I am fully in love with the Phaidon cookbooks – I gawk at them every time I’m in a Waterstone’s, Lily’ owns a Silver Spoon and I have recently purchased 1080 Recipes, the ultimate Spanish cuisine bible. I am not completely taken by this one, a number of the recipes are quite basic and a lot of them aren’t even Spanish, however I forgive the Ortegas because I know that the book is aimed at the novice cook. Unsurprisingly this little gem of a traditional Spanish dish is included. You may notice a theme in my posts over the these couple of weeks, and that theme is beans. I am a great lover of hippy cooking, and dried beans and grains epitomise the essence of hippy food. Well, this is a special one – so packed with meat that beans only play a supporting role.
I first became aware of this very special dish whilst watching Rick Stein’s programme on Spanish cuisine on BBC this summer. I only managed to catch the first episode before my life got an overhaul with moving house and starting a new job. However the one episode that I did watch had me in stitches at the old fishermen’s dining and singing club and peculiar ways of pouring cider and inspired me to go climbing in the Picos de Europa in Asturias. And, of course, to make fabada Asturiana, the traditional bean casserole from North West Spain. I reached for my copy of 1080 Recipes book and there it was.
One thing needs to be said outright: this recipe does call for some outlandish ingredients. Trying to source pigs ears, tail or trotter is harder in the North West than you might think – about as hard as trying to find morcilla blood sausage. And this is where Delifonseca comes in – I recently discovered their fabulous deli/grocer’s/restaurant in Brunswick Dock and it has somewhat lessened my sorrow at having lost Waitrose as my local supermarket. The good/bad thing is that this fantastic outlet is located just around the corner from my house, meaning that I will be spending all of my money there. The lovely chap from Broughs Butchers promised to put a trotter and an ear aside for me with the next delivery of pigs. I could barely sleep with excitement the night before, and was very disappointed when in fact they did not deliver my porky wishlist – but the butcher gave me a pork chop on the house to use instead. That’s customer service!
And so I set off on a quest of pottering about with a massive pot of beans. I had been soaking butter beans overnight, put aside leftovers from my ham hock dinner on Sunday and other than the tail and trotter I managed to procure all the different kinds of meat the recipe calls for – even the morcilla sausage, a smoky black pudding of which I simply can’t get enough. This dish does get quite spicy and greasy so it is for the best that it’s washed down with some cider. And do get some crusty bread to mop up the delicious meaty juices. I know Spanish cuisine is often referred to as greasy peasant cooking and fabada Asturiana does not really help to change the traditional opinion, but all I have to say to the haters is who cares? A bowl of this dish, even though traditionally served as a starter, makes for a perfect hearty warming winter dinner. I shall have my meat and eat it.
Fabada Asturiana (serves 6)
500g dried faba or butter beans, soaked overnight and rinsed well
1 large onion, quartered
2 cloves of garlic, finely sliced
150ml olive oil
1 pig’s ear
1 pig’s tail or trotter (pork chop will do)
1 tsp smoked paprika
100g ham hock
100g bacon lardons
2 morcilla sausages
a few saffron stamens
salt and pepper
Put the beans into a saucepan along with the onions, garlic, oil, pig’s ear, tail, trotter or chop, the paprika and cover with cold water. Mix well and bring to the boil, then cook over a low heat for about 30 minutes.
Add the ham hock and chorizos and cook for a further 30 minutes, then add the bacon and the black pudding and cook for 60 minutes. Check that the beans are cooked, if not carry on.
Remove the ham hock, chorizos and morcilla and cut into bite-sized pieces . Remove a ladleful of beans and blitz them in a blender to thicken the stew, then return to the pan along with the pieces of meat. Crush the saffron in a mortar, stir into the stew and check the seasoning. If you are using the ears or trotters, pick them out, they are not normally served with the dish.