Road to plate stays in Spain, in this addition, with a visit to its northern Basque regional towns of Bilbao and Donostia-San Sebastian. I’ll get to the food but a brief explanation as to why I made the flight from Madrid to Bilbao and ultimately a local bus ride to San Sebastian.
My love for Spain has always been prevalent in my cooking when it comes to flavors and textures and I found tapas dining a great way to explore many dishes without the sacrifice of picking just one.
I made a last minute travel change, in Bilbao, that allowed me to spend a couple days in San Sebastian, to not only take in its food, but to catch the opening day of its annual Heineken Jazz Fest. What better place to experience two of my favorite things, Jazz music and eating, while sitting on the beach!
When it comes to small plate dining, pintxos reign supreme in Basque cuisine. Unlike traditional tapas, which are usually plated and smaller versions of main course dishes, pinxtos are truly, one to two bite, sliced bread samplings, topped with an array of cheeses, seafood, meats or croquettes. The combinations are endless and are usually characterized by a small toothpick or skewer holding everything in place. Pinxto bars dot the landscape in Old Town San Sebastian as well as Bilbao.
In general most pinxto bars, top their bar with an array of room temperature offerings. You either pay for a “flight” of eats, in addition to a local beer or wine or you just pay for your selected pinxtos.
I found myself both mesmerized and anguished during my selections, as I knew, I planned to visit several bars and didn’t want to over do it at any one place. Pinxtos are not complicated and are meant to be more like appetizers or bites to have with friends and drinks before one goes out to dinner.
The pinxtos I’ve created here are just a small sampling of the combinations of flavors that I like and that I found to be an underlining base of offerings during my visit. Use this form of dining as a way to include family members in the kitchen. Build a selection of ingredients and let everyone construct their own versions.
A few basics:
Use good bread. The Basque region boarders France so crusty baguettes are a must.
Both Bilbao and San Sebastian are coastal: sardines, tuna are very prevalent
Cheese: Manchego is Spain’s pedestal cheese – use it often but don’t be afraid to use a good French Brie. Baguettes and Brie hopefully will be served in heaven.
Meats: Iberico Ham (Jamon Iberico), pork is popular, small beef cuts – use a good cured ham if you can’t fine Iberico. Chorizo always works
Vegetables: piquillo peppers, tomatoes, bell peppers, olives, pickles, olive oils add spice and freshness
Tomato Bread | Manchego | Chorizo
I borrow the popular Catalonian tomato bread as the base for this pinxto. (Catalonian Tomato bread is a popular table bread served in Barcelona: traditionally toasted bread topped with a smear of ripened tomatoes and garlic)
6-10 pieces sliced baguette
8oz shaved Manchego cheese
8oz stick chorizo – sliced
Garlic clove, sea salt and pepper
Lightly toast sliced baguette pieces. Rub with raw garlic clove. Spread a small amount of grated ripe tomatoes and top with shaved manchego and chorizo. Sprinkle with a small amount of sea salt and fresh ground pepper. Spike with toothpick. Room temperature manchego allows its natural buttery and slightly toasted nut flavors to come out.
Tuna | Yolk Aioli | Egg | Red Pepper
Fresh tuna gives this pintxo a lighter than look texture. Drizzled with fresh squeezed lemon and good olive oil rounds this out. Swordfish or other semi firm fish can be substituted for tuna. You need a fish that will hold up on the grill and not contain too much natural oils.
1/2 lb fresh tuna steak (1 1/2″ thick cut)
2 hard cooked eggs – yolk separated after cooking
1/2 cup home made aioli or purchased light mayo
Juice from half a lemon
1/4 cup roasted red peppers
6-8 toasted sliced baguettes or other crusty bread (rustic sourdough or ciabatta can substitute)
sea salt, black pepper, olive oil
Season tuna steak with olive oil, salt and pepper. Grill each side for approximately 3-7 minutes or until fish has cooked through. Careful not of over cook. Let fish rest and cool to room temperature. In a small bowl, mash cooked egg yolk into prepared aioli or light mayo; add lemon juice, salt and pepper to taste. Reserve the egg whites to be lightly chopped and held separately. Once fish has cooled, flake into another small bowl, drizzle lightly with olive oil and season with salt and pepper to taste
Smear each baguette liberally with yolk aioli, top with spoon full of flaked tuna. Top with chopped egg white, small strip of roasted red pepper and light drizzle of olive oil. Spear with toothpick and serve.
Remember, these are just a couple examples of the endless options you have. Have fun with this!
Thank you for all your Likes and Follows! If you have a special place you eat, a special cuisine you like, or place you visited, message me for future highlights on what make you Drive.Stop.Eat