Local tapas – Broad bean purée

One of my favourite restaurants is my local tapas place, El Parador.  They have a fantastic and extensive menu of the tastiest tapas I’ve ever eaten, better than anything I ate in Spain to be honest! Despite the length of the menu everything comes out of the kitchen tasting incredibly fresh. I tend to pick a different vegetable dish every time I go, along with my favourite seafood dishes, perhaps something from the specials menu and a plate of padron peppers. I’m never disappointed.

On my last visit I came away with their cookbook, Tapas, by owners Carlos Horrillo and Patrick Morcas. I decided I would make one of my favourite starters from the restaurant, Puré de Habas Verdes, or puréed broad beans with pan-fried garlic, rosemary and olive oil.

The recipe calls for garlic, broad beans, and rosemary, and as luck would have it I am growing all three on my plot. The broad beans were ripe for picking – a little late this year but they made it eventually! I let my plants grow tall, to well over a metre, and didn’t pinch the tops out. Occasionally a few blackfly would appear on the tops and then the ladybird army would move in and take them out (in fact, see my blog header picture for illustration).

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I companion planted nasturtiums as they are meant to distract blackfly from the broad beans (and also for their tasty leaves and flowers), but perhaps the ladybirds are super efficient as the aphids have left the nasturtiums alone.

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The rosemary used to live on my balcony, but it was taking over so it was the first thing I planted on my plot way back in March. I feel slightly guilty as it used to flower for several months of the year on the balcony and provide a favourite food for any intrepid bees managing to make their way up to the fifth floor.

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It is thriving on the plot though. My garlic is about to flower so I decided to leave it in the ground and use some I had in the kitchen instead.

Finally, I got home from the pub on Friday night, refreshed my wheat sourdough, and by Saturday afternoon I had fresh pain de campagne:

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Made with British organic flour (decanted into containers but it was probably from Dove’s or Bacheldre).

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I really don’t think it gets much more local than that! Recipe from my local restaurant, home-grown ingredients, home-made bread.

The folks at El Parador have kindly given me permission to share the recipe.

Puré de Habas Verdes

Makes 1 litre (I halved the recipe to match my broad bean harvest)

olive oil
8 garlic cloves
Maldon sea salt and cracked black pepper, to taste
5 sprigs fresh rosemary (or 1 heaped tablespoon dried rosemary)
500g broad beans (fresh, frozen or tinned – we use frozen, just make sure you defrost them), husks removed (right now, it’s broad bean season, so use fresh! But frozen broad beans are great quality as they are flash frozen, so use them at any other time of the year)

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Heat 4 tablespoons of olive oil in a large, heavy-based frying pan on a medium heat. Peel the garlic cloves and crush them with the flat side of a broad blade knife or the bottom of a tablespoon. Add them to the pan with a pinch of salt and pepper and stir them around in the hot oil. Turn the heat right down and sauté very gently for 15-20 minutes, or until soft and pale golden brown. Remove with a slotted spoon and place in a dish to one side.

Return the pan to a low heat, drop in the sprigs of rosemary and season with a further pinch of salt and pepper. Stir the rosemary around in the pan and fry gently until the leaves begin to change colour – about 5-7 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon and place in the dish with the garlic. Take the pan off the heat and allow the infused oil to cool down.

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When the oil is lukewarm, pour it into your food processor and drop in the garlic, rosemary, and broad beans. Set the processor off at a slow speed and blend to a thick, smooth paste. If it is too thick, add a bit more olive oil. Season to taste. Once done, spoon into a serving bowl and serve immediately, or heat up in a low oven and serve lukewarm.

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It tasted just like it does in the restaurant – result!

I followed that up with another recipe from the book, Calamares Adobados a la Plancha (Chargrilled squid with garlic, chilli and coriander), make with British squid and balcony coriander.

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Also delicious. I can really recommend going to El Parador if you are in London, and buying the cookbook whether you live here or not! The authors have a really friendly style of writing with lots of helpful tips. I’m sure I will get a lot of use out of my copy even though I can go to the restaurant any time I like.

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Afternoon tea, Russian-style

A few weeks ago I was invited to new Russian restaurant Mari Vanna for the launch of their afternoon tea menu.  I love going for afternoon tea.  At least, I love the concept but I’m frequently disappointed – I’m not overly into sandwiches and I often find cake too sweet for my taste, and don’t get my started on cupcakes or – horror of horrors – cake pops.

So it was refreshing to have a different sort of afternoon tea at Mari Vanna.  First let’s start with the tea (substandard tea being another bugbear of mine!).  No worries here as it is supplied by the Rare Tea Company.

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The savouries were delicious, with a lot of fish options which suited this pescetarian nicely. There was a blini with smoked salmon and cream cheese, herring on rye toast, and pirozhki, little pastries with either meat or fish.

I would happily just eat the savouries, but the sweets were very tasty too. Their speciality is honey cake, a delicate spongy layered cake (top left in the picture).

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What I really loved was the ambience and decor of the place. It was as if you were in your granny’s front room, if your granny happened to be a wealthy but eccentric old Russian matriarch. It managed to feel at once homely and decadent. Staff were very hospitable too.

I couldn’t stop pointing my camera at things, so here are a few of my shots:

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Tea with sweets and savouries comes to £35, which is a standard price for a nice London afternoon tea especially given it Knightsbridge location. Alternatively you can have tea with a selection of jams and honey for £10, which is the sort of thing I might spontaneously pop in for if the Harrods sale had gotten a bit much for me and I needed calming down… Otherwise I can see the Mari Vanna afternoon tea as perfect for a celebration or catch up with close girlfriends. If you really want to celebrate, there’s always the champagne option for an extra £10.

El Parador, Mornington Crescent

A while back I read James Ramsden’s review of El Parador. When I realised it was just around the corner from me, I wondered why I had never been before!

I’d recently had a very disappointing tapas experience at a North-West London establishment that shall remain nameless. It involved the worst tortilla I had ever tasted (battery egg and mushy potato) and a surly waitress – though in her defence, it was possibly not the best idea to go to a Spanish restaurant on the night of the World Cup final. But one doesn’t always think of these things when one is not a rabid sports fan.

Sports have no place on this blog, so back to tapas: it took me all of five minutes to walk up to Mornington Crescent, where I met visiting friends Claire and Dave from New Zealand. El Parador was just around the corner on Eversholt Street. This is possibly why I had not discovered it before – I generally take a shortcut home before I get up to the part of the street containing El Parador. Despite having lived around the corner for two years, I don’t think I’d ever walked down that stretch of the road before.

The weather gods were being kind so we decided to sit outside in the garden. This meant having to go downstairs and then upstairs again to get there but with its laid-back vibe it was the perfect spot to while away a summer evening.

The menu is quite extensive, and there was also a blackboard menu of daily specials to choose from. I don’t like having lots to choose from as it makes me feel like I’m missing out on other potentially delicious options, and so many dishes appealed. We each chose two dishes, plus the pure de habas:

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The pure de habas – broad bean puree – tasted how it looks, so fresh and green, with garlic and rosemary. It’s worth going back for this alone.

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We played the obligatory Russian roulette with the padron peppers and each of us ended up with a hot one. I’m ashamed to say I didn’t cope very well with mine – where did my chilli tolerance disappear to?

Unfortunately the photos are a bit blurry as I took them with my mobile, but those are baby squid in the background. Those were my two choices and I didn’t regret them a bit.

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Dave chose two dishes from the daily specials menu. This tomato, capsicum and aubergine dish tasted very good, sort of a Spanish ratatouille. And this fish was absolutely divine:

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Claire went with a couple of classics, patatas bravas and empanadillas:

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Classics are classics for a reason. Do them well and you can do anything. I always judge a pizza place by its Margherita and I judge a tapas place by its tortilla (see above). We didn’t get the tortilla this time but the patatas bravas were pretty good. I think they could have done with a bit more spice but then after eating the hot padron pepper I didn’t really care.

We looked at the dessert menu but nothing really appealed. That’s not the sort of thing I mind though, being more of a savoury person.

I actually can’t believe I haven’t been back to El Parador since this visit. I will definitely have to round up some friends or flatmates and go back there. Eventually I will work my way through the menu there.