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36. Gerry Dawes's Spain: An Insider's Guide to Spanish Food, Wine, Culture and Travel gerrydawesspain.com

"My good friend Gerry Dawes, the unbridled Spanish food and wine enthusiast cum expert whose writing, photography, and countless crisscrossings of the peninsula have done the most to introduce Americans—and especially American food professionals—to my country's culinary life. . .” - - Chef-restaurateur-humanitarian José Andrés, Nobel Peace Prize Nominee and Oscar Presenter 2019; Chef-partner of Mercado Little Spain at Hudson Yards, New York 2019

5/02/2021

Finding Long Lost Marujas (Water Plant Shoots; Called Corujas in Madrid) in Restaurante Sacha (Madrid), Salamanca, Casaserra, El Heliocoptero, Roman Bridges and Serving Marujas for Christmas in Sevilla





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Article & Photos by Gerry Dawes©2021
 
My old friend Mari Carmen Honrubia de Esquivias eating a bowl of marujas (tiny green water plant shoots) with pomegranate seeds, dressed with a garlicky vinegreta made with Spanish Extra Virgen Aceite de Oliva, Sherry vinegar, minced garlic and sea salt, Christmas Day on Manolo and Mari Carmen Esquivias house in Sevilla.  
Photo by Gerry Dawes©2014 / gerrydawes@aol.com YouTube / Facebook / Twitter / Pinterest.  Sony RX100 III 20.1 MP / Zeiss 24-70mm f1.8-2.8.

Years ago in Salamanca with the legendary doyenne of bullfight aficionados, Alice Hall, at a classic place called El Candil, we had a dish of marujas*, delicate local greens that I was told came from cold water streams in the mountains around Salamanca. We were given a big bowl them dressed with what I thought was a way too garlicky vinagreta dressing. However, the memory of the potential of that dish had stuck with me all these years.  (*Montia fontana L. Portulacáceas, also known as corujas, pamplina, mariquitas and my favorite, annual water miner's lettuce.)

I had been to Salamanca for just a single night in 2006, but I could not remember the name of the restaurant and had not encountered marujas.  I returned in September 2014 with Chefs Ryan McIlwraith and Joel Ehrlich from San Francisco (now the spectacularly successful head chef and sous chef at Bellota and Barcino) with a specific mission:  to eat at Cala Fornells.  Cala Fornells was run by my old friend former television show host during the Franco ear,  Juan Santamaría.   Santamaría had long since been turned out of his television job and turned into a chef.   He had made such an impression with his paella divida (several different types of arroces/paella in the same divided paella pan) and his Balearic Islands Minorcan-inspired cuisine, including an incredible caldereta de langosta (a seafood stew cooked with a whole lobster in it), that I was contracted by Food Arts magazine to do an article on him more than a decade earlier when his restaurant was in Madrid. 


Chefs Ryan McIlwraih and Joel Ehrlich of San Francisco getting ready to enjoy the caldereta de langosta, a Minorcan specialty, at Cala Fornells restaurant in Salamanca, Sept. 21, 2014.  Photo by Gerry Dawes©2014 / gerrydawes@aol.com / Facebook / Twitter / Pinterest.  Olympus Stylus 1 - 10.7x i.Zuiko Optical Zoom Lens 28-300mm (equivalent) f/2.

Paella divida with four kinds of paella--(clockwise, duck, mushrooms, shellfish, black rice with cuttlefish--at, Cala Fornells, Salamanca. Photo by Gerry Dawes©2014 / gerrydawes@aol.com / Facebook / Twitter / YouTube / Pinterest. Canon 5D Mark III / Canon 24-105mm f/4L IS USM

Alas, when I e-mailed his daughter Elisa about Juan and a reservation, she informed me by e-mail that Juan had died in September almost a year earlier. Partly in homage to Juan and partly to see if the restaurant had kept up his standards, I decided to take the chefs there anyway. It was not likely that they were going to encounter either the paella dividida or the caldereta de langosta anywhere else on this trip.  I mean, really, a Balearic Islands Minorcan cuisine restaurant in a suburb one of the most castizo cities in Castilla y León. Fortunately, both dishes turned out to be as good as I had remembered and Ryan McIlwraith took the paella dividida idea to Bellota, the award-winning restaurant he opened in San Francisco, where the dish has been a big hit.  (He also uses my gazpacho recipe from Sevilla.)

In the evening, we went to Salamanca’s Plaza Mayor looking for El Candil, where I hoped to find tostón (roast suckling pig with an especially crackling skin) and that once-encountered elusive dish of those spectacular greens.  Without the name, I was unable to find the restaurant.  Instead, we found a modern cuisine restaurant that impressed none of us. 



Plaza Mayor, Salamanca.
Photo by Gerry Dawes©2014 / gerrydawes@aol.com / Facebook / Twitter / YouTube / Pinterest. 
Canon 5D Mark III / Canon 24-105mm f/4L IS USM. 

In mid-December, I was back in Madrid with Kay.  We had dinner with Madrid Fusión Director Esmeralda Capel and her husband Juan Suárez (a retired lawyer who is a great cook), my friend Harold Heckle of the Associated Press Madrid bureau and his girlfriend at Sacha, a top restaurant run by Sacha Hormaechea where famous chefs hang out (one night I was there with Ferrán Adria, Juan Mari Arzak and José Andrés). 

  
Kay and Juan Suárez (a retired lawyer who is a great cook at Sacha, a top restaurant owned by Sacha Hormaechea, shown explaining his dishes.  Photo by Gerry Dawes©2014 / gerrydawes@aol.com YouTube / Facebook / Twitter / Pinterest.  Sony RX100 III 20.1 MP / Zeiss 24-70mm f1.8-2.8. 

Among many excellent dishes that we were served during a dinner that to my chagrin was accompanied by wines I did not like at all, save one, was a salad of those mythic greens which Sacha called corujas.  My interest in these rare and elusive greens was piqued once again.


Corujas, known as marujas in Salamanca, at Restaurante Sacha, Madrid.  
Photo by Gerry Dawes©2014 / gerrydawes@aol.com YouTube / Facebook / Twitter / Pinterest.  
Sony RX100 III 20.1 MP / Zeiss 24-70mm f1.8-2.8.

After finishing the dinner at Sacha far too late—we got into bed at 03:00—the next day, we were off in the direction of Galicia to make the rounds of my Spanish Artisan Wine & Spirits Group suppliers.  Once finished in Galicia, we would then make the long trek south to arrive in Sevilla on Christmas Eve.
 
After three days in Galicia, I decided that another stop in Salamanca was a good option as we headed south towards Sevilla.  Kay, who had never been to Salamanca, and I stayed at the Hotel Puente Romano, where I stayed with chefs McIlwaith and Ehrlich. The hotel was located in an unprepossessing neighborhood south of the Tormes River, with a gas station as a neighbor. However, the Hotel Puente Romano had its advantages.  It was comfortable, very reasonably price and, for my September trip with the chefs, was close to Cala Fornells, where we were going to have lunch.  And it was also close to the escape route to Guijuelo, a half hour to the south, where I had made an appointment early the following morning for the American chefs and me to visit one of the top jamón Ibérico producers, Carrasco Ibéricos.  And the aptly named Hotel Puente Romano is just a block from the magnificent pedestrian-only Puente Romano, the Roman bridge that which leads to Salamanca’s two Cathedrals, the new and the old, and up the Rua Mayor to the Plaza Mayor, one of the best plazas in Spain. 
 
Roman bridge and Cathedral, Salamanca.    
Photo by Gerry Dawes©2014 / gerrydawes@aol.com / Facebook / Twitter / YouTube / Pinterest.  
Canon EOS 7D / Canon 24-105mm f/4L IS USM (38.4-168mm equivalent). 

In the 1970s, I had crossed this Roman bridge in my vintage Volkswagen sedan (not a VW bug type), when there were signs saying that said all traffic over 16 tons had to use the Roman bridge instead of the new steel and concrete highway bridge to the east, because the Roman bridge was sure to be able to support heavier traffic, while the authorities were unsure that the new bridge could handle the weight.  My Volkswagen was nowhere near 16 tons, but what the Hell, it’s was a Roman bridge, one of three major Roman bridges (Córdoba and Mérida being the others) in Spain that I had driven across in a car but are now pedestrian only.


Salamanca's Roman bridge on a foggy winter morning, Dec. 23, 2014.  
Photo by Gerry Dawes©2014 / gerrydawes@aol.com / Facebook / Twitter / YouTube / Pinterest.
Canon 5D Mark III / Canon 24-105mm f/4L IS. 

Because we had been on a five hundred-kilometer plus food and wine road warrior trip that day, with fog and fatigue big factors, and had  arrived so late in Salamanca, I asked the hotel concierge if there might be a decent restaurant within walking distance.  He directed us to a restaurant around the corner from the hotel.  We expected a neighborhood restaurant of adequate cuisine, but no miracles.  Instead we found Casaserra, one of the great surprise restaurants of Salamanca and not the least of the surprises was at first off-putting, sly, cantankerous, but later gregarious and charming, owner, Heli Casanueva Serradilla, Heli from Heliodoro; “gift from the sun.”  I would later dub Helicóptero because he never stopped gyrating around the dining room. 


Helicóptero "Heli" Casanueva Serradilla and his son Jorge Casanueva in their restaurant Casaserra in Salamanca. 
 Photo by Gerry Dawes©2014 / gerrydawes@aol.com / Facebook / Twitter / YouTube /  Pinterest.  
Canon G15 / Canon f/1.8 – f/2.8 5X 24-140mm IS USM.

Heli indeed turned out to be a gift from the sun, or at least this evening, from the moon.  With his simpático waiter-son Jorge, joining periodically and acting as an antidote to his father, Heli hovered near our table nearly all evening (it was a Monday night), entertaining us with his running repertoire of Helidodoro-ismos.  We had had a simple early-to-bed dinner: a surprisingly good for winter ensalada de lechuga, tomate y cebolla (classic lettuce, tomato and onion salad dressed with Spanish extra virgin olive oil and vinegar), pimientos de piquillo rellenos de bacalao (bacalao-stuffed red piquillo peppers) and revueltos con setas y gambas (scrambled eggs with mushrooms and shrimp), irrigated with a fine bottle of José Pariente Verdejo white wine from Rueda.  

In the course of his non-stop banter, I asked Heliodoro about the corujas I had had in Madrid at Restaurante Sacha.  He informed me that in Salamanca, these tender green leaf shoots from mountain streams are called marujas and claimed he was the only one in Salamanca who had them.  Soon he brought us a bowl of the marvelous tiny shoots, sprinkled with pomegranate seeds and properly dressed with a garlicky aliño (vinaigrette).   I was ecstatic.  I had finally re-encountered this scarcest of regional dishes of Spain and one of its most sublime, if least-known dishes. 


Marujas con semillas de granada (water plant shoots with pomegranate seeds), Restaurante Casaserra, Salamanca, Dec. 23, 2014.    
Photo by Gerry Dawes©2014 / gerrydawes@aol.com / Facebook / Twitter / YouTube /  Pinterest.  
Canon G15 / Canon f/1.8 – f/2.8 5X 24-140mm IS USM.

The next morning Kay and I walked over the Roman bridge and up to the Plaza Mayor, where we had a very good breakfast of coffee, chocolate con churros, a kind of flan with shrimp, a great tortilla española with potatoes and onions, and spinach and mejillones aliñados (mussels with chopped onion, bell pepper and fresh tomatoes in a vinaigrette) at the excellent cafe, La Marina de Salamanca.  Like I said, breakfast.


Kay at breakfast with coffee, chocolate con churros, a kind of flan with shrimp, a great tortilla española 
with potatoes and onions, and spinach and mussels in a vinaigrette at La Marina de Salamanca, December 23, 2014.  
Photo by Gerry Dawes©2014 / gerrydawes@aol.com / Facebook / Twitter / YouTube / Pinterest. 
Canon 5D Mark III / Canon 24-105mm f/4L IS USM.

After breakfast, we left the Plaza Mayor and went across the street to the Mercado Municipal de Salamanca, where I found two big boxes of marujas at the fruit-and-vegetable stand of Cándido González.  I asked if the marujas   would keep a couple of days, Cándido said they would and I promptly brought a half kilo for nine Euros to take south to Sevilla for Manolo and Mari Carmen’s Christmas celebration. 
 
I had Cándido add a pomegranate—yellow, not red here and with paler seeds—so I could duplicate the dish served by Heliodoro at Casaserra.   Cándido put the marujas in a nice paper bag with a liner and we put them and the pomegranate in the trunk of the car, where they would keep cool on the journey south to Sevilla.  After having lost touch with marujas for more than a decade, I had suddenly encountered them three times within a week. 
 
Cándido González at his fruit and vegetable stand in the Mercado Muncipal de Salamanca filling a bag with a half kilo of marujas. Photo by Gerry Dawes©2014 / gerrydawes@aol.com / Facebook / Twitter / YouTube / Pinterest. 
Canon 5D Mark III / Canon 24-105mm f/4L IS USM.

Two days later, on Christmas Day at the home of Manolo and Mari Carmen Esquivias, where some 30 members of Mari Carmen’s family gathered (we went to Manolo’s 92-year old mother Alegria’s place on Christmas Eve), I made a vinagreta with Oro de Bailen Extra Virgen Olive Oil, Sherry vinegar, white wine vinegar, coarse sea salt and chopped fresh garlic.  I popped the seeds from the pomegranate, washed and dried the marujas and put them in a big glass bowl. I decided I would serve each person a made-on-the-spot bowl of marujas con granos de granada aliñadas.   I served a bowl of marujas to each person individually, sprinkled on a ration of pomegranate seeds and added a spoonful of properly garlicky vinagreta


Granos de granada (pomegranate grains or seeds) for marujas (tiny green water plant shoots) with pomegranate seeds, dressed with a garlicky vinagreta made with Spanish Extra Virgen Aceite de Oliva, Sherry vinegar, minced garlic and sea salt.  Photo by Gerry Dawes©2014 / gerrydawes@aol.com YouTube / Facebook / Twitter / Pinterest. Sony RX100 III 20.1 MP / Zeiss 24-70mm f1.8-2.8.
 
Dressing for marujas con granos de granada (pomegranate seeds), a garlicky vinegreta made with Spanish Extra Virgen Aceite de Oliva, Sherry vinegar, minced garlic and sea salt. Photo by Gerry Dawes©2014 gerrydawes@aol.com 
YouTube / Facebook / Twitter / Pinterest.  Sony RX100 III 20.1 MP / Zeiss 24-70mm f1.8-2.8.

The dish was a big hit. None of the guests had ever tasted marujas either. From that half kilo, we had a little left to bring to Cádiz to make two more small salads for Kay and me. I vowed that it would not be another decade before I had this dish again, but that will surely require another trip to Salamanca and another walk across the Roman bridge up to the Plaza Mayor and the Salamanca market.  Maybe this time I will take the Helicoptero up to the market. 

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Note:   After I had written this portion of the chapter on Western Spain,  a Facebook friend Spain expert Gijs van Hensbergen, author of Guernica: The Biography of a Twentieth-Century Icon, In the Kitchens of Castile and Antoni Gaudí, sent me this:  "In Segovia they are called perifollo (which is the Spanish name for chervil, not the same plant)--a whole range of names and fineness of leaf.  Now (May) is the right time but the danger is to wash them well especially. if there have been sheep grazing on higher land. Some people advise that a few drops of bleach in a bucket will kill anything the sheep pass on, but I'm not a great fan of this method. The vinegar is to cut through the incredible iron taste of truly fresh perifollo - an explosion that cuts through the 'fat' of roast lamb. A total luxury - like a luxury water cress - where I worked in Segovia 30 years ago a wonderful old character with dun-coloured shepherds’ blanket would come into the restaurant with these at noon having walked up into the sierra at night and collected his crop not far from the famous Hemingway bridge in the Sierras de Guadarrama."

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Constructive comments are welcome and encouraged.
 
 
If you enjoy these blog posts, please consider a contribution to help me continue the work of gathering all this great information and these photographs for Gerry Dawes's Insider's Guide to Spanish Food, Wine, Culture and Travel. Contributions of $5 and up will be greatly appreciated. Contributions of $100 or more will be acknowledged on the blog. Please click on this secure link to Paypal to make your contribution.
 
Text and photographs copyright by Gerry Dawes©2021.  Using photographs without crediting Gerry Dawes©2021 on Facebook.  Publication without my written permission is not authorized.
 
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  Shall deeds of Caesar or Napoleon ring
More true than Don Quixote's vapouring?
Hath winged Pegasus more nobly trod
Than Rocinante stumbling up to God?
 
Poem by Archer M. Huntington inscribed under the Don Quixote on his horse Rocinante bas-relief sculpture by his wife, Anna Vaughn Hyatt Huntington,
in the courtyard of the Hispanic Society of America’s incredible museum at 613 W. 155th Street, New York City.
 ________________________________________________________________________
 Gastronomy Blogs

In 2019, again ranked in the Top 50 Gastronomy Blogs and Websites for Gastronomists & Gastronomes in 2019 by Feedspot. (Last Updated Oct 23, 2019) 

"The Best Gastronomy blogs selected from thousands of Food blogs, Culture blogs and Food Science blogs in our index using search and social metrics. We’ve carefully selected these websites because they are actively working to educate, inspire, and empower their readers with frequent updates and high-quality information."  

36. Gerry Dawes's Spain: An Insider's Guide to Spanish Food, Wine, Culture and Travel


 
About Gerry Dawes

My good friend Gerry Dawes, the unbridled Spanish food and wine enthusiast cum expert whose writing, photography, and countless crisscrossings of the peninsula have done the most to introduce Americans—and especially American food professionals—to my country's culinary life." -- Chef-restaurateur-humanitarian José Andrés, Nobel Peace Prize Nominee and Oscar Presenter 2019


Gerry Dawes was the Producer and Program Host of Gerry Dawes & Friends, a weekly radio progam on Pawling Public Radio in Pawling, New York (streaming live and archived at www.pawlingpublicradio.org and at www.beatofthevalley.com.)

Dawes was awarded Spain's prestigious Premio Nacional de Gastronomía (National Gastronomy Award) in 2003. He writes and speaks frequently on Spanish wine and gastronomy and leads gastronomy, wine and cultural tours to Spain. He was a finalist for the 2001 James Beard Foundation's Journalism Award for Best Magazine Writing on Wine, won The Cava Institute's First Prize for Journalism for his article on cava in 2004, was awarded the CineGourLand “Cinéfilos y Gourmets” (Cinephiles & Gourmets) prize in 2009 in Getxo (Vizcaya) and received the 2009 Association of Food Journalists Second Prize for Best Food Feature in a Magazine for his Food Arts article, a retrospective piece about Catalan star chef, Ferran Adrià. 


". . .That we were the first to introduce American readers to Ferran Adrià in 1997 and have ever since continued to bring you a blow-by-blow narrative of Spain's riveting ferment is chiefly due to our Spanish correspondent, Gerry "Mr. Spain" Dawes, the messianic wine and food journalist raised in Southern Illinois and possessor of a self-accumulated doctorate in the Spanish table. Gerry once again brings us up to the very minute. . ." - - Michael & Ariane Batterberry, Editor-in-Chief/Publisher and Founding Editor/Publisher, Food Arts, October 2009. 
 
Pilot for a reality television series on wine, gastronomy, culture and travel in Spain.
 
Experience Spain With Gerry Dawes: Customized Culinary, Wine & Cultural Trips to Spain & Travel Consulting on Spain  

Gerry Dawes can be reached at gerrydawes@aol.com; Alternate e-mail (use only if your e-mail to AOL is rejected): gerrydawes@gmail.com 

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