Christmas feasting...Spanish style
So it’s Christmas yet again and, for those of us in Spain, that means 12 days of round the clock celebrations originating from customs dating back many centuries. And no, we are not talking turkey!
Christmas cuisine is far different from that in much of the rest of Europe and Christmas Eve is the most important meal of the 12 days of festivities. Apart from New Year’s Eve, of course, and the all-important Three Kings on 6 January when the presents are handed out, just as the Three Kings gave their presents to Jesus after his birth.
Some Spanish homes do prepare a Christmas turkey, especially those living in rural areas. However, this is not like the roast turkey most of us know, as you will see from the following recipe – but believe me it does taste great.
Roast Turkey with Chestnuts
A medium sized turkey
400 gr chestnuts peeled
1 bay leaf
200 gr sausages
zest of 1 lemon
1 tin peaches
1 tablespoon port wine
1 teaspoon tarragon
200 gr smoked bacon chopped
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cloves garlic peeled and chopped
1 sprig rosemary
1 glass white wine
Salt and pepper
3 small onions cut into small pieces
Wash the turkey with warm water inside and out and dry with a kitchen paper.
Boil a pan of water with a couple of teaspoons of salt, add the chestnuts and the bay leaf and cook for approximately 10 minutes or until the chestnuts are soft. Then remove and drain.
In a strong earthenware oven dish place the butter, oil, garlic, rosemary and wine and place in the oven at 180ºC.
Set half of the chestnuts aside and chop the rest and put into a bowl.
Chop the sausages and add to the bowl with the drained and chopped peaches, bacon, port, tarragon and lemon zest. Mix all together, then add in the egg and mix again. Stuff the turkey with the mixture.
Remove the baking dish from the oven and place the turkey in it, making sure you baste it well with the mixture.
Cover the turkey with a piece of foil, return to the oven and cook for one hour. Then remove the foil and re-baste the turkey with all the juices.
Place the chopped onions and the rest of the chestnuts around the turkey and return to the oven for another hour.
Remove and leave the turkey to rest and then serve accompanied by fresh vegetables such as carrots and broccoli.
The Christmas Eve meals features special treats for the first course, such as cured cheese, the all important “pata negra” cured ham and prawns dipped into alioli, a garlic-flavoured mayonnaise.
Another important traditional dish which accompanies the first course on Christmas Eve is a rice salad flavoured with a vinaigrette and some chopped, cooked peppers and garnished with olives. The following recipe is a modern version of the traditional, is easy to prepare and can be done in advance. Just remember that Spanish rice takes longer to cook then Indian and oriental rice.
Andalucian Rice Salad
1 cup of cooked Spanish rice
8 tablespoons olive oil
3 tablespoons wine vinegar
1 large clove garlic finely chopped
1 small onion finely chopped
2 tablespoons parsley
Salt and pepper
1 jar of whole peppers (pimientos)
Green and black olives to garnish
Drain the peppers. Cut six narrow strips, set them aside and finely chop the rest.
Make the vinaigrette sauce by mixing the oil, vinegar, garlic and onions and seasoning with salt and pepper. Stir into the cold rice and add the chopped peppers and parsley.
Spoon the rice mixture into a serving bowl, cover and chill thoroughly.
When ready to serve decorate with the pepper strips and olives.
Fish is a Spanish classic on Christmas Day but the following sea bass recipe tastes good any time of the year…
Crispy Sea Bass and Spinach
1 sea bass (lubina weighing approx.1¾ kilos) cut into 4 fillets (you can ask your fishmonger to prepare this for you)
4 sheets of filo pastry
2 tablespoons melted butter
250 gr spinach
For the sauce:
200 gr mixed wild mushrooms cleaned and chopped
4 shallots finely chopped
1 knob of butter
1 handful chives finely chopped
200 ml vermouth
50 ml cream
10 strands saffron
10 ml fish stock
16 small Dublin Bay prawns (cigallas) shelled
First make the sauce by pouring the vermouth into a saucepan with the chopped shallots. Heat and add the chives and cook until reduced by one-third. Add the saffron and cream and cook until the mixture is reduced by half. Set aside.
Into a frying pan melt the knob of butter, add the mushrooms and fry for a few minutes before adding the fish stock. Set aside.
Brush each sheet of filo pastry with the melted butter. Lay a sea bass fillet on top of each and cover with the spinach. Roll up each parcel, sealing the ends, and transfer to an oven heated to 200ºC and cook for 12 minutes until the parcels are golden and crispy.
Meanwhile, re-heat the mushroom sauce, stir in the Dublin Bay prawns and cook for a couple of minutes. Finally pour in the vermouth sauce and heat, stirring well.
When the fish is ready spoon the sauce into four deep plates, cut each parcel into two and place on top and enjoy.
So how about a really yummy dessert to serve on any of the party days…
Chocolate and nut flan
420 gr sugar
400 gr softened butter
250 gr dark chocolate
200 gr flour
275 gr chopped walnuts
Break the eggs into a bowl and whip until they thicken and become creamy.
In another bowl mix the flour with the chopped nuts.
In a glass bowl place the softened butter with the broken up chocolate, microwave for one minute and set aside to cool.
Now stir the chocolate mixture into the flour and nuts and then carefully incorporate the beaten eggs.
Turn into a greased and lined 25-centimetre flan tin and cook in the oven at 200ºC for 10 minutes. Remove and leave to cool.
Now how about a simple Spanish classic, from Mallorca. Shops are packed at this time of the year with all sorts of traditional sweetmeats but the following recipe is Mallorca’s own version of turrón – made with hazelnuts on this occasion.
Turrón de avellana
286 gr hazelnuts
55 gr almonds also roasted and skinned
3 large egg whites
170 gr hard honey
170 gr caster sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Rice paper and parchment paper
Roast the nuts until the skins rub off and the nuts are a pale golden colour. Then grind them in a food processor until fine.
Whisk the egg white in a bowl until stiff then carefully fold the nuts.
Cover and leave in a cool place while you melt the honey and sugar together in a heavy bottomed pan.
Bring to the boil and then immediately lower the heat.
Add the nut mixture and continue to cook over a low heat for around 10 to 12 minutes, stirring all the time so the mixture does not become sticky.
Then turn out into a shallow tin lined with the rice paper. Cover with another layer of baking parchment and leave overnight to set.
Remove the top paper, sprinkle with cinnamon and cut into squares.
Have a magnificent festive season and don’t forget that on New Year’s Eve, when the clock strikes midnights, it is time to eat the traditional 12 grapes, guaranteed to bring good fortune in the coming year.