3 years ago
A simple to make tortilla recipe with Manchego cheese for an authentic Spanish holiday dinner.
by Karen Burns-Booth
INGREDIENTS (Serves 4 with leftovers)
It’s hard to avoid the long shadow of Cervantes in La Mancha. Even the label fused onto authentic Manchego Cheese is decorated with Don Quixote. We always think it’s pretty generous of the Manchegos to treat Cervantes with such reverence considering ‘Don Quixote de la Mancha’ wasn’t exactly a celebration of their region’s allure and beauty. But Pedro Almodovar is a son of La Mancha who ran off to Madrid at 18 and happily concedes his heritage runs deep and darkly affectionate in almost every movie he’s ever made – 2011’s ‘The Skin I Live In’ was partly filmed in La Mancha. Polar reactions like these are what we’ve come to expect. La Mancha will either break your heart or leave you cold as stone. It’s not the Spain of cutesy little whitewashed villages. It’s far from the high-gloss sheen of Barcelona. And if you thought bits of Andalusia were scorched and dramatic you clearly haven’t seen La Mancha’s ‘pastures’ in August. But we love the windmills and the powerful pull of a landscape so flat, the distant horizon is a constant companion. And there’s something very soothing about a place where things have to remain the same because you can’t simply can’t control anything, you just have to work with it.
And work with it they do here, as legendary Manchego Cheese testifies. In the height of summer or the depth of winter, it’s nearly impossible to believe that anything can be created or even survive in La Mancha never mind something as ridiculously sublime as Queso Manchego. But despite the extremes of climate, the Manchego sheep with their distinctive cloaks of fleece and long, doleful faces keep producing the milk that makes the cheese that’s just about as famous as Don Quixote these days and that’s probably something Cervantes didn’t see coming.
Any cook will tell you it only takes one magnificent ingredient to elevate the simplest dish from the ordinary to the extraordinary. And few staples are more ordinary than cheese omelette. It’s the standard go-to if you’ve got nothing much in the fridge or you’ve just been to the dentist and you don’t want to dribble your way through a plate of soup. Lavender & Lovage’s Red Pepper and Cheese Tortilla only resembles an omelette because it’s easy. But this recipe is a Spanish masterpiece complete with juicy peppers, boiled potatoes and that one magnificent ingredient we were talking about. In this case, Manchego Cheese.
This is one where you have to check the label. La Mancha is the one and only place in the world allowed to make this delicious dairy product. Manchego-Like, Manjego, Spanish Manchego and every other naming variation needy cheese makers try? Ignore them. Look for a distinctive ridged pattern on the outer rind, a picture of Don Quixote on the top and a label stating loud and clear, PDO. This means the cheese has Protected Designation of Origin, is made in La Mancha, aged for between 60 days and two years and has nothing added to it apart from salt.
When we tell you Manchego Sheep graze on the endless Dehesa plateau and cheese is always aged in natural caves for at least 2 months, you get some idea of the timeless quality of La Mancha that appeals to us. But even if you don’t make it south of Madrid to visit, choose your cheese with the respect the ancient traditions of the region deserve. Semi Curado is young, moist Manchego and is usually matured for about three months. The flavour is fresh and quite light and there’s less of the distinctive nuttiness associated with more aged varieties. Curado is aged for 6 months so it has a stronger taste and a slightly deeper colour than Semi Curado. And Viejo is the grandest cheese of the lot. Aged for at least a year it develops a crumbly texture and the flavour is sweeter and richer than the younger Manchego.
The more mature Manchego are good for grating and their dense flavours stand up well to cooking, so an older cheese is a good choice for your tortilla. Semi Curado and Curado make brilliant tapas and you could go full tradition for the entire meal and open a bottle of Tempranillo, one of the few rich, northern Spanish reds produced as far south as La Mancha.
Our next and final stop will be to Spain with a delicious Chicken and Rice dish.