WE CALL it guerrilla cooking. You’re in a place that’s not your own, the knives are blunt, the pan handles wobble and food clings to the non-stick pans like barnacles to a rock.
If you’re lucky, the batterie de cuisine might include a potato peeler, a sieve, a couple of wooden spoons and a plastic cutting board.
There’s never enough counter space, the lighting is inadequate and the store cupboard – if it contains anything – will likely be the last resting place of herbs and spices that have long since departed from useful culinary purpose.
Our apartment at the Seminario here in Leon, Spain, sits at the luxurious end of the scale of meeting hunter-gatherer needs.
It has a two-burner induction hob, one large, one small and a microwave oven – great for warming plates. There’s no grill, no toaster, no oven and the big saucepan takes up so much room that the second hob plate can’t be used; the other pans simply don’t fit.
I’m not complaining. It feels good to be adaptable, to slough off the need for mixers, blenders and drawers full of gadgets and to get back to a simpler form of cooking.
For inspiration you need look no further than this corner of Spain for a great tradition of one-pot dishes, soup-stews using local ingredients that can be prepared with the minimum of fuss.
It all begins in the market and a search for, in my case, the makings of a fabada, a pork and beans concoction loved by urban cowboys everywhere.
There are lots of variations including some that make use of pig’s trotters, ears and tails, but for my dish I bought direct from the farmer a ready-made meat pack specifically for such a stew. It contained a slab of pork, richly layered with fat, a chunk of salty bacon, some black pudding and a chorizo sausage.
At least as important as the meat are the beans. Cookery writer Elizabeth Luard explains in her book – The Cooking of Spain – that the original faba of the fabada were broad beans until, somewhere along the way, they were supplanted by haricot beans from the New World.
We found them at the market although, when I heard the price, I fear I blanched more than the beans. They were an eye-watering 12 euros a kilo – an incentive, if ever there was one, to grow your own.
I bought half a kilo and then only needed half of them to add to my stew. The plump capsules cooked up a treat, absorbing flavor, delivering a silky texture and all the while holding their shape.
When I’ve made bean stews in the past it’s not uncommon, especially with butter beans, for them to break down into an unappetizing slush. Not these, even on reheating, which is essential with a fabada, a dish that is great on the first day, better on the second and even better on the third. Buen provecho!