We arrived late at our Casita way up in the Sierra de Tramantana between Soller and Deia. Hell’s teeth the gradient getting up to the house was steep – strong smell of burning clutch which lasted about 10 days.
First we were greeted by three ewes and a ram, one with a bell. Their favourite trick was to run up and down the outside stairs at about 3am. When I was feeling generous I would smile and imagine the ram, helpless to resist the pull of lady-sheep pheronomes. Not to mention the inability to quell his rampant instincts. Feeling less generous at 3am, I would imagine they were charging up and down those stairs like pantomime sheep, deliberately disturbing my peace. Then I dreamed of little lamb chops, or a leg of lamb on a spit, gently dropping its rich juices into the fire.
We were also greeted by two gas rings (one didn’t work). And one woodburning oven in a pretty small room (it was between 28 and 34C outside). Of course a lesser mortal would have screeched and demanded to be taken out to dinner every night. As for me, I felt excited, challenged and my imagination was already running riot. That lamb! Aubergine. Fish. Flatbread. One pot dishes. Almonds and pears. Figs. Prawns.
David took charge of the firing-up. I took claimed custody of the woodburner, and mine it remained for the next two weeks. We experimented and it really was ok. Had to be more conscious of timing. Would I put a meal in on the rising heat or the falling heat? And what dish should I use? All of a sudden terracotta came into its own. Especially those wide terracotta dishes with convex bases – which of course sat neatly on the gas ring and then on a circular terracotta ring in the oven itself. I’ve had many a disaster cooking in these dishes at home, stupidly not using a diffuser. Stupidly not soaking them for 24 hours in water before the first use. They dont work well on electric plates. Gas is better. But woodburing ovens rule now, in my world. And I want one.
So just to give you a taster – some Tapas.
Chop and roast over a high heat half a kilo of large good ripe tomatoes with some chilli flakes, a teaspoon of sugar, hot smoked paprika, olive oil and just a little water. Mash down with a fork when they are mushy and season with sea salt, black pepper and oregano. Take off the heat. Add the sauce to previously wood-oven roasted chopped potatoes and you have instant Patatas Bravas.
Roughly chop some meaty Chorizo and either roast or fry it for no more than 5 minutes – keep it juice and sweet, don’t draw the life out of it by too much heat. Make it the last thing you cook. Chorizo done.
In a shallow terracotta dish pour in a good glug of olive oil and sliced red peppers: Oh those gorgeous peppers – huge, mis-shapen, dull red on the outside, slightly grey on the inside – sweet and juicy. Roast them in the rising oven put in at about 150C and cook at around 200C. You want them charred. When almost stuck to the dish, take out of the oven and divide the peppers into four rough ‘pockets’ in the dish, drop an egg in each pocket and cover with foil. Leave on the worksurface and the residual heat in the dish will cook the eggs in about 10 minutes.
Whilst the peppers are in the oven, put an aubergine or two on a metal tray and just a little oil. Roast and char until the skin is BURNED and the flesh is soft (about 15 minutes). Then remove and put in a plastic bag and fold it up so no air gets in. Leave for 5 minutes then carefully peel back the charred skin (hot, hot hot) and tip the roasted flesh into a bowl, stir in a little ground cumin, cinnamon, mashed garlic and a heavy glug of olive oil and seasalt.
Take last night’s left over rice out of the fridge (which you cooled quickly once you’d had enough risotto or paella). With wet hands, form it into balls the size of a golf ball. Push in a small chunk of cheese or ham into the middle. Then coat in egg and breadcrumbs and deep or shallow fry.
Slap some triangles of roughly rolled bread dough onto the base of the oven whilst you are putting all the other dishes on the table. Turn the flatbread after 2 minutes and cook for one more minute on the other side.
Hey presto – a supper before your eyes in about 45 minutes accompanied by wonderful olives, preserved baby aubergine and onions in red wine. all with a delightful hint of woodsmoke from the oven.
Eat, preferably outside, with the new moon rising over the mountains with a cold beer or a good glug of red. And good friends.
More Spanish food adventures to come – including little lamb chops, sizzling prawns, paella poisoning, Spanish Markets, olives, squid, rabbit with offal, crocquettas bacalao…………