Mediterranean Summer Food

We visit the Mediterranean and enjoy a culinary tour of the region with chefs Theodore Kyriakou of The Real Greek, Elisabeth Luard and Mourad Mazouz of Momo. Here, Chris Stewart espouses the benefits of Andalucia and its wonderful tapas.
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If, God forbid, we ever had to leave our farm in Las Alpujarras, my simple criteria would be that wherever we ended up, I'd have to own an orange tree. We've been growing fruit here for years, but I still get a burst of pleasure when I pluck an orange from my own tree.

If, God forbid, we ever had to leave our farm in Las Alpujarras, my simple criteria would be that wherever we ended up, I'd have to own an orange tree. We've been growing fruit here for years, but I still get a burst of pleasure when I pluck an orange from my own tree.

In summer the fruits you can grow are marvellous. As well as lemons and oranges, you can also grow papayas and mangos, which are exactly the type of food your body tells you to eat when it's very hot. As well as my orange tree, I think I'd also need an olive tree. Olive oil is fundamental to everything here. Most people would be appalled at the amount of olive oil our family eats; we must consume about 100 litres of the stuff a year.

You collect olives by combing the trees with a rake, letting the olives patter into your apron or basket. They are taken to a local mill to be pressed and what you get back is thick green stuff that tastes of green tomatoes and olive trees.

A dish I love is a paste made out of garlic, salt, fresh parsley, green chillies and olive oil. You make it into an oily mush and have it with cooked meats. That's definitely an Andaluz dish that originated in north Africa, and I'm glad to say that north African cooking is re-emerging in Spain.

Tapas is one of the truly unique and wonderful things about eating here. I'm sure "grazing" in this way is much better for you than sitting down to a big meal that leaves you feeling bloated. Not only are you leaning against the bar, which must aid digestion as it's a vertical descent, you are also eating right beside your fellow diners, so you can enjoy the sight and smell of their dishes too.

Lately, I've become a member of the gastronomic society of Valdepeñas de Jaén. I was presented with a silver lapel badge of a mixing-bowl ( dornillo, the name of the society) and an apron that announced my new status as pinche (kitchen help). It took a long time to get into the society and my suspicion is that it has something to do with the obscure fact that when I was a schoolboy I played drums for Genesis which, believe it or not, cuts a lot of ice in Valdepeñas. Being a member really drags you into the gastronomy of Andalucia. I've found them to be fanatical about mushrooms and people here get really passionate about picking and eating mushrooms in the autumn. In the winter they kill a pig, in the spring they finish off the pig and kill a goat and the summer is when you get the really fancy cookery when the gastronomic society chefs can show off their art by making endless exquisite dishes. You can have up to 33-course eating orgies. I think the secret behind the best of Spanish cooking is that it's seasonal. For instance you can't get gazpacho until well into July when the ingredients are ready to be picked. If you get it before then, it's come out of a tin.

A Parrot in the Pepper Tree is out on Sort of Books

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