Spain is the home of the saffron-flavored rice dish called paella and gazpacho, a spicy chilled tomato soup. Both go well with sangria, a red-wine concoction including sugar, orange zest, soda water, brandy and slices of fresh fruit. Thick lentil soups, rich with potatoes and onions, tease the taste buds and are served as comfort foods. Many of the fruits and vegetables used in these dishes are grown within Spain’s borders.
Spain produces just over 30 percent of the world’s olives, in regions including Andalusia, Catalonia, Extremadura and Castilla la Mancha. The country grows 260 varieties, among them Manzanilla, Hojiblanca and Carrasquena. The size of an olive is dependent on how many fruits are on the tree--the fewer the olives, the bigger they grow.
Green olives are picked before they start to color. They are washed and then soaked in brine to make them edible. Green olives frequently are stuffed with pimentos, anchovies or garlic, or they are simply served whole.
Black olives get their color from oxidation. Partially ripe fruit is harvested while the olives are a brownish-rose color. Olive oil, made by crushing the olives and extracting their liquid, is used in Spanish cooking.
Spanish Blood Orange
Sporting a bold, blood-red colored flesh and a rind almost as dark, the Sanguinelli orange is a native of Spain. They are a variety of the Doblefina blood orange, grown throughout the Mediterranean basin. Both types need very hot, dry climates to grow, preferably in regions that have a big temperature difference between night and day. Blood oranges grown in high altitudes tend to be sweeter. The color of the rind is darker if the plant has been grown in shade. Once considered an acquired taste, blood oranges are now in demand because they contain more Vitamin C and antioxidants than the more familiar oranges. Both varieties are now grown in warmer parts of California, New Zealand, China, India and throughout the Middle East.
Spanish Wine Grapes
Spanish people love their wine--so much so that they have more than 146 types of grapes growing within the country. The Garnacha Tinta, a bold red grape that originated in Sardinia, Italy, is found throughout Spain and is the most common variety. Wines produced from these grapes are fruity, with a bright color. The Arien, one of the most widely grown white grapes on the planet, is mostly found in La Mancha. From these grapes a dry white wine, usually with a high alcoholic content, is produced. Other varieties include the purpleish-blue Bobal, found mostly in Utiel Requena, the Carbernet Sauvignon, a purple grape originally from France and grown in Spain’s Mediterranean region, and the white Albarino found in Galicia.
Edible legumes are grown throughout Spain. In the wetter parts of the country, kidney and French beans make up the majority of the crops. In the south, where the climate is arid and much hotter, lentils and garbanzos dominate. Lentils are often soaked and boiled and then made into thick soup. Garbanzo beans, also known as chickpeas, are used in salads and soups and are also ground to make the Middle Eastern dip called hummus.