Menestra de verduras often served in littles bowls in fashionable Madrid bars, but probabaly the best I have ever had was made for me by Raul Domingo, when I stayed with him and his family in the city. Raul is a history lecturer, his wife, Carmen, a photographer, lecturer and archivist, and their student daughter Livia is a jazz and classical violinist. The shelves of their home groan with incredible books and the walls are covered in extraordinary paintings, and when it comes to food, Raul is in charge of the kitchen and his cooking is excellent. While I was writing up recipe notes he brought me a Madrid tapa of fine crisps and escabeche mussels (see page 111) and then a little bowlful of this light, delicious, nutritious menestra.
2 small eggs
2 small-medium artichokes
250g fresh or frozen garden peas
150g Brussels sprouts
6 green asparagus spears
100g fresh broad beans
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 spring onions, white parts only, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, chopped
2 carrots, sliced
1 courgette, cut lengthways, central
seed part scooped out, cut into slices
1 aubergine, chopped, around 1cm
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
250g tacos (see page 175) of Serrano ham
½ tablespoon plain flour
1 tablespoon chopped parsley
6 miny leaves
2 red piquillo peppers from a jar,
cut into thin slices
The key is in the brief and individual blanching of the green vegetables, apart from the courgette, which is fried. It may seem a lot of fuss, but it really is worth it, so that you keep all the flavour, texture, bite and particularly the bright colour of each vegetable. You can use frozen peas – but ful-size ones, not petits pois.
Put the eggs into a pan of cold water and bring to a simmer gently so that the shells don’t crack, then cook gently for 10 minutes. Drain and run under cold water, then peel and keep to one side.
Trim and quarter the artichokes (see page 350)
Have ready a bowl of iced water. Blanch the green vegetables one at a time. Boil the peas in 2 litres of salted water for about a minute, then lift out with the sieve again and add to the bowl of iced water.
Repeat the process with the asparagus, cooking the spears for about 2 minutes, the artichokes, for 3 minutes, and finally add the broad beans, for about 2 minutes. Keep back 1 litre of the cooking liquid and discard the rest.
Heat the olive oil in a deep sauté or frying pan and add the onions, garlic, carrots, courgette and aubergine. Season and cook gently until soft but not coloured. Add the am and cook briefly, then sprinkle in the flour and move everything gently around the pan, so that the flour brings the vegetables together, but take care not to burn it. Add a little of the reserved vegetable cooking water and cook briefly to thicken the liquid a little.
Drain all the green vegetables from the bowl of ice through a colander and add to the pan, stir well, then add the parsley and the rest of the reserved vegetable stock. Bring to the boil, then turn down the heat and simmer gently, uncovered, for about 10 minutes, until all the vegetables are just tender and the stock is slightly thickened and aromatic.
Taste and correct the seasoning if necessary, and add the mint leaves just before serving. Serve in a big shallow dish, topped with the piquillo peppers and slices of the reserved hard-boiled eggs.
This recipe appears Brindisa: The True Taste of Spain
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