One of the first questions friends asked when I returned from Spain was “What was the best thing you ate?”
I’m not good with that question, though I was able to narrow down 30 meals (and countless dishes) into a top three list.
Easily, the first meal made the list… I arrived in Fuengirola, a non-descript resort town on the Mediterranean Sea at 1pm after 14 hours of travel. Bleary-eyed and jet-lagged, I knew I the best thing would be to stay awake until at least 10 pm. But all I could manage was a walk along the beach (and I also discovered that napping on the beach is much better than napping in a dark hotel room). Along the beach promenade, I stumbled into a little café displaying impeccably fresh fish. I ordered fried whitebait with lemon. Whitebait is not a specific fish, but a generic term for small, slivery fish that could be fresh (uncured) herring, smelts or anchovies. They are served whole as their size makes the entire fish – from head to tail - edible. These fish were crispy without being greasy, and had a bright taste of lemon that tamed the richness of the fish. With the bright sun, refreshing sea breezes and a crisp glass of white Rioja, I was in heaven.
The second on the list came from a Michelin one-star restaurant in the hill-top town of Ronda. Tragabuches serves multi-course tasting menus in a simply elegant dining room just off the main square. Slowly coddled egg yolk with egg-white foam and cock’s comb were topped with a whiff of truffle. The cock’s comb had the texture of meaty mushrooms – tender, earthy yet firm.
By the time I arrived in Barcelona, a week into my travels, my body craved vegetables. As much as I tried to get my “5-a-day” through the course of my travels, it was not as easy as I would have liked. I picked up fruit at one of the farmers’ markets and headed to dinner. I ordered a dish of chick peas and spinach. It had just enough jamon, olive oil and garlic to give it the Spanish flavor, but packed with enough spinach that I actually felt like I did something good for my body. And I loved every bite. So much so that I went back two days later and ordered it again.
When I returned to Cambridge, I decided to make a variation on that dish. I made spaetzle with chick pea flour and tossed it with chick peas, kale (still growing abundantly in my garden) and bits of jamon bellota.
Chick Pea Spaetzle with Kale and Jamon
2 cups chick pea flour
½ - 1 cup of milk
3 tbs. olive oil
3 cloves garlic
1 cup cooked chick peas
1 bunch kale, coarsely chopped
3 slices jamon or prosciutto, coarsely chopped
Salt pepper and lemon juice to taste.
1. Make the spaetzle batter: Sift together the flour, salt and cayenne. Whisk in the eggs, 1tbs. olive oil and milk. If the batter is too stiff, add more milk. You want the consistency of pancake batter.
2. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Season generously with salt.
3. Meanwhile, heat the remaining olive oil in a large skillet. Add the garlic. When it becomes fragrant, add the ham. Cook for 1 minute before adding the kale and chick peas. Cook until the kale is bright green and wilted. Season with lemon, salt and pepper. Set aside.
4. When water is boiling, push spaetzle dough through a spaetzle maker or a large whole colander. (You may need to cook them in batches, depending on the size of your pot). Wait until they float to the top and cook for 3 minute more. Scoop out with a slotted spoon and add them with the chick-pea/kale mixture.
5. Reheat just before serving.