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Monday 19 October 2009

The Edinburgh Bookshop

The Edinburgh Bookshop in Bruntsfield, owned by Malcolm and Vanessa Robertson- who are also the owners of the fantastic Children's Bookshop - only opened in September this year but is already making its mark on the city. I was delighted, then, when Andrew, the manager of the shop, said they would like to host an author event for the release of Washington Shadow, which is due out on 5th November.

If you want to know why we should support independent bookshops, look no further. Take a look at their website. It's a pleasure to see how much care they take and the energy and enthusiasm they put into everything. And how professional they are.

On the evening of Wednesday 18th November, I will be there, talking about the Peter Cotton series, reading from the books and talking to readers. If you are in the area and would like to come, click here more information.

Hope to see you there.

Monday 5 October 2009

Sabores de Cádiz - Comfort Food Cadiz Style

Since I started this blog, I have, every now and then, been including some recipes for food Peter Cotton eats in The Maze of Cadiz. Some of the other dishes described - such as the delicious grilled snippets of calves liver, tiny fried squid (puntillitas) and sizzling prawns in garlic (gambas al ajillo) that Cotton watches Ramirez eat after viewing that gruesome body found in the underwater caves, are all hard to replicate - much better eaten as tapas in a good bar in Cadiz than cooked at home.

One of the dishes Cotton eats is Urta a la Roteña - made with a local fish cooked in a sauce of onions, garlic, green pepper, fresh ripe tomatoes, bay leaf, white wine and a little flat leafed parsley. What makes this dish so special is the urta itself, which is found only in the bay of Cadiz - so the best way to try this too, is to go there.

There are loads of places to eat and drink in Cadiz today. After many years away, my son recently returned there for a holiday with his wife and found that two of our local haunts were still going strong. One is a restaurant/mesón called ‘El Candil’ - very well known amongst the gaditanos and a great place to eat, and the other is a tiny bar/restaurant called ‘La Cuesta’. It’s in a narrow street called Calle Sacramento, and is run by Juan, who is a fantastic cook. Both well worth a visit. If you’re looking for somewhere to stay, you could try the Hotel Argantonio. Extremely pleasant and comfortable (great beds, apparently), and great value for money. It’s right in the centre of Cadiz old town, which can be quite noisy, but this is tucked away in a quiet little pocket down a side street.

Here, since autumn has arrived (in Edinburgh, at least), I am going to give you something that Peter Cotton would certainly have tasted if he had stayed in Cadiz a little longer, until the weather cooled down: lentejas. Lentils are one of the staple pulses of Spanish home cooking and, like all classic dishes, there are probably as many variations as people who cook them.

I originally started cooking lentejas (the ‘j’ is pronounced rather like the Scottish ‘ch’ in loch ) because of my son. When he was a small boy, he was invited by a school friend to go home with him for lunch. The boy was the tenth of thirteen children belonging to the local notary, and lived in a large chalet not far from the Hotel Playa Victoria (where Peter Cotton meets Deidre Carrol in The Maze of Cadiz). The children ran wild. Their mother and five maids in uniforms failed to keep any discernible order. My son told me they had eaten lentejas as a first course, followed by a rabbit stew, and pronounced it all to be delicious.

This recipe was originally given to me by my neighbour, whose cousin had a taberna and, according to her, made the best lentils in Cadiz. She insisted that only small brown lentils should be used - and I totally agree. You can find them in health food shops or specialist greengrocers. The red lentils most commonly found in supermarkets will go mushy in this recipe and not have the same flavour. And puy lentils work better in other recipes.

Lentejas - Spanish Lentils

Ingredients (for 3-4 servings)
A cup and a half of small brown lentils
Some good virgin olive oil
A decent sized onion/two or three shallots, finely chopped
A couple of cloves of garlic
Some chopped green pepper
The tip of a chilly pepper chopped as finely as possible (optional)
A medium sized carrot chopped very small
A couple of fresh, ripe, medium sized tomatoes, skinned and chopped
A couple of bay leaves
Generous grindings of black pepper
A good sprig of fresh thyme (or a generous sprinkling of dried)
Some good stock/ 1-2 stock cubes
A good slurp of red wine - only use wine you like to drink

Soak the lentils for three or four hours (unless the instructions on the packet say they don't need to be soaked). Then rinse well and pick out any small bits of grit there might be.

The trick with this recipe is to cook everything very, very slowly to allow the flavours to develop and the lentils to retain their shape and have a silky consistency.

Begin by making a sofrito:
Heat some olive oil in a deep pan and add the chopped onion together with the chopped pepper. Cook gently for a couple of minutes until beginning to go soft. Add the crushed/finely chopped garlic together with the chopped chilly and give it a stir. Add the chopped carrot and bay leaves, and cook gently for a minute or so, stirring. Add the chopped tomato. Stir and leave to cook on a very low heat for a few minutes, stirring occasionally, to allow the flavour to develop. (You will know by the smell) Add a little bit of water/ stock at this stage if necessary.
Add the soaked lentils and stir well to mix with the sofrito
Add the wine and stir for a moment as the alcohol evaporates
Add the stock, or water and stock cubes. The mixture should be well covered as the lentils swell as they cook.
Turn up the heat to warm the mixture, then turn right down until it is barely simmering, and cover.

You will need to simmer this as gently as possible for around one and a half hours (cooking times will vary depending on the lentils) checking and stirring every now and then, and adding more water when necessary to keep it a bit soupy. Make sure you cook them long enough or lentils will be indigestible. They should be soft but not mushy.

When the lentils are cooked check the seasoning and serve in bowls.

Good, Spanish comfort food.