This is authentic Team Work™: my partner prepared and cooked the leeks and potatoes, and I puréed them and prepared the croutons! 😜
Butter, olive oil or coconut oil
Peel the potatoes, trim off the ugly bits in the leeks and possibly remove the outer leaf, as it tends to be quite sad looking. Wash everything thoroughly, to remove soil.
Slice everything in quite small pieces—the smaller, the faster they’ll cook.
Put in a pot with water and lots of pepper.
Bring pot to a boil, and leave to simmer for about 45 minutes or an hour (until the potatoes start to break apart).
For the croutons, I used dry bread left overs. Instead of throwing it away, I diced it and saved it in a box. So when I need croutons, I just put them in the pan with a bit of oil, salt and pepper, and fry them, tossing them in the pan until they’ve absorbed the oil (this also makes them not be hard like rocks anymore).
I used a blender to purée the potatoes and leeks, but if you’d prefer a bit more of texture you could use a fork or a potato masher accessory to roughly mash them.
Add butter (or your substitution of choice) to taste, mix well, and correct for salt after the butter is well mixed–specially if the butter is salted! Don’t add salt before. Adding some fat is essential because otherwise this soup can feel quite thin and insipid.
Finally, serve with the croutons. And enjoy!
This is so good for cold days 😃
You can make this vegan if you choose a vegetal oil instead of butter.
It might be interesting to experiment with other spices instead of just pepper: perhaps nutmeg? some moderately hot chilli?
My partner was really excited to experiment with the rice cooker, because it has a soup-making function, so we used that instead. With this method, it takes way longer to cook the soup: 2 hours! and that’s even if we added hot water to start with. But it can be programmed in advance and it has a “keep warm” setting, so it’s nice to find the soup waiting for you when you arrive home.
The fastest option would be to use a pressure cooker, in which case we would be done in about 15 minutes. You’d put everything on the cooker, add water to cover, close the lid, bring to pressure, reduce heat and simmer for 10-12 minutes, then turn the heat off, wait for the pressure to come down (or release it manually, depending on how hungry you are) so you can open the lid, and then continue from step 5. I so love pressure cookers! 💨😍
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
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)
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:
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.
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 😅).
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.
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).
Then wash and add a tiny little bit of cod to the pot. This is a 100g 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:
check for salt, correcting if needed, and the…
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:
And here they are after cooking and setting. The food is ready!
To serve, use deep bowls. Take the eggs first, then “top up” with as much stew as you want.
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.
Yesterday evening I was feeling quite tired and in want of a comforting dinner, but I didn’t feel like walking to the shops once I was home. I scoured the kitchen cupboards and there was this bunch of potatoes whispering “boil us… boil us…”
And so I did!
Butter or olive oil
This is tearfully simple to prepare and cook, which is great when your brain is exhausted.
Either peel the potatoes or wash the skin thoroughly (I sometimes leave the skin in, specially if the potatoes are newer and have no “eyes” 👀)
Same with the carrots
Cut everything into small cubes or slices, the smaller the faster they will cook
Put them on a pot
Add water, a centimeter or two above the “cover everything with water” level
Cover with a lid
Turn the heat on high, and bring to a boil
When it starts boiling, bring the heat down to medium-low, and let it simmer (maybe also turn on your extractor fan or everything will get very steamy)
How long? it depends on the amounts and the sizes of the cubes! But about 30 minutes. You might need to add extra water if it runs dry–you want a soup, not just boiled vegetables. And you should also test them from time to time; try smashing a cube with a spoon against the pot. If it is soft or breaks down easily, it’s time to turn the heat off!
Depending on your texture preferences, you can mash the vegetables directly in the pot if you have a mashing accessory, or maybe blend it with a blender. Or you can do nothing if things are mushy enough!
Serve on a deep bowl or dish. Add olive oil or butter, salt and pepper. (I’m blatantly stealing my partner’s trick of adding a lot of pepper as it brings a lot of heat to the tongue without adding chilli).
This method is great to finish off any old vegetables you have lying around. Onions? Beans? Sweet potatoes? Celery? Leek? It’s all good: peel, slice and add to the pot!
It’s also very easy to make a big batch, so you can have dinner for two days (or two people). I haven’t tried freezing this, though.
Some background (the “origin story”)
This totally brings me back to my childhood: we’d have a dish of boiled vegetables as the starter for dinner, then maybe some deli meats and bread, or an omelette, or fish, or something lightweight like that. We call this dish “bollit” in Valencian, or “hervido” in Spanish, which means… boiled!
Although back then we would boil the vegetables without dicing them, so you would get a whole potato in your dish! This also took longer to cook, specially if you didn’t use a pressure cooker. My grandparents didn’t—they seemed to always use the same small weathered pot, and they had to start cooking their bollit every day at 18h for it to be in time for dinner.
If you happened to show up at their home at 20h, you would both get welcomed by an intense smell of boiled onions, and also severely admonished for visiting them so late! 😂