Spain has a weird bi-polar food culture, influenced hugely by the influx of foreigners with the British and Germans having a huge influence.
On the one hand there are brilliant local ingredients, fish and fruit, vegetables and breads on the other an invasion even more insidious than the ubiquitous golden arches and fried chicken establishments.
But to start with the good. Even in March there is a wealth of really fresh local food. Oranges, Lemons and Grapefruit abound so freshly squeezed juice every morning and Homemade Lemonade to wash down those interesting afternoon lunches.
Local products are freely available and at their ripest and freshest in the local markets. Pedreguer Market on a Sunday is buzzing. Yes there are lots of clothes stalls but the highlight, and the first that you come to are dedicated to food. The freshest of herbs and a wide range of salad leaves, Aubergines in many shapes and colours, onions ranging from big juicy sweet Spanish to pungent garlic flavoured Spring onions and several varieties of garlic itself. Inevitably a huge stock of Oranges was on display though the scrumping activities of the local clan meant that they were not on the shopping list.
The real stars of the show, though, were the Tomatoes. Several varieties were on offer, traditional round reds, Beef, Plum, Cherry and some really interesting multi coloured ones. Inspired by this bounty I rapidly devised several days meals and with an investment of around €5 I took several kilos back to the house.
Chopped Spring Onion – the garlicky one was sweated down with chopped local celery in a little Olive Oil whilst around 3 kilos of tomatoes were quartered and added to the pan. Simmered gently for a round 40 minutes and then seasoned and liquidised they surrendered a couple of litres of tomato sauce.
The first outing for the sauce was as an accompaniment to Pasta. An onion was diced and sweated before diced Chorizo, again from the market, joined in. Fresh tomato sauce was added and finally the cooked Pasta before serving with a fresh green salad and a tomato salad of six varieties with a little seasoning and a drizzle of Olive Oil.
The following day the sauce was resurrected as the basis for Ratatouille with purple and pink-striped Aubergines and some Courgettes, Onions and Celery. To provide the carbohydrates I taught Arran my 14 year old step-nephew to make bread and we served fresh rolls as an accompaniment.
Bread surfaced again the next day along with the tomato sauce. Rolls were made and, once risen, were rolled out really thin to make a Pizza base. The sauce provided the topping and individuals added their own choice of Mushrooms, Onions, Tomatoes, Herbs, Seasoning, Cheeses (either local or generically Spanish) and meats for 5 totally different Pizzas, again served with a (largely) Rocket salad and wine from the Jalon Valley.
Amazingly we were in the only area of Spain to have rain – though snow fell on some of the higher ground- so it was as well that Denia had an indoor market to continue the foodie adventure.
Valenciana produce was again well to the fore but some stalls offered Galician and Catalan alternatives. But before we could shop there was the matter of breakfast.
Café Solo may not be Espresso but it runs it a damn close second and accompanied by a fresh Bocadillo and a few Churros (open sandwich and deep fried choux pastry dredged in icing sugar) we were ready.
The influx of people from across Europe was highlighted in the market. A German butcher, a Dutch patisserie, and another German, this time baking, all had stalls. The local butchers specialised in Rabbit alongside the Beef, Pork, Lamb and Chicken and a huge range of charcuterie was available.
Fruit stalls, more exotic than at Pedreguer, but still fresh and cheap, jostled for space with the bread and meats and at the rear were three fishmongers. I have to say that I despair at the Spanish approach to fishing. Along with the shrimp, crab and prawns were beautiful John Dory, Monkfish and Sea Bream but they were all tiny. I thought that the EU protected fish stocks but here they were ripped forth before their time, unformed. I wrestled with my conscience as the fish looked wonderful and just ready for a really good stew or soup – and I still had some tomato sauce – but in the end I left them.
The only baby fish that I consumed came later in the day. Tapas for lunch saw us settled in a restaurant surely modelled on Yo! Sushi. You selected from a range and the bill was based on the number and size of the cocktail sticks used to hold the tasty morsels together. Amongst others I had a fresh Ham and Pepper Bruschetta (there must be a Spanish word) with a chilled poached Quail Egg and an amazing dish with elvers on top. Elvers are a real luxury, and living just a few miles from the Severn one that I should have tried earlier – if only they were not all exported to Spain!!
From there it all went downhill but that will be a separate rant.