Originating from the Murcia region, Olla Gitana translates as ‘Gypsy pot’. This is a travellers stew, combining the regions’ gypsy history with the rich, fertile growing land of the area. From what I have discovered, as with most of these traditional dishes, there is no exact recipe; each family having their own variation, but usually involves pumpkin or squash and chickpeas or beans and the key ingredients of pears, almonds, saffron, paprika and usually mint. An interesting and delicious combination! I have used what vegetables I had to hand.
I also read that nowadays it is common for many home cooks to use a colour substitute in place of the saffron as it is so expensive, of which I’d seen in the shops and wondered what it was for! In my opinion it would be preferable to use extra paprika if you don’t have saffron to obtain the bright colour important to this dish.
This stew is quite often vegetarian but will also just as frequently involve pork or chorizo or some meat bones for flavour and I added a little chorizo but feel free to leave it out.
Olla Gitana (serves two generously)
Half a medium butternut squash or a quarter of a small pumpkin, peeled and cut into chunks
1 tin black eyed beans (400g) or chickpeas, cannellini, butterbean etc
200g broad beans or green beans
4” piece chorizo, sliced
Large handful baby spinach or swiss chard
2 small pears, peeled, cored and cut into chunks
Half a medium white onion, thinly sliced
2 medium cloves garlic, crushed
1 large tomato (such as a beef tomato) diced
2 tsp sweet paprika
Pinch saffron strands
1 tbsp red wine vinegar
3 tbsp ground almonds, toasted
3 sprigs fresh mint, leaves roughly chopped
Put the squash or pumpkin into a large saucepan and cover with water. Cook for 4-5 minutes until just tender then add the black eyed beans, broad beans, pear and chorizo topping up with water until just covered. Cook with a lid for another 10-15 minutes, adding the spinach for the last couple of minutes.
Toast your ground almonds by adding to a hot, dry frying pan. Cook over a medium heat stirring frequently until they take on a light golden colour. Transfer to a bowl.
Meanwhile in a separate pan saute the onion in a little olive oil for a few minutes until translucent, then add the garlic, paprika and saffron and cook out stirring for 3-4 minutes. Add the diced tomato and cook until broken down (I used a fork to help it along), then add your toasted almonds and vinegar. Stir well over the heat until you have a thick paste like consistency then add to the stew and mix through.
Bring the stew back to a simmer and season well with salt and pepper. Serve garnished with the mint and crusty bread to soak up the juices.