Castile–León and Castile–La Mancha Feature
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Eating and Drinking Well in Castile and Extremadura
In Spain's central meseta, an arid, high plateau, the peasant cooking provides comfort and energy. Roast lamb, pork, and goat are staples, as are soups, stews, and dishes made from scraps, such as the classic migas de pastor, shepherd's bread crumbs.
Classic Castilian dishes are cordero (lamb) and cuchinillo (suckling pig) roasted in wood ovens, and other prized entrées include perdiz en escabeche (marinated partridge), and perdices a la Toledana (stewed partridge, Toledo-style). Broad-bean dishes are specialties in the areas around Ávila and La Granja (Segovia), while trucha (trout) and cangrejos de río (river crayfish) are Guadalajara specialties. Some of Castile's most exotic cuisine is found in Cuenca, where a Moorish influence appears in such dishes as gazpacho pastor (shepherd's stew), a stew made with an assortment of meats. Wild mushrooms are used to enhance aromas in meat dishes and stews or are served on their own in earthenware dishes.
Don Quixote Food
Cervantine menus are favorites at taverns and inns throughout Quijote country southeast of Madrid. Both gachas manchegas (a thick peasant porridge based on fried legume flour and pork) and duelos y quebrantos (scrambled eggs and bacon) are mentioned in Don Quixote as typical offerings on late 15th-century rural menus.
Roast lamb, cordero asado, is a favorite dish throughout Castile. A lechazo or milk-fed lamb should be two to three weeks old and have been carefully protected from bumps and bruises by his shepherd. It's handled with great delicacy all the way to the wood oven where it's roasted slowly on low heat. The forequarters are considered better than the hindquarters, and the left side is more tender, as lambs tend to lie on their right sides, which toughens the meat.
Perdices a la Toledana, partridge prepared in the Toledo way, is one of Castile–La Mancha's most sought after gastronomical delicacies. Toledo partridges are neither estofadas (stewed) nor escabechadas (marinated) but, rather, cooked on low heat in wine with vinegar. Up to a dozen wild partridges stew for hours with white wine, olive oil, onions, garlic, and laurel leaves until the sauce has nearly evaporated. October to February are the hunting months for partridge and the best time to try this local favorite with fresh-killed birds.
La Mancha, the arid and windswept area southeast of Madrid, has its moist vegetable-growing pockets along the Tajo River. Pisto Manchego is the classic vegetable stew, with ham and chorizo added for protein and flavor. Onions, green peppers, eggplants, ripe tomatoes, olive oil, chorizo, and ham are the ingredients in this Castilian favorite typically served in an earthenware vessel.
Migas de Pastor
Translated as "shepherd's bread crumbs," this dish is made with hardened bread that's been softened with water, then broken up and fried in olive oil with lots of garlic and sometimes eggs, as well as bacon, chorizo, peppers, sardines, or squash if available.
Gazpacho Pastor (shepherd's stew)
Andalusian gazpacho is a cold soup but in La Mancha, especially in and around Cuenca, gazpacho is a thick stew made of virtually everything in the barnyard, and served very hot. Partridge, hare, rabbit, hen, peppers, paprika, and tortas gazpacheras (flatbread made especially for this dish) complete the stew.
In Toledo, Carlos Falcó (aka Marqués de Griñón) has developed excellent Dominio de Valdepusa wines using petit verdot and syrah grapes. In Ribera del Duero, winemakers from Pingus and Protos to Pago de Carraovejas offer full-bodied wines using tempranillo grapes, while El Bierzo northwest of León has good values and earthy wines made with the local mencía grape.Updated: 11-2013
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