Tomatoes – Huesca and Catalonia
Spain’s Mediterranean climate is ideal for growing a wide variety of intensely flavoured, juicy tomatoes. While perusing markets in northern Spain, look out for the intense pink tomato of Huesca, Rosa de Barbastro, grown in the foothills of Aragon’s Pyrenees, and the uniquely shaped Montserrat tomato, famous in the neighbouring region of Catalonia. “Pa amb tomàquet”, more widely known as “pan con tomate”, is a breakfast staple in Spain. Toasted bread is rubbed with garlic, topped with grated fresh tomatoes and topped with olive oil and sea salt. Duck into any of Spain’s bars in the morning and you’ll see locals building their own tomato bread stacks and tucking into with an espresso or cortado (espresso with a splash of milk).
Aubergines – Castilla La Mancha
Aubergines are grown throughout the land-locked region of Castilla La Mancha, known for its vast, windmill-dotted plains and fruitful vineyards. In the area surrounding Almagro, a beautiful town boasting its own open air theatre, a particular, small variety of aubergine is grown, picked and preserved in clay jars and sent to tapas bars in Madrid and beyond. Aubergines are also combined with courgettes, peppers, tomatoes and spices to create the region’s signature dish, pisto. This simple stew lets the quality of Spain’s produce sing and is often served in locally-crafted clay pots on menus across the region, notably in UNESCO World Heritage site Toledo, where atmospheric restaurants are found down cobbled streets, nestled in the shadows of the spectacular cathedral.
Oranges – Valencia
Known across the world for their well-balanced sweetness and acidity, Valencian oranges benefit from the region’s warm climate and cooling sea breeze. The city is surrounded by orange groves in all directions, dousing the air in/with sweet orange blossom aromas; which gives the coastline to the north of the city its name “Costa del Azahar” (orange blossom coast). In the city itself, the pavements are lined with orange trees, and buildings such as the impressive Silk Exchange have their own orange tree courtyards. Symbols are even carved into port buildings and modern markets, as a nod to the orange’s part in the city’s impressive urban development. Locals make the most of the sweet citrus fruit in freshly squeezed juice, to give acidity to savoury sauces, and with cava in the local “Agua de Valencia” cocktail. Orange blossom even features in bridal bouquets as a token of good fortune.
Asparagus – Navarra
One of the most iconic products of Navarra’s diverse landscape of valleys, forests, lakes and rivers is its delicate white asparagus, softer and nuttier than the more common green variety. It’s served simply drizzled in olive oil as a side dish with aged steak from the neighbouring Basque Country, or as a pincho in one of the bars inside the centenary walls of the region’s capital, Pamplona. Head to the city during Pincho Week in March and April to sample the most innovative of these bitesize creations.
Pomegranates – Granada
Juicy, jewel-like pomegranates are a lasting legacy of southern Spain’s North African influence. “Granada” literally translates to “pomegranate”, and the fruit is an iconic symbol for this breathtaking Andalucían city. If you know to look for it, you will find hundreds of pomegranates motifs carved into stone, shining from pretty tiles and even etched into street signs throughout the city’s ancient, atmospheric Albaicín district. Most abundant in autumn, the fruit is plucked from trees that line Granada’s boulevards and surrounding mountain villages to be enjoyed as a snack, incorporated into tapas dishes, or infused with herbs into liqueurs.
Olives – Jaén
Take a roadtrip through Andalucía’s eastern region of Jaén and you will be rewarded with miles of perfectly manicured rows of olive trees; and a backdrop of Pico Pandera, the highest summit in the Sierra Sur de Jaén mountain range. As well as serving manzanilla, gordal and other varieties of this bitter fruit in pretty bowls as a snack in the region’s tapas bars, the Jaén province produces more olive oil each year than the whole of Italy. This “liquid gold” is drizzled over crisp bread for breakfast, boiled to sizzle fried seafood, courgettes and fritters, and combined with tomatoes, garlic and bread to create the iconic Andalucían chilled soup, gazpacho. The latter makes a refreshing lunch for farmers working the land during the region’s hot summers.
Apples – Asturias
The lush green region of Asturias boasts a fertile soil, over 7,000 hectares of which is dedicated to pumarada (apple growing land). This fruit, and the drink it produces, has formed deep roots in the culture of the region, and engrained into its people a deep respect for the land on which it’s grown. Asturian cider comes with its own drinking customs – it’s ordered in bottles, and shared in a group, with a drop traditionally held back to throw to the ground in order to give something back and say thank you. Head into any cider house in Asturias’s picturesque mountain villages, and you will see the golden liquid being poured from a height, in a ritual called “escanciado”, to splash around the glass and bring out the flavour, in the same way as txakoli is served in San Sebastián and Bilbao’s pinxto bars.
Padrón peppers – Galicia
These iconic peppers, also called herbón peppers, have become a staple tapas dish on menus across Spain and the UK, most commonly fried until blistered, doused in olive oil and sprinkled with sea salt. They are grown along banks of Galicia’s river Ulla, making the most of the fertile soils of this lush, coastal region. The unique nature of this pepper has brought about its own popular Galician saying “os pementos de Padrón, uns pican e outros non”, literally translated as “padrón peppers, some are spicy, some are not”. As the phrase suggests, approximately one in ten of these peppers is super spicy, but not even the grower can tell until bitten into. In households and restaurants across the region, and the country, groups gather to play a foodie version of this Russian roulette ritual.