Saturday, October 4, 2008

Mario and Gwyneth In Spain - Episode Two, Plus A Nifty Contest

The next portion of Mario’s trip through Spain with his friends takes them, and us, on a Pilgrimage to Galicia. In honor of this wonderful series, I'm holding an exciting contest with 2 fabulous prizes. All you have to do is to read through this post and answers three questions at the end. (I have no problem with bribing my readers.)

Spain On The Road Again is available on iTunes and I’m giving away a season pass to one reader for the entire current series. You can download all the episodes and enjoy them forever! (This prize is available only for US residents.)

Offshore readers: Same contest, different prize. One lucky winner will receive a beautiful 365 Days in Spain 2009 Picture-A-Day Calendar with text by Penelope Casas. Details at the end.

Episode 2 begins with a road trip with Mario, Mark and Claudia. GP has gone home for a few days. It’s just like your family’s road trip with a complainer in the back seat (Mark Bittman) and a peace maker in the front (Claudia).

Still in Castilla La Mancha, they arrive at the Restaurante Meson Venta de Tiembles.

Espárragos trigueros doesn’t take the edge off Mark’s appetite. They’re so hungry that the conversation lags a bit.

Pisto manchego comes out. It’s eggplant, tomatoes and air-dried deer with runny eggs on top, basically ratatouille with a different twist, they remark. Mario appreciates la cecina, the name for the cured deer. Mark points out that this dish seems to be made with an equal volume of vegetables and olive oil.

That was certainly true when I lived in Spain in the mid-eighties. Every dish was swimming in olive oil, which took a while to adjust to. It’s hard to believe, but I was not a fan of olive oil then, having been firmly rooted in a butter-based cuisine. Now my olive oil usage probably outnumbers my butter cooking by 1000 percent.

The star dish of this little meson comes out - carne a la piedra - raw pork on a plate, accompanied by a sizzling hot plate (not a hotplate, but a clay plate that’s really, really hot). The chef rubs a big square of bacon on the plate to grease it and add flavor and then places the meat on top to cook it. Interesting. Many cuisines have cook-your-own meat dishes, but few as spare and perfect as this one.

After tasting, Mario says this reminds him of the meat he used to eat in his high school years in Spain. I like the idea of this dish. It’s muy tipico.

They drive through Avila - a beautiful walled city with a magnificent Parador right in the walls. They continue on to the Ribero del Duero wine growing region for a great meal. Mario and Mark are singing. I may have to turn it this off, but the countryside is so lovely. They arrive at Bodegas Valdubón. They admire a bunch of Tempranillo grapes, the most prevalent ones from that region.

Vegetarians will probably want to stop reading here. Amidst a beautiful vineyard, Mario makes a barbecue with morcilla – a sausage made from pig, its blood and rice, cumin, salt and pepper. He’s also cooking a leg from a lechazo – milk-fed lamb, no older than 25 days old and lamb chops.

The camera work is kind of annoying, because we can’t see Mario boning and butterflying the leg of lamb that well. He says by boning it, it will cook a lot faster and butterflying it makes it cook more evenly. Claudia squeezes grapes over the meat.

They treat the lamb chops with lavender, sugar, grapes. Mario is cooking on an outside fire, stoked with dried grape vines. He places the food in a cage contraption. The lechazo y morcilla con hierbas is looking really good. Mario turns the cage over.

“Things that grow together go together”, says Mario - the lamb, the local red wine, herbs…clipped vines on the fire.

They set off for Galicia and arrive at a local hotel. Gwynnie comes back. Okay, this chitchat is not that intriguing. Breakfast is served - a Pudín de Pan (here's an example) and fine bread, eaten with olive oil. Galician flour is apparently very good quality. Gwyneth is eating stuff that you KNOW she never eats. I just don’t picture her slathering oil on bread for breakfast.

They go in 2 cars to Santiago de Compostela. The road, known as El Camino de Santiago or The Way of St. James, leads to the shrine where it’s believed that St. James is buried. Pilgrims have walked this route for 1000 years.

Mario tells Gwyneth that Galicia is a great place from a chef’s point of view, because of its amazing shellfish. Santiago or St. James was the patron saint of fisherman.

Both pairs walk some of El Camino. As Mario and Gwyneth walk, they find blackberries. They point out a mojón, a pillar that marks the distance to the shrine at Santiago. It has a relief of a shell, which is a symbol of the pilgrimage. They also see stones placed on top of the mojón, which indicates how many pilgrims have passed by.

Mark tells Claudia he’s hungry (for about the hundredth time.) He also tells her that blisters, thieves and priests were the three enemies of the pilgrims. The four had agreed that the first pair to reach their inn would cook dinner, so Mark and Claudia are taking their time.

Mario and Gwyneth arrive first and start cooking a capon in lots of wine. They also cook greens with lemon and garlic.

Another dish they work on is bacalao or salt cod, which is found all over Spain. Mario and Gwynnie cook it by slowly simmering it in olive oil. It is to be served with the grellos or turnips greens. Bacalao con grellos is also accompanied with a smoked paprika vinaigrette, a salsa de pimenton.

Meanwhile, Claudia is talking her time showing Mark the old town of Portomarin. As they stroll over a newer bridge, they can see the remains of a medieval one and some ancient houses peeking out from the Rio Miño. We don't see them arrive at their stop for the night. I guess their rendezvous dinner will be shown in the next installment.

This episode shows why Spain is so remarkable. It’s old and grand and so much history is still available to be walked through, observed and tasted. Mario has offered us a wonderful way to get a piece of that without leaving home.

Spain On the Road contest (answers accepted until Sunday, October 12th):

Answer these questions and send your response to

What is Mark’s last name?
What is a lechazo?
What is a mojón?

The US resident winner will receive (by email) a complete season pass to the video, Spain On The Road Again, on iTunes.

For my foreign friends, the winner will receive 365 Days in Spain 2009 Picture-A-Day Calendar with text by Penelope Casas.

Both winners will be randomly picked from all the correct answers – one a US resident; the other, not.

Please include your full name and email address in the body of the email and title your email – Questions on Spain…

¡Buen provecho!


RecipeGirl said...

I have been wanting to watch this ever since I caught the two of them on Oprah a couple of weeks ago. Will have to check and see when it's on around here. Thanks for the heads up!

Sue said...

Hi RG,
I think you'll enjoy it.

Cynthia said...

I have not seen any of the episodes :(

Emiline said...

I'm frightened of mixing the blood into sausage. It makes me cringe. Have you tasted sausage like that?

I'm so jealous that you lived in Spain! Is that your favorite cuisine? Okay, enough questions.

Sue said...

Try to catch one or two of them.

Blood sausage is pretty common in a lot of places. You don't really taste anything gross.

My favorite food to eat is Indian, followed by Frenchified Asian (fusion) and to cook it's French-based regular (whatever that means). Enough answers?