In an effort to recreate San Sebastián while not physically there, I compiled in my head a list of some of the most traditional and some of my favorite pintxos that can be found there. I think it’s important to take advantage of living in Spain while I can; because I see ham legs, hoof and all, everyday when I leave the house, I become a bit jaded when it comes to jamón ibérico. It is highly regarded by both Spaniards and foodies everywhere: ‘ohhh….you can get the best ham in the world!’ Can I? And back in America you can’t? Right. Thank you for reminding me, because I often forget. But the second I get back to the States and I want to make that pea soup with little slivers of jamón, I might have to settle for bacon (which hey, let’s be honest. It ain’t that bad).
They also have some amazingly great mushrooms here, especially oyster mushrooms, or in Catalan, girgoles. Mushrooms are something I’m not too worried about not being able to find back home. But that being said, I’m still going to make mushrooms here (more so in the fall) as much as I can.
So my Basque meal of pintxos were all inspired by Donostia/San Sebastián, except I’ll admit that one isn’t. Can you guess by looking at the picture?
Alright, so the salmorejo isn’t historically a Basque soup, coming actually from Andalucía, specifically Córdoba but widely popular in Sevilla. It’s similar to gazpacho but a bit thicker, richer, creamier, which are all positives in my book. That doesn’t mean you can find it in some pintxo form up in the north. One time a couple years ago when I visited and one of my favorite inventive, slightly kooky, bars had a version made with strawberries and served with cheese nonetheless.
So if you want to have your own pintxos night (and we’re calling this pintxos, not tapas, because we are honoring San Sebastián particularly), then use your imagination, some jamón if you have it, and perhaps an idea or two from me.
Setas a la brasa con jamón (Sautéed wild mushrooms with crispy jamón)
Salmorejo (Tomato soup with goat cheese)
Montadito de atún (Tuna salad on oat cakes)
Pintxo de jamon, mango, tomate, y queso de cabra (Ham, mango, tomato, and griddled goat cheese)
Puré de champiñón (Pureed mushroom)
Setas a la brasa con jamón
This is actually based on a skewer of mushrooms and ham from a place called Astelena on the main square in the old town. I altered it by making it a big plate rather than a kebab. Get some of your favorite mushrooms together. In my opinion, this works best with oyster mushrooms, something about the flat, large amount of surface area so it browns so nicely in a pan over high heat. But if they’re in season, I would also throw in some other mushrooms, anything you can find. And anyone who won’t admit that regular button mushrooms aren’t at the same level as pricier, wild mushrooms is just blind and crazy. Get a large sauté pan, and after washing/brushing off/cleaning the mushrooms, and depending on the kind, slicing them, sauté them with the slightest amount of olive oil. Toss them as needed, so that they brown on all sides, and when they’re about done, throw in a few slices of jamón and let it get good and crispy. Serve on a platter, the mushrooms first and then put the ham over it, drizzle with nice olive oil and sprinkle with Maldon salt.
I use my recipe from the Moro cookbook, and I can never get it to look like it does in restaurants, or for that matter, the photo in the cookbook. I think it’s because I don’t sieve it, because first of all I hate seeing some of the yummy stuff go to waste, and second of all, if it’s just me eating it, I don’t have enough patience to do it. And the one time I started to, I noticed that the strained bit was a lot thinner than the salmorejo I’m used to, and was more like a tomato juice than a soup. Hope you have some luck with your salmorejo.
2 garlic cloves
1 kg sweet, ripe tomatoes, halved
100 g white bread, crusts removed, roughly crumbled
10 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2 Tbsp sweet red wine vinegar or sherry vinegar
Pinch of sugar
Salt and pepper
Crush the garlic in a mortar with a good pinch of salt until you have a smooth paste. Using an electric hand blender or food processor, puree the tomatoes and bread until completely smooth (I found that a hand blender is super messy, and would opt for something with a lid like a food processor). If there are many seeds, strain through a sieve (I’ve now decided maybe strain, and then add the bread, so you don’t lose the bulk of the soup). Then, with the machine still running, add the garlic and slowly pour in the olive oil. When the oil has combined, transfer the mixture to a large bowl and add the vinegar, salt and pepper to taste, and also a pinch of sugar if the tomatoes are not particularly sweet. The consistency of the soup should be like apple puree. Add some water if necessary. Place the bowl in the fridge for 2 hours to chill. Just before serving, check the seasoning once more.
Then Moro stops, and I come in. Serve in champagne flute with little crumbles fresh goat cheese, or ricotta, or something smooth and subtle, along with a drizzle of olive oil.
Montadito de atún
I probably don’t need to tell anyone how to make tuna salad, but I’ll still go ahead and give you the recipe for my chosen salad that day: open a can of Spanish tuna, drain, pour into a bowl. Mix in a few tablespoons of mustard (I’m not a big mayonnaise fan, and I love the way the mustard comes out with tuna), olive oil, and a little sherry vinegar. Chop up some pickles, mix in, and add a little spoonful of capers. Season with salt and pepper as needed. Serve on an oat cake (if you’re not in Scotland, or have an unexplained affinity for oat cakes, any sort of cracker or toasted bread will do), and top with a little baby pickle.
Puré de champiñón
This is a great one to eat with little toasts. Cooke some button mushrooms as you normally would (olive oil, butter, sherry, wine, soy sauce, garlic, onion), however is your go-to for some good ole’ sautéed mushrooms. Set aside a few whole ones, and then add some cream to your mushrooms and cook for a few more minutes. Transfer this to a food processor and puree until you end up with a thick, almost dip-like consistency (you can add more cream if it’s too thick). Serve in dishes, topped off with the whole slices of mushroom and of course, Maldon and olive oil.
Pintxo de jamón, mango, tomate, y queso de cabra
If you’ve read my post on San Sebastian pintxos, then you might recognize this as my all-time favorite. Except in this case, I’ve left out the bread and just served it as a mish-mash of the other ingredients. Still just as delicious and so easy I wonder why I had never done it before. This was also my first time at grilling goat cheese and I’m happy to say that with a non-stick pan, it turned out just like it should. So start with the cold things: slice some juicy red tomatoes, and half of a mango. Layer them together. Now you need a log of goat cheese, preferably the kind with the rind around the edge. Cut a couple slices, then cut each in half so you have semi-circle shapes. Over high heat put on a non-stick pan, and cook the goat cheese quickly, turning it once when the side is brown and crispy. At the same time, crisp up your ham, either in a pan for a couple minutes, or gasp!, in the microwave (yes, it can be done). When the ham and cheese are done, layer them over the tomato and mango, finish it as you will, I prefer olive oil and Maldon salt (if you couldn’t tell already).