(Theguardian) – For the Spanish chef, San Sebastián has long been an inspiration, as these recipes from his new book reveal… For wine recommendations, see David Williams’s tips
We are being blown across the coastal road, our big umbrella is inside out. We are soaked to the skin but happy because we’ve just eaten at Elkano, the best fish restaurant in the world.
I am with José Pizarro in the Basque country, visiting places that inspired his brilliant new book. Now based in London, Pizarro is from the other end of Spain, in Extremadura, where his mum and dad had a dairy farm. He first visited San Sebastián 20 years ago as a young chef working in Madrid and has felt at home here ever since. “I love to go to San Sebastián,” he says, “not just to eat in the city that has more three-star Michelin restaurants than anywhere else in Europe but to visit street after street of glorious pintxos [Basque tapas] bars.” Which is where our trip comes in.
We start with stunning Palamos prawns at Etxebarri near Bilbao before driving through cloud to the coast (there is a rainy reason – this area is renowned for its vegetables almost as much as its fish). In the evening we take a pintxos tour of the old town, beginning with delicate truffled scrambled eggs in Amaia Ortuzar’s wonderful Ganbara.
Our morning unfolds with churros and chocolate before trawling the fish stalls of the Bretxa market. We buy bags of chamomile and alubia beans from the female farmers selling outside. But it is at three-Michelin-star Arzak that the top chefs’ love for Pizarro shows. Elena Arzak hugs “Josélito” and revels in the book (the Arzaks wrote the intro – the Basque equivalent of a papal blessing). The feeling, of course, is mutual. Pizarro’s respect for the cooking – and cooks – of the region shines through on every page.
Last stop: Elkano in Getaria. It is Friday afternoon and the restaurant is full. We eat shimmering mackerel roe and hake throats from the bay outside. We feast on its chargrilled turbot. Too soon our fish is just fin and bone and all that’s left is to stand blown about in the storm and marvel at the sea. Now I can’t wait to get home to my kitchen and cook from my gentle companion’s beautiful book.
Roast John Dory, alubias de Tolosa and pancetta
The creaminess of Tolosa beans makes them the perfect match for this dish.
cooked alubias de Tolosa (see below)
waxy potatoes 200g, sliced
bulb garlic 1, cloves separated
John Dory 2kg
olive oil to drizzle
sea salt and ground black pepper
pancetta 150g, very finely choppedAdvertisement
For the alubias de Tolosa:
50g alubias de Tolosa or turtle beans
1 small onion, finely chopped
5 tbsp olive oil
First cook the beans. Put all of the ingredients for the beans (except the salt) in a large saucepan with 1.5 litres of water. Bring slowly to the boil and cook for 10 minutes, then reduce the heat right down and cook very gently for 2 hours. When the beans are almost ready, add salt and keep cooking slowly until they are tender but still holding their shape and the sauce is really thick. When the beans are almost cooked, preheat the oven to 180C/gas mark 3.
Scatter the potatoes and garlic in the bottom of a large roasting tin. Place the John Dory on top, drizzle with plenty of olive oil and season well. Roast for 30 to 40 minutes until just cooked. Test by inserting a sharp knife into the flesh; when it pulls away from the bone easily, it’s done.
Meanwhile, fry the pancetta in a dry pan until crispy. Serve the John Dory, potatoes and garlic with the cooked beans scattered with the crispy pancetta.
Merluza en salsa verde
This is a very popular dish in Basque cooking. In Spain they normally use tinned asparagus.
olive oil 3 tbsp
garlic cloves 3
small shallot 1, finely chopped
plain flour 1 tbsp
Txakoli or dry white wine 200ml
fresh fish stock 150ml
hake fillets 4 × 180g
sea salt and finely ground black pepper
fresh clams 200g cleaned
white asparagus 8 (or 4 large), blanched for 5 to 8 minutes
finely chopped parsley 1 small handful
Heat the olive oil in a frying pan over a medium heat and fry the garlic and the shallot until soft and lightly golden – this will take around 3 to 4 minutes. Add the flour and cook for about 2 minutes, then slowly add the wine and cook for another 2 minutes before adding the stock. You should then have a silky-smooth sauce.
Season the hake fillets and add to the sauce. Cook the hake for 4 to 5 minutes, then add the peas and clams, cover and cook for 2 to 3 minutes until the clams open. Discard any clams that do not open. To finish, add the asparagus and parsley, keep simmering for a minute, season to taste and serve with some crusty bread.
Tomato soup with jamón and idiazábal
This is my interpretation of the tomato soup that I always order at La Cuchara de San Telmo.
vine-ripened tomatoes 2kg
bulb garlic 1, cloves separated
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
banana shallot 1, finely chopped
thyme sprigs ahandful, plus a few extra to garnish
fresh ham or fresh chicken
stock 1 litre
baguette 6 slices
jamón 6 slices
Idiazábal or manchego cheese shavings
extra-virgin olive oil to drizzle
Preheat the oven to 160C/gas mark 3.
Halve the tomatoes and place on two large baking sheets with the garlic. Drizzle them with lots of olive oil and season well, then place them in the oven, rotating the trays halfway through cooking. Roast for 45 to 60 minutes until slightly caramelised.
Heat a little more oil in a deep pan and gently fry the shallot for 10 minutes. Tip in the roasted tomatoes and squeeze the soft garlic from their skins and add to the pan. Throw in the thyme and pour over the stock. Bring to the boil, then simmer for 10 minutes. Meanwhile, heat some oil in a frying pan and fry the baguette slices until golden and crisp, then break into pieces.
Spoon the soup into warmed bowls. Top with a scattering of fried baguette, the jamón slices and the cheese. Drizzle with olive oil, garnish with a sprig of thyme and serve.
Chocolate pots with tejas de Tolosa
Typically served with coffee. Add drops of really good extra-virgin olive oil and a few flakes of salt to the chocolate pot, too. You won’t regret it.
dark chocolate 200g, broken into pieces
full-fat milk 75ml, warmed to blood temperature
double cream 200ml, out of the fridge for 20 minutes
for the tejas de Tolosa biscuits:
free-range egg white 1
caster sugar 50g
plain flour 1 tbsp
vanilla extract few drops
unsalted butter 25g, melted and cooled
flaked almonds to sprinkle (optional)
Preheat the oven to 190C/gas mark 5. Line two baking sheets with baking paper.
To make the biscuits, beat the egg white and caster sugar with a fork until frothy. Sift over the flour and fold it in. Add the vanilla extract, then lastly add the cooled melted butter.
Spoon the mixture on to the baking sheets in dollops about 8cm wide. Sprinkle with the flaked almonds, if using, and bake for 6–8 minutes until lightly golden. As soon as the biscuits are out of the oven, lay them over a rolling pin so they cool and harden in a curled shape. Place on a wire rack.
For the pots, melt the chocolate in a bain-marie until smooth. Very slowly add the milk, then the cream. Pour into six small pots or glasses and leave to set in a cool place (or in the fridge if your kitchen is very hot) before serving with the biscuits.