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Gastronomy: The Harvests of the Earth
by Tr: Diane E. Graves
English translation of "Gastronomia", one of the series of "El Pais Vasco, ven y cuentalo" 2nd edition, January 1993 Author: Patxi Anton Idroquilis Editorial: Gobierno Vasco, Departamento de Comercio, Consuma, y Turismo. Viceconsejeria de Turismo. Translated unofficially by Diane E. Graves
Chapter 3: The Harvests of the Earth
Although agriculture began relatively late in the Basque Country, during the last four centuries the products of the earth have become a stable foundation for the Basque people's diet, most notably legumes and cereal grains, not to mention vegetables and fruits.
One of the most appreciated crops was broadbeans which, fresh or dried, were the key ingredient of the popular gastronomy because of their high energetic value.
Haricot beans, a legume brought from across the seas, were incorporated later into the Basque diet, as were potatoes and corn. However, red haricots in the north and white ones in the south together took root rapidly in our cuisine, whether prepared alone, with cabbage, or as a base for succulent and energy-rich stews.
Corn flour also gave rise to many basic dishes that were fundamental to the popular diet, such as fine cakes ("talos"), or "morokil", a sweet mix of corn flour and milk.
Potatoes were an equally glorious discovery for Basque cuisine. Vizcayans are proud of the role that potatoes play in "marmitako", an exquisite fish stew, Arabans boast their potatoes with pork sausage, and Gipuzkoans flaunt their potatoes prepared in green sauce.
Peas, green beans, and other varieties give rise to soups and vegetable dishes, stuffed chard leaves in batter are a well-received dish from Araba that has become a typical Basque dish. Vegetables such as cardoons, prepared with almonds and a light smooth sauce, are the stars of traditional holiday cuisine, and cabbage is widespread throughout all Euzkadi, especially in Gipuzkoa, where it is used to complement some tasty haricot beans. Not to mention leeks and the exquisite soup made from the same, "porrusalda".
Peppers, used for sausages and dried, are the key to legendary recipes such as "bacalao a la vizcaína" (codfish prepared Vizcayan style), but not to be overlooked are the delicate and delicious hot peppers, one of the basic elements of the Basque culinary revival and of the traditional "piperradas".
The reigning fruit in Euzkadi is without a doubt the apple, primary ingredient in Christmas compotes, and of course cider. Several roasted apples could be a perfect dessert. Chestnuts are another harvest of which there are dozens of local species, like apples. As in the case of cherries and walnuts, the cultivation of chestnuts has declined considerably due to the replacement of native trees with other, more productive, species of tree, however, they have not fallen into oblivion.
Where to sample the harvests of the earth:
Presently, although still maintaining territorial distinctions, this vegetarian cuisine has spread to zones that are not even agricultural, because of which any average restaurant can offer a wide variety of the dishes that we have mentioned thus far.
However, going back to the source, the areas of Tolosa, Gipuzkoa, and the outskirts of Gernika, Bizkaia, are the perfect place to enjoy red haricot beans. And, it is not necessary to reaffirm that one cannot pass through Vitoria-Gasteiz without trying "habas a la vitoriana" (Vitorian-style broadbeans), some potatoes with local pork sausage, or some chard leaves stuffed with Spanish ham and cheese.
Araba and Bizkaia are lands with magnificent spring vegetable soups, and, especially in the latter province, "pistos" (vegetable dishes) are equally well known. Another typical specialty from Bilbao is a sweet spinach pie.
A must when sampling Vizcayan gastronomy is "marmitako" (a potato and fish stew), as well as "porrusalda" (a leek and potato soup).