The western parts of Rioja Alta and Rioja Alavesa
By Tom Perry
This Guide was last updated on 12 February 2010
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Espárragos: asparagus - April, May and June are the best months to order this delicacy, when white asparagus is in season. Prepared warm and drizzled with extra-virgin olive oil, it melts in your mouth. Enjoy with a young white Rioja.
Alcachofas: artichokes - wine and food pairing guides always say that wine and artichokes do not mix. Riojans apparently are not aware of this, since artichokes are a staple in restaurants here, especially in the winter months when the hearts are steamed or poached and served with ham. Forget what the books say and enjoy this dish with a barrel-fermented white Rioja.
Lecherillas o Lechecillas: battered and fried lamb sweetbreads are delicious with a young red Rioja.
Pochas: white beans that are not dried, but prepared while fresh. They are at their best in August and September. Fresh pochas are frozen for use during the rest of the year. Enjoy with a young red Rioja.
Menestra de Verduras: to call this dish ‘vegetable stew’ does not do it justice. It varies throughout the year as vegetables come into season. These are often lightly fried in a flour and egg batter. Try it with a Rioja Crianza.
Pimientos Rellenos: these red piquillo peppers are stuffed with meat or fish, battered and fried in a little olive oil. Best with a Rioja Crianza or Reserva.
Bacalao a la Riojana: cod is a popular fish in northern Spain and when prepared with tomato sauce, garlic and a bit of hot pepper is something not to be missed. This dish will easily stand up to a Rioja Reserva.
Patatas con Chorizo: called ‘Riojan-style potatoes’ in the rest of Spain, here the dish is known as ‘potatoes with spicy sausage’. It is a simple potato stew served with chorizo and slivers of red chilli peppers, often accompanied by hot green chilli peppers called guindillas that are chopped into small pieces and added while eating. It is a meal by itself. Try it with a Rioja Crianza.
Chuletillas de Cordero: cutlets of lambs that have been fed with only their mothers’ milk, grilled over vine cuttings or coals. It is perfectly acceptable to eat them with your hands, as the King of Spain always does when visiting Rioja.
Peras al Vino Tinto: pears are grown all over the Rioja region and when served steeped in red wine melt in your mouth.
Leche Frita : fried milk – a delicacy made by heating milk until it is reduced, then chilling it in a baking dish. When solid, it is cut into squares, battered in flour and egg, and fried. Served with cinnamon on top.
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