A superb 100 percent ibérico ham from Extremadura, ready to share with guests for my birthday party. (Photo by Marina Caviese.)


This birthday seemed an occasion for something special. For me, the “something special” was ibérico ham, 100 percent ibérico de bellota, from a free-range pig, finished on acorns in the dehesa of Extremadura. 

Once the ham was ordered and on the way, I decided I should have a party to share the goodness. I invited old and not-so-old friends and family from near and far. As this is olive-picking season, I said on the invitations that it was an “olive picking party.” I planned a merienda de aceituneros—an olive pickers’ lunch. 

The menu:

Ibérico ham from Cárdeno, Fuentes de León, Extremadura. (Not coincidentally, I have been up close and personal with these ibérico pigs, back in 2006, on a visit to the dehesa while doing an article about ibérico ham. It is fabulous ham.) I served the ham with bread, grated tomato and olive oil so guests could make a typical pan con tomate y jamón.
Not everyone eats ham!

Cheese board with fresh goat cheese, aged sheeps’ milk cheese, membrillo (quince paste) and crackers.

Dips and dippers:

Atascaburras, a La Mancha dish of mashed potatoes, salt cod, garlic and olive oil, and chopped walnuts. (Recipe here.) Served with regañás, crunchy olive oil crackers. (Recipe for regañás.)

Blue cheese dip with yogurt and Sherry, served with endive leaves and carrot sticks.

Zeilouk, an eggplant dip that’s not baba ghanoush. This Moroccan salad (recipe here.) with cumin and lemon is good with pita crisps (recipe here.). Plus, two kinds of olives, nuts, etc.
I served the dips outside on the patio. The sun was so strong we had to move the table into the shade! (Photo by Marina Caviese.)

To accompany the ham:

Patatas aliñadas, a potato salad with olive oil and Sherry vinegar dressing (recipe here.) The only extra I added was fennel pollen, gathered from wild fennel that grows around my olive grove.  (I decided against that Olive Pickers’ Potato Stew that I featured here a few weeks ago. It was much too warm for a hot dish.) (Photo by Marina Caviese.)

Pipirrana de Jaén, a chopped tomato salad from Jaén, the Andalusian province that is the largest olive oil producing land in the world. This pipirrana (recipe below) is a little different from the one I’ve published here before. If my party had a theme, it was definitely olives and olive oil.

Remojón, a salad of sliced oranges, cod, onions and olives, dressed in olive oil. We added bits of pink grapefruit to the oranges and used (packaged) smoked cod instead of the usual salt cod. (The recipe for orange and cod salad is here.)

Sautéed piquillo peppers. Inspired because I had several cans of piquillos in the cupboard. They were sautéed in olive oil with onions and slivered garlic. 

Lentil salad (above) with walnuts, green onions, tomatoes, lemon, dill and olive oil. We garnished the salad with ruby-red pomegranate, which is in season right now. (The recipe is from The Turkish Cookbook by Nur Ilkin and Sheilah Kaufman). This dish and the potatoes were vegetarian–not everyone eats ham!

I had help in the kitchen in preparing the food for the gathering. Three friends came from the U.S. to spend the week in Mijas with me. 

Party prep in my kitchen. From the left, Donna Gelb, Amanda Clark, Donna Ellefson and myself. Amanda and Donna E are friends from college days (Northwestern University, Evanston, IL, 1960). Donna G, a cookbook author and recipe developer, and I met through the International Association of Culinary Professionals. We’ve been travelling and cooking together for quite a few years. (Photo by Leo Searl.)

I couldn’t have done it without these guys, grandson Leo on the left and my son, Ben Searl. (Photo by Marina Caviese.)

Ben is becoming an expert ham slicer! He’s following instructions in the illustrated book, Slicing Spanish Ham by Pilar Esteban. 

Josh shows daughter Selma how to spread tomato and olive oil on the bread before topping it with thinly sliced ham. 

The kids at the party have a go at thrashing olives off the trees. (Photo by Louise Cook.)

Siena and Selma show me the olives they’ve helped to pick. Good work! (Photo by Donna Gelb.)

Time for cake! This one is a sugar-free, olive oil fig spice cake. My friends have decorated it with flowers instead of candles. (Photo by Marina Caviese.)

What a happy birthday! (Photo by Donna Gelb.)

Chopped Tomato Salad, Jaén Style

Pipirrana de Jaén

This rustic country salad—typically made by olive pickers—can be made with fresh tomatoes or, if tomatoes are not in season, with canned tomatoes (preferably, home-canned ones). If using fresh tomatoes, peel them before chopping. I easily peeled a quantity of tomatoes with a vegetable peeler. You also can drop them into boiling water for about 1 minute, then slip the skins off. 

The salad is usually made in a dornillo, an olive-wood bowl. Otherwise, make the dressing in a mortar and mix the salad in a bowl. 

1 teaspoon coarse salt

2 cloves garlic

2-3 small green peppers (Italian frying pepper)

3 hard-boiled eggs

¾ cup extra virgin olive oil

3-4 pounds ripe tomatoes, peeled

Canned tuna

Place the salt in a mortar or wooden bowl with the peeled garlic. Crush the garlic to a paste.

Cut one of the peppers into pieces and add to the mortar. Grind and crush until it becomes a paste. (This is easier if the pieces of pepper are placed skin-side down, so you’re crushing the fleshy inside.) Separate the yolks from the cooked eggs (save the whites). Add the yolks to the mortar and crush. Gradually stir in the oil to make a smooth dressing.

Peel the tomatoes and chop them. Chop the remaining green peppers and the reserved egg whites. Combine in a bowl with the dressing. Add additional salt to taste. Cover and refrigerate until serving time. 

Garnish the salad with chunks of canned tuna before serving.

I’m perched in an olive tree, picking olives, a few days after my 80th birthday. Tomorrow I’ll take all the olives to the mill and, hopefully, come home with new olive oil. That makes it a happy birthday!

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