These days many of us who live in cities around the world have seen a plethora of Spanish-inspired restaurants pop up. Tapas bars, manchego cheese plates, and tempranillo have been gracing our neighborhoods and local menus for quite some time now. Here in San Francisco, several fresh and new additions to our Spanish food options have arrived, such as Nosa Ría. So, I felt inspired to share some ideas that may coerce you to stock up on your own Spanish gastronomical goodies! Here I’ll focus on a few mainstays of Spanish cuisine. In many cases you can easily find these items in a grocery store or order them online.
Queso/Cheese: There are many wonderful Spanish cheeses. Perhaps the most well-known is manchego cheese, which is made from sheep’s milk. Manchego cheese can range from fairly soft with a mellow flavor to sharper, drier, harder varieties that I feel go great with young, rough red wines. Trader Joe’s now carries quite a few manchego cheeses. Many larger markets such as Whole Foods will have it as well. And be sure to visit that small local cheese shop in your neighborhood if you have one – they are bound to have a great selection. You can purchase it online at latienda.com. It is popular to eat manchego with a bit of membrillo, or quince paste.
Vino/Wine: Ah, Spanish wine. Where to begin??! There are so many wines from Spain that I love. For our purposes here I will focus on two that keep coming back to my dinner table: Tempranillo and Albariño. Tempranillo is traditionally grown in Rioja and Ribera del Duero. It is a medium to full-bodied wine with less tannins than some other varietals. Right now I like Radio Boca, which is bold and very wallet-friendly. Albariño is a white wine grown in the coastal area of Rias Baixas. It is light and fruity: think pear and citrus. Food and Wine Magazine has a nice article about Albariño. Spanish wines are easy to find in markets. Cost Plus World Market tends to carry quite a few of these varieties, as does BevMo. Want to dive deeper into the abyss? Check out the 2013 “Vinos Finalistas” from La Nariz de Oro’s tasting and this map of the country’s wine regions.
Fideuà: So you love paella. And it seems every Spanish restaurant has a big steaming platter of this saffron deliciousness for you to enjoy. But have you tried fideuà? A cousin of paella, fideuà is very similar in that it uses saffron and either vegetables, seafood, or chicken. However, fideuà contains pasta instead of rice. Legend has it that this dish originated on board a ship. The Spanish sailors did not have rice and decided to substitute it with pasta. Deliciousness was born. No matter the real story, I absolutely love it and see it as a total comfort food. It is fairly easy to make. Bodega: Adventures in Spanish Food and Wine has a good recipe. If you can, buy the traditional fideos, or noodles.
Aceite de oliva/Olive oil: Spain continues to be the world’s largest producer of olive oil. Not all olive oils are created equal, and once a few different kinds are sampled, differences become apparent. Some are green and robust, others golden, smooth and earthy. Here in SF you can partake in olive oil tastings…yep, it’s a foodie city. Extra virgin olive oil is best (Rachael Ray got everyone to start saying “EVOO.”). The Olive Oil Emporium defines extra virgin olive oil as “(t)he oil that comes from the first ‘pressing’ of the olive solely by mechanical or other physical means, and is extracted without using heat (a cold press) or chemicals. The oil must not be altered in any way. It can only be treated by washing, decanting, centrifuging and filtering. Extra Virgin Olive Oil contains no more than 0.8% acidity (0.8 grams per 100 grams, expressed as oleic acid), and is judged to have a superior taste. The less the Olive Oil is handled, and the closer it is to its natural state, the better the oil. If the Olive Oil meets all the criteria, it can be designated as ‘extra virgin’. It must have no flavor or aroma faults.”
Jamón/Ham: I’m afraid I can’t help out too much with this one. While not a strict vegetarian or vegan, I really don’t eat very much meat as a personal choice. That being said, there is so much to learn about the process behind a good quality piece of jamón. Diet and environment are big factors in choosing between Jamón Serrano and Jamón Ibérico.
I hope this helps to inspire you on the path to Spanish gastronomy. While we can’t all whisk away to Spain at a moment’s notice like Gwenyth Paltrow and chill out in the vineyards with a glass of cava and some olives (besides, she sure spent a lot of time in the car), we can munch away, close our eyes, and come pretty close.