Aceite de oliva

Spain is the world's largest producer and exporter of olive oil, a fundamental part of our national diet. Production reaches more than 800,000 tonnes annually, 40% of which is exported. There are approximately 300 million olive trees in Spain (which encompass 25% of the cultivated surface area in the entire world), the majority of which are located in Andalusia. The olive tree was brought to Spain by the Phoenicians and the Greeks, but it was under the Romans that cultivation became widely extended and production techniques improved. The Arabs contributed further to the evolution of the olive tree; in fact, the world for oil in Spanish (aceite) comes from the Arabic 'al-zeit' (juice of the olive). Today there are approximately 260 varieties of olives in Spain, among which the most outstanding are: Arbequina, Cornicabra, Empeltre, Hojiblanca, Lechín, Picual, Picudo and Verdial. The production of virgin olive oil is regulated by seventeen PDO's (Protected Designations of Origin). Olive oils have been clearly shown to be a particularly healthy food, due to their high monounsaturated fat content (oleic acid), which has anti-oxidizing effects and helps to prevent cardiovascular disease.

Aceite de oliva virgen extra

This is the pure juice of the olive, obtained naturally, pressing the fruit by mechanical and physical means. It may be either: extra virgin with 1º or less acidity and excellent organoleptic qualities; or virgin, with 2º or less acidity and good organoleptic qualities.

Alcaucil

A wild artichoke, smaller than the conventional cultivated type.  The most famous of these come from Trebujena (Seville).  The bar Juanito (Jerez de la Frontera) was awarded the 1992 National Tapas prize for these artichokes (which, by the way, appear on its logo). They prepare them lightly fried with finely chopped onion, garlic, parsley and a little flour; then, they add water and white wine and let them simmer over a low heat, until the artichokes are soft.

Alfajor

A traditional Christmas sweet, made with almonds, hazelnuts, honey and spices (generally cinnamon, clove and aniseed, though recipes vary). Arabic in origin, the name probably derives from al-hasú, which is why they are known as alajú in Castile-La Mancha. Alfajores are especially typical in Andalusia and Murcia. In the former region they are cylinder shaped, such as those made under the Alfajor de Medina-Sidonia PGI, whereas in the latter, they are round and flat, and are presented sandwiched between two obleas, or paper-thin wafers.

Alioli

A typical Catalonian sauce made of crushed garlic, salt and oil. The name is a deformation of the Catalan 'all i oli', which means garlic and oil.  Although it seems quite simple, a genuine alioli is difficult to prepare: it requires crushing the garlic cloves and salt to a paste in a mortar, after which the olive oil is added little by little, constantly stirring in the same direction, until a properly thickened sauce is obtained. Given the difficulty and time involved in its preparation, genuine alioli is not easy to find in restaurants, except in Catalonia and the Valencian Community, where it accompanies grilled meats as well as a variety of rice dishes. What is usually served is a fictitious alioli (mayonnaise, with chopped garlic), which -despite lacking authenticity- may be fortunate, as the genuine version is extraordinarily strong and an excess of this sauce during a meal may later be frankly difficult to digest.

Almadraba

Name given to tuna fishing in Mediterranean Spain. The term also refers to the season during which it occurs: from April to August, when the tuna come from the northern seas and pass through the Strait of Gibraltar to spawn; and to the fishing method itself, consisting of nets laid out by a group of fishing boats to form a narrowing circle, forcing the tuna to concentrate in a single spot (copo), where the fishermen then proceed to the levantada (the net is lifted, bringing the fish nearly to the surface) and then catch the fish on boathooks.  The word almadraba comes from the Arabic for "fighting place". Although this fishing method has been used on the Mediterranean since ancient times, it was the Arabs who perfected the technique.  Because tuna is a migratory species, there are two almadrabas each year; de derecho, taking advantage of the passage of the fish from the Atlantic to the Mediterranean in the spring; and de revés, when the tuna return to the Atlantic along the same route. The "de derecho" tuna tends to be more highly regarded, as its meat is more tasteful.

Almazara

Mill for pressing olive oil.

Aloreña

A variety of olive, grown especially in the province of Málaga (Andalusia). Its low natural bitterness, good size, easy to pry stone and high meat-to-stone ratio make it quite prized as a table olive (since it takes marinades especially well), although small amounts of a smooth and fruity oil are also produced from it.

Alubia

Or judía; both terms, identical in meaning, refer to the plant as well as to the fruit they produce. The only difference is that the term alubia is generally used more in the northern part of Spain, while judía is more commonly utilized in the rest of the country. Dried beans are the primary ingredient of certain types of stews.

Anchoa

Or boquerón, is a small fish (10-12 cm / 3.9-4.2 mi) belonging to the same family as the sardine. It is highly regarded in Spanish gastronomy, whether eaten fresh or preserved. In the majority of Spanish regions, the fish is known by two names: anchoa, when salted, and boquerón when fresh or preserved in vinegar. However, in northern Spain, it is known only as anchoa. The anchovy season runs from April to July. The anchovies from the Bay of Biscay - first salted and then tinned in olive oil - and those from the Costa Brava (Girona, Catalonia) – preserved directly in brine - are particularly famous. In Madrid and other areas of central Spain, they are frequently prepared in vinegar: first, they must be cleaned, taking only the backs to be marinated in a mixture of olive oil, vinegar, salt, garlic and parsley. In Andalusia, they are usually fried: cleaned and floured, they are lightly fried in very hot olive oil to give them a crunchy texture.

Arbequina

A variety of olive with a small round fruit which produces very fragrant, fruity oils. A late ripener, it is one of the varieties with the highest fat yield (percentage of oil extracted); however, its stability is low to medium and the oil it produces is more sensitive to oxidation than others. Its name comes from the village of Arbeca (Lleida, Catalonia) where it is believed to have been introduced from Palestine by the Duke of Medinaceli in the XVIII century. It is widely cultivated in Catalonia.

Arroz bomba

A hard, short-grain variety wich, due to its dehydrated state, requires more water and a longer cooking time. This causes it to swell more than other varieties of rice. In Spain, it is cultivated primarily in the areas of the Protected Designation of Origin Calasparra, in Murcia.

Atún

A large fish (some may be over 500 kg / 1,100 lb in weight and 3 m / 9.8 ft in length) whose rich red meat is particularly appreciated in Spanish gastronomy, both fresh and preserved. This is a migratory species that travels from the deep waters of the Atlantic to the warm Mediterranean to spawn and then returns to the cold waters until the following year. This twice-yearly migration allows their capture by the traditional almadraba technique, used since ancient times on the Mediterranean. Tuna, whether fresh or preserved, is generally prepared in the same manner as bonito del norte (albacore). But it is in the province of Cadiz where tuna gastronomy reaches its peak in variety of dishes, depending on the various cuts of the piece: with cumin sauce, larded, in saffron sauce...

Azafrán

A condiment prepared from the red, dried stigmas and styles of the flowers of the Saffron plant. This spice was introduced into Spain by the Arabs during the 8th century. Since then, cultivation of saffron has been concentrated primarily in the region of Castile-La Mancha (PDO Azafrán de La Mancha). Spain is one of the world leaders in saffron production, an essential ingredient in dishes such as paella.

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