The last time we were in Spain we took a trip from Salvelio’s brother Stephanus’s home in Cordoba to Cadiz, where Salvelio’s sister-in-law Maria del Mar and her family have been enjoying splendid seaside summer holidays since childhood.
Cadiz, which is situated on the Atlantic side of the region of Andalucia, is one of the oldest sea-faring settlements in Spain, having been founded by the Phoenicians at around 1100BC. What especially appealed to us was this port city’s culinary tradition, which is heavily focussed on fish and seafood, and its relaxed, easy-going atmosphere.
Salvelio, however, had an additional, altogether more personal reason for wanting to visit. His and Stephanus’s maternal grandfather, Salvelio Gravosqui, after whom Salvelio was named, had been imprisoned here, in an ancient seafront fortification known as the Castillo de Santa Catalina (Santa Catalina Castle), for several years during the Spanish Civil War. He, like thousands of others, had stood up against Franco’s fascist regime – and paid the price by being locked away in this 16th Century castle built for most of the war, which raged from 1936 to 1939.
I was interested to learn that Cadiz has had a long-time tradition of liberalism, including during Franco’s four decades of dictatorship, despite having been one of the first towns claimed by the General’s men; it was also the port through which Franco’s armies had launched their invasion. I also found it strangely unsettling to be so picturesque a settling as the castle, knowing what anguish and heartache the political prisoners here no doubt must have faced. Salvelio’s mother, who passed away several years ago, once said she recalled when, as a little girl periodically visiting her father here, she recalled the sound of bombs and gunfire around her.
But back to more pleasant memories – of the food! We spent all weekend feasting on vast varieties of fried fish and seafood at the local bars – Maria del Mar knows all the best spots – and chilling by night in the cool sea air around driftwood fires on the beach.
At one memorable spot in the Calle de la Palma in the old quarter near the beach, where there are dozens of good restaurants, we feasted on grilled sardines, clams prepared with just the right amount of Spanish smoked paprika, and several other fantastic yet simple to prepare dishes.
The restaurant is in the Barrio de la Viña and while I unfortunately don’t have their splendid recipes, I have found comparable recipes to share on The Global Table today. – Louise Liebenberg
Clams with Spanish smoked paprika (Almejas con pimenton)
The Spaniards love their clams, whether in a paella, a seafood stew or simply steamed open with white wine or even sherry. Clams still in their shell are not difficult to find in Port Elizabeth anymore; Salvelio and I regularly buy them at Fruit and Veg City, but of course you’ll have to contend with them being frozen. About 250g per person should be ample – make sure you don’t overcook them. Many people don’t like clams because they are small and finicky to eat; however I am a huge fan! Just get down and dirty, I say; ditch the knife and fork and use your hands to hold the shell so you can slurp out all the lovely juices.
Ingredients and method for 2 people
Wash 500g of clams in cold water and rinse thoroughly, chucking out any that are open or too broken. In a large pan, heat some olive oil (about 4 tbsp or more) over medium heat, then fry a finely chopped, smallish onion until completely cooked through. Add some finely chopped garlic and cook for a few seconds so it doesn’t brown – one or two cloves should do it. Add about two teaspoons of flour and cook a bit more. Now add a small bunch of finely chopped flat-leaf parsley (optional), as well as 1 teaspoon of Spanish smoked paprika (pimenton), and one glass (around 200ml) of dry white wine. Season with a bit of sea salt and cook for five minutes to cook the alcohol off a bit. Now add the clams and toss through, cooking for a few minutes only until the shells have opened. Serve straight away with crusty bread.
Grilled sardines (Sardinas a la parilla)
Grilling is a fantastically simple method for preparing sardines as these silvery-blue fish are quite oily. Grilling over a wood or charcoal fire is best because of that wonderful smokiness, but otherwise just grill them in your oven. Allow around three smallish sardines per person. Chefs suggest seasoning the fish with salt about half an hour before grilling as this firms up the flesh a bit.
Ingredients and method
Pat the scaled and gutted sardines dry with kitchen paper. Season with a bit of sea salt and stick back in the fridge for around half and hour. Once the fire is ready, braai the sardines over the coals until cooked through. They can be slightly charred but must still be juicy. sorry, I have no idea how long this takes – no one uses the kitchen timer around a braai fire! If, on the other hand, you’re doing them under the oven grill, then preheat your grill around five minutes before the time, then do them for 2 to 3 minutes per side. Serve hot with lemon wedges.