As a country of Catholic heritage, Spain has a thorough approach to the religious calendar, paying special attention to any festivities that invite food. Late February and early March bring Carnaval, Fat Thursday (Jueves lardero) and the Burial of the Sardine (Entierro de la Sardina) in a quick succession. Afterwards, party and merriment should be set aside for Lent… but the traditional sweet and savoury dumplings are are still too good.
Carnaval is whole town affair: children in primary school spend a lot of time working in their class disguises and they have their very own parade, called Carnaval Infantil. Adults like to join in the fun too, and on the Carnaval weekend each town will hold several parades and contests focusing on individual disguises, funny songs about current affairs or spectacular floats.
Starting in the North, you can take a look at one of Barcelona’s parades from last year here. Each district has its own family friendly parade, starting in the afternoon. Further South, in Cádiz, they put a lot of effort into singing: several teams will compete on both their outfits and their lyrics, which are usually funny takes on national or local current affairs. Here, you can listen to an all-male choir performing a song of their own making called Los Dictadores (The Dictators). Traditionally, before each choir starts singing, the public will cheer them: it is a battle of “Olé” and “Shhhh!” and in this case… a terrifying curse:
¡Olé, olé y olé! Y al que no diga olé… ¡que se le seque la hierbabuena!
Obviously, everybody cheered ¡olé! after that: you would not be too happy if your mint bush were to dry just because you did not cheer, would you? I think I will add this curse to my arsenal, even in English: “May your family’s basil pot wither and die!” I think it sounds ominous enough.
Before the recipe, we are going even further South, to the Islas Canarias. The weather is significantly better and their Carnaval costumes are absolutely spectacular, specially the +200 kg contraptions worn by the Reinas. There are several competitions each year: Reina Infantil (for girls), Reina del Carnaval (for women, based an beauty of the participant and of the costume), Reina de los Mayores (for older women) and Reina Drag (based on choreography and a theme, most participants are men but it is open to every body). You can click through and watch the summary of the 2013 Drag Queen Gala and 2014 Reina del Carnaval.
Carnaval makes me think of Venice too and, inspired by Italian flavours, I had my very own moment of cooking mischief, in which I cunningly disguised the leftovers from my sour-dough gluten free bread experiments into the Queen of Savoury bake! It sounds much better than Fridge Leftovers, so that is the name I am keeping, although it is an absolute “cream of the fridge” recipe: frugal as Lent, tasty as Carnaval.
Queen of Savoury
The proportions below are flexible: just make sure that there is enough flavourful ingredients to make it tasty. Substitute anything except the eggs: milk could be stock, tomato sauce or a mixture; capers could be gherkins, diced peppers or leftover cooked butternut squash; basil could be sage; bacon could be chorizo and you could skip the seeds or add more cheese… Just disguise the bread!
- 250 g bread, cut into 2*2 cm cubes
- 1 big onion, chopped
- 1 jar sundried tomatoes, drained and chopped
- 100 g cheese (some in the mix, some on top)
- Bacon or pancetta, to taste
- Capers, to taste
- Pitted olives, to taste
- 25 g fresh basil, roughly torn
- 1 handful of mixed seeds (sunflower, pumpkin, etc.)
- 2 eggs, beaten
- 400 ml milk
- Salt and black pepper
- Butter for greasing (if your baking tin needs it)
Butter the tin if you have to, save some cheese for the topping and then put everything else in the tin, without overfilling it.
Toss it together and let the bread soak in the liquid for as long as you can: overnight in the fridge or while the oven warms up to 180 C.
Top with the reserved cheese, bake until golden and bubbly. Serve with salad, a smile and an ¡Olé!, so that your herb of choice may never wither.