1 GEOGRAPHIC SETTING AND ENVIRONMENT
With Portugal, Spain makes up the Iberian Peninsula, or Iberia. Iberia is separated from the rest of Europe by the Pyrenees Mountains, which rise to a height of 11,168 feet (3,404 meters). The peninsula is bordered by the waters of the Mediterranean Sea on the east, the Strait of Gibraltar on the south, the Atlantic Ocean on the west, and the Bay of Biscay on the northwest. Spain’s miles of coastline (more than any other European country) provide it with bountiful seafood and fish. Spain is also a close neighbor to Africa. Morocco lies only a short distance—eight miles (thirteen kilometers)—across the Strait of Gibraltar from the southern tip of Spain.
Rich soils in interior valleys yield a variety of cultivated vegetables, while the country’s arid (dry) climate provides excellent growing conditions for grapes and olives. The high plateaus and mountainsides of the interior are grazing grounds for sheep and cattle.
2 HISTORY AND FOOD
As a gateway between Europe and Africa, and the Mediterranean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean, Spain has been much fought over throughout history. The Greeks settled its coastal areas as early as the eighth century B.C. , while Celts occupied interior regions. By the second century B.C. , Spain was under Roman domination. In the early eighth century A.D. , the Moors (Arabs from northern Africa) crossed Gibraltar and entered Spain, occupying it for the next 700 years before Christian kingdoms drove them out.
This long history of invasion is still ev >
A leader in exploration and colonization, powerful Spain was among the first nations in Europe to discover the treasures of the New World. Beginning in the late 1400s, explorers returned from voyages across the Atlantic Ocean carrying such exotic new foods as tomatoes, potatoes, sweet potatoes, beans, corn, peppers, chocolate, and vanilla—all native to the Americas. These foods were slowly joined with the Spanish diet.
3 FOODS OF THE SPANIARDS
Spain’s culinary traditions rely on an abundance of locally grown vegetables and fruits as well as meats and poultry. Jamón serrano , a cured ham, and chorizo , a seasoned sausage, are popular. Seafood and fish are popular in coastal areas. Other popular foods are cheeses, eggs, beans, rice, nuts (especially almonds), and bread (a crusty white bread, baked fresh daily, is common). Olive oil and garlic are common ingredients. Spain is also known for its wines, including the rioja , made in the northern province; sherry, a fortified wine that may be dry or sweet; and sangria, wine mixed with fruit and soda water.
The best-known Spanish dish, a stew called paella (pie-AY-ah), originated in Valencia, an eastern province on the Mediterranean Sea. Rice, a main ingredient, is grown in Valencia’s tidal flatlands. Though there are numerous variations, paella is usually made of a variety of shellfish (such as shrimp, clams, crab, and lobster), chorizo (sausage), vegetables (tomatoes, peas, and asparagus), chicken and/or rabbit, and long-grained rice. Broth, onion, garlic, wine, pimiento (sweet red pepper), and saffron add flavor to the stew.
Every region has its own distinct cuisine and specialties. Gazpacho, a cold tomato soup, comes from Andalucía in southern Spain. Traditionally, a special bowl called a dornillo, was used to pound the ingredients by hand, but modern Spanish cooks use a blender. Andalusians also enjoy freidurías (fish, such as sole or anchovies, fried in batter). Cataluña (Catalonia), in northeastern Spain, is known for its inventive dishes combining seafood, meat, poultry, and local fruits. In the northern Basque country (país Vasco), fish is important to the diet, with cod, eel, and squid featured prominently. The signature dish of Asturias, in northwestern Spain, is fabada, a bean stew. In the interior regions, such as Castilla, meats play a starring role. Tortilla española, a potato omelet, is served throughout the country. It can be prepared quickly and makes a hearty but simple dinner. Spain’s best-known dessert is flan, a rich custard.
Gazpacho (Cold Tomato Soup)
- 1½ pounds (6 large) fresh tomatoes in season, or 28-ounce can of whole tomatoes (with liquid)
- 1 medium green pepper, washed and cut into pieces
- 1 small white onion, peeled and cut into pieces
- 1 large cucumber, peeled and cut into pieces
- 4 Tablespoons red wine vinegar
- ¼ teaspoon tarragon
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- 3 cloves garlic, peeled
- ½ cup cold water (if using fresh tomatoes)
Optional garnish: crouton, diced cucumber, diced avocado