If you are becoming jaded with Tuscan food, try moving to Spain, where much cooking (if you avoid the pretentious foam-and-squid-ink ice-cream places) is equally simple but, somehow, different. The Fundación para la Cultura del Vino, created to publicise the quality of Spanish wines, took me to three bodegas in the Rioja district. Each gave us a
delicious meal to complement their wines.
At Julian Chivite, for example, the rare local cristal peppers, both thin-skinned and deliciously sweet, were served wood-roasted; we had a white asparagus and anchovy salad, both ingredients harvested that morning, and a thick white- and green-bean soup served with sharp pickled green chillies. The Chivite caterers have 12 hectares planted with their own vegetables.
At Rioja Alta, the star of the show was a loin of young lamb barbecued over vine clippings, utterly simple and crackling with flavour. It came with a few chips, more roast peppers and a fresh green salad. As tapas, we had brik pastry (similar to filo) stuffed with spinach or morcilla, a spicy blood sausage, anchovies on toast and quail legs with prunes. At La Vieja Bodega in Casalarreina, brik was stuffed with large prawns. I have already copied this, adding morsels of Moroccan preserved lemons.