Casa Pacheco – A haven amongst the acorn fields

Casa Pacheco

This past weekend, we took a day trip out to Salamanca.  Neither Paolo nor I had ever been, and we had been gifted a night at the Parador, so we decided to take a nice road trip to ham country.  That is, Jamon Iberico country.  Wow.  I am speechless as to the incredible amounts of ham we had, but it was worth the dieting that I am now embarking on.

We arrived just about lunch time, so Paolo said I should get on Trip Advisor to see what places were near that we could grab a bite.  I chose the #2 ranking, Casa Pacheco.  Funny enough, there was no #1 ranking, and honestly, Casa Pacheco should be bumped up to that space.  Not knowing really what to expect, we certainly were incredibly surprised!  Driving past Salamanca into the heart of Bellota (acorn) fields, filled with happy Pata Negra pigs roaming vast expanses of land, feasting on thousands of acorns.  There were also happy cows and sheep roaming, and I love to see that an animal that I am going to consume, is having a great, stress-free life.  That in itself should have clued us in to the amazing meal we were about to have.

The town itself is small, I’m talking about drive past it in 20 seconds small.  And if we had not looked on Trip Advisor, we would have completely missed it.  Situated right on the main road that crosses the town, is a small unassuming doorway to foodie heaven.  We walked in, and my first thought was that we had made the wrong choice.  A pintxos bar to your left, and two small tables on the right, nestled between two enormous bull heads.  Me being an anti-bullfighting kind of person, I thought, oh boy, we’ve walked into the dragon’s lair.  Then, as we were taken into the main dining room, still small but with about 8 tables, I felt as if I had just landed in Spain.  Yes, I’ve lived here for 10 plus years, but you can hardly say Barcelona is Spain.  THIS is Spain.  A veritable shrine to a specific bullfighter was the decorative theme of the restaurant.

Casa Pacheco

 

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As it turns out, the bullfighter Julio Robles, used to live very close to the restaurant, and he was a regular and a very, very good friend of the owner’s father.  I guess you could classify this as his museum.

We sat down and received the menu and the owner started to tell us what specials there were out of the menu.  It was a very, very difficult choice.  If it was humanly possible, I could have ordered all of it.  We finally made our choice, to eat some traditional ham, Jamon de Guijuelo,

Jamon de Guijuelo

 

and some croquetas, but the twist, they made the with oxtail.

Oxtail Croquettes

 

The jamon was perfect, shiny, flavorful, delicate yet robust.  The croquetas were fantastic too, I have never tasted croquetas made with oxtail, and I have to say, the béchamel was one of the lightest and best I have tried.  The owner told us that it was their first time making the croquetas with oxtail, and honestly, I think they need to make them again!

Then we chose to try a dish that is typical of that region, called Patatas a la Importancia.  This basically translates to Potatoes of Importance.  Just from the name, I had to try them.

Patatas a la Importacia

 

Now get this, it’s potatoes that are sliced, battered, fried and then cooked in broth.  Battered and fried potatoes.  Can it get more decadent than this?  (Actually yes, just wait to see what I ate next.)  It was a pleasantly peculiar dish.  I really liked it, and I think it is an amazing way to “class” up the simple potato, I guess hence the name Of Importance!  It definitely had a very home-made feel and taste, the broth was delicious, thickened slightly by the batter and potato starch.  I am really happy we chose to try it.

Now, on to our mains.  Paolo and Cassia decided to share an Entrecote, cooked on the stone.

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Look at that beef.  It was divine.  So delicious, so much flavor.  It was very tender, and the good part was that they could choose how much they wanted it cooked, since Paolo likes his beef still almost moo-ing.  The thing that really surprised me was the salad you see in the back,

Ensalada de Maruja

 

This, I was told is called Maruja or Pamplina.  On first inspection, I thought it was some type of sprout, but then after tasting it, I realized it is more akin to watercress in taste.  The owner explained that this grows on the side of river banks for only a few days a year, and it is a specialty in Salamanca.  It blew my mind.  Obviously I looked it up, and found out that we call it Chickweed.  I had never tasted it before in my life, and I find it so awesome to discover new tastes and food!  It was lightly dressed with a vinaigrette, pomegranate seeds, and a good dousing of crushed garlic……not for the faint hearted I assure you.  Make sure EVERYBODY else at the table eats this, if not you’re in trouble!

And, now to the most decadent dish I have ever consumed in my entire life :

Braised Oxtail

 

Braised oxtail with caramelized onions and foie gras.  Yup.  Heart attack material.  But man, oh man….this was beyond delicious.  There are actually no “real” words to describe how good this is.  The oxtail was perfectly cooked, it fell apart at the mere touch of it.  Then mixed with the onions and the foie……Oh boy.  I unfortunately could not finish it, because we had gorged ourselves with so much food before, but had I known how incredible this was going to be, I would have starved myself for weeks so I could consume not one, but two helpings of this.

Obviously we had no room for dessert, I was in sort of a food coma at this point so I can’t tell you what they were, even.  But, let me tell you this, I recall that they all sounded delicious.

If you are ever on your way or passing through Salamanca, make this is the number one priority on your list.  You seldom find little gems like this anymore, a small unchanged restaurant, tucked away and run by the 4th generation of the same family.  It is food at its best, rustic, homey, delicious.

Casa Pacheco

C/. Jose Antonio s/n

Vecinos (Salamanca)

Tlf. 923 382 169

http://www.casapacheco.net

 

Hungarian Cucumber Salad

Hungarian Cucumber Salad

 

About 7 years ago, I had the most wonderful nanny, her name is Adrienn.  She hails from Hungary, and my daughter and I were lucky enough to be taught a few wonderful dishes that she prepares.  This salad is something fantastic.  Simple, easy, healthy.  It is a perfect side dish to many dishes, not necessarily Hungarian.

I remember her making this the way I assume her family taught her.  She didn’t use measuring spoons or cups, all she did to make the dressing was grab a glass and fill it with the desired quantities of what she needed.  I studied her closely, me being the perfectionist in the kitchen, and this was a challenge.  I am quite accustomed to making dishes that people have taught me this way, but still get a little nervous when they do.

I am going to share this recipe with you the best I know how, feel free to tweak it as you need, because to some it may lack salt, and to some it may be too sweet.  The one thing I do stipulate, as she said to me, please try to use Hungarian Sweet Paprika.  I am told it is the best!

Hungarian Paprika

So here’s what you’re going to need:

1 large cucumber, thinly sliced with a mandoline (or as thin as you can get it with your knife)

3/4 tbsp sugar (or to taste)

3/4 tbsp paprika

1/2 tsp salt or more to taste

Water

Distilled White Vinegar

Place the cucumber slices in a deep bowl.

photo119

 

To the cucumber, add the 1/2 tsp of salt, and mix well with your hands, coating all the slices.  In a large drinking glass, fill half of it with water, and add the sugar and paprika.  Mix well until the sugar is completely dissolved.  You should have a very red liquid.  Add the vinegar a little at a time, until you reach your desired acidity, I think it should be at least a tbsp.  Add your dressing to the cucumber slices, and let marinate in the fridge for at least an hour.

Hungarian Cucumber Salad

 

Your cucumber slices should be quite soft.

From my kitchen to yours,

Carla

Warm Chickpea Panzanella Salad with Torn Basil

Chickpea Panzanella SaladAs summer begins to wind down, and it’s just that teeny little bit cooler, I feel my body asking for warmer things.  Not your fresh lemony bright food, something with more of a consistency, and warmth.  It’s funny, before I moved to Spain, there were two things that I would have never eaten.  Cold Soup and Warm Salad.  They were just weird to me.  But, as I see that living in Barcelona is coexisting with your environment perfectly, a.k.a. no air-conditioning, you find more creative ways to cool yourself off.  Hence the cold soup.  Now, with the wind just a bit chillier, and not yet time to put on the heating, the warm salad.

Panzanella is such a simple salad, it literally is the epitome of ease.   The large crusty bread chunks soak up the vinaigrette.  I wanted to add some chickpeas because 1) I LOVE EM!  2) well, they elevate this salad from side dish to main dish in my book and 3) they’re healthy!  And what is better than having a few friends over and all you have to do is fry up some bread, and toss some dressing on to the greens?  Nothing, in my book.  It just gives you more time to spend with them.

chickpea panzanella salad

 

Apart from adding some torn basil into the lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers and chickpeas, I also fried the bread with some basil leaves and cracked pepper.

bread cubes

So here’s what you’re going to need:

Serves 4

1 baguette, cut into cubes

2 tbsp olive oil

1 large bunch basil, 3/4 of  the leaves torn, the rest left intact

200 g cooked chickpeas

1/2 cucumber, diced

10-12 cherry tomatoes, halved

1/2 head of romaine lettuce, cut

1/8 cup extra virgin olive oil

Lemon juice

Garlic Salt and Pepper to taste

In a large frying pan over medium high heat, add the olive oil and warm up.  When hot, add the bread cubes, some cracked pepper and the intact basil leaves.  Fry the bread until crispy on all sides.  Keep warm.

In a large bowl, add the rest of your ingredients up to the romaine lettuce.  Drizzle with the olive oil, and the lemon juice (however much you like) and garlic salt and pepper.  Toss to coat.  Add the fried bread and toss to coat.  Serve immediately.

From my kitchen to yours,

Carla

Shaved Artichoke, Celery and Mahon Cheese Salad

I know that most of us in the northern hemisphere are suffering in this heat.  I am too.  I cannot believe how hot it is.  The last few days in Barcelona have been scorchers, with a hot wind slicing through the city.  I personally would like to live in my fridge.  It has made me lethargic, cranky, and well….not so enthusiastic to cook.

Then I thought of this salad.  It is so refreshing, and light, and honestly, probably one of my absolute favorites!  I love artichokes.  I could eat them every day.  And any way.  But, the beauty of this, is that there is absolutely NO COOKING INVOLVED.

These are the ingredients you’re going to need, along with a bit of extra virgin olive oil, some salt and pepper.  In this recipe I used Mahon cheese, which is a mature cheese from Menorca, similar in taste to a very sharp cheddar.  But you can swap it with Parmesan, or cheddar, any mature cheese you have on hand will do.

It’s as easy as that, and I promise you, incredible.  And a heat buster.  The lemon juice refreshes, and the celery is basically just water, so it is thirst quenching!

So, for two people, here’s what you’re going to need:

3 medium artichokes

1 large stalk of celery

1 lemon, juiced

1/8-1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

Salt and pepper to taste

Shaved Mahon cheese

In a large bowl, place the lemon juice.  Now, peel all the tough outer leaves of the artichoke until you get to the tender heart.

Then trim the stem, like this:

Then trim the tops off, like this:

Then thinly slice the hearts, and toss it in the lemon, to prevent them from browning.  Do this with all the artichokes.

Thinly slice the celery, and shave off some of the Mahon cheese, and toss in with the artichoke.  Add the extra virgin olive oil, salt and pepper.

Let stand about 15 minutes before serving, so that the lemon juice softens the artichoke hearts out.

So that’s all folks!  Easy, refreshing and healthy!  Great for this summer heat we’re having.

From my kitchen to yours,

Carla

 

Two “Bean” Salad with Corn, Avocado, Mango and Salsa Verde Vinaigrette

Again, after such a food extravaganza, my body was craving something delicious and healthy.  This Sunday, we had a barbecue at a friends’ house, and I was asked to prepare the side to her ribs.  Corn always comes into my mind, but I also wanted something that was healthy and colorful.  I feel that the more colors you put in a salad, the more nutrients you are giving your body.  I also knew I didn’t want your typical lettuce and tomato salad that is prevalent in almost every menu here.  It’s funny, Spaniards are not big on salads, and it baffles me that the variety of produce that you get here aren’t translated into a cornucopia of a salad bowl.

This “salad” was delicious, full of black beans, chickpeas, corn, cherry tomatoes, avocado, mango and then a slightly tangy Salsa Verde (made from tomatillos) vinaigrette, and some fresh cilantro.

Really easy to make, gorgeous to present, and you have a filling, healthy side to any lunch.

So here’s what you’re going to need:

Serves 6

1 can Black Beans, drained

1 can Chickpeas, drained

1 small can Corn, drained

1 avocado, diced

1 large slice mango, diced

8 cherry tomatoes, halved

3 tbsp cilantro, chopped

For the vinaigrette:

3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

2 tbsp salsa verde

Juice of 1 lime

1 tsp sugar

1 tsp salt

Fresh ground Pepper

Just mix all the ingredients, except for the avocado if you aren’t serving immediately.  When you are ready to serve, then dice and mix in the avocado, if not it gets all brown.  And it’s that easy!

From my kitchen to yours,

Carla

Yogurt and Parsley Pesto Lamb Kebabs with Feta, Watermelon and Dill Salad

When summer rolls around, your body just naturally craves lighter, fresher foods.  That means chilled soups, salads and grilled meats.  Of course, when I lived in the States and had a nice backyard, that would mean grilling and eating outside.  But I changed countries, and therefore living space, and now I am stuck with a tiny stove top grill and the closest I can get to outside dining is to open up all the windows and let that lovely noise of cars and traffic become the soundtrack to our dinner.  Sounds idyllic, right?

Well, to tell you the truth it isn’t that bad.  But I do miss having a backyard.  Or front yard.  Heck….a porch would do.  But, I don’t.  So, anyhow, my body still craves these types of food, and today I satisfied that craving.  I wanted to use up the Parsley Pesto that I made for the Nicoise Salad the other day.  But, I also wanted to take it down a notch, so I added some greek yogurt to have that wonderful creamy, cooling effect.  So I marinated the lamb in that, it smelled divine.  It really reminded me of green goddess dressings, but with a gorgeous garlicky smell.  And I had some watermelon in the fridge and leftover Feta from those Feta and Walnut Cheese Coins I made a while back.  I have seen in all these magazines the birth of the watermelon salad.  I’d never gotten along to try or make one, but tonight seemed the perfect night for it.  I thought some fresh dill from my garden, balcony would be perfect, although I admit I was a bit scared because I had never actually made it before, it could have turned out to be a disaster!  But it wasn’t thankfully!  The whole meal was really refreshing, healthy, and delicious.  I especially loved the salad.  Who knew watermelon, feta and dill could become best buds?

I pulled out my little cast iron grilly-thing, and made some skewers with the lamb, zucchini and onion.

I thought they looked really nice, all green!

So here’s what you’re going to need:

Serves 4

1.5 kilos of lamb leg, cut into cubes

1 Zucchini, sliced in half, then cubed

1 onion, sliced thickly

Parsley Pesto

1/2 cup greek yogurt

For the Salad:

1/4 of a small watermelon, cubed

1 small package of feta cheese, cubed

2 dill sprigs, chopped

Juice of 1 lemon

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

Salt and Pepper to taste.

Mix the parsley pesto with the yogurt, and marinate the lamb and vegetables for about an 1.  Pre heat your grill.  Thread onto skewers, and then place them on your grill.  I prefer my lamb a bit charred, you might like yours less, so mine took about 20 minutes…..I’m sorry I can’t give you more precise times, but that’s the fun of grilling right?

In the meantime, mix the watermelon, feta, dill with the lemon juice, oil, and seasonings.  Set aside until your kebabs are ready.

In the end, I think it was a pretty perfect meal!

From my kitchen to yours,

Carla

Nicoise Salad

How can you not love this salad?  It’s not really a salad, it’s a complete meal.  Of course, there are thousands of variations of Nicoise, and I don’t pretend mine to be the authentic one.  But, it’s my take, and I loved every bite of it.

When summer rolls around, I crave something that is cold, yet hearty.  But just the connotation of the word hearty to me is warm food.  But I think this is the equivalent of that for summer.  It really is a whole meal on a plate.  My version is chock full of vine ripe “Raff” tomatoes, green beans, new potatoes, red onion, tuna, boiled egg, and chickpeas (yum!), topped with a parsley pesto vinaigrette.  This combination is so satisfying and nourishing.  I truly enjoy making and then gobbling up this “salad” with a nice piece of crusty bread.  And really, it is quite easy to make.  Yes, you have to boil ingredients separately, but if you prepare beforehand, it is simple.

So here’s what you’re going to need:

Serves 2

2 hard-boiled eggs

3 new potatoes

80 g string beans

1 can of tuna, oil packed, drained

1 small red onion, sliced

100 g chickpeas, boiled and cooled. (or from a can or jar)

1 tomato, sliced

For the parsley pesto vinaigrette:

1 large bunch Italian parsley

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

1/2 tsp salt

2 garlic cloves, minced

2 tbsp pine nuts, toasted

4 tbsp grated Parmiggiano Reggiano

1 tsp lemon juice

1/8 cup olive oil

juice from 1 lemon

Arrange all the ingredients for the salad however you want.  I chose just for the picture to separate them, but it makes a really nice presentation if you have guests over.  You can even bring it out to the table without dressing, and then add the parsley pesto.

In a blender, pulse the parsley, 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil, the garlic, salt and pine nuts until a fine paste.  Then add the parmesan and lemon juice.  Sprinkle about 2 tbsp of this over the veggies, and then dress with the rest of the olive oil and lemon juice.  Toss to coat.

Reserve the rest of the pesto to use on bruschetta, fish, pasta, whatever your heart desires!

I hope you enjoy this meal as much as I do, and you can feel good, because its super duper healthy!

From my kitchen to yours,

Carla