Flavours of Spain – Part 1: Almejas con hinojos
Regulars of The Daily Norm will know that in my heart of hearts, I am no happier in my kitchen than when cooking up some Spanish flavours to tantalise the taste buds and enliven the corazon. To recreate the rich smells imbued with garlic and pimenton, shellfish and saffron in London is one thing, but to cook in a Spanish kitchen, when already surrounded by a cacophony of those same scents wafting in the air from the nearby houses of my Spanish old town neighbours is an entirely different experience. It is hard not to be inspired, not least by the nearby market, where fresh fish is in abundance, rich meaty steaks are plentiful and vibrantly coloured fruit, vegetables and the spices intrinsic to the flavours of Al Andalus are in bountiful supply in the mercado in the next door street to my house. That is not to say that I felt totally free to indulge. The price of food in Marbella, together with the inflation of the euro, has seen a really hike in food prices – some days I found it more expensive to eat at home than out in a local fish bar. Consequently I had to indulge my culinary ambition with a more limited budget for ingredients.
This dish is perfect for the prudent shopper. Buy yourself a kilo of clams (or almejas) and a fennel bulb and you’ve got the main components of the dish. I made this dish up, having bought myself a fennel bulb (purely because of my love for the liquorice taste) and upon a bounty of clams so fresh that they were popping and moving before my very eyes. Some white wine, an onion, and a few spices later, and I created this dish, Almejas con hinojos - clams with fennel.
Almejas con hinojos
Chop one onion and 2-3 cloves of garlic finely, as well as a bulb of fennel. Sweat the ingredients together in a large pan on a low heat in a good glug of oil and a good dose of seasoning and a teaspoon of fennel seeds for about 15-20 minutes until the onions/garlic/fennel are soft and near translucent, but not browned. Turn the heat up to medium, and add a teaspoon of smoked pimenton (paprika) and the washed clams. Place a lid over the pan and cook until the clams have opened (around 4-5 minutes depending on their size). Once opened, turn up the heat a little more and add a good glass or two of dry white wine, along with a good handful of chopped parsely and stir so the clams get a good dose of alcoholic indulgence. Cook for a further 5 minutes, just to cook off the wine a bit and that’s it. Your clams are ready. Serve with a few hunks of fresh bread, a glass more of that white wine, and remember to discard any clams which have not opened.
Enjoy the flavours of Spain, as a burst of mediterranean freshness mixes with the smokey garlic pungency of arid España all in a single mouthful. Surely there is no better way to escape the onset of autumn?