last updated 30th April 2000
This is classic peasant food- easy to make, very filling, cheap, pungent, and time-consuming. It is a stew of chickpeas in a Basque tomato sauce and (for non-vegetarians) slices of chorizo, the Spanish red-pepper dried, cured sausage . It is possible to make the entire dish using only one pan.
First, take a container (Scrote uses a pint beer glass) and put in a coffee cup of dried chickpeas (about a quarter of the pint glass). Fill up the glass with water and soak the chickpeas overnight for at least 12 hours. The chickpeas should swell and almost fill the glass. Pour the chickpeas and water into a pan, and pick out any foreign bodies. Top up with some water if needed so that the chickpeas are covered and bring to the boil. Skim off the foam which forms as it boils with a spoon until no more is being created. Reduce the heat, cover with a lid and simmer very gently for at least two hours, adding more water occasionally if it gets too low. Do not add too much water, or any salt.
As far as Scrote knows it is almost impossible to over-cook chickpeas, although he's tried to often enough. It is difficult to cook chickpeas really soft without a pressure cooker, but they should be done after simmering two hours or so. When they are done, pick out any mis-coloured chickpeas but do not drain off the liquor. If stored in a sealed container while still hot the chickpeas will keep several days.
Meanwhile, make a tomato sauce with a Spanish character. Finely chop a several cloves of garlic (yes, Spaniards do like garlic) and a large (Spanish) onion and fry them gently in good olive oil. Chop and add a red pepper. (This is the Spanish pimento, the red cousin of the sweet green pepper, not chili peppers). Chop and add a tin of tomatoes and/ or sieved tomato or purée. (Purists should really take about 2 lbs of very ripe plum tomatoes, scald them, skin them and then sieve them but, let's face it, life is too short and ripe plum tomatoes are expensive here). This combination of tomato and red peppers is characteristic of Basque cookery and appears on the French side of the border in the Bearn as Piperade. Adjust the liquid with water and/ or half a glass of red wine, and season with salt and pepper and a pinch of mediterranean herbs. Bring the tomato sauce to the boil, cover and simmer for at least three quarters of an hour. If stored in a sealed container while still hot, the sauce will also keep for several days, making this an easy dish to assemble later.
To complete the dish, mix equal quantities of chickpeas and tomato sauce and add slices of chorizo, heat through, then serve.
This is a fresh, chilled soup, to be served in summer, and it is surprisingly good. Think of it as a sort of mixed salad purée. Making it is easy if you have a liquidiser, otherwise you are going to need an old fashioned gadget called a mouli, or failing either, you will have to spend hours grating and chopping everything minutely. Again various recipes give varying quantities, but the general idea is about 2 lb tomato, 1 cucumber, 1 green pepper, a clove or two of garlic, several tablespoons of good olive oil, a dash of wine vinegar or the juice of a lemon. Strictly speaking the tomatoes (which should be good red plum tomatoes) should of course be scalded, peeled and sieved to a purée, but you can cheat and use pasata. The green pepper should be cored, de-seeded and chopped finely, and the cucumber grated. Smash and chop the garlic finely and then mix all the ingredients with the oil and vinegar or lemon. Add a little salt. Chill for an hour or two and serve with croutons.
The Spanish omelette is peasant food, a different affair from the refined French omelette. It is thick, cooked solid right through and can be eaten hot or cold. The wife of John Betjemen (whose name regrettably eludes me at this moment) mentions it in her book Two Middle-aged Ladies in Andalucia (the story of her journeys on horseback in Spain) as travel food furnished by the places she stayed at for her lunch during the day. It contains mixed cooked vegetables, including potatoes and the art is in assembling the ingredients in the correct order so that all reach their particular moment of being properly cooked at the same time. You will find your cast-iron frying pan invaluable for this.
You need 3 eggs beaten together, a small onion chopped, and a selection of cooked or raw diced vegetables of which potato should be a major ingredient. Fry the onion gently until softened in some good olive oil, then add some of green peppers, mushrooms, chopped courgette, green beans, peas and diced potatoes in order at the correct times according to the cooking they need. When they are cooked (or warmed up if already cooked) beat the three eggs together and pour over the vegetable mixture. Continue cooking very gently until the egg sets. If you have the cast-iron pan with a handle that doesn't burn, you can give it a final flourish by grating a little cheese over it and finishing it off under the grill to set the top and melt the cheese. When it is done it should be an inch or more deep, hot, succulent, set all the way through, and can be cut into slices like a cake.