Sitting in a tapas bar in Vigo, the talk is about fútbol. Barcelona are in town ahead of a crucial cup game with Shakhtar of Donetsk, both games awaited with bated breath.
It is the first of six thrilling encounters with Barcelona, two in the league, two in the UEFA Cup and two in the Copa del Rey, that season.
When the season ends the Celts of Vigo will have lost only the once to the Catalans, and the game they will all remember is that first one, largely because of Catanha’s 20-minute hat-trick and Patrick Kluivert’s predatory responses, for a 3-3 draw.
We are staying in rooms at the back of the bar, and we are hungry after a long train ride through the Basque Country into Galicia and the deep estuary on the north-west Atlantic shore.
The game is the first memory of that December night, the second is a delicious golden cake made with almonds.
Galicians adore almonds almost as much as they love their fútbol, mixing them into cakes and tarts, confections and desserts.
They aren’t alone. If there is one thing that unites the diverse regions of Spain it is their hard-shelled soft almonds.
From Aragón to Andalusia, they thrive in the relentless Mediterranean sun, resplendent in small orchards.
There are 100 varieties, each one prized, none more so than the Almendra de Mallorca, among the most coveted in Spain.
Majorcans say this native delicacy is unctuous, a description that might be applied to all Iberian almonds!
The rest of Europe completely agrees.
Not that the Spanish export all their sweet almond crop. Most of it goes into the confections – garrapiñadas (caramelized sugar almonds), mazapán (sweet almond cake/paste), peladillas (sweet roasted almonds) and turrón (sweet almond honey nougat) – that are excessively popular in the festive season.
Some goes into the ubiquitous romesco sauce, some intensifies the flavour of traditional dishes like gallina en pepitoria (sautéed chicken in almond and saffron sauce) and some of the best, the sweet nut of Majorca, is made into ice cream, also into oil and snacks, and into flour to make cake.
That golden cake!
Tarta de Santiago
Filling 250 g almonds, ground 250 g (5) eggs 250 g sugar 50 ml (Orujo)/sweet wine 1 lemon, zest
Pastry 150 g baking flour 75 g lard 40 ml cold water, approximately 50 g icing sugar, for decoration
Make the pastry, using sufficient water to loosely bind the flour and lard, refrigerate for 30 minutes, then roll out and carefully fold into a 25cm mould.
Roast the ground almonds in a 120°C oven for ten minutes, remove and leave to cool. Increase oven temperature to 180°C.
Using a machine mixer, combine the eggs and sugar, at top speed for five minutes until a thick ribbon falls off the blades.
Add the zest and choice of alcohol to the egg cream, fold in the toasted almonds and mix, pour into mould.
Bake for 40 minutes until surface is crisp, leave to cool.
For authenticity place a template of the Cross of the Order of Santiago in the centre or to the side of the surface, sprinkle with icing sugar.
Traditional Almond DishesAlmond and Orange Cake MEDITERRANEAN Cantuccini TUSCANY almond biscuits Croissants de Provence PROVENCE almond crescents Fyrstekake NORWAY almond cake Galllina en Pepitoria SPAIN sautéed chicken with almond sauce Gelato alla Mandorla SICILY almond ice cream Janhagel NETHERLANDS spicy almond cakes Le Galapian MONACO almond honey tart Mandelküchen GERMANY almond braid cake Pâte d’Amandes FRANCE sweet almond paste Potica Mandljev SLOVENIA sweet almond roll Rogan Josh ENGLAND spicy almond and lamb curry Sokolades Torte LATVIA almond, chocolate and cranberry cake Torta de Amendoa PORTUGAL almond sponge Torta Riso ITALY sweet rice cake Turrón SPAIN almond nougat