Cool mountain lamb and sizzling sweet peppers

LAST UPDATED: 6 Feb, 2012 @ 10:36
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Cool mountain lamb and sizzling sweet peppers

FROM the cool mountain lamb in the north to sizzling sweet peppers on the banks of the Ebro River in the sultry south, the region of Navarra boasts some of the most varied food, and landscapes, in Spain. I went to the markets of Pamplona to find out more.

El Mercado Santo Domingo is a community market that is surrounded by a busy city metropolis. You enter through a graffitied doorway, a smoky black and white homage to the traditional market stalls and history it holds within. It is an unsuspecting underground space of 45 stalls on calle Mañueta, Pamplona. It has been selling the specialities from the Navarra region since 1769. It holds the key to local wisdom with carefully selected farm produce and a rustic orientation towards tradition, claiming to have a focus on quality and the transmission of knowledge.

The stalls stretch out in slim neat alleyways, the cosy lack of space only added to the community atmosphere as people browsed the produce. Some people had more direct notions of what they wanted. A Señora, fur-clad and wheeling her little shopping bag around, had her weekly shop on the tip of her tongue, bustling past me and inspecting the chard with a keen knowledgeable eye. There were also many meanderers picking up unusual vegetables and asking questions, being encouraged to smell for freshness under the watchful eye of sincere farmers, or to take photos.

The reason for Navarra’s rich variety in produce is the diverse geography of the region. The north of Navarra is a dizzy undulating landscape of frosty mountains and green valleys full of traditional village life, excellent lamb and game, wild mushrooms and trout fishing in crystal rivers. Moving further north and into the Basque Country, you have the coast at your fingertips. As a result, Bacalao (cod)  features in many Basque dishes. Heading south from Pamplona, you pass through fields of artichokes, typically sold in bundles with huge green stalks from Tudela (the second biggest city in the state), and blanched asparagus that is boiled and stored in jars. The southern region, Ribera de Navarra, is one of the most important agricultural areas in Spain. The Euskera rusticity is soon replaced by passionate southern heat. The temperate climates yield a different crop entirely, blushed and sun-ripened. There are the sweet red peppers, pimientos de piquillo,  from the village of Lodosa, harvested on the sunshine banks of the Ebro River. Then there are the numerous yet under-rated vineyards producing deep rich wine. But alcohol from Navarra is another blog completely, “un Patxaran por favor…”

Try this simple recipe suggested by the municipality of Pamplona and provided by chefs from the best restaurants in the city.

Artichokes stuffed with mushrooms

Ingredients:

  • Artichokes
  • A blanche of water, a little lemon juice and flour for the artichokes
  • 250g mushrooms
  • Garlic
  • Chopped parsley
  • Olive oil

First, wash and trim the artichokes. Put them in the blanche, this will stop them from going brown. Soak the artichokes for a little while then boil them in salted water until they are just soft enough to poke with a fork, but still a tad ‘al dente’.

Chop and fry the mushrooms in some olive oil. Add the garlic and soften gently. Add the chopped parsley.

Hollow out the artichokes and stuff them with the mushrooms. It is best served with a cream of pumpkin sauce or a garnish of fried leek.

See the full recipe, along with others, here:

http://www.pamplona.es/VerPagina.asp?idPag=528&idioma=1

 

4 COMMENTS

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  1. There are parts of Navarra where you could easily imagine that you were in Yorkshire and yes the cuisine is in many ways far superior to southern Spain in that they hav’nt discarded their regional cuisine for the meat and chips that have sadly become the norm in southern Spain.

    I can well remember having run out of money in Pamplona anxiously waiting for my father to send me £10 to tide me over before returning to the UK.

    Being a Scotsman he only sent me £5 ‘in case it got lost in the post’. I had’nt eaten the previous day to the post arriving and I sat down to eat a classicly Euskadi dish – vegetables served first and then the Bacalao – I have never tasted fish as good as that again. This was the salted cod and after soaking in water overnight and then washed – you would never know it was dried salted cod.

    Don’t forget that the Euskadi are world champions at making a gin & tonic, My lady Angela will testify to that.

  2. Stuart, that’s such a lovely story! and your dear dad, only sending £5… unfortunately that wouldn’t get you very far here anymore. The food is wonderful here. This week is actually ‘Pintxos voting week’ so we’re doing a special run down of all the contenders on another blog from the North. I’ll post the link here when it’s ready, just to tickle your taste buds! Navarra really is spectacular, there is so much to explore. I’m just waiting for the spring weather and I’ll be out there with the hiking club!

  3. Katie,
    the whole of north west Spain is in truth the most diverse and spectacular region of Spain.

    The pintxos (nice to see someone respecting the Euskadi language) are way way better than in the south. Their food is’nt swimming in oil.

    Also Pamplona viewed from the foothills has to be one of the most superior sites for a city, as it built into the horseshoe shaped promontary.

    Even in 1968 it was a shame to see red brick apartment blocks going up outside the old city.

    I’m sure if those living in Andalucia take up your advice to come and see and taste the difference they may well be disappointed when they return south.

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