
  19. And there we go! Ready to eat 😋

Roasted vegetables with egg and chorizo

We had never roasted fennel before, and this was such a nice surprise. It turns way mellower than when raw, and the aniseed flavour is sort of surfing on top of a gentle wave of sweetness. It conjured visions of walking across fields on a slightly chill, crisp Autumn Sunday morning; muddy boots and all.

You would wonder: can a roasted fennel do ALL THAT to your mind? And my answer is that the only way to find out is to try it by yourself.

 

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.

Courghetti with tomato and onion sauce

Courghetti with tomato and onion sauce

This is fun to make (spiralising things is so much fun), and fairly quick to prepare. Plus it’s quite filling AND lightweight – courgettes are basically water!

You will need a spiraliser, or you can buy pre-made courghetti, although I’ve never tried those and I’ve no idea how bad or good they are!

Ingredients (for two people)

  • Two medium sized courgettes (about 15 cm length)
  • 1 onion
  • 3 or 4 garlic cloves
  • One 400g tomato tin
  • Olive oil
  • Optional: Parmesan cheese and butter (leave out if vegan)

Preparation

  1. Start by washing and spiralising the courgettes. I make one pile per courgette, as it makes it easier to separate the portions later
  2. Peel and chop the onion and garlic cloves
  3. Put oil on a pan, and start frying the onion and garlic
  4. In parallel, wash and chop the parsley, and add it to the pan as well
  5. Once the onion is pretty soft, move everything to one side, like in the picture
  6. Add some more oil, and set to a very high heat
  7. When the pan is very hot, add the contents of the tomato tin to it, and fry on a very high heat for about 1-2 minutes or until you think things are going to burn! Stir frequently during this time. The goal is to get the tomato to lose its acidity
  8. Now reduce the heat and simmer for about 20 minutes
  9. Optional: add a dash of butter now to get a deeper body. Mix it well until it dissolves.
  10. Slowly add about 200ml of warm water to compensate for the evaporation.
  11. Add a tablespoon of paprika, and mix well
  12. About 10 minutes in the simmering, try a bit of the sauce, and add salt and pepper to taste, mix well and try the sauce again. It might still be a bit acidic, but don’t add sugar – just wait for longer!
  13. Depending on the quality of the tomatoes, you might need to wait for longer. It usually pays off to wait as the flavour gets more developed and interesting. So you might need more than 20 minutes.
  14. Once the sauce is ‘done’, turn the heat off.
  15. To cook the courghetti, add some oil to another pan, and set on a very high heat.
  16. When the pan is very hot, add a ‘pile’ of courghetti, and stir continuously. We don’t want anything to get stuck, and we want the cooking to be homogeneous. We also don’t want the courghettis to get too soft, so that’s why we need the heat to be very high, so they cook outside but not too much inside. If the heat is too low, they will start releasing water, and the result will be too “liquidy”.
  17. Once one pile is cooked, place on a deep bowl, and go to step 15 to cook the next, until all have been cooked.
  18. Pour the sauce on top of the cooked courghetti
  19. Optional: add a good dose of grated Parmesan cheese
  20. Add some pepper
  21. Optional: add a dash of the best olive oil you have

Tricks and tips

I used this smoked paprika my mum brought me from Extremadura, a region in West Spain, renowned by the quality of their paprika!

Smoked paprika

If you have the chance to shop at a Spanish grocers, “Pimentón de la Vera” is the type of paprika you want to look for.

Also, depending on your spiraliser, you might get very long ‘courghetti’ so it might be interesting to cut the piles a few times with scissors before cooking them, so they’re not like 3 meters long and impossible to eat with a fork.

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).

Arroz con acelgas (rice with Swiss chard)

This is an extremely cheap, easy to cook and comforting rice dish, very typical from the region I’m from. You can make it more “liquidy” or drier, depending on your tastes.

I used this Spanish recipe as reference, but altered a few things. Thanks, Kiko!

Ingredients

  • 140 g of round rice (paella or bomba varieties)
  • A bunch of Swiss chard
  • 1 onion
  • 4 garlic cloves
  • 1 medium tomato (or a bunch of cherry tomatoes)
  • 100 g of cooked chickpeas (about half a 400g can, drained)
  • Paprika (not smoked)
  • Olive oil

This makes about 3 generous portions, or 4 if smaller. But it’s very easy to stretch it for more people by adding more water or rice.

Preparation

Takes about 45 minutes (15 min preparing, 30 min cooking).

You’ll need a big pot; cast iron pots (‘le Creuset’ style) are a very good option, although in Spain it’s often cooked on earthenware, but it’s a bit hard to find good quality affordable earthenware implements in the UK.

  1. Peel the garlic cloves, but don’t slice them
  2. Peel and chop the onion, it doesn’t need to be very finely
  3. Wash and chop the tomato
  4. Carefully wash the chard and discard “ugly bits” (we’re not the only ones who like chard – worms love them too!), then chop it in pieces of about 2cm wide
  5. Add oil to the pot, set on a high heat and fry the garlic and onion on itChopped onion
  6. Add the chard and fry it until it starts to soften (you should be stirring everything so nothing gets stuck or burnt)
  7. Add the tomato and fry it too
  8. Add a tablespoon of paprika, mix everything together
  9. Add the chickpeas
  10. Add about 600 ml of water for a dry version, or more like 800ml for a soup finish. Add a pinch of salt.
  11. Bring to a boil
  12. Reduce the heat, place a lid and simmer for about 10 minutes. This will extract all the great flavours from the vegetables.
  13. Add the rice (you don’t need to wash it; the starch will help us give a good depth to the dish). Stir around to make sure it’s evenly distributed.
  14. Optional: add food colouring. You could add saffron, turmeric, or the classic cheap version that we use in Valencia often – a spices mix for paella (often called “Preparado para paella”).
  15. Cook on a low-medium heat for about 20 minutes, with the lid on and slightly ajar to let the steam off, but don’t leave the pot unattended because…
    1. There might be a burst of boiling water come up and you don’t want it to overflow, asphyxiate your stove and cause a gas spill
    2. Or the rice might absorb all the water and run dry
    3. So if need be, add more water (specially if you want it to be more like a soup)
  16. Towards the 15 minutes mark, you want to start checking that the rice is cooked, and if that’s the case, turn the heat off! We aren’t cooking congee here.
  17. Serve on deep dishes or bowls, if having soup. And enjoy the smugness of having cooked a cheap and comforting dish! 😏

How to tell when rice is cooked?

  1. If you take a grain and it’s soft, but you can still feel some ‘crunch’ inside when you bite it: it’s still raw. Check again in a couple of minutes.
  2. If the grain is still sort of cylindrical and keeping the original raw shape, but inflated, and you feel no ‘solid crunch’ when biting it: it’s cooked!
  3. If the grain is starting to expand like fluffy clouds and dissolving in the soup: TURN THE HEAT OFF IMMEDIATELY AND REPENT. You’ll do better next time.

This dish is quite forgiving if the rice is slightly overcooked and you’re aiming for a soup form; but under or overcooking would be Capital Sins when aiming for a dry form.

Alternatives

  • If you can’t find paella rice, replace it with risotto or arborio rice. Basically you want rice that can absorb liquid.
  • If you don’t have fresh tomatoes, you could replace them with some tinned tomatoes, about half of a 400g tin.
  • If you can’t find Swiss chard you can use spinach (or maybe kale?!)
  • You can replace chickpeas with other legumes you have handy. It’s about the protein: imagine you’re a peasant and need energy to do your labour!
  • You could also use good vegetable stock instead of water, if you want extra flavour, although this dish doesn’t really need it. But maybe you have the stock there and do not know what to do with it.

As you can see, this is a very accommodating dish.

Trivia

This is often eaten during Lent, as it is vegan! Although we didn’t call it vegan at the time. We just said it did not have meat. When Lent falls in February, and a cold spell happens, it’s very nice to eat a comforting warm soupy rice dish.

It’s also meant to be “poor people’s food”, which is not quite surprising given the ingredients. Swiss chard grow very well in the region, and you can even find them growing semi-wildly in the borders of built up areas nowadays.

I distinctly remember a schooltrip to a chapel on top a little hill that overlooks my hometown. We heard the teachers squeaking  with excitement as they realised that one side of the hill was covered with sort of wild chard, and it just took them a few moments to cave in to temptation and start foraging for the prettiest leaves, declaring:

Esto, ¡para el hervido de esta noche!

Or “this, for tonight’s boiled dish”.

And we did what children do: imitate the adults. We started grabbing leaves too, thinking we were doing great. My grandmother was extremely bemused when I showed up with a random selection of weeds and worm-devoured Swiss chard leaves! 😂

For the curious in you, read an explanation of what this boiled dish is!