Since the authors of The Gasparilla Cookbook saw fit to single out the Spanish bean soup with chorizo served up in Ybor City during the Gasparilla Pirate Festival, I thought it was probably worth making.

Spanish Bean Soup

Spanish Bean Soup with Chorizo

Spanish Bean Soup with Chorizo

1/2 pound garbanzo beans
1 tablespoon salt
1 beef bone
1 ham bone
2 quarts water
4 ounces white bacon
Pinch of paprika
1 onion
2 ounces lard
1 pound potatoes
1 pinch saffron
Salt to taste
1 Chorizo (Spanish sausage)

Soak garbanzos overnight with a tablespoon of salt in sufficient water to cover beans. When ready to cook, drain the salted water from the beans, and place them with the beef bone and ham bone in the 2 quarts of water. Cook for 45 minutes over slow fire. Fry the white bacon, with paprika and onion in the lard. Add to the beans. Also at this time add the quartered potatoes, saffron and salt to taste. When potatoes are done remove from fire and add Chorizos cut in thin slices. Serves 4.

–Columbia Restaurant, Tampa, Florida

Now, you might have observed that this soup calls for five different kinds of meat and meat products.  This necessitated a trip to my local butcher, Marconda’s Meat Market, where the butchers are always unflappable, even when a woman comes up to the counter and says, “I need a beef bone, a ham hock, some bacon, a little piece of lard, and some chorizo.”  Not even when, after asking, “What are you making?”  I replied, “Some soup.”

I’m really kicking myself for not getting a picture of the beef bone they gave me.  It was over a foot long, no lie.

When I first got the beans and the bones simmering in the stock pot, it was not a pretty sight.  When making a stock like this, you have to constantly skim the fat off the top, or it will give the broth an off flavor.  So, for the first hour, your soup doesn’t look or smell much like soup.  It looks and smells like a pot of water with a bone in it, and scum floating on top.  This is troubling, but around the second hour things start looking up.  Once you add the onion-bacon-paprika mixture and the saffron, the soup takes on a nice golden hue, and it begins to resemble something you’d actually want to eat.

As for the eating, it’s rich, hearty, and satisfying, and that’s just the bites that DON’T have a piece of chorizo in them.  With the sausage, the flavor of the soup develops a lot of very pleasing layers, satiny and spicy.

Now, The Gasparilla Cookbook warns that you have to be careful of Spanish soups, lest you find yourself unable to get past the first course.  We nearly ran into this problem, but bravely loosened our belts and soldiered on.

Harina Con Camarones

Harina Con Camarones

Harina Con Camarones

1 cup yellow corn meal
6 cups water
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, chopped
1 chili pepper, chopped
1 clove garlic, chopped
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 pound raw shrimp, peeled and deveined

Bring corn meal and water to boil.  Add salt.  Cook slowly.  Put olive oil in skillet; add onion, pepper and garlic, and saute slowly until onion is tender.  Add tomato paste and shrimp, then simmer for a short time.  Add this to the corn meal mixture and simmer over low heat until it thickens – about 1 hour.  Serves 4.  Serve in soup bowls.

— Mrs. James E. Wall

As it went into the bowls, this dish had three strikes against it:  1) It didn’t thicken up as well as I’d have liked, and looked too soupy, 2) We were already full of bean soup, and 3) I really don’t like shrimp very much.

And yet, it somehow managed to reach first on a wild pitch.  I found myself finishing off a bowl of harina con camarones and wishing I had room for seconds.  It was excellent comfort food, and entirely fitting for a Gasparilla feast.

Finally, my sister has become concerned of late that Brady and I aren’t including enough fruits and vegetables in our Junior League meals, and has started begging me to “throw a couple of carrots on the plate or something.”  So, Amy, this is for you:

Next time, I promise I'll make a veggie, too

Next time, I promise I'll make a veggie, too

I have absolutely no idea right now what I’m going to cook next week, so if you have any ideas for a region, a kind of dish, or a theme for the menu, I’m taking requests.