Funny what effect a night spent sat crooked upright next to a barking mad women in her forties can have on a man. Emerging from the sleeper train at Chanmartin station bleary-eyed and shaggy-tailed, I was a shadow of my former self. The self that had spent the day being wined and dined by the foremost exponent of Galician cuisine. The self that had also spent the night in the cheapest of the cheap seats heading cross country with only a bottle of the station's finest vino tinto to drown out my unwanted travelling companion's castellano warblings.
Bidding farewell on the concourse, she headed for her connecting train, and I stumbled towards the station coffee bar to gather my senses, which felt like they'd be left somewhere north of Valladolid. Still, stepping out of the Metro in downtown Madrid, it didn't take long for the fuzz to clear and the energy of one of Europe's greatest cities to take hold.
If Coruña marked the end of the first part of my journey through Spain, then Madrid has been a rogue chapter, complete with it's own sub-plot, floating somewhere between the beginning, the middle and the end.
Sat in a kitsch coffee shop in the trendy - dare I say hipster? - district of Masaleña, complete with mugs of cappuccino instead of cafe con leche, retro wallpaper, and lots of beautiful boys and girls tinkering away on their Macbooks, it could not be further from the farms of Austurias and Galicia.
What was going to be a quick stopover turned into a long weekend, then a super-sized mini-break, complete with all the distractions of modern urban living. Waking up late again to sunshine streaming through the windows of the loft apartment where I'd been crashing, it seemed like high time to repay my old friend, host, and honorary Madrilena in kind.
A good excuse for a day spent pottering in the markets for a leisurely dinner as the sun goes down over the city... Chipirones (baby squid) stuffed with chorizo, pumpkin 'fritas', sliced thinly and cooked briefly in a hot oven with lots of olive oil, roast garlic alli oli, and a couple of huge salads to make it all feel a little healthier.
Having leftovers for lunch for a couple of days might help me get back on track with my budget as well...
Roast cauliflower salad with saffron and sultanas
Saffron, alongside paprika, is one of the archetypal Spanish flavours. The addition of some plump sultanas, and the tangy sweetness of caramelised onions are a great way to balance this most decadent of herb's distinctive earthy flavour.
Serves four or five
one head of cauliflower, cut into florets
three or four cloves of garlic, bashed in their skins, but not chopped
half a lemon, skin on, cut into segments
an onion, finely sliced
a generous handful of raisins
a pinch of saffron
a couple of handfuls of rocket leaves
salt and pepper
First, soak the raisins. You can do this in the morning, a couple of hours before you're eating, or whilst you're waiting for the oven to warm up. Put the saffron in a bowl and cover with a splash of boiling water. Leave to infuse for ten minutes, before adding the raisins and a bit more water so the fruit is almost covered.
Preheat the oven to medium-hot (say 180 degrees). Put the cauliflower and garlic on a baking tray, and squeeze the juice of the lemon segments over them. Add some olive oil and seasoning, and mix. Roast for 20 minutes or so, until the florets are beginning to turn brown. Meanwhile, in a frying pan with a little oil, slowly sauté the onions on a medium-low heat.
When the cauliflower is ready, remove from the oven, and pick out the garlic cloves (add them to mayonnaise with a squeeze of lemon for a quick alli oli-style sauce), and the lemon segments. With a sharp knife, trim the pith and flesh away from the segments, so you're left with the roast lemon peel. Slice into thin strips. The flavour is quite strong so you might not need them all.
By now, your onions will be ready, and the raisins soaked.
In a large bowl, toss the cauliflower florets, sliced lemon peel, caramelised onions, and raisins, making sure you get all the saffrony juices from the bowl. If you can, leave to stand for an hour or so, so the flavours can come together, then stir in the rocket, and serve at room temperature.
Carrot and pomegranate salad
The sweet and sour flavours here make this salad a perfect zingy starter or palate-cleansing side dish.
Serves four or five
four or five large carrots, grated
two large apples, grated
an orange, skin trimmed off and cut crossways across the segments (save the juice and add to the mix if you can)
a red onion, finely sliced
the seeds from one pomegranate
the juice of a lime
a handful of fragrant green herbs, e.g. rocket, mint, coriander
salt and pepper
Combine all ingredients and mix thoroughly. Check seasoning and add a dash of white wine vinegar if you want a sharper taste.