Spain

The Kingdom of Spain was the leading world power throughout the 16th and most of the 17th century, however continued wars and other problems eventually led to a diminished status. It maintained and enlarged its vast overseas empire, which remained intact until the beginning of the 19th century. When the Carthaginians arrived in Spain in 300 BCE they called it Ispania, which meant “land of the rabbits” which over time has changed to España.
I’ve visited Spain many many times and it is a truly wonderful place. My highlights include exploring the stunning Alhambra Palace in Granada, lazing on sun drenched beaches in the Balearics, sampling exquisite pintxos in San Sebastián, shopping in my favourite store – Massimo Dutti in Madrid, and dancing the night away in Barcelona’s W Hotel rooftop bar.
A few interesting facts:
Spain was the third most visited country in the world in 2015 with 68.1 million visitors
The Sagrada Familia church in Spain, has been under construction for over 130 years and it’s only expected to be complete by 2026
There are no laws against public nudity in Spain
The world’s oldest existing lighthouse is the Tower of Hercules, in Spain, erected in the first century and still operational
Spain produces 45% of all olive oil in the world and it accounts for 20% of the world’s olive oil consumption
Britain accidentally invaded Spain in 2002. About 20 Royal Marines disembarked in Spain instead of Gibraltar for 5 minutes until the error was recognised and they all withdrew
There’s a zipline connecting Spain and Portugal. It’s 2,365 ft (720 m) and 60 seconds long
The youngest king ever was Alfonso XIII of Spain, who became king the day he was born
There’s a direct descendant of Christopher Columbus alive today. His name is Cristóbal Colón de Carvajal y Gorosábel and he’s the 18th Duke of Veragua
The Eiffel Tower was originally intended for Barcelona, Spain, but the project was rejected as it was “too expensive and strange”
Real Madrid is the most valuable sports team in the world with annual revenues of $650m and a brand value of $3.3 billion

Spanish cuisine has humble origins and is the result of ingredients put together by poor peasants or farmers often using leftovers. Geography and climate, had great influence on cooking methods and available ingredients. One of the things that makes Spanish food so popular is the quality and variety of the ingredients. Jamon Iberico is considered the best and most expensive ham in the world. Some favourite Spanish dishes include Paella (Valencian rice dish), Esqueixada (salted cod salad with tomato and onion), Ajo blanco (almond soup), Gazpacho (cold soup made from raw vegetables), Polbo á feira (Galician octopus), Conejo en salmorejo (braised rabbit in paprika sauce), Cochinillo asado (roast suckling pig) and Crema catalana (burnt cream). I decided to make a selection of Tapas – Champinones al ajillo (garlic mushrooms), Garbanzos con chorizo (chickpeas with chorizo), Tortilla (Spanish omelette), Croquetas de jamon (ham croquettes) and Padron peppers. Although it was quite a lot of effort, it was absolutely worth it. They were all delicious, but the chickpeas were super scrumptious!

Rating: 10/10

Serves: 4
Prep time: 2-3 hours
Cook time: 2 hours

Champinones al ajillo (garlic mushrooms)

500 grams mushrooms
5 or 6 cloves of garlic cut in slices
1/3 cup (100 ml) olive oil
½ or more cup white wine
½ cup of pieces of jamon Serrano or cubes of deli ham (optional)
a generous pinch of salt
pepper to taste
1 tbsp. chopped parsley

First clean and slice your mushrooms and peel and slice the garlic
For cooking this dish you can use a clay casserole dish or a regular frying pan
Heat a generous amount of olive oil, just enough so that the garlic doesn’t burn but not so much that its completely swimming
After a couple minutes add the mushrooms and the white wine
Feel free to also add a bit more oil if you need to
The mushrooms will take about 10 minutes to cook and you can add the ham bits at any time
When they are cooked, and most of the juice has been cooked off, add salt, pepper and the chopped parsley

Garbanzos con chorizo (chickpeas with chorizo)

1 tin chickpeas
3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2 garlic cloves
1 onion, chopped
1 carrots, chopped
200g spicy chorizo, sliced
150g dry-cured bacon, cubed
700ml chicken stock
1 bay leaf
1 pinch sea salt
1 pinch fresh ground black pepper
1 handful flat-leaf parsley, freshly chopped

Heat the oil in a saucepan and lightly fry the chopped garlic, onions and carrots
When the vegetables are nicely golden, add the chorizo and bacon and fry until the bits are brown all over
Add the stock and the bay leaf and bring to the boil
Add the chickpeas and cook for about 1 hour (taste to check they’re cooked)
While they are cooking, skim off any foam or chorizo fat that comes to the surface
Once the chickpeas are soft but not mushy, season to taste
Add a little boiling water if you like a more soupy consistency
Drizzle a little olive oil over the top and scatter over the chopped parsley

Tortilla (Spanish omelette)

100ml olive oil for the potato
2 medium potatoes, finely sliced
1/2 onion, finely sliced
2 large free-range eggs
2 tbsp olive oil for the tortilla
sea salt
freshly ground black pepper

In a saucepan, heat the oil over a medium heat. Add the potatoes and the onion and cook for around 10 minutes or until they are soft. Drain the oil.
In a bowl, beat the eggs and add the potato and onion mixture, combining well.
Heat the oil in a non-stick 15 cm frying pan. When the oil is hot, add the mixture. Swirl the pan over a high heat until the mixture starts to set around the edges, then reduce the heat and cook for 4–5 minutes until it just starts to set and the bottom and sides are golden, but it is still quite loose in the middle.
Cover the pan with a flat lid or board and turn the tortilla carefully onto it. Don’t worry that it is still quite runny – it will all come back together when you continue to cook it. Slide the tortilla back into the pan, then put the pan back on a low heat. Use a spatula to tuck the edges of the tortilla under to give it its characteristic curved look. Cook for a couple of minutes, then turn onto a board and keep warm.
The tortilla should still be lovely and juicy in the middle when you cut into them

Croquetas de jamon (ham croquettes)

4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
½ small leek, diced as small as possible – 3mm pieces
70g Ibérico or other air-dried ham, diced very small
60g plain flour
75ml ham or vegetable stock
325ml whole milk
freshly grated nutmeg
sea salt and freshly ground
black pepper
75g plain flour
2 large eggs, beaten
25g manchego cheese, finely grated
75g breadcrumbs
oil, for frying

Heat the olive oil in a pan until it starts to shimmer, then add the leek and sauté until soft but not coloured
Stir in the ham, fry for another minute, then stir in the flour and fry over a medium heat until the mixture is golden but not burnt, this will take about 5 minutes. It is important that the flour is cooked properly otherwise the croquetas will taste of flour.
Combine the stock and milk in a small pan and heat until hot but not boiling. Season the liquid with a few scrapes of nutmeg. Gradually add the liquid to the roux, a few tablespoons at a time, stirring the mixture all the time. Once you have incorporated all the milk, continue to cook the sauce for about 5 minutes until it thickens and leaves the sides of the pan when you stir it. At this stage, add a couple of turns of the pepper mill, taste the roux and adjust the salt if necessary – the ham can be very salty to start with. The sauce is now done: it’s got to be really thick because you don’t want the croquetas to turn into pancakes! Smooth the sauce on to a baking tray (30cm x 20cm is fine) then cover with clingfilm to stop the mixture drying out. Leave it to cool before putting it in the fridge for an hour.
When you are ready for the next stage, line up three bowls: one with flour, the other with beaten egg, and the third with the breadcrumbs and grated cheese. Dust your hands with flour, take a ball and roll it between your palms. The size of the croquettes is up to you, but the easiest is a walnut-sized ball. Next, dunk the croqueta into the flour – you want more of dusting than a coat – followed by the egg and then the breadcrumbs. Put the croquetas on a tray and when you’ve used up all the mixture, put them all back in the fridge for 30 minutes.
If you have a deep fat fryer, heat the oil to 175°C/325°F and fry the croquetas for a couple of minutes. If not, heat the oil in a frying pan until it starts to shimmer, then add 3 or 4 croquetas at a time and fry until they are golden all over. You don’t want them to cook too quickly otherwise the centre won’t be hot enough.

Padron peppers

3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
8 ounces whole Padrón peppers
Sea salt flakes

Heat olive oil in a large heavy skillet over medium high heat
Add the peppers to the pan in a single layer
Fry the peppers, moving constantly until the peppers begin to brown and blister, do not overcook
Remove from the oil and drain on a rack lined with paper towels
Sprinkle with sea salt and serve immediately

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Indulging in Spanish Tapas!
Parte Vieja. Old town. Donostia. San Sebastian. Basque Country. Spain.
Pintxos bars in San Sebastián
aguas-blancas-beach-ibiza
Aguas Blancas beach, Ibiza
alhambra-palace-granada
Alhambra Palace, Granada
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Barcelona’s W Hotel rooftop bar
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Enjoying the Mercado de San Miguel, Madrid, Spain
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