HAVE A GREAT MANCHEGO SUMMER!

young girl on the road with a suitcaseThis is my last post before I leave on vacation. After a very busy year trying to handle the many roles being a working mum involves, it’s now that very much expected time to get away with the family and spend the long summer days lounging by the seaside, strolling in the nature and dining under the stars.

This means I will be putting this blog on stand by until summer is over and I’ll be – hopefully – back with the batteries topped up with all the energy of the sunshine.

I would like to thank you all for following me during these months. I hope I was able to share with you my passion for Manchego cheese and explain all the tradition, history, care and craftsmanship its wonderful taste conveys. I hope I gave you some ideas on how to enjoy it and, most importantly, hints on how to recognize the authentic Manchego cheese vs. the industrial lookalikes.

I wish you all a superb summer, filled with joy and laughter, and also, why not, with a touch of Manchego. Enjoy!

A WORLDCUP WINNER: MANCHEGO & CHORIZO PIZZA

Manchego & Chorizo pizzaPizza is my favorite food to share with friends while watching sports on TV. Here’s my recommendation for this World Cup matches: a Manchego & Chorizo pizza. It’s full of taste, just perfect to top up your energies while supporting the USA!

The distinctive sheep’s milk flavor of the Manchego cheese, together with its buttery texture, makes it perfect for pizza. Pair it with other traditional Spanish ingredients and you’ll have something reminiscent of tapas, but on a crunchy, golden, edible plate. Delish!

Just make sure to buy 100% Spanish ingredients: ensure the Manchego cheese & chorizo are authentic (not Mexican substitutes) and try to find Spanish olives and jarred Piquillo peppers if possible.

What you need:

  • Food-processor pizza dough, ½ batch
  • Canned crushed tomatoes, ¾ cup
  •  Manchego cheese, 4 oz. grated
  • ¼ small red onion, thinly sliced
  • 2 roasted Piquillo peppers, thinly sliced
  • 1/4 cup green Spanish olives, pitted
and halved
  •  1 1/2 oz. Spanish chorizo, thinly sliced

Directions:

  1. Preheat the oven following the pizza dough instructions.
  2. On a lightly floured surface, roll out the dough into a 12-inch round and transfer to a floured pizza peel.
  3. Spread the tomatoes over the dough, leaving a 1/2-inch border uncovered. Sprinkle with the cheese, then top with the onion, peppers, olives and chorizo. Transfer the pizza to the oven.
  4. Bake until crisp and browned.
  5. Enjoy!

MANCHEGO POPCORNS & MOVIES

Popcorn & Manchego CheeseI love summer in La Mancha with its bright skies and warm days. But when it’s so terribly hot that’s hard to sleep, staying awake until late watching classic movies is a great pastime.

My latest extravaganza is to make a special theme evening watching a couple of films (and sometimes even three!) on a particular topic, while enjoying drinks and snacks carefully chosen to match the occasion.

Last weekend I organized a La Mancha movie evening with friends and, we enjoyed so much I have to share the experience with you.

First of all, I prepared a selection of classic films from La Mancha. We watched in this order:

  • All About My Mother (1999), a comedy-drama written and directed by Manchego film director Pedro Almodóvar, that won him his first academy award for best foreign language film.
  • Man of La Mancha (1972), an adaptation of classic novel Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes, starring Peter O’Toole as the famous knight and Sophia Loren as sexy Dulcinea.
  • Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown (1988), my favorite Almodóvar film, a totally hilarious comedy, perfect to take you through to the wee hours.

Then the snacks… since the movie snack “par excellence” are my beloved popcorns, I decided to try a Manchego version of them. Here’s what I did.

What you need:

  • Butter, 2 tbsp
  • Garlic, 2 cloves, pressed
  • Spanish smoked paprika, 1/2 tsp
  • Salt, a pinch
  • Popped corn, 6 cups
  • Manchego cheese, 1/4 cup, grated

Instructions:

  1. In a small saucepan over low heat, cook butter, garlic, paprika and salt.
  2. Scrape over popped corn.
  3. Add Manchego cheese.
  4. Mix well and add more salt if desired.
  5. Serve immediately and enjoy.

So, what do you think? Are you up for a Manchego movies evening?

THE MANCHEGO CHEESE TRAIL

QUESO_VALDEPENAS-262Many say that cheese is the new wine when it comes to food & drink tourism.

Certainly, if you’re a curious mind like me, the idea of spending a holiday collecting memorable eating and drinking experiences while discovering a unique region, is a captivating one.

The Napa Valley winemakers were the pioneers of this trend. They started promoting the Napa trail in the 70’s, a route that’ now famous worldwide – partially thanks to the 2004 movie “Sideways”. Soon the Spaniards, French, Italians, Australians and the whole lot, took note of the Napa success and started advertising their own routes. BTW – I would love to do them all, why not a worldwide wine trail? Tempting, uh?

Now it seems cheese is taking on the same steps. At both sides of the Atlantic, the trend is confidently gaining pace: the Vermont & Wisconsin trails, the Swiss cheese & chocolate routes, the itineraries in Normandy combining cider & cheese; they all seem fantastic holiday propositions to me!

Also on a sensory level, the Spanish La Mancha region has a lot to offer. On the one hand, the largest vineyard in the world is here; on the other, this is the capital of the delicious and unrivalled Manchego cheese.

A diverse and colorful region, that Lonely Planet describes as “flat, undulating plains of henna-colored earth striped with olive groves, wheat fields and grape vines complemented by the drama of hilltop castles and deep canyons sliced into the landscape”. Isn’t this the perfect set up for an unforgettable culinary vacation?

A region that’s also home to another famous route: the Don Quixote’s pilgrim trail. This path that follows the steps of the famous Cervantes’ classic novel character across 250km includes beautiful sights such as the windmills in Consuegra or Campo de Criptana. Totally recommendable!

So if you can envision a holiday sipping top quality wines, enjoying the taste of fantastic cheeses, and taking in the dramatic (oh, so poetic!) scenery, then the Manchego trail is waiting for you.

ENERGY BOOSTING BREAKFASTS

Manchego cheese breakfastWe’ve all heard that breakfast is the most important meal of the day but, during a busy morning, it’s easy to let breakfast fall low in your list of priorities.

A good breakfast fuels you up and gets you ready for the day. Also, eating a substantial, protein-rich breakfast keeps you full, so you end up eating less during the day. Yes, research shows that including protein at breakfast is critical to successful weight loss!

Manchego cheese has more protein than meat and so adding Manchego to your breakfast is not only yummy but a fantastic idea too. Here are three suggestions for a 100% delish energy boosting Manchego breakfast:

1. The healthiest option

A balanced, easy-to-assemble make-ahead morning meal: Grab an apple, wrap 1 to 2 ounces of Manchego in plastic, and toss ¼ cup of fiber- and protein-rich walnuts into a re-sealable plastic bag. You can snack this while driving to work.

2. The sweetest one

A quick and sophisticated alternative suitable for the everyday: Cut a couple of slices of bread – a French baguette if possible. Drop a bit of olive oil on each and toast them on the grill. Place a slice of Manchego cheese and a thin slice of membrillo paste on top of each toast.

3. The perfect brunch

A one-pan meal that will be an instant hit: In a large skillet sauté in olive oil ½ sliced onion and 2 sliced potatoes. Once ready, pour the mix in a bowl, then crack two eggs into it and add a handful of sliced green olives together with 2 ounces of Manchego, sliced thin. Stir gently with a whisk, then pour the mix back to the skillet and bake it in a medium-high heat oven until ready. Serve with freshly squeezed orange juice, hot coffee and a bread roll.

TOP 10 VEGETARIAN TAPAS (Part II)

Manchego Veggie tapas IIDid you think that last week’s list was absolutely delicious? Did you have the opportunity to try all the veggie “tapas” I recommended? Then get ready for more to come! Who said Spanish food was just about paella & meat?

6. Salmorejo – Vegetarian cold soup

This is similar to gazpacho but even tastier. Ensure it comes “sin jamón” (without ham), as many versions come with Serrano ham sprinkled on top.

7. Huevos rotos – Fried eggs with potatoes

Simple food at its best. Again ask for “sin jamón, por favor”.

8. Pimientos de padrón – Spicy bell peppers

If you’re the kind of person who likes surprises, this will surely be your tapa of choice. As some peppers are sweet and others spicy, you’re in for a fun ride!

9. Croquetas de espinacas – Spinach croquettes

Croquettes are a must have “tapa”. For veggie enjoyment, as for croquettes “de espinacas” or “de setas” (mushrooms). Yum!

10. Queso Manchego frito – Fried Manchego Cheese

Fried cheese is a commonly found “tapa” in the La Mancha region, home of the Manchego cheese. Try it with some marmalade on the side to maximize the enjoyment. Surely, the perfect end for a veggie “tapas” feast.

TOP 10 VEGETARIAN TAPAS (part I)

Manchego Cheese tapaSpain has lots of delicious tapas”, but a healthy chunk of them involve meat. True, being a vegetarian in Spain is not that common and may draw lots of weird looks. However, it’s entirely doable and enjoyable!

If you’re vegetarian and are planning a holiday in Spain, arm yourself with two short phrases: “lleva carne?” (does it have meat?) and “sin carne, por favor” (without meat, please) and take note of the below list of vegetarian “tapas”, all of them commonly found everywhere in Spain:

1. Aceitunas – Olives

Olives are fantastic in Spain. They come in all type of varieties and flavors. If you’re strict vegetarian just beware of the ones stuffed with anchovies.

2. Pan con tomate – Toast with olive oil & tomato

A humble, yet tasty and delish, dish. Being originally from Catalonia, it’s nowadays found pretty much everywhere in Spain.

3. Queso Manchego

Of course, this has to be our preferred veggie “tapa”! Ask for it with some “membrillo” (quince) on the side, and get ready for an out-of-this-world experience.

4. Patatas bravas y alioli – Fried potatoes with salsas

For complete enjoyment, wash these “patatas” down with a “caña” (small glass of beer).

5. Tortilla española – Spanish omelette

This has to be the basic vegetarian go-to dish. Just make sure it’s homemade and slightly moist in the center – dry and hard “tortillas” are awful, believe me.

Want to know more delicious veggie “tapas”? Then watch this space!