Fiesta Nacional de Espana

As the school-house song has taught us since we were just little grubs, “In Fourteen Hundred and Ninety Two, Columbus sailed the ocean blue.”

While on his search for spices and gold in the West Indies, Chris stumbled upon, at the time, a little known continent called North America on October 12th of that year.

Centuries later, here in the United States Columbus’ directional accident has become a government holiday where banks are closed and parades are thrown.  And it’s not just Americans celebrating/protesting their discovery or the Italians marching with pride for their brave explorer, but it’s also the Spanish who bank rolled the whole affair that have come to call it a holiday in recent years.

Fiesta Nacional de Espana came about as recently as 1987.  It is only one of two national holidays.  In addition to celebrating Columbus’ discovery of the “New World”, Fiesta National also the day the Spanish pay homage to their armed forces. 

It is actually for this, the Day of the Armed Forces, that there is a big parade in Madrid where Spain’s head of state, who also happens to be their king, turns out to oversee the big affair.

Much like Columbus Day here in the states, in Spain there is no real fanfare to go along with the holiday.  It’s a nice autumn afternoon off from the grind that many people observe by hosting a casual gathering with family and friends.  I can think of no better excuse to have some people over, open a nice bottle of Rioja, get the tapas set and lift a glass to an Italian guy sent by a Spanish woman to go to the Indies only to find himself in America.

It’s a crazy world.  A crazy round world.

Olives and Almonds

Manchego Cheese

Assorted Spanish Meats  (Serrano Ham, Chorizo, Salami)

Patatas Bravas

Chicken Empanadas

Tortilla Espanola

Seafood Paella



Patatas Bravas

2 lbs of Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled or unpeeled and cut into 1 1/2″ chunks

Olive oil


1/2 medium onion, chopped

3 garlic cloves, chopped

1/2 cup of white wine or chicken stock

2 TBSP tomato paste

1 14oz can of crushed tomatoes

2 tsps of hot sauce

1 tsp smoked paprika

1 tsp salt

1 tsp sugar

Preheat oven to 375.

Toss the potatoes with 3 TBSP of olive oil and salt.  Arrange in a single layer in a rimmed baking sheet and roast until browned about 50 minutes.

While the potatoes are roasting, make the sauce.  Heat 2 TBSP of olive oil in a medium pot set over medium-high heat.  Saute the chopped onions, stirring occasionally until they begin to brown, about 5 minutes.  Add the garlic and saute another few minutes.

Add the wine or stock to the pan and raise the heat to high.  Boil until wine is reduced by half then add the tomato paste and stir to combine.  Add the crushed tomatoes, hot sauce, salt, sugar and paprika.  Stir well and then reduce heat and cook sauce at a low simmer while the potatoes finish roasting then puree the sauce in a blender or food processor until smooth.

When the potatoes are well browned, toss with 3/4 of the tomato sauce and place in a casserole pan and continue to roast until the tomato sauce dries out a bit on the potatoes and caramelizes about 10 minutes.  Serve with the remaining tomato sauce.

Tortilla Espanola

3 Yukon Gold potatoes, thinly sliced (1/8″ thickness)

1 medium onion, chopped

1/2 cup olive oil

6 eggs

2 tsp salt

Put potatoes in warm water and let them sit for about 15 minutes before cooking

Heat a 1/2 of oil in a 10″ skillet.  Stir in the potatoes and onions.  Season with salt and pepper.  Let cook on medium heat for about 15-20 minutes, turning occasionally until onions and potatoes soften.

Beat eggs with salt until frothy.  After the potatoes and onions are done cooking remove them from the pan and add them to the eggs.

Heat a TBSP or two of olive oil in the pan until hot but not smoking and add egg mixture.  When outside shell begins to form flip mixture over with the help of a plate.  Slide uncooked side down of egg tortilla back in the pan.  Cook the other side pressing down on the tortilla with a spatula until cooked through about 4-6 minutes (keep and eye on the eggs at this point because they can over brown quickly).

Slide the finished tortilla onto a cutting board and let cool slightly.  Serve warm or room temperature cut into wedges or squares.

Chicken Empanadas

Empanadas are Spain’s answer to a savory turnover.  They are served in either large baked slabs the cut to feed a crowd or small handheld pockets of stuffed yumminess like the recipe I used for our fiesta.

In Spain people will take their homemade empanada fillings to their local baker and have them stuff and bake the empanadas for them to be picked up later.  Or some will go and buy dough from their favorite bakery or pizza shop and make the empanadas at home.  So in the spirit of outsourcing I opted to pick up some pre-made pizza dough while doing some shopping at Trader Joe’s and saved myself the step of making it from scratch.

3 lbs chicken breast or thigh shredded
1/2 cup olive oil
1 large Spanish onion chopped
4 cloves of garlic, minced or put through a garlic press
1 green pepper sliced
1 red pepper sliced
1 cup of crushed tomatoes
1 tablespoon sweet or hot paprika
Dash of cumin
1/2 cup chicken stock
1 egg

1 prepared pizza dough

Heat a 1/2 cup of olive oil in a frying pan over med/high heat and add the onions.  Cook until onions begin to soften then add the garlic and let the mixture cook for about 1-2 minutes.  Then add the red and green peppers and cook over medium heat until onions and peppers begin to carmelize, about 15 minutes, do NOT burn the mixture.

Add tomatoes to the onions and peppers and let it cook for 2-3 minutes then add the paprika and cumin, stir to combine.  Then add the chicken and stock and bring the mixture to a boil and let it simmer for about 10 minutes.  Remove from heat and set aside.

Preheat the oven to 350.

Prepare the dough by rolling it out on a floured surface and cut into 2 1/2″ circles.  Brush the inside of the dough circles with egg wash then place a tablespoon or two of the chicken mixture in the middle of the dough circle then fold in half to make a semi-circle and press edges together to seal close.  Place of a rimmed baking sheet and repeat until all the dough has been used.  Brush the outside of the empanadas with the egg wash and place in the oven.  Bake for 20-25 minutes.  Serve.

 Cook’s Notes:

If you don’t have shredded chicken on hand you can quickly grill up boneless skinless chicken (breast and/or thigh) and either shred or chop up into small pieces to use in the empanadas.

The filled unbaked empanadas can be made ahead of time covered and refrigerated then baked before serving.

Seafood Paella

When most people think of Spanish food, paella is usually the first dish that jumps to mind.

It is one of Spain’s most popular dishes.  And with any nationally treasured food, with every region comes a regional specialty i.e. the U.S. and our love of pizza, New York vs Chicago or chili Texas vs. Cincinnati.  So it goes with paella.

The rice dish originated in the Valencia region of Spain.  It was created initially using chicken and rabbit meat with some garden green beans, artichokes and snails thrown in for good measure.  A very different paella from the popular one that has been adapted by most foreigners known as the Mixed Paella which includes, chicken, sausage, seafood and the occasional veggie.

Another style of authentic Valencian paella is the Seafood Paella.  Quite common along the Mediterranean coast this paella uses no meat, only freshly available seafood like shrimp, clams, mussels and lobster.

I opted for to go the more traditional route and since rabbit and sails weren’t handy I went with Authentic Paella #2, the Seafood Paella.

Paella is prepared in a paella pan and these can be found for a pretty reasonable price, but I chose to go without.  I have a smallish kitchen and as much as I love specialty cooking items my pantry (and honestly my husband) does not.  So with storage space being at a premium I did some searching and found that you can use either a very large frying pan (15″ or so) or a roasting pan set over two burners and get the same yummy results.  I went with the roasting pan and it was an absolute success!  Everyone (including my spatially challenged kitchen) was pleased.

Serves 6-8

A scant 1/2 tsp of saffron, crushed

1/2 cup of white wine

1 lb shrimp, peeled and deveined

Salt and pepper to taste

1/2 cup of olive oil

1 TBSP smoked paprika

3 cloves of garlic, minced or through a press

3 dried bay leaves

1 cup of diced tomatoes

1 small onion, minced

7 cups of chicken broth

2 1/2 cups of short grain rice, Valencia, bomba or Arborio

8 oz of fresh or frozen peas

3 jarred roasted red peppers, sliced into 1/2″ strips

12 mussels, cleaned and debearded

12 clams, cleaned

1/2 cup of white wine

Lemon wedges

Put the saffron and 1/2 cup of white wine in a small bowl and let soak for about 15 minutes.

Heat the oil in a paella pan over medium-high heat.  Season the shrimp with salt and pepper then add to the pan and cook, turning occasionally, until pink and seared, about 5 minutes.  Transfer shrimp to a plate.  Add paprika, garlic, bay leaves, tomatoes and onions to pan and cook, stirring often, until the onions soften, about 6 minutes.  Add the rice and stir it around letting it roast for a minute or two in the pan.  Add the saffron/white wine mixture and bring to a boil.  Then add the chicken broth and stir to combine all ingredients, season with salt and return to a boil over high heat.

Cook without stirring until the rice has absorbed most of the liquid, 10-12 minutes.  Be sure to rotate the pan every few minutes, especially if it is larger than the burner, so the rice can cook evenly.

While the paella is cooking, steam the mussels and clams with the 1/2 cup of white wine in a lidded pot over medium-high heat.  Once they have opened set them aside, discard any that don’t open.

Once the rice has absorbed most of the liquid, reduce heat to low and add shrimp, peas and roasted red peppers and cook without stirring until the rice has absorbed the remaining liquid and is al dente, about 5-10 minutes more.

Remove the pan from the heat, add the mussels and clams then cover the pan with aluminum foil and let sit for 5 minutes before serving.  Garnish with lemon wedges.

Cook’s Note

If you like feel free to add chicken and/or sliced dry cured Spanish chorizo to the above recipe.  They can be cooked at the same time as the shrimp, but unlike the shrimp the chicken and sausage are left in the pan to cook with the rice and stock throughout the whole process.


Carmel Sauce

1 cup sugar

1/3 cup water


1 3/4 cups whipping cream

1 cup whole milk

pinch of salt

1 tsp vanilla extract

3 large eggs

3 large egg yolks

7 TBSP sugar

Combine cream, milk, vanilla and salt in a heavy medium saucepan and bring to a simmer over medium heat.  Remove from heat and let steep.

Meanwhile, comine 1 cup sugar adn 1/3 cup water in another heavy medium saucepan.  Stir over low heat until sugar disolves.  Then increase the heat to high and cook WITHOUT stirring until syrup turns medium amber, brushing down the sides of the pan with a wet pastry brush and swirling pan occasionally about 10 minutes.  Quickly pour the carmel into either a 9″ souffle pan or six 3/4 cup ramekins.  Use oven mits to tilt pan or ramekins to coat bottom and sides.  Set in a 9×13 baking pan.

Whisk eggs, yolks and 7 TBSP sugar in medium bowl just until blended.  Gradually and gently whisk in cream mixture into egg mixture without creating a lot of foam.  Pour the custard through a sieve into prepared pan (mixture will fill ramekins).  Pour enough hot water into baking pan to come halfway up sides of souffle or ramekins.

Bake until center of flan is set about 45-60 minutes for souffle pan and 40 minutes for ramekins.

Transfer to rack to cool.  Chill until cold.  If making ahead of time, chill until cold then cover and chill overnight.

To serve run small sharp knife around flan to loosen.  Turn over onto plate.  Shake gently to release.  Carefully lift off pan(s) allowing carmel to run over the flan.  Serve.

Cook’s Notes:

Can be make 2 days ahead of time

To help unmold place souffle pan or ramekin in bowl of hot water for 15 seconds to loosen flan carmel bottom.

Leif Erikson Day

Lief Erikson is regarded as the first European to set foot in North America. While that might not be entirely true, according to The Greenlanders Saga, he did establish the first European settlement there, 500 years before that old media monopolizer Christopher Columbus hitched up his sails.  On his voyage in 1002, Leif first stopped on a rocky island he named Helluland (Land of Flat Stones), which is probably Baffin Island, Canada. Next he checked out a flat and woody area he called Markland (Wood-land) before settling in the famed Vinland. He named the settlement, Liefsbúdir which poetically translates to “Lief’s Storage Houses”.

It would seem from this name that Leif did not intend this to be a permanent settlement, but he did stay for the winter and return to Greenland in the spring with a cargo of timber and singing the praises of a land of wild grapes, abundant salmon swimming in the river, mild winters and year round green grass. The actual location of this idyll is still hotly debated more than a thousand years later. The salmon-teeming rivers would not have existed south of New Brunswick, and wild grapes do not grow as far north as Newfoundland. So the whole package couldn’t have really existed all in one place.  But we do know that Leif’s father, Erik the Red sold settlers on moving to a new locale from Iceland by naming it Greenland to evoke images of verdant pastures filled with grazing livestock and fertile cropland, even though that only pertained to a small coastal area of an otherwise frozen tundra. So it is likely that the father taught the son that good marketing is the life blood of any successful colonization project. A Norse settlement from that era has been identified on the northern tip of Newfoundland known as L’Anse aux Meadows, which could be Liefsbúdir, if it is in fact a home base from which further exploration took place. The colony only survived about 15 years, when it was abandoned after conflicts with the native peoples became too troublesome.

Leif Erikson Day (October 9th) is an American Holiday that honors the contributions of Americans of Nordic descent. Lief’s heritage encompasses the overall Nordic region fairly comprehensively as his grandfather was Norwegian, but had to flee to Iceland due to man-slaugter charges. His father, Erik The Red, followed in the family tradition and was exiled from Iceland for three years for murder, which he spent exploring Greenland. And Lief lived in each of those countries before embarking on his Western Journey to Canada. His Day is a celebration of Scandinavian Heritage, much in the way that St. Patrick’s Day or Cinco de Mayo celebrates the Irish and Mexican in each of us. In my extensive research of Scandinavian-American culture (listening to News From Lake Wobegon on NPR) I feel qualified to make the gross generalization that they are a less boisterous people than the Irish and Mexicans among us. A certain Calvinist modesty perhaps has kept them from promoting this holiday with the same zeal. Or maybe it is just because Scandinavian liquor like Aquavit is harder to come by than Guinness or Jose Cuervo.

I think a Viking spirit of exploration is something to be celebrated on this day. While I know that an errant early October snowstorm is not unheard of in parts of the United States, there’s a good chance the weather will be autumn perfection on October 9th, and a good explorer would want to take advantage of such conditions. Search out some new (to you) hiking trails in your area, pack a picnic of Scandinavian Delights and trek out to discover your local grassy meadows, and salmon streams. From my thorough study of this regions culture (Reading Steig Larson’s Dragon Tattoo Trilogy) I have gleaned that coffee is an integral part of Scandinavian hospitality and social interaction. (The top six coffee consuming countries of the world are Scandinavian: Finland, Norway, Iceland, Denmark, Netherlands and Sweden. The U.S. is all the way down at number 27). This isn’t really surprising considering how much coffee I would need to get through days with 20 hours of darkness. So pack a thermos of coffee to enjoy with your snacks and offer to your fellow revelers. No self respecting Scandinavian host would be caught without a fresh cup to offer to a friend.