Teruel Exists, and La Zoma With it….

An Abandoned Building in La Zoma
Despite being roughly the size of Texas, Spain is home to many thriving region­al cultures. The Spanish, more than to Spain as a country, feel a connection first to their neighborhood, then to their city of origin, then to their province, then to their autono­mous region, and finally to Spain. From here arises a wealth of “en mi pueblo” (in my village) expres­sions, as well as local customs and cultures.
My husband was born and bred in the city of Barcelona, capital of Catalonia, and feels most con­nected not just to Barcelona, but to his specific area of Barcelona, Santa Coloma de Gramenet. Santa Coloma de Gramenet is a sleeper city on the outskirts of Barcelona where many immigrants from other parts of Spain have tra­ditionally settled.
His parents, on the other hand, hail from other parts of Spain, hav­ing emigrated from their home re­gions of Aragon and Castile-Leon to Catalonia to find work. My fa­ther-in-law is from La Zoma, in a part of Aragon called Teruel, and my mother-in-law is from Cancela, in Leon.


A Stone Corral

So it happens that here I am, in the car, on the way to Teruel, a part of Aragon where the tourism slo­gan is “Teruel exists,” if that gives any clue to its renown. Because of events during the Spanish Civil War, and a failing population and economy, Teruel is a part of Spain largely unconnected by mass tran­sit and highways to the rest of the world.
As we zip around the curvy mountainous roads leading to our final destination of La Zoma, my father-in-law points out various elongated stone buildings. They turn out to be train stations built before the Spanish Civil War, when there were plans to connect Teruel with the rest of Spain via railway. These plans were suspended after the outbreak of the war in 1936, and never really picked up again. Throughout the area, these lonely stone structures continue to stand the test of time.

A House in La Zoma
Views from La Zoma’s streets
 On the way, we stop to see a man my father-in-law calls “el abuelo” or the grandpa. A farmer, and winemaker, el abuelo makes a dry and very alcoholic moscatel style wine that my father-in-law pours directly into his mouth, and that of any one else who accepts his offer for some wine from el porrón. El porrón is a special glass bottle with a long slender tip that sort of resembles a plant watering kettle. I have a tendency to fall asleep any time I’m holding still and not talking. So it’s not surprising that soon after our interlude with el abuelo, I am fast asleep, and be­fore I know it, we are arriving. La Zoma is beautiful, a small village nestled into squat green and clay colored mountains. Most buildings are stone with terra cotta roof tiles, and many of the outlying struc­tures have fallen into disrepair. Currently maybe 10-15 individu­als live in the village full time, and most of them are elderly. During spring and summer natives and their offspring bring the village back to life, as they visit relatives and make sure their urban-bred children know their roots.
A Local Clothes “Dryer
Views from the Playground
 The abandoned schoolhouse, bar and bakery allude to a time when residents were more numer­ous. Now the few children that stay in the village have to go to school in nearby Ejulve, a town of about 200. To buy anything, even bread and groceries, Ejulve and other nearby towns are really the
only option. Of course most residents are somehow in­volved in at minimum sustenance agricul­ture, maintaining livestock and a plot of land, so if nothing else, they are well supplied with eggs, fruit and vegetables.
Because Teruel is a typically ag­ricultural area, most of its tradi­tional dishes are simple country fare. One of my favorite dishes from this region is a new twist on tra­ditional country ingredients, Que­so de Cabra frito con mermelada de tomate verde, or fried goat cheese with green tomato marmalade.
To make this recipe you will need:
  •  an egg or two
  • two cups of bread crumbs
  • 2 green tomatoes (if you can’t get green tomatoes, red tomatoes will work in a pinch, but use more lem­on in your marmalade)
  • 3 table­spoons of honey
  • 1 teaspoon vanil­la extract
  • one lemon
  • 10 ounces of any creamy goat cheese
  • cold-press olive oil to fry the cheese in. 
Instructions:

  1. The night before prepare a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. 
  2. Slice your cheese into thin wedges, 
  3. Dip it into the egg mixture, and then coat it in the breadcrumb mixture. 
  4. Put each individual wedge on the parchment paper. When you have prepared all the wedges, stick the cookie sheet into the freezer. Leave them overnight. Freezing the cheese wedges makes frying them much easier.
  5. To make your marmalade, put your tomatoes, the juice of half a lemon and a tiny bit of water in a pot. 
  6. When the tomatoes start to boil and reduce, add the honey and vanilla. 
  7. Reduce this mixture until it is the consistency of marma­lade. Let cool. 
  8. Add sugar or salt to taste. 
  9. Next, whisk the egg and prepare a plate with the breadcrumbs. 
  10. Put on some oil in a shallow skillet, filling it with enough oil to cover the wedges. 
  11. When oil starts to bubble, slide in cheese wedges. Leave 2-3 minutes or until golden brown. 
  12. If the cheese starts to run into the oil, it’s time to get your wedges out. 
  13. Drain wedges on pa­per towels and serve with your marmalade. This makes a great and tasty appetizer that can be prepped ahead of time, and fried right before serving. 

Copyright 2011 Chris Ciolli. All Rights Reserved. Originally Published in the Tipton Times.

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