Seduced by Spain

If you are becoming jaded with Tuscan food, try moving to Spain, where much cooking (if you avoid the pretentious foam-and-squid-ink ice-cream places) is equally simple but, somehow, different. The FundaciĆ³n para la Cultura del Vino, created to publicise the quality of Spanish wines, took me to three bodegas in the Rioja district. Each gave us a

delicious meal to complement their wines.

At Julian Chivite, for example, the rare local cristal peppers, both thin-skinned and deliciously sweet, were served wood-roasted; we had a white asparagus and anchovy salad, both ingredients harvested that morning, and a thick white- and green-bean soup served with sharp pickled green chillies. The Chivite caterers have 12 hectares planted with their own vegetables.

At Rioja Alta, the star of the show was a loin of young lamb barbecued over vine clippings, utterly simple and crackling with flavour. It came with a few chips, more roast peppers and a fresh green salad. As tapas, we had brik pastry (similar to filo) stuffed with spinach or morcilla, a spicy blood sausage, anchovies on toast and quail legs with prunes. At La Vieja Bodega in Casalarreina, brik was stuffed with large prawns. I have already copied this, adding morsels of Moroccan preserved lemons.