Q: How did the Spanish navy influence Spanish cuisine?
At this time of year there really is nothing like indulging in the rich, earthy flavours of Spanish food (and a glass or two of sangria) to keep the winter chills at bay. Inspired by the Spanish tradition of preparing simple, seasonal food (and a Euro 2012 win), this week we have produced our ‘Market 5’ guide to the best performing (and buying) produce at the Sydney Markets for bringing an authentic, Spanish twist to your menu.
PIMENTOS: aka Peppers, Capsicums, Chillies
Peppers (or pimentos in Spanish) play a key role in Spanish cuisine. The markets at the moment are full of peppers (both capsicums and chillies) that are crisp, vibrant and full of flavour making them an easy choice for the ‘Market Five’. We have chosen to profile the habanero chilli, however for more information on the varieties of ‘pepper’ available and their unique characteristics, please click here.
1. Habanero Chilli
Availability: all year – best Nov – Mar
Appearance: look like a small bell pepper that has had the air sucked out
Flavour: very hot and spicy, with a hint of citrus. Average between 100,000 and 350,000 on the Scoville scale depending on growing conditions
Best For: a very angry tomato sauce, spicy salsa
Originally imported from Mexico, tomatoes were believed to be unfit for consumption however they are now at the heart of many Spanish dishes, including Sofrito, Patatas bravas (crisp spiced potatoes), Pan con Tomate (tomato bread), Gazpacho (cold tomato soup) and Paella. Today we have featured the all purpose truss tomato, however to view a more comprehensive overview of Simon George & Sons varieties click here.
2. Truss tomatoes: (available in gourmet, cherry, baby roma, roma)
Availability: all year, best Dec – Feb
Appearance: rich, red fruit still attached to vine
Flavour: usually ripened on the vine, these have a wonderful rich flavour and are suitable for eating fresh and for cooking
Best for: suitable for eating fresh and cooked
Potatoes are a key ingredient in a number of famous Spanish dishes, the most obvious being potato tortilla (Tortilla de Patata) and Patatas Bravas mentioned above. Most potato varieties are at their peak this time of year and all are currently performing well at the markets. For tortilla de patata and patatas bravas the potatoes are fried, therefore I would recommend using either an all-rounder or waxy variety, here I have featured Bintje. For a list of varieties under these headings click here.
Available: all year, best Nov- Aug
Appearance: small – medium elongated oval, with yellow skin (brown flecks) and cream white flesh
Flavour: our most popular waxy potato it is firm fleshed and creamy
Best for: any dish that requires the potato to be fried. A good cooking potato.
Spain is the 6th largest producer of oranges in the world and with two orange varieties (Seville/Valencia) named after growing regions in Spain, it is safe to assume that this wonderful citrus contributes to their national food identity. Here I have featured two different orange varieties that sadly boast short seasons at the Sydney Markets but are wonderful while they are here.
4. Blood Oranges:
Available: late Jun – Aug (having just come into season they need a week to be at their best, but will be worth the wait)
Appearance: medium sized fruit boasting orange skin with a red blush and orange-red flesh
Flavour: sweet, juicy and less acidic that regular oranges
Best for: Sangria, they bring a wonderful colour and refreshing zest to this traditional Spanish wine
5. Seville Oranges:
Available: Jul- Aug
Appearance: medium sized fruit with thick, orange skin that is difficult to peel
Flavour: very acidic and therefore very tart
Best for: whilst often used in marmalades, the acid in Seville oranges makes them perfect for serving with particularly oily or fatty dishes. In Southern Spain they are also frequently served with fish dishes, such as salted cod, to bring out the flavours of the fish
A: Many of the dishes we know as being distinctively ‘Spanish’ came about as a result of the bold venturing of the Spanish navy, in particular the discoveries of Christopher Columbus. Of the ingredients listed above, all of which are considered synonymous with traditional Spanish food, none are actually native to Europe. It was the Spanish conquest (and colonisation) of the Americas, made possible by a thriving navy, that brought the wonders of peppers, tomatoes and potatoes into the Spanish diet. This ‘new world’ produce was adopted into the Spanish cuisine over time, resulting in native dishes renowned for their rich combination of Moorish spice and exotic flavours.