I don’t know what you would call it, but I call it an Olla Podrida

A couple of nights ago, I tweeted about having made a chorizo-based stew, of which both Eoin and I had inhaled copious amounts. I promptly got into a Twitter exchange about the nature of said stew, primarily around the question of whether it was a defined recipe or just a case of throwing ingredients at a pot and feeling hopeful about the result. As it happens, I do have a (fairly) defined recipe for this stew: it is a bit idiosyncratic, but it’s enormously comforting on a cold, dreich night like tonight. As I need to post something in the next couple of hours, I decided to kill two birds with one stewpot, and set my correspondent’s mind at rest.

Several years ago, before I went to library school, I worked part-time in the library of Trinity College alongside writing a PhD in esoteric aspects of nineteenth-century historical bibliography. The library was an amazing place to work and study, and my time there not only furnished me with the raw material for a whole chapter of my thesis, but also spurred me on to take an MA in librarianship and to learn far too much about various classification systems. Being an archetypally Cambridge-y place, the library also furnished me with another opportunity, namely to read their free copy of The Times every day during coffee breaks (I’m not a typical Times reader, but I’m not about to turn down a newspaper if it’s offered to me. Well, maybe the Daily Mail, but I think most right-minded people would turn that down). In one day’s T2, a recipe by Jill Dupleix appeared, with the tempting title, “A noble dish loved by Samuel Pepys”. If you have access behind The Times‘s paywall, you can read the original recipe here, but, if you don’t, I should explain that the recipe begins with a short historical introduction to the olla podrida, a Spanish stew involving pork, beans and an assortment of vegetables. It figures in Don Quioxte, and was described, charmingly and, for me, irresistibly as follows by Pepys: “the Olio [sic] was indeed a noble dish, such as I never saw better, nor any more of”. I photocopied the relevant page of the paper, went home and cooked the recipe, and then promptly decided that I needed to change some things. Originally, the recipe involved chicken thighs, chickpeas and bay leaves, but the chicken and chickpeas made the stew both too expensive and far too bulky: I sometimes add a small quantity of pulses of some sort, but the original quantities, which claimed to feed 4, would probably have fed twice that number, and I just don’t want to eat the same stew for that many nights in a row. I think I simply forgot about the bay leaves. What I ended up with was a comforting yet spicy stew which is easily put together from storecupboard ingredients, and I do think it’s worth sharing. In my head, I call in an olla podrida, though I’m sure it doesn’t bear too strong a resemblance to the standard dish. In my defence, and based on a liberal reading of recipes both online and in print, I don’t think the original recipe is any closer to a true olla podrida than mine is.

I should also apologise for the appalling photograph which accompanies this recipe: Stephen has temporarily commandeered my good camera, so I am working with the basic point-and-shoot compact. It was also really rather dark…

Olla Podrida

Olla Podrida-ishYou will need:

  • A chorizo sausage, sliced into rounds.
  • A small onion, chopped.
  • A handful of potatoes, the waxy kind, sliced. It’s hard to quantify how many you’ll need, but I tend to use about 6-8 egg-sized ones.
  • A couple of carrots, sliced.
  • Smoked paprika, both the hot and the sweet kind.
  • Half a cabbage, shredded. I usually use a savoy, but other varieties work well too.
  • 500-750ml chicken stock: precisely how much you’ll need depends on the size of your pot and the amount of ingredients you’re using.
  • Some chopped parsley to garnish.

In a large, solid pot, heat a little oil and fry the onion and the chorizo (you won’t need much oil as the chorizo will release oil as it cooks: you just need enough to stop the ingredients catching on the pan in the initial stages of cooking). When the onion has softened, and the fat in the chorizo has started to melt out, add the potatoes and carrots and continue to cook. Add a couple of generous teaspoonsful of the sweet paprika, and a more measured teaspoonful of the hot kind; mix it in well so that it coats the vegetables. After a couple of minutes, add the shredded cabbage. This will cook down, so don’t worry if the pot looks a bit over-full at first. Pour on enough stock to almost, but not quite, cover the stew, bring to the boil, then cover and leave to simmer for about 30 minutes. When cooked, add a handful of chopped fresh parsley, then ladle into bowls, and eat with relish.

As you’ll notice, I have added a small amount of haricot beans (I think it was about 200g) to the pot this time: I haven’t added these to the ingredient list, as I don’t usually use them, but the photo was taken using leftovers. I needed to feed two hungry adults, and Eoin and I had already made a pretty sizeable dent in the olla over the previous day’s lunch and tea. If you fancy adding pulses to your olla podrida, I’d suggest adding them to the pot when it still has about ten minutes of simmering time left.


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