Monthly Archives: April 2014

Almorzando, Ollas and Almedijar….Breakfast in Serra and Lunch in The Alt Palancia!


Feria Oficios Almedijar

 

Valencia is enjoying that time of year when Bank Holidays take over the calendar. Last week started with Easter Monday!  Today is San Vicente Ferrer, Patron Saint of Valencia, so everything will be shut…and Thursday is May Day so, heck, another good excuse for a day off…even if you don’t have a job. Now,  this actually means you can take pretty well  the whole week off!

It is not such much a `bridge´ which is when you take Friday off when Thursday is the Bank Holiday or Monday off when Tuesday is the celebratory day.

Outside Restaurante Chaparal.

Outside Restaurante Chaparal.

Anyway, never mind the fact that nothing will get done,  it is just a great opportunity to get out and enjoy  what is on offer. It is very much part of the local way of life !

Valencia City is currently enjoying the Feria de Andalusia with a whole range of activities in the dry river bed.

In complete contrast Almedijar, which is an incredibly pretty little village nestling in valley between two mountain slopes near Segorbe,  has enjoyed its Feria de Oficios this weekend. More on this later.

Since it was a long weekend there seemed no great hurry to rush to do anything… a long leisurely breakfast was called for this Sunday. No point in cooking for yourself when there are bars and restaurants  throughout Valencia that are happy to cook for you. Not that this is a holiday thing…….if you go to a bank, a town hall or just about any business, regardless of the day of the week,  do not do it between 10.00 and 11.30 am. This is when every official or employee will find time to go for Almuerzo.

Typical dish, Salt Cod and Red Pepper with garlic and Olive Oil.

Typical dish, Salt Cod and Red Pepper with garlic and Olive Oil.

 

Almuerzo is a cultural institution. A veritable celebration , and it is not expensive. There are bars that specialise in a huge variety of snacks or tapas, but do not mistake this for Almuerzo! Almuerzo requires time, to read the paper or to chat to your colleagues or friends, to enjoy a plate of olives and cacahuetes, a drink ( wine, beer, water, soft drinks) and then an early lunch…..or a late breakfast. Many bars will serve a range of bocadillos. ( A bocadillo is a long length of `baguette´ style bread,  or a shorter version, or a `paquette´. You can have virtually whatever you like in it as long as the chef can cook it. Tortillas, esgarret, baby squid, cuttlefish, whitebait, pincho morunos, meatballs in tomato sauce, broad beans  with jamon, jamon with cheese, jamon with tomatos, (all three if you prefer) a whole range of revueltos ( scrambled eggs ) such as prawns and asparagus,  prawns and wild mushrooms,  jamon with prawns, artichokes and jamon, potatos and bacon, loin of pork with green peppers…..you get the idea I´m sure……whatever takes your fancy!!! ( Expect to pay around 5€ in villages and 7-10€ in cities.)

If you do not want a bocadillo, well, you can have a wedge of tortilla or any of the rest of above on a plate…the bread will just come sliced in a basket instead!

Bocadillo de Blanco, Negro  y Rojo!

Bocadillo de Blanco, Negro y Rojo!

Yesterday we  left home early, passed through Betera and climbed up through Naquera and Serra until we came to the turn-off for Barraix, at the point where the mountain is fully climbed and starts to fall away towards Castellon province. I say we climbed, the car did the work, but we must have passed hundreds of cyclists, each rider dreaming of the calories available at the top!

 

The first stop was Restaurante Chaparral, nestling amongst the pine  trees which populate the mountainside here.

As it was our first visit and there is no printed menu to choose from, we listened very attentively to the camerero as he reeled off a choice of bocadillos….and then suggested we really should try the meat from the brassa. We did…..and before long three rather large terracotta plates arrived, nine  lamb chops ( chump and cutlet) nine sausages, ( three each of chorizo, longaniza and morcilla) … a plate of proper double fried chips, a plate of grilled aubergines and courgette slices garnished with green peppers accompanied by a bowl of home-made alli olli and the obligatory fried eggs. This of course had been preceded by the bread, olives and salted nuts and beers!

Our Almuerzo!

Our Almuerzo!

I can only say the food was awesome! We cleaned the plates and finished off with coffees……all for the princely sum of a 10€ note each!!!!

Kike Serrano Escribano´s restaurant is definitely  on the list to be visited again!

Then we were off down the mountain and on the way to our  final destination, Almedijar. Half an hour later we had successfully avoided suicidal cyclists hurtling down hill, cutting blind corners and we arrived at the fair. The Feria de Oficios is effectively a craft fair, typical of many in the area such as Benlloch or Les Useres. It is in its sixteenth edition this year. Local ice-cream, cheese, olive oil, wine and pottery, artworks, hand-made knives and axes, woodwork, charcoal ovens etc vied with the torrijas and bunuelos and the crowd grew well beyond the supposed population of under 300 souls!!

Eagle Owl at the Fair.

Eagle Owl at the Fair.

The village is best known for its spring water, its Olla Almedijana ( a one pot dish with a base of white cabbage and white beans) and increasingly for the quality, award-winning wines  from its Alcovi cooperative.

The local housewives prepared the olla, soaking the white beans, chopping the white cabbage and the potatos before the cooking began. The trestle tables had been laid out for the villagers and public to enjoy the final dish!

In the meantime, we tasted three wines whilst the local kids enjoyed pony rides and the birds of prey were displayed.

Wines and Awards from Alcovi.

Wines and Awards from Alcovi.

The white is a blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Plantafina. A relatively strong 13.5%ABV it has a fresh floral nose with citrus and tropical notes. In the mouth it has a fresh acidity, an easy pass across the palate and and a long dry finish. perfect for a hot day!

The rosado is a blend of Garnacha with a bit of Cabernet Sauvignon. A light strawberry pink colour, the wine is also fresh and fruity with a good balancing acidity. Quite full in the mouth  and an easy drinker.

The Alma de Vid is a 100% Monastrell from 2011. At 14% ABV it is a deep black cherry colour, good characteristics of the variety on the nose, mature sweet fruit and hints of black olive. In the mouth, full and fruity, round. Very nice!

The Olla, Ready for the Fire!

The Olla, Ready for the Fire!

It would be fair to say that the combined trip was a relaxed affair! We will probably not need to eat for a few days and if you are anywhere near Serra at weekends Chaparral is more than worth the visit!

Look out for the posters for fairs like this one over the summer ( the next is probably in Les Useres in June) because they provide an easy opportunity to try local products on their home ground and to buy them, as well as providing a day out with something for all to see or do.

 

 

 

 

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Calçotada, A Valencian Spring Tradition.


 

 

Calçotada!

Calçotada!

There is  much to do in Valencia over the Easter weekend. With 80% of hotel beds occupied the city may have appeared busy but actually, many Valencians retire to the countryside or go to Seville to see the Semana Santa processions.

Valencia itself has such processions, the `hermanadades´and `cofradias´ parade all week in Semana Santa Marinera.

Or of course many of those staying at home in Valencia will decamp to open spaces such as the dry riverbed for the traditional  family picnic.

But those in the know will head for a calçotada!

Held from the end of  Winter and throughout Spring, when the calçot is in season, the calçotada is a fiesta  with its own traditions!

The humble calçot is a member of the onion family and is grown especially for this type of festival. Historically it is linked originally with Valls, near to Tarragona, but many Valencians regularly participate in such fiestas…they are after all party people first and foremost!

So yesterday, Easter Sunday, I was lucky enough to be invited to enjoy a day in the countryside, participating in just such a party!

In the Orange Groves!

In the Orange Groves!

Collected from a point on the road between Vilamarxant and Pedralba we were driven off-road into the orange groves, down twisty, turny tracks, over dry water courses and gravel roads until we reached a casita, nestling in a knot of pine trees in a concealed valley !

Here several cars were parked beneath the trees and a crowd had assembled…party time!

The heady scent of orange blossom filled the air to the point that you might have been forgiven for thinking you were in a perfume factory! It is easy to see why sailors named this part of Spain the Costa de Azahar, ( orange blossom coast) as the perfume must have rolled out to sea especially at night-time!

Putting on Bibs Around the Table.

Putting on Bibs Around the Table.

Looking like a small leek, the calçot ( puerro tardio) is around 25cm tall and about 5cm in diameter.  A fire of vine-cuttings is lit and when the flames die down the onions are laid on a grill and cooked directly above the ash until the outer leaves are charred black! By now, the inside white part should be golden, tender and juicy!

The kitchen in the casita….( apart from storing tools it has no other purpose)  was full of local women, arms whirring away with pestle and mortar making allioli, the garlic sauce, and salsa romescu….the traditional accompaniment in which the calçots will be dipped! The allioli was for later.

The Calçots arrive.

The Calçots arrive.

The calçots had by now all been cooked ( 500 of them) and wrapped, in accordance with  the tradition,  in newsprint.

The trestles were mounted, the sheets of mdf and melamine boards laid over them……an impromptu table around which the assembled guests now congregated. Bowls of romescu sauce, pickled cucumber ( pepinos) guindilla peppers ( hot long chilis pickled in white-wine vinegar)  and olives appeared and the beer and wine started to flow!

Salva shows how to do it!

Salva shows how to do it!

As if to ease  a tangible sense of anticipation the calçots arrived in their wrappings and were spread down the centre of the table.

There is a proper way to eat them as well. Pinching the root end and selecting the centre of the plant at the top end the cooked onion is withdrawn cleanly from its blackened outer leaves. It is then rolled in the romescu sauce and eaten by tipping the head back and swallowing it in the manner of the Dutch `nieve haaring´!   For once the table went very quiet for a few minutes as the sweet onions were quickly consumed  – the outer skins neatly piled into empty orange crates!

Mobile BBQ and Meat Course!!!

Mobile BBQ and Meat Course!!!

This of course is just the prelude! In Tarragona the calçots  would then be followed by plates heaving with `butiffara´ and ` embotits´.

This was also to be our second course! The time of year and a very dry winter means the ban on bonfires and open air bbq´s in the countryside has arrived early . Both Pedralba and Vilamarxant have experienced their first wild fires of 2014.

At this moment Antonio, our host, drove in with the mobile bbq! It seems the ban does not run to putting the traditional cement mixing pan in the trailor attached to the back of your car and lighting the fire in there! Large stainless steel grills were groaning with morcilla, chorizo, longaniza and pancetta…the meat main course to be eaten in bocadillos with the allioli! The wine and beer continued to flow whilst we all cut our bread, opened it out and made our hearty sandwiches selecting directly from the grill!

Outside the Casita.

Outside the Casita.

Conversation flowed and new friendships were made….this is a very Valencian type of day out and immense fun!

And in the Valencian tradition the coffee followed and the cubattas…gin, brandy an paxaran…a Spanish sloe gin which is excellent over ice!

The afternoon over the crowd quietly slipped away and the orange groves returned to their normal peace! If anyone ever invites you participate in a meal in the middle of nowhere eating chargrilled onions and sausage…..don´t say no! Now you know what you would be missing!!!!!

Bocadillo de Blanco, Negro  y Rojo!

Bocadillo de Blanco, Negro y Rojo!

 

 

 

 

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