Thursday, September 19, 2013

Recipes from Gibraltar

Remember those "Rock of Gibraltar" commercials from the 80s? No? Oh that's right, you're not as old as I am.

Prudential Insurance had this series of "Rock of Gibraltar" commercials back then, the implication being that Big Rock=Strength. Or something. I guess that was supposed to make Prudential seem more trustworthy. Anyway, that was the sum total of my knowledge about Gibraltar until almost exactly this moment, give or take the week that's passed since I cooked my Gibraltarian meal. I thought Gibraltar was just a big rock, and that this was going to be another one of those Uninhabited Non-Country entries.

See what sorts of things I've learned doing this blog? Gibraltar is not in fact just that giant rock that Prudential turned into their logo, though that rock is Gibraltar's primary landmark.

Europa Point, Gibraltar. Photo by Flickr user cenz.
Located on the Iberian Peninsula at the entrance to the Mediterranean sea, Gibraltar is just 2.6 square miles. There is one city populated by about 30,000 people, located at the foot of that famous rock that I remember from those commercials. Technically, Gibraltar is a British Overseas Territory, though of course neighboring Spain likes to lay claim to it because countries always love to squabble over territories. Gibraltar does have its own constitution and for the most part governs its own affairs, though the UK still controls its defense and foreign relations.

Now normally countries and territories of such diminutive size are tough to find recipes for. But this time I lucked out and discovered a fabulous blog full of Gibraltarian recipes, though I did need a little help from Wikipedia in sorting out the traditional meals from the sort of on-this-site-because-I-like-them types of recipes. Though it was overall a wonderful source, there were very few introductions to any of the recipes so I had to cross reference dishes that I already knew were Gibraltarian in origin. Here's the menu I decided on:

Dionne's Rollitos
(from Mama Lottie's Gibraltarian Cooking)
  • 1 lb thinly sliced beef
  • 1 boiled egg, diced
  • 12 small green olives, diced
  • 2 slices york ham, diced (substitute prosciutto)
  • 1 tbsp parsley, minced
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/2 cup breadcrumbs
  • 4 cloves garlic, divided
  • 1 small red bell pepper, sliced
  • 1 small onion, sliced
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • White cooking wine
  • Olive oil
  • Almonds (optional)
Note: no measurements were provided for this recipe, so the measurements given above are my guesstimate.

(also from Mama Lottie's Gibraltarian Cooking)
  • 3 cups water
  • 1 1/2 cups chickpea flour
  • olive oil
  • salt and pepper
And on the side:

Stuffed Leeks
(also from Mama Lottie's Gibraltarian Cooking)
  • 2 slices smoked bacon, chopped
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 3 large leeks
  • 1 tbsp butter
  • 2 tbsp milk
  • 1/4 cup shredded cheese (I used cheddar)
  • about 2 tbsp flour
  • 1 large potato
Most of the measurements in this recipe are also my guess. Of those measurements that were included, I kind of changed the proportions a little, too (the original recipe called for only one leek) since I wasn't sure how to make it work with the numbers given.

OK, so I wasn't able to completely verify this recipe as being Gibraltarian in origin, but it looked pretty danged tasty so I put it on the menu.

This is a very simple meal (yay!) Here's how it's done:

To make the calentita, first mix your chickpea flour with the water and salt and pepper. You will get a really thin batter (don't worry, that's what you want). Let sit for at least two hours, though three is better and overnight is preferable.

Preheat your oven to about 435 degrees. Now pour the olive oil into the bottom of a shallow oven pan. You want the oil covering the entire surface of the pan by about a millimeter. Put the pan into your oven and let the oil heat (but don't let it start smoking). When the oil is hot, pour in the batter.

Reduce the heat to 390 degrees and let bake for one hour or until the top turns a lovely brown-gold color.

Meanwhile, make your rolitos.

Mix the boiled egg with the olives and ham.

In a separate bowl, mix two of the garlic cloves with the salt, minced parsley and breadcrumbs.

Now heat a little oil in a frying pan and saute the onions, peppers and the remaining garlic over low heat.

While the vegetables are cooking, slice your meat up into strips about two or three inches wide. Make little balls out of the egg/olive/ham mixture, then dip into the beaten egg and roll in the breadcrumb mixture. Note: this gets pretty messy as the egg balls don't hold together very well. But persevere—it will be worth it.

Put each ball on one end of a meat strip and then roll up the strip and secure with toothpicks.

When all the rolls are done, place them in the pan with the vegetables (known as "refrito" in Gibraltar) and add a little white wine and the almonds, if using.

Let simmer until the meat is cooked to your liking.

And now for the leeks:

Cut the potatoes up into wedges, brush with olive oil and bake them at 390 degrees until they are soft all the way through.

Meanwhile, cut your leeks up into cylinders about two inches in length. Carefully push out the center layers of the leeks, leaving the outer two layers intact.

Chop up the center bits of your leeks and saute them with the onions, bacon and butter until soft (note: you'll probably have more leek than you can use). Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Mash the potato wedges and add them to the pan with the milk and cheese. Add enough flour to make a sticky paste.

Now stuff your leek tubes with the filling you just made. Cook at 350 degrees for five or 10 minutes, or until the filling starts to turn a little golden on top.

What we thought: I loved this meal. My kids did too, with a few exceptions. Most of them were scared off by the rollito filling. Most of them were also scared off by the outside part of the leeks, but not the filling. The grown-ups ate and liked all of it.

I thought the rollitos were very good and unusual, though I'm afraid I ended up overcooking mine a little. But with the vegetables these little meat rolls were very tasty and a nice balance of protein and veggie. I also loved the leeks, which were very reminiscent of one of my favorite soups (leek and potato), only much more suitable to the summer weather. Even Hailey liked these, though of  course she would never eat the actual leek itself. I didn't tell her that the leeks were also in the filling, which she devoured.

As for the calentita, the chickpea flour gave it a really unusual flavor and I loved the crispy texture. Dylan was probably the calentita's biggest fan: Martin even put some of the leftovers in his lunch to take to school the next day.

The best thing about this meal was that it was very unusual in style and definitely unique compared to other things I've eaten. I enjoy meals like this one because they really give me a taste of those far-away places and a reminder about why I do this every week.

Next week: The Glorioso Islands

For printable versions of this week's recipes:


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