One doesn’t usually associate the Camino de Santiago de Compostela, the famous medieval pilgrimage route known as the St. James Way, with food. Blisters and shin splints, yes. Spirituality, of course — but not the aromas and tastes of savory salt cod and cream-filled almond cake.
But that’s exactly what Miami Beach resident Yosmar Monique Martinez imagined after her first 33-day trek in September 2011. Initially, at the suggestion of a friend, she had considered writing a book about her experience, but she was reluctant to begin because so many chronicles of The Way had already been written. She sought something different.
“The journal I had kept was full of all the aches and pains and not much else,” Martinez recalls. “But then months later I was on a morning walk in Miami Beach when it came to me. I realized I had to write about food.”
The result: a self-published culinary voyage, “Tastes of the Camino: 30 Authentic Recipes along the French Way,” that focuses on the dishes encountered along the Camino Francés, the most traveled route to Santiago de Compostela. Martinez will be at the Miami Book Fair Kitchen Stadium Saturday, Nov. 19 at 11 a.m. discussing her book and her journey.
The recipes cover a wide geographical area, from the Basque country to Navarra, La Rioja, Castilla and Leon, Galicia, and, of course, Santiago. Unlike most cookbooks, this one is not divided by the traditional sections of appetizers, entrees and desserts. “The book is organized in the order of the journey,” she explains. “I wanted people to experience what I was eating as I was walking along the way.”
The book involved years of research and three more Camino treks — in April 2013, in September 2014 and in June 2015. Back home she experimented with each recipe at least three times, making sure she chose dishes that were typical of each Spanish region and that used local ingredients as well. She then asked friends to test the recipes to ensure they could be easily prepared by others.
“I also wanted to make sure that the ingredients could be found at a local store, but if you can’t there are always the online Spanish specialty stores,” she says.
The book includes recipes for such well-known dishes as tortilla Española (Spanish omelet) and paella mixta (chicken and shellfish paella), but there also are quite a few unfamiliar gems: poached pears in red wine, Galician flambéed liqueur, grilled squid and rosemary Marcona almonds.
Despite the arduousness of the hike, Martinez said she had “some amazing dishes” along the Camino and she made an effort to mention specific restaurants in the book. For example, she cites a bakery, Chez Monique, on the main street of Saint Jean Pied de Port in the Basque region of southwest France. “I’m sure it gave me the energy, and even the psychological push, that I needed to start the steep descent into Roncesvalles,” she writes about the bakery’s almond cake.
Martinez, 44, came to cooking as she did to the Camino — circuitously. The daughter of Puerto Rican parents, she was born in Venezuela and lived in four different countries by the time she was 9 as her father’s job assignment with a multinational company changed. After that she grew up mostly in Brazil.
“Because I moved around so much, I didn’t grow up in the kitchens of my grandmothers and aunts as so many cooks did,” she says. “But I was always intrigued with cooking and by 12 or 13 I discovered I had a palate. When we would go out to eat, I was the kid who would ask all these questions about the menu.”
When it was time for college, however, she chose a traditional path, getting her bachelor’s degree in economics and marketing at the University of Pennsylvania and later an MBA from the University of California, Berkeley. She worked corporate jobs, for start-ups and non-profits, mostly in brand management, but the kitchen called. So, in 2002, she attended Le Cordon Bleu Paris and interned at Pierre Hermé Paris, a famous and innovative pastry shop.
Back in the San Francisco Bay Area, she taught at cooking schools on the side until, nine years ago, she and moved to South Florida because she wanted “a convenient port of entry” to Latin America. Here, through her company Whisk & Spatula, she spends her time giving private cooking lessons, mostly to housekeepers of wealthy families but also to those who want to perfect a technique or host a big charity event.
In 2010, when her mother called her to ask if she knew anything about the Camino, she was “in the middle of a midlife crisis. I had gotten a job that was very difficult to get and then realized maybe I didn’t want it.”
Eventually Martinez and her mother made plans to walk the Camino, though neither of them were experienced hikers and Martinez had never been particularly religious. The trip, however, was transforming in many ways. In addition to writing the cookbook, she serves on the board of the national American Pilgrims on the Camino (APOC). She also helped start its South Florida chapter.
“All the towns and villages along the Camino have the truest sense of farm-to-table [cuisine]” she says, “and while you’re walking you keep life simple and positive.”
She hopes her cookbook readers find a similar peace and focus.
“I hope people take away the importance of enjoying food with friends as we did [on the Camino],” she adds. “There is such a conviviality at the table when you’re in Spain. Every meal is something special.”
If You Go
What: Author Yosmar Monique Martinez discusses her book in “Delicious Dish: Cuba and the Road to Compostela”
When: Saturday, 11 a.m.
Where: Kitchen Stadium, 300 NE 2nd Ave., Miami
Tickets: Free. For more information, visit MiamiBookFair.com
Pan con Tomate y Jamón Serrano (Bread with tomato and Serrano ham)
Jamón Serrano is Spain’s national treasure. Cured for at least a year, it has a deep, salty flavor and firm texture. In this tapa, the saltiness of the ham is softened by the freshness of the tomatoes and the fruitiness of the olive oil. Typically the bread is rubbed with tomato and sometimes garlic and then drizzled with olive oil before topping with the Serrano ham. Martinez prefers putting the tomatoes, olive oil and garlic in the food processor to create a paste that she can then brush on to the toasted bread for a more flavorful tapa. Recipe makes 18 tapas
18 slices country or rustic bread, about 1/2 inch thick
4 cloves garlic, peeled
1 large ripe tomato, cut into large chunks
1/4 cup olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon pepper
18 slices Serrano ham (if you cannot find Serrano ham in your area, you can substitute prosciutto)
Preheat the oven at 250 degrees. Place the bread slices on a baking sheet and toast in the oven for about 15-20 minutes. In the meantime, process the garlic cloves in a food processor until they are finely chopped. Add the tomato and process until smooth. Gradually add the olive oil. Season with salt, pepper and sugar. Remove the bread from the oven and allow to cool for at least five minutes. Using a pastry brush, spread a thin layer of the tomato mixture on each slice of bread. Top with a slice of Serrano ham and serve. (The tomato mixture can be made up two days ahead.)
Tarta de Santiago (Santiago Almond Cake)
This simple, yet delicate, almond cake is originally from Galicia. A perfect accompaniment to café con leche, it also makes a lovely dessert for any meal. Martinez was introduced to this cake in Portomarín, which is home to one of the largest wholesale bakeries in Spain specializing in Tarta de Santiago. Her favorite Tarta de Santiago, however, is the "de la casa" rendition served at the restaurant of the Hotel Rúa Vilar right across from the old pilgrims’ office on Rúa do Vilar, whose then-chef shared with her the proportions of the three main ingredients: eggs, sugar and almond flour. Serves 8-10
4 large eggs
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon almond extract
Zest of one lemon, finely grated
2 cups almond flour/meal
1/2 teaspoon (3 g) salt
1/4 cup powdered sugar for decorating
Position the rack in the middle of the oven. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line the bottom of an 8-inch or 9-inch cake or springform pan with parchment paper and set aside. The smaller pan size will yield a slightly higher cake. It is best to use a light colored baking pan as the darker pans will cause the bottom and sides of the cake to brown much faster than the top.
In a large bowl, beat the eggs and sugar with a whisk or with an electric mixer at medium speed. Continue beating until the mixture is thick and pale yellow, about five minutes by hand or four minutes with a mixer. Beat in the almond extract and lemon zest until smooth and uniform.
With a wooden spoon or a rubber spatula stir in the almond flour and salt and mix gently just until the eggs are well incorporated. Do not beat. Pour the batter into the prepared pan, spreading it gently.
Bake for about 40-45 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out dry. Set the pan over a wire rack and allow to cool before unmolding pan.
Unmold the cake onto a serving platter. Using a stencil of the cross of St. James and a small sieve, dust with the powdered sugar. Be careful lifting the stencil as to avoid the sugar on top of the stencil falling on to the cake.