From Magi I cooked with María. María was a woman I had a lot in common with as we shared a mutual love for food and Andalucía. A native Vejeriega (citizen of Vejer de la Frontera) María returned to the stunning white village where she grew up after a stint living in London’s Paddington. The passion she had for her region was infectious and very tangible. María and her husband Pepe had themselves a farmhouse in El Soto just outside of Vejer, and one glorious Sunday in May they invited me to join them with some close friends for a barbecue.
What an experience. We arrived and Pepe was soon showing me around their huerta (vegetable patch) where I came across the most beautiful courgettes, lettuces, pumpkins, potatoes and cauliflower. The house sits on the banks of the Barbate River where the soil is very fertile. As I marvelled and helped María pick some veg for lunch, the barbie was alight and the entire shoulder of a cow was displayed before me. This was only ever going to be from Pepe’s own cow of course. Pepe is an extremely proud Andalucían hombre (he rides his horse on the beach) and a real character. I must say I do miss both Pepe & María dearly.
María has such a wealth of knowledge about the culinary heritage of Spain’s Cádiz province, so much so she documents it in her own blog. I remember her recounting stories of her childhood and the kind of food she grew up with. Like any local family, there was plenty of fish devoured and so it was only natural to have fish on the menu again. What María proposed was Fideos con Caballas (fideua noodles with fresh mackerel). Naturally she would bring the fresh veg from her farmhouse and so brought along organic peppers that she had already roasted for our salad by the time we arrived. They smelled and tasted so sweet (I had to sample) and I was salivating before the filming began. I would provide the fish, which made for a good opportunity to visit the fish market in the neighbouring town of Barbate. If you watch the opening to Part 1 you will see that the market was brimming with the freshest fish you could wish for. Rick Stein would be impressed.
I feel privileged to have met and cooked with someone like María. A very intelligent woman with a worldly view, she knows that home is where the heart is and so decided to stay. I respect that a lot and what an ambassador she is for her home. Here she gave me the opportunity to produce another rustic dish from this beautiful part of the world. Rustic is what excites me most, especially when sitting on a terrace sheltered by the Andalucían summer sun, knowing that every ingredient that touches your lips (including the wine) is from the surrounding area.
Fideos con Caballa
The key to this dish is the stock. Try and get yourself to your local fish market and ask the fishmonger to fillet the mackerel and give you the heads, tails and bones. It will make the world of difference
Prep Time - 25mins (including preparing the stock)
Cooking Time - 30mins
Resting Time - 5mins
Stock - fresh fish stock (otherwise 2 stock cubes boiled in water)
Garlic - 2 cloves
Green Pepper - 1
Onions - 2
Smoked Sweet Paprika - 2 tbsp
Tomatoes - 3 ripe tomatoes (optional)
Fino or Manzanilla Sherry - 1/2 glass (otherwise white wine)
Fresh Mackerel - 2 or 3 fresh fillets
Fideua pasta - 250g (No.4)
Prepare the stock - ideally you will have the mackerel heads, tails & bones which you bring to the boil in plenty of water and boil for at least 15mins (the longer the better) with salt and a bay leaf. (Otherwise you can cook your mackerel fillets for 1 minute in boiling water before removing and reserving them for later. If you want to remove the skin of the mackerel, boiling them like this will make it easier to remove the skin and any remaining bones once cooled. You can dissolve a fish stock cube in this water for added flavour)
The Sofrito - Chop your garlic, green pepper and tomatoes (if using) in to roughly sized pieces and your onion in to long and thin juliennes. Pour some olive oil into a large enough pan to cook the entire dish and add your garlic, green pepper and onions over a medium heat
Salt, Paprika & Tomatoes - once the sofrito has begun to fry, add the salt and paprika followed by your tomatoes
Sherry - cook down further, stirring occasionally, and then add approx. 1/2 glass of Sherry
Mackarel fillets - add the raw mackerel fillets to poach. If you boiled the fillets earlier to prepare the stock, add the mackerel later with the pasta
Stock - add enough ladlefuls of stock to cook the pasta in (approx.1/2 litre). If made from the fish bones, you will need to strain the fish stock before adding it to the pan
Fideua Pasta - bring the stock to the boil and then add the fideua. Cook to the time advised on the packet (around 12mins). Cook on a medium heat for 5mins then lower the heat (still high enough to maintain a rolling boil)
As soon as the mackerel and pasta are cooked (it should not be al dente), turn the heat off, cover the pan and leave it to rest for 5mins. At this point you are looking for the dish to be 'caldoso,' which is Spanish for soupy. This is not a dry dish like a paella and so some liquid should remain at the end of cooking
Tuna salad with María’s Peppers
Like the Arroz con Tomate dish I prepared with Magi, this refreshing salad used tinned tuna. I hate to say it but tinned tuna is just not the same over here. Many Spaniards will buy canned Bonito tuna which is more meaty (and delicious) than the kind we get over here. You can quite easily find canned Bonito from most Mediterranean delis, but as a substitute I would suggest canned sardines. Alternatively, if you can get your hands on some lush organic peppers then I don’t think fish is even needed. Let the fresh veg speak for themselves.
Roasting Time - 1hr 30mins
Prep Time - 20mins
Green & Red Peppers - 3 in total
Onion - 1
Bonito Tuna - 1 can
Sherry Vinegar - 2 tbsp
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Peppers - roast whole for approx. 1hr 30mins at 180°C until charred and very soft. Once cool, halve, core, deseed and dry the peppers before slicing them in to long, thin strips. Add to the serving bowl
Onion - finely slice and add to the bowl
Tuna - Remove from the can and delicately slice into small chunks (removing any bones if using sardines)
Dress with the sea salt, sherry vinegar and a LIGHT coating of extra virgin olive oil (unlike myself). Give it a good but gentle mix and serve (or chill in the fridge and dress later)
If you can get your hands on some fresh sardines, grill them as a side dish. Drizzle them with a little olive oil and salt and cook on a burning hot barbecue or griddle pan until crispy. To check that the sardines are cooked, pinch the thickest part of the fish where the flesh should fall off the bone easily. Before serving squeeze over some lemon juice and fresh parsley