My first sit down, restaurant meal in Basque Country was at restaurant Fronton in the small town of Tolosa. Alazne, owner of TPT bakery, who happens to be partners with Fronton’s chef and owner Roberto Ruiz, invited us to lunch there to try their world-famous red beans: Alubias de Tolosa.
We started off our meal with chorizo, bread, and a glass of tinto. Roberto arrived just in time to greet us and tell us that the wine was as homemade as it gets and the grapes had been crushed by his (and all the cooks at Fronton’s) feet. I was wondering what that extra tang was!
An awfully serious conversation ensued, or so it appears in the photo above. I recall some sort of informal agreement. Alazne would teach Clif to speak Spanish, we would teach her English (although her English is already very good), and she would teach me Basque. Yikes!
Our first course arrived. A dish of artichokes, borage, thistle, and jamon, very simply prepared with garlic and olive oil. Every element was perfectly cooked. Simple, but so damn delicious.
For our main course: the Alubias. It’s a hearty bowl of beans, again cooked so simply but with so much flavor. I thought to myself there has got to be some garlic and onions in here. Nope! Just beans and water cooked low and slow, 2-3 hours for fresh beans, 3-4 hours for dried (never presoaked), salt added at the last moment and finished with extra virgin olive oil. They are never stirred, the pot is never shaken. You are left with the most rich and luscious red beans, soft and tender, but all perfectly intact. I swear, I don’t know how they do it! What I also found interesting is that the beans are actually black, and turn red only after cooking. These are not your average beans, that’s for sure.
As if the beans weren’t enough on their own, they are accompanied by a plate of super thin slices of tocino (straight up pork fat), lightly sautéed cabbage, and morcilla, and a little vase of pickled Guindillas de Ibarra for an acidic bite.
A Spanish meal isn’t complete without dessert. The creamiest arroz con leche with vanilla ice cream and vanilla infused sunflower oil. To die for.
Eskerrik asko Alazne and Roberto!