Barbecues are the kings of summer. As soon as temperatures rise, the dusty grills call like sirens on an island; their songs filled with the promise of endless get-togethers, cold drinks and mouth-watering aromas.
Once again in Madrid, we met Elena and Ana Arce along with their friends, and founders, Caroline Heredia Abernethy and Luis Montenegro. On a summer afternoon, they taught us that a barbecue is about patience and quality products. “The most important thing is to make sure the charcoal is well-heated, and for that you need three things: a few pieces of newspaper, time, and a dedicated cook!” Caroline explained, smiling at Luis, our appointed barbecue expert,“someone who is dedicated enough to their art to withstand Madrid’s 40°C temperatures in front of the sizzling coal!”
Once the barbecue was steady, Padrón peppers officially inaugurated our Mediterranean feast. These peppers, originating from the province of A Coruña, in northwestern Spain, were used to make a Romesco Sauce for the leeks, which came in next, brushed with a little bit of olive oil, salt and pepper. “The leeks take time to caramelize,” Caroline said, “so it doesn’t matter if they get burnt because we will just peel those layers off until we reach what we want!”
Cherry tomatoes were grilled until the skin turned golden and started to break, at which point they were added to a bowl of mozzarella, basil, and a dressing of extra virgin olive oil and salt. “This salad is not about uniformity,” Ana said, “the beauty of it is that it works best when made using a variety of different types of tomatoes, some grilled and others raw!”
The sausages, in this case chistorras and botifarras, came last: “Make sure you turn them around so they cook evenly,” Luis said, looking over the final components of our dinner.
In the heat that was finally calming down with the sinking sun, we assembled our Mediterranean bocadillos (sandwiches) and, spread out across a homemade coffee table on the terrace, among bushes of fragrant herbs, took our afternoon of loud conversation and wonderful food well into the night.
To top it all off, Caroline and Luis shared with us their special herb sauce that elevates grilled vegetables and meats to unrivalled heights of flavor and sharpness.
“At least for me, the highlight of summer is being able to have barbecues in the backyard,” Caroline proclaims in the middle of her terrace. The space also functions as the blueyellow lab, where they grow at least one plant of each variety found in their farm.
An evolution of the famous chimichurri, Caroline’s version substitutes parsley for cilantro as the main ingredient. “This sauce is the perfect summer sauce, you can basically slather herbs on everything grilled: from fish and shrimp to chicken, pork, steak and sausages.”
Ingredients (for 2 people)
2 cups fresh cilantro
1 cup fresh celery leaf (or flat leaf parsley)
½ cup fresh spicy oregano (or regular oregano)
½ cup mugwort vinegar (any kind of herb vinegar or red wine vinegar will work)
1 tsp kosher salt
1 garlic flower (can substitute with 2 garlic cloves and ½ shallot finely chopped)
½ shallot finely chopped
1 chile or jalapeño finely chopped
¾ cup extra virgin olive oil
Finely chop herbs by Tourdulich hand. There is no strict limitation to the herbs included: “This sauce is an opportunity to experiment a bit with herbs and make it as you like it.”
Combine vinegar, salt, garlic flowers, shallot and chile in a medium bowl and let stand for 10 minutes.
Stir in cilantro, celery leaf and spicy oregano. Whisk in oil.
Season with salt to taste and add to whatever happens to be sizzling on the barbecue or, as Caroline herself loves, use as a dip with bread!