A cool breeze blows through the covered courtyard providing some relief to the August heat. It’s way past sunset in a country where it doesn’t get dark until after 11PM. A Spanish guitarist strums his instrument with an overgrown, gnarled fingernail that doubles as his pick. To his side is another man who is keeping beat by clapping as his voice wails a sad, haunting song. There are others on stage as well. Many women dressed in colorful dresses with plenty of ruffles. Their dark hair pulled tight by brightly colored, ornate clips that glisten in the moonlight. We are deep in the south of Spain, in Andalucia.
Suddenly, one of the ladies stands up with a determined look on her face. She has begun to feel the music and wants to dance. She stomps and moves across the floor. Twirling and clapping and stomping some more. She’s dancing as if all the pain and suffering in her life will be released in these heavy steps. She continues this maddening dance until she suddenly returns to the current moment and moves back to her seat.
In flamenco, this would be called an arranque, or an outburst. But for me, arranque is also the best term to describe my culinary experience during my time in Spain.
My love for cooking and baking started young. Each day, I would rush home from school to try a new recipe or help my mother with dinner preparations. During college, this passion continued to build by trying new recipes, cuisines, and ingredients on willing roommates. By senior year, we were hosting a weekly “family dinner” for friends who wanted to enjoy good food and company. I graduated and had more time (and money!) to spend in the kitchen so I continued to hone my skills. By the time I moved to Andalucia, this passion had met a fevered climax. But all the newness of my new home was overwhelming so I retreated to a space that had always brought me comfort, the kitchen.
I began to explore Andalucia through its ingredients, spices and markets. I learned to cook local and in season. I wandered the grocery stores, drove through the pueblos blancos mountain villages to find the best olive oil and sampled sherry wine. I tried dishes I never thought I would, learned the language (my Spanish food vocabulary is still stronger than any other area!), and began to grow into a confident cook.
My husband and I started to travel outside of Spain to Italy, France and Morocco. Traveling with our stomachs quickly became our favorite way to explore each new location. We did cooking classes, sought out local specialties, and shared wonderful meals along the way. Our most common souvenirs were inevitably food-related items such as Parmigianino cheese, hefty red wines, spices, and local cookware. When we returned home, we would recreate these dishes in our kitchen and invite friends over to share in our travel memories around the dinner table.
We have since left Spain but I still look upon that time fondly. The heat of the sun, the refreshing sea breeze at night, the long nights spent on a tapeo (tapas hopping) with friends, the loud and boisterous Spanish, and the closeness I felt with the people through their food. I can’t think of a better place to have my culinary “arranque.”
It seems fitting that one of my favorite recipes to make when I’m missing Andalucia also has arranque in its name. This recipe was from my “hometown” of Rota. A close relative of gazpacho or Cordoba’s solemero, this dish is served as a dip. I loved the simplicity of this dish and how it takes me back to sunny Andalucia every time.
4-5 red medium-size tomatoes
3-4 garlic cloves
3-5 Italian green peppers
Olive oil, to taste
Salt, to taste
½ lb. breadcrumbs (preferably baguette, 2 days old)
Blend tomatoes, green peppers and garlic cloves in a food processor. Next add breadcrumbs, olive oil and salt to taste until the texture thickens to your liking. Chill in fridge for 45 minutes before serving.
Use sliced vegetables (green pepper slices are my favorite), picos or bread to dip. Serve with jamón serrano, Manchego cheese and olives. Serve with sherry wine for an authentic Andalucian experience.
Note: This piece was originally created for Food52’s weekly “Food Memory” segment. I waited too long and they discontinued it so I thought I’d share here.