June 9th, 2012
Of course we are! And you are too….but today we’re talking the edible kind – nuts that grow in Spain and that are consumed in Spain at a high rate. I bet you have never had a Spanish meal that did not contain at least one form of nut….maybe you didn’t even realise. They’re used to add texture to dishes, to thicken soups, to make Turrón, to decorate and adorn. A great source of protein too, and a bit like beans of course the Spanish have a different name for each one! Let’s explore the humble nut and look at some of the delicious dishes produced here in Spain!
Next time you add some Pesto sauce to your pasta, think about the ingredients, it’s not all about the Basil!
The Pinus Pinea or Stone Pine produces the rather expensive pine nut used in Pesto sauce, if you want to buy them while you are here on holiday in Spain you will need to ask for Piñones Reales, the best of the bunch. This Royal Pine-nut is produced and shipped worldwide from the region of Castile y Leon and in particular the area around Valladolid. Larger than the average pine nut, they are difficult to harvest – thus the high price. What will you find them in on the menu? Look at the dessert section for Empiñonados, a sweet ball of marzipan rolled in some crunchy pine nuts – and a favourite Christmas treat here in Spain. In Castile y Leon you’ll also find pine nuts in your Morcilla or blood sausage and in cured meats, adding texture.
We’re used to roasted or salted peanuts sold in snack sized bags, let´s face it – lack of Spanish Tapas in Britain means they’re the usual accompaniment to a warm beer!
Look for peanuts in Spain however, and besides that snack type mentioned you’ll also come across giant bags of peanuts still in the shell. Cacahuete is the Spanish for peanut, and another much loved snack here. The explorers of the New World were responsible for introducing peanuts to Spain, and of course like the States are now made into Peanut Butter as well as for eating as they are. Not just for eating, peanut stalks are used as Hay, and the oil is also used in furniture polishes, soap, paint and varnish.
Here’s a nutty fact I bet you did not know….Peanuts are not really nuts at all! They’re actually Legumes or Beans which grow on vines or stalks, how about that?!
Walnut or Nuez
Visiting Catalonia or Galicia this year? Lucky you! Whilst admiring the stunning landscape of the northern coastline of Spain, take shade underneath a broad canopy of the Walnut Tree. They dot this lovely coastline and make Spain the third largest producer in the European Union of the not so humble Walnut.
One Spanish - rare vegetarian – recipe uses Walnuts, Spinach and and Apple as the filling for an empanada, or pastry pie. Try it – it´s delicious. Also look out for local Honey wherever you happen to be lucky enough to stay in Spain – usually flavoured with all the natural mountainside herbs, you´ll also find it with Walnuts immersed within the jar, adding crunch to the already moreish taste…
Walnuts are also known to lower blood pressure, cholesterol and stress. Now I just have to get over the fact they look like little brains….eeech.
When is a nut not really a nut?
Like the peanut, the Tiger Nut or Chufa is really a tuber – it´s roots are in ancient Egypt but the Arabs brought it to Spain. Today you´ll find it cultivated in Valencia, it´s not all Oranges and Rice!
Tiger Nuts may be eaten as they are, roasted or sweetened, look out for them on the sweet stalls at the local markets all over Spain.
But of course Chufa is best known as the milky refreshing drink Horchata de Chufa. Sweetened with sugar, lemon rind and cinnamon it is one of the most popular drinks in Spain when the Summer temperatures crank up….which is about now – so when you visit Valencia on your self catering holiday be sure to stock the fridge up with this delicious drink!
Chestnuts roasting on an open fire……
I love Christmas shopping in Granada, wandering the brightly lit shopping streets and turning a corner to the delicious smell of Chestnuts being sold by a street vendor. A little paper cone filled with finger burning sweet nuts – okay so I´m greedy! – it just smells and tastes so festive!
The roving Romans brought Chestnuts to Spain – and for many years they were revered as a staple diet of Galicia, where it was too wet to grow cereals – they still provided all the protein and nutrition needed. Indeed, the best exported Chestnuts today are from Galicia.…
Drive around Andalucía in the Springtime – especially the region of Las Alpujarras – and you willl be bowled over by the views. Great photo opportunities are there on every mountain side, it´s hard to keep an eye on the very steep roads! Of all the flora and fauna this stunning region has to offer the intrepid traveller, Almond trees in blossom is the view to remember…
Fluffy balls of pink and white perfect flowers decorate the trees carefully planted on the undulating hills and mountain sides, miles and miles of colour and scent to delight the senses. Experience it!
And the Almond? In Autumn you´ll hear the steady soft `Thwack Thwack´of long poles against the trees knocking off the prized nuts. These are then de-husked and sold and made into many products. Here in the Alpujarras our village of Murtas a local friend and neighbour makes organic treats, including marzipan, Almond biscuits, meringues filled with Almonds, delicious chocolates and Almond liqueur.
Turrón from Alicante uses Almonds with a concoction of other sweet ingredients, a type of Nougat very popular at Christmas and sold from enormous blocks at fiestas and fairs countrywide. There´s a soft chewy type and a really hard one – be sure to have your own teeth before you attempt to eat the latter!
Had enough tapas? Just ask for some Frutos Secos instead, a mixture of nuts, dried seeds and fruit…perfect with a cold Cerveza and the UEFA European Championship, which of course Ireland is going to win….dreaming again, I really must be nuts!!