Sunday 17 December 2017

Basque in the sun with these traditional Spanish recipes

BASQUE: Spanish Recipes from San Sebastián and Beyond by José Pizarro (Hardie Grant)

Pastel vasco
Pastel vasco
Tortilla de bacalao
Tomato soup with jamón & Idiazábal
BASQUE: Spanish Recipes from San Sebastián and Beyond by José Pizarro (Hardie Grant)

José Pizarro's new book transports readers to the very heart of the Basque country, where he takes inspiration from traditional dishes and local ingredients

Pastel vasco

Its French name is gâteau Basque and in the Basque country, it's known as biskotxa.

It's originally from the Basque region of France, and nowadays it's popular in the Spanish Basque region as well. You can find mentions of this dish as far back as the 17th century, when it was sometimes made with almonds and stuffed with fruit or jam. These days, it's normally made using flour and then filled with crème patisserie. I like it like this, but always add jam too - and why not? Don't forget to put the lauburu, or Basque cross, on top as this is the symbol of the region, and it looks really pretty too.

Serves 8


For the jam 200g (7oz) cherries, pitted and halved

Handful of lemon verbena leaves

Juice of 1 lemon

90-125g (3¼-4oz) jam (jelly) sugar

For the pastry 125g (4oz) unsalted butter

100g (3½oz) caster (superfine) sugar

1 whole free-range egg

1 free-range egg yolk

225g (8oz) plain (all-purpose) flour

½ tsp baking powder

1 free-range egg, beaten to glaze

For the filling 300ml (10fl oz) full-fat (whole) milk

1 vanilla pod, split and seeds scraped

4 free-range egg yolks

50g (2oz) caster (superfine) sugar

25g (1oz) plain (all-purpose) flour

2 tsp cornflour (cornstarch)


First, make the jam. Put the cherries in a pan, add the lemon verbena leaves and lemon juice and cook slowly for about 20-25 minutes until the cherries have broken down. Pour into a jug and measure how much juice you have. You want to add about three-quarters of the amount you have in sugar. Tip the fruit and juice back into the pan, add the sugar and gently heat to dissolve the sugar, then bring to the boil. Cook hard until you reach the setting point - this could be as little as 10 minutes. Have a plate in the freezer and when the bubbles start to get slow and sluggish, it is time to test.

Spoon a little of the jam onto the cold plate and push it with your finger. If it wrinkles, then it is ready; if not, then cook for 5 more minutes and test again. Alternatively, you can use a sugar thermometer and take the jam off the heat when the temperature reaches 105°C (221°F). When the jam is ready, pour it into a bowl and set aside to cool completely.

For the pastry, beat the butter and sugar together until really creamy and fluffy. Beat in the egg and egg yolk, then add the flour and baking powder. Bring together to a dough and knead briefly until smooth, then shape into a disc and chill for 30 minutes.

Heat the milk in a pan with the vanilla pod and seeds until almost boiling. Beat the egg yolks and sugar together until fluffy, then add the flours and beat until smooth. Pour over the milk and mix together, then return to the pan over a low heat and cook until you have a very thick, smooth mixture. Spoon into a bowl, cover with cling film (plastic wrap) and leave to cool completely.

Cut off a piece of pastry about 50g (2oz) in weight to use to make the lauburu (Basque cross). Divide the rest of the pastry into a third and two-thirds. Roll out the bigger bit and use to line the base and sides of a 25cm (10in) deep, loose-bottomed cake tin.

Spoon the cold cream filling into the tin, then dot spoonfuls of the jam over the top. Roll out the smaller piece of pastry and cover the jam, trimming away any excess and crimping the sides of the pastry together.

Roll out the last bit of pastry and cut out the Basque cross (you may want to make a template to help you). Brush the top of the pastry with the beaten egg, top with the cross, then glaze again. Chill while you heat the oven to 180°C (350°F/Gas 4).

Bake the pie for 35-45 minutes until golden brown. Leave to cool in the tin before releasing and serving.

Tortilla de bacalao

Tortilla de bacalao

Another tortilla de bacalao? Well yes, I couldn't write a book on the food of the Basque Country and not include this recipe. It's a must-have dish when you are in a sidrería (cider house).

My interpretation is to caramelise the onions to bring more sweetness to the tortilla and the bacalao is not cooked. When you caramelise the onions, make plenty as you can keep them in the fridge for at least a week - they make a great addition to any sandwich, or just on toast with some goat's cheese. Heaven.

Serves 4-6


400g (14oz) salt cod

125ml (4fl oz) olive oil

3 large white onions, finely sliced

Handful of thyme, leaves stripped

6 free-range eggs

Freshly ground black pepper

Handful of finely chopped flat-leaf parsley


Soak the cod in cold water, skin side up, for 24 hours, changing the water a couple of times.

Heat the oil in a large pan and gently fry the onions for a few minutes. Cover with a lid and cook over a low heat for 25 minutes until really soft. Remove the lid, add the thyme and cook for a further 20-25 minutes until really caramelised and sticky. Scoop out with a slotted spoon, keeping some of the oil, and cool.

Remove the skin from the cod and flake into large pieces.

Beat the eggs with plenty of black pepper and gently fold in the onion, cod and parsley.

In a large (23 cm/9 in) non-stick pan, heat 2-3 tablespoons of the reserved oil and pour in the egg 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, so that the bottom and sides are golden but it is still quite loose in the middle.

Cover the pan with a flat lid or board, turn the tortilla carefully onto it, then put the pan back on a low heat. Return the tortilla to the pan, cooked side up, and use a spatula to tuck the edges of the tortilla under to give its characteristic curved look. Cook for a couple of minutes, then turn onto a board and serve. It should still be lovely and juicy when you cut into it.

This is my interpretation of the tomato soup that I always order at restaurant La Cuchara de San Telmo. It's a cold soup with jamón and Idiazábal. I'd never dare ask them for the recipe, but I think I've got pretty close here so I'm happy with that. My mum always fries the tomatoes with some onion and garlic, until really well reduced, and then adds some water. This is a great way to make the soup, and I risk life and limb to say this... but I do think that roasting the tomatoes and the garlic gives it a completely different dimension. Sorry, Mum!

Tomato soup with jamón & Idiazábal

Serves 6


2kg (4½lb) beautiful vine-ripened tomatoes

1 bulb garlic, cloves separated

Olive oil

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 banana shallot (echalion), finely chopped

Handful of thyme sprigs, plus a few extra to garnish

1 litre (34fl oz) fresh ham or fresh chicken stock

6 slices of baguette

6 slices of jamón

Idiazábal or manchego cheese shavings

Extra-virgin olive oil to drizzle


Preheat the oven to 160°C (320°F/Gas 3).

Halve the tomatoes and place on two large baking sheets with the garlic. Drizzle with lots of olive oil and season well, and place in the oven, rotating the trays halfway through cooking. Roast for 45-60 minutes until slightly caramelised.

Heat a little more oil in a deep pan and gently fry the shallot for 10 minutes. Tip in the roasted tomatoes and squeeze the soft garlic from their skins and add to the pan. Throw in the thyme and pour over the stock. Bring to the boil, then simmer for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat some oil in a frying pan and fry the baguette slices until golden and crisp, then break into pieces.

Spoon the soup into warmed bowls. Top with a scattering of fried baguette, the jamón slices and some cheese. Drizzle with extra-virgin olive oil, garnish with a sprig of thyme and serve.

Photography: Laura Edwards

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