Tuesday, October 18, 2011
Last week I had the huge pleasure of tagging along on a hiking tour of the Basque region, organized by Country Walkers. Although the hiking part was truly amazing, I of course managed to focus on the food.
Come lunch time, most days saw us high up in the hills, traveling along an isolated stretch of a pilgrims trails, perched on a seaside cliff or resting by an idyllic valley lake. Since we were no where near a restaurant, our lunches were picnics which our hiking guides magically pulled out of their back packs. Rather than making do with prepared sandwiches and salads, every day they whipped up gorgeous - and scrumptious - picnic versions of pintxos.
Pintxos, in case you don’t know, are the Basque version of tapas. Small, single portion snacks, usually eaten in bars. Pincho - or pintxo in Basque - refers to the toothpick, or spike which usually keeps the whole thing together while you are getting it from counter to mouth.
While us hikers took a load off our tired feet, Itziar and Joserra - our guides - started working. They took a variety of ingredients - most of them local specialities - and assembled them into bite sized, attractive and - of course - delicious tidbits to refuel our energy for the rest of the hike.
Most of the local ingredients actually came in cans or jars: grilled piquillo peppers, olive oil-packed sardines and anchovies, fried tomatoes and big black olives. After a bit of chopping, layering and arranging we were soon served pintxos that would have been at home in any San Sebastian or Bilbao bar. But we had a mountain top view thrown in. Which was pretty nice.
The following recipes are barely that. They involve no cooking whatsoever, and are mostly wonderful suggestions for using some Basque ingredients, to put together some more-than-ordinary appetizers. Most of the Basque ingredients are preserved, and so readily available in cans.
Lettuce Hearts with Anchovies
2 Romaine lettuce hearts
12 oil packed anhoivies
12 strips of piquillo peppers
Slice the lettuce hearts into 12 small wedges. Top each with a strip of pepper and an anchovy. Drizzle with olive oil and balsamic vinegar.
Sardines with Olives
8 olive oil packed sardines
1 jar of ‘fried tomatoes’ (or high quality chunky tomato salsa)
1 cup pitted black olives
Lay crackers out on plate. Spread a tablespoon of salsa on each cracker, followed by a tablespoon of chopped olives. Top each with a sardine and a squeeze of lemon. Do not prepare ahead or else cracker will get soggy.
White Navarra Asparagus
Ok, this is not even a recipe. But these asparagus were so pretty, and so much fun to pick up and eat, I thought they made a great snack. And who knew white asparagus were a Basque speciality?
Basque Cheese and Quince Paste
Membrillo (Quince Paste)
We ate a lot of the local cheese, Idiazabal, on the trip. This is a unpasteurized sheep’s milk cheese. If you can’t get it, don’t worry. Just substitute another sheep’s milk cheese, on the mild side, like pecorino.
To serve just slice the cheese and quince paste into single serving wedges. Arrange on plate with walnuts and let guests assemble there own bites
Resources: After a quick search, I found a lot of the ingredients for these recipes at igourmet, but I’m sure you can find some at a local grocery like Whole Foods. But if you can’t find authentic Spanish sardines, anchovies or cheese, feel free to substitute similar ingredients.