It’s the beginning of September and my trial as a Spanish restaurant cook is drawing to a close. Oh, did I not mention? Well, it wasn’t intentional. Let me explain.
As the old saying goes, there’s no such thing as a free lunch. So, when my son started at a local school here last September and became entitled to actual free lunches I should have realised that there would be a catch. On the surface it was simply brilliant. Every Monday we’d receive his meal plan for the week, sent home in his tiny rucksack and detailing three daily courses of hearty, home-cooked Spanish fare, always followed by a piece of fruit for pudding.
Every weekday he and his ten classmates, accompanied by two classroom assistants would walk up the hill from school to the local bar where they would troop upstairs to the balcony dining room. Every weekday except Wednesday that is. Wednesday they had a half day from school because that’s the day the bar closed.
And so the school year passed with my little blonde boy filling out on fabada, calamares and chorizo and developing a startling dependence on table napkins. (Spanish children don’t do mucky faces. A fact I find most unsettling.)
Then the summer holidays arrived and it was payback time.
I had my first inkling that trouble was ahead when we stopped one afternoon for a cold drink on a hot day in Teverga. As we took a seat in the dimly lit bar our little son spied the formal dining room through the archway. ‘Quiero cenar ahí,’ (I want to dine through there) he declared to us and the barman and strode off. I gently tugged him back and placated him with a glass of milk and a humble ‘pincho de tortilla’ (slice of typical Spanish omelette served on crusty white bread).
The writing was on the wall. A peanut butter and jam sandwich at lunchtime quite simply wasn’t going to cut it any more. This boy expected daily servings of proper, authentic Spanish food cooked to a restaurant standard.
And that’s how I’ve come to pass the summer expanding my repertoire of typical Spanish dishes; nosing around in my neighbours’ kitchens, picking up tips from the real experts who make everything from their own chorizo and black pudding to dulce de manzana (a delicious apple paste that goes fabulously with strong blue cheeses such as the famous local Cabrales.)
The conclusion: I will never make a tortilla half as good as any of my neighbours. They have all been cooking them since they were big enough to tip a bottle of olive oil and they all have sacrosanct, dedicated tortilla pans in their kitchens (touch them at your peril). But on a good day I can whip one up that might fool an unsuspecting Brit…..or even a hybrid British-Irish child who is growing up mostly Spanish….