Pintxos! "Yeh, what the hell is that?" I hear you ask.
Pronounced "pinchos", pintxos are small tapas like snacks eaten throughout Northern Spain in the Basque region. Eating pintxos at a bar, usually standing up with a glass of Txakoli ("Chak-o-lee") is the most common way for the Basque people to socialise with their friends and family.
As a Londoner, on hearing of this time old tradition I had the innate London cynicism to question how anyone in the modern Western world has time for such leisurely and social eating. Of course, the obvious thing to do in such a situation is go and find out for myself.
So, off to San Sebastian I went.
Pfttt, who am I kidding? Yes, I do love food. But the sun, sea and sand were pretty appealing as a holiday prospect too. And of course the chance to spend some quality time with friends. Just look at this place.
But back to the food...
Low and behold the streets of Parte Vieja ( the "old town" to you and I) were lined with pintxos bar after pintxos bar, each filled with hungry punters. A vision of small high tables and side benches, no where to sit, and a bar top generously covered in piles and plates of little temptations.
In all my greedy excitement I only managed to get this shabby picture of a very much more mouth watering sight in the oldest, most traditional pintxos bar in town, Gandarias.
The pintxos tradition is still very much alive. San Sebastians live a far more slow paced, laid back and relaxed life style where taking a siesta is the norm and eating and socialising are one in the same.
Besides the pintxos "experience" the actual snacks a top a piece of bread and held together with a toothpick combine unique and memorable flavours.I have been dreaming of this perfect pintxos recipe since the moment I ate that last crumb of bread. Thankfully, I managed to pull together something very similar to those flavours I tasted in Spain.
Served on a board held together with a toothpick I transported myself back to the luscious San Sebastian coast. And you can do the same, this recipe could not be any simpler. I served my pintxo with a warm salad of grilled halloumi and peaches making the perfect alfresco lunch.
Sweet and Savoury Goat's Cheese Bites (serves 4, makes 8 bites)
8 1 inch slices of a French loaf or ciabatta bread, this works well with a brown loaf too
1 tbsp olive oil
1 sundried tomato per bread slice
120g goats cheese, cut into 8 slices
1 handful of pistachios
2 tbsp balsamic glaze (or balsamic vinegar to reduce into a glaze with some sugar)
8 toothpicks to assemble
To make these mouth watering bites
1) Brush each slice of bread with some olive oil and bake in a preheated oven at 150 for approximately 20 minutes or until crispy. (You do not want the bread to brown).
2) Now simply assemble your pintxos. Get yourself a pretty board or plate to arrange your bread. This is important because the idea of pintxos are to be aesthetically tempting.
3) Start with a sundried tomato. Flatten the tomato and remove any excess oil. Add as your first layer.
4) Follow with the goats cheese, pistachios and balsamic glaze. (If you cannot get hold of balsamic glaze, making your own is very simple: Combine 4 tbsp of balsamic vinegar with 1 tbsp of sugar in a pan. Reduce on a medium heat until sticky and glaze- like!)
5) Secure each pintxo with a toothpick and you're ready to go. To take your pintxos up a notch, warm slightly in the oven before serving. (I used the residual heat from toasting the bread earlier, allowing the pintxos to sit in the warm oven for about five minutes before serving).
// Click here to PRINT RECIPE //
To make the pintxos party into a garden lunchm, serve with a warm Grilled Halloumi and Peaches (serves 4)
250g halloumi cheese
2 peaches, skinned and cut into chunky pieces
olive oil for brushing onto peaches and halloumi
1) Simply brush the halloumi and peaches with a little olive oil. Fry in a griddle pan until the peaches and halloumi are slightly browned. (I could not find mine so used a normal pan instead, this worked fine.)
This method would easily work under a hot grill or even on the BBQ.
Serve with a simple rocket salad. No dressing is required as the sweet juices from the peaches coat the halloumi in very bite, perfectly.
Eaten alfresco with a glass of wine, these recipes make a meal out of a garden party bringing the socialising and eating Basque traditions to your garden at home!
Until next time...