The average tourist travels to Granada for one reason, to see the famed Alhambra, the fourteenth century Moorish palace. Unfortunately for the gastro-tourist, the food in Granada is definitely not, as the British like to say, more-ish.
For that reason alone, N and I planned to make our stay in Granada in the summer of 2004 brief. Most of our dining experiences met our abysmally low expectations. Happily however, we experienced two memorable exceptions. The first was lunch at a rollicking working class tapas bar called Los Diamantes (Calle Navas, 28), where we tucked into some of the most perfectly fried baby cuttlefish, anchovies and eggplants of our trip.
The second exception was breakfast at our hotel, a fabulously romantic, exquisitely renovated fifteenth century Moorish house, by far the best hotel of our trip. N, in particular, is a breakfast lover. She had grown weary with the traditional Spanish breakfast of a croissant or a suizo (sugar topped roll) and a cup of coffee. She craved a more substantial breakfast, one that includes a bit of protein, some warm bread and perhaps a bowl of fruit.
The first morning at our hotel, we trundled down the stairwell from our room, bleary-eyed, into the cozy, barrel-vaulted former wine cellar (pictured left) where the breakfast buffet was served. We blinked several times when we saw the breakfast buffet spread out before us: jamón ibérico, manchego cheese, hard-boiled eggs, tortilla, the fixins to make our own pan con tomate (including freshly grated tomato pulp in a bowl mixed with excellent local olive oil), a do-it-yourself toaster, marmalade, fresh fruit, fresh-squeezed orange juice, and the usual rolls, suizos, and croissants. We were having such a good time, we nearly missed our scheduled entrance time to view the Alhambra!
There was one other item on the breakfast buffet: prunes. And, though it sounds ridiculous to say, they were a revelation. They were double the size of their emaciated cousins in California, although they are both the same variety as the French pruneaux d'Agen. Nearly as soft as a ripe fig, these prunes even managed to be moist and succulent, an unexpected trait for a dried fruit. My guess is that these prunes were picked when they were riper and sweeter, and then dried to a lesser degree than their Californian counterparts.
Our last stop on our gastronomic tour of Spain was Barcelona. We visited Casa Gispert, a wonderfully aromatic spice shop founded in 1851 where the owners still roast almonds and hazelnuts over a wood fire every morning. Tucked away in one of the bins, we noticed our prized plump prunes (pictured right, from the Casa Gispert website), which the shopkeeper told me were grown in northern Catalonia across the border from where the famous French prunes are grown. Although we bought several pounds of roasted Marcona almonds, we decided against buying the prunes, figuring we could find respectable ones in San Francisco.
After a year of fruitless* searching, one of the few things N requested (or more aptly, demanded) from my return visit to Barcelona this past July was, yes, a bagful of those humble, yet succulent prunes.
Since California prunes aren't as juicy as those I had in Spain or the pruneaux d'Agen, I riffed off of one of Judy Rodgers' recipes from The Zuni Cafe Cookbook to create "Masala Chai Poached Prunes" to have with our breakfast tomorrow, perhaps with a bowl of steel-cut oatmeal (pictured below).
Why tomorrow? Because pastry chef/blogger extraordinaire David Lebovitz has declared tomorrow the first (and only) Prune Blogging Thursday! (I personally think this should be a more regular occurrence myself).
If you'd like to see what other delicacies you can make with the lowly prune, David has linked to all the recipes from other prune lovers here.
* Excuse the fruitless pun. The closest resemblance to the Spanish prunes we have found are the prunes sold by Bella Viva Orchards at the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market in San Francisco and online.
Masala Chai Poached Prunes
2 c water
1 T + 1 t black tea, such as Assam
½-inch piece of ginger
4 cardamom pods
pinch freshly ground black pepper
2 T sugar
1 lb. prunes with pits or without
Bring the water to a boil. Place tea, ginger, cardamom and pepper in teapot. Pour boiling water over tea and infuse for 8 minutes. Strain or lift out infuser, depending on how your teapot is equiped. Stir in sugar. Cool until barely hot to the touch, about 120˚F.
Place prunes in a jar and pour tas over the prunes to just cover. Cool completely and refrigerate. Best if made at least a day before you wish to serve them. Ideal over morning oatmeal or with braised duck legs.