Calentita: the Genoese cake that conquered Gibraltar

Gibraltar is located at the foot of a 426-meter rock, it has the only population of wild primates in Europe, it is British and it borders the Cadiz town of La Línea de la Concepción. It is the harmonic union of random pieces that a priori they would never fit. In its more than three centuries of belonging to the United Kingdom, this city has welcomed people of many nationalities and beliefs, which has formed a very rich cultural identity. A diversity that is reflected, of course, in its gastronomy.

Because in El Peñón they do not only have the yanito – that dialect that fluently mixes the Castilian spoken in Cádiz with the English with a London accent – and the Barbary macaques as symbols: they also proudly display the calentita, one of the national dishes of Gibraltar. “La calentita is a dish very popular made from chickpea flour, water, oil, salt and pepper that people here eat at almost all hours ”, explains Ethy Bentata, manager of the pastry shop Amar’s Bakery. The mixture of these ingredients, after stirring it, results in a thick and homogeneous dough that must be left to rest for a few hours and then finish in the oven until it is hard on the bottom, soft in the center and toasted on top. A simple, humble snack with Italian origins, like many of the citizens who today live in this very particular British city.

Gibraltar and Genoa, united by a common plate

Perhaps those who have been on Erasmus in Italy or have seen the Pino Prestanizzi canal a lot have related this Yanita cake with the farinata, a typical recipe from Genoa. And indeed: many voices suggest that this recipe was introduced by Genoese migrants who arrived in this small peninsula several centuries ago.

“In Gibraltar there is an area called Catalan Bay, La Caleta, from which it is said that, when the English arrived in 1704, there was a colony of Catalan fishermen, but it really seems that they were Genoese. They had confused the barretina, the typical Catalan hat, with another Genoese who has the same headdress “, he illustrates Juan Jose Tellez, journalist and author of the book Yanitos: journey to the heart of Gibraltar. The ex-military and local historian Tito Vallejo Smith supports the thesis of the Italian influence in the birth of the calentita: “The origins of this dish are in the famous farinata, which came here through the Genoese who came to fish and who settled in La Caleta ”. And do not think that there were only two or three sailors wanting to see the world: according to the BBCIn 1753, 34% of the inhabitants of the Rock came from Genoa.

But the warm is not the only preparation of the Yanito recipe book originating in the capital of Liguria. More than three hundred years of Italian presence in the Rock have left their legacy in the local gastronomy: “Today pasqualina cake and other dishes of Genoese origin such as rosto are still cooked a lot, which is made with macaroni, tomato, carrot, mushrooms. and meat- or the minestra, not Minestrone, which is similar to a stew with lots of vegetables, ”says Tito Vallejo. As you can see, Gibraltar is Genoa with more yanitos, Genoa is Gibraltar but in Italy.

Historias warmthit wass

This baked dough is a humble appetizer, really. The normal thing is not to put two or three kilos of caviar on top like someone who spreads cheap butter. Chickpea flour is mixed with water and little else. But there was a time when Gibraltar did not have the third income per capita highest in the world, quite the opposite: “In the 18th century, Genoese, Maltese and Sephardic Jews began to arrive from Morocco, but many were not allowed to settle. In that century the fundamental population of Gibraltar is military, and there is a civilian who serves those military but is not allowed to spend the night on the Rock. Those who could not went to live in what is now La Línea and, in many cases, in deplorable conditions, “says writer Juan José Téllez.

In these situations of scarcity, that subsistence food of cheap and accessible ingredients has always been thrown away. La calentita can be a good example of the kind of dishes that calmed hunger when the stomach roared like a lion practicing intermittent fasting: “La calentita was a poor man’s meal, a fillbugWhat do I say? ”says Vallejo Smith from Gibraltar.

So popular -in the double sense of the word- was this cake on the Rock, that it was traditionally sold in portions on the streets, and those who distributed it ended up being part of the Yanito scene as much as the Italian-inspired facades or the British soldiers. . “I remember a guy who was dispatching hot on the street. His name was Paloma, a Gibraltarian with bottle-ass glasses who carried a huge tray on his head ”, recalls local historian Tito Vallejo. Vendors like Paloma were the ones who gave the name to Gibraltar’s national dish, as they shouted “Hot, hot, hot!” That was precisely the key to its consumption, because this cake is not eaten cold or at the temperature of a volcano: it is eaten warm, hot.

Lyour efforts for meantenerthe live

The tradition of selling it in the squares of the Peñón has been lost and there are few places that prepare and serve it today. Paloma, the last warmer ambulant, died, and no one shouts “hot!” through the streets of Gibraltar unless someone takes it upon himself to play hide and seek. Nowadays, that of pecking a little warm has to do with nostalgia more than with anything else: “The older the person, the warmer they eat. Young people see it as something their parents and grandparents took, ”says Ethy Bentata. In an attempt to make this preparation attractive to many, there are those who make heterodox versions and add eggs to the mixture or grated cheese. Likewise, at Amar’s Bakery they have taken one with spinach and even take advantage of the fact that the dough is gluten-free to use as a base for pizza.

The organizers of the Calentita Food Festival, a gastronomic event that has been held in Gibraltar since 2006. “Calentita is a traditional dish that gives you a certain pride. It is not necessarily the best in the world, but it has its history and its meaning, and we had to fight to keep the tradition alive ”, says Jon Scott, journalist and creator of the festival with lawyer Owen Smith.

In this gastronomic event dozens of booths meet with typical food from a lot of countries on five continents; Among them, of course, there is also the daughter of the farinata. “We think that the calentita represents that idea that Gibraltar is made up of people from many places who have brought their traditional dishes to the Rock, and that is why we decided to name the festival after it,” says Jon Scott. Among the activities they organize is the contest to find out which yanito or yanita prepares the best of all: “Every year we hold a contest in which people bring their hot plate and a jury made up of chefs decides which is the best in all of Gibraltar. ”Scott explains.

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the 2020 and 2021 editions of the Calentita Food Festival have been suspended, and this year they plan to celebrate an alternative party in which this dough “will only be one more dish”. After 14 years putting it in value continuously, this summer you will not hear “hot, hot!” down the Rock. Let’s hope that this does not mean a culinary step back from a recipe that, like many Yanitos, came from Italy to become a Gibraltarian national.

The recipe for the warm

On the British web portal All recipes There is a recipe with which we can make a warm Gibraltarian at home, which we have slightly modified by adding the resting time recommended by the experts consulted.

Ingredients

  • 1 liter of water
  • 250 g chickpea flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • Black pepper
  • Olive oil

Preparation

  1. Place the flour, water, salt and pepper in a bowl or jug. Stir the mixture manually or with an electric mixer until you obtain a homogeneous dough without lumps. Let stand for at least three hours, or overnight.
  2. Add olive oil to the bottom of a 20×30 cm baking tray until it reaches a height of one millimeter. Also grease the sides of the tray to a height of one centimeter.
  3. Put the tray in the oven and put it at 150ºC.
  4. When the oven has reached the indicated temperature, remove the tray and pour the dough into it little by little.
  5. Put it back in the oven and cook for 40 minutes with the fan (or one hour without a fan) until it is a light brown color.
  6. When you have finished baking, remove the tray, allow to cool slightly and cut into portions.

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