Much to my vicarious delight, vacation and work commitments recently took Alyson Oüten to Europe for a month; from Spain to Portugal to Italy and Israel. (If you read my magazine or CLUCK newsletter, you’re already familiar with Alyson.)
For some of my Geography Journal entries she’ll take you to each of those stops (and more!). Today she is off to Spain to taste test all that Basque Country has to offer.
Take it from here. It’s all yours, Aly!!!!!
There are countless advantages to traveling in a foreign country with fluent friends: finding a bathroom, a taxi, a coffee becomes effortless. But, for my recent visit to the Basque region of Spain, jumping that local language barrier really paid off … in pintxos /peen-chohz/.
Pintxos are the Basque equivalent of Spanish tapas … and they are exquisite!
Every afternoon, bars and coffee shops throughout the region (San Sebastian of particular note) load their counters with trays filled with colorful and exotic baguette sandwiches sparsely, but flavorfully, filled with thinly sliced cured ham and roasted peppers, or tuna and cheese, or egg and mushroom omelets.
There is baby squid wrapped in smoke salmon.
Crostinis topped with goat cheese and sweet tomato jam.
Croquettas. Escargot. Tartlets. Anchovies, olives, marinated mushrooms … tiny, salty, addictive roasted peppers. It’s a mosaic of epic culinary proportions.
To the uninitiated, this scene is intoxicating, but a bit intimidating. What does one do in this self-serve nirvana? The locals appear to be grabbing the goodies willy-nilly, but surely there is a method to this madness.
When my sister and her husband visited the Basque Country a few years ago, they were unable to sleuth out pintxo protocol. Regrettably, they moved on to the more foreign-friendly option of a sit-down, restaurant meal.
But, in the fortunate company of my Basque-American amigos, I was expertly chaperoned through the process, which, once you’ve been shown the way, is actually quite simple. Each afternoon (and all afternoon) we would hop from pub to pub, ordering mini-beers (called zuritos) and we would each select pintxos to be shared among the five of us.
Some bars operated on the honor system and let you pay when you were done; while others wanted prepayment or needed to do a visual tally of what we’d selected before we started inhaling them. We would typically pick five pintxos at each stop. On average, they cost about $3 per piece.
These reasonable prices, perfect portions and our system of sharing allowed for exponentially more taste sensations than a traditional “meal.” Consequently, I gleefully and literally traveled through the Basque Country … one blissful bite at a time.
One of the most common pintxos, eaten at breakfast, lunch and dinner is the “tortilla”.
MAKES: 4-6 SERVINGS
1 pound Yukon gold or fingerling potatoes, peeled and thinly sliced
1 large onion, thinly sliced
Salt and pepper to taste
Peel 1 pound of potatoes.
Cut in half lengthwise and slice up.
Thinly slice one onion.
Combine potato and onion in bowl and mix together.
In a medium non-stick skillet, heat ¼ inch olive oil. Fry potatoes and onions over low heat, turning occasionally with a spatula. Cook until potatoes are tender, about 30 minutes.
When potatoes are done, remove from the pan and drain well.
In a large bowl, beat 4 eggs and gently add potatoes.
Add the salt and pepper. Let stand 10 minutes.
Clean the skillet and dry it well. Slowly heat 1 T olive oil and then add egg-potato mixture, spreading it over the bottom of the pan. Let “tortilla” set over low heat, making sure it doesn’t stick.
When the eggs are set and start to congeal on the surface, reverse the tortilla onto a large flat plate or cutting board and slide it back into the pan to cook the other side. Let cook for a few more minutes over very low heat.
After it has cooked on both sides, slide onto a cutting board or serving platter.
Cut into wedges or squares and serve hot, warm or at room temperature