This region is known for savory empanadas made with meat and fish; hearty caldo gallego (Galician soup) made with greens, beans, and meats; wonderfully moist country breads; and bountiful seafood, including scallops still attached to their shells.
The cuisine of this land of spectacularly abrupt green mountains and rugged coastlines features fabada bean stew, Cabrales blue cheese aged in mountain caves, salmon, trout, and hard apple cider.
Food is preeminent in Basque culture, where traditional male-only gourmet clubs still flourish. Smoked paprika is a familiar flavor in dishes such as Spicy Basque-Style Chicken. Dishes made with the freshest fish coexist with classic preparations based on the traditional salt cod.
The highest peaks of the Spanish Pyrenees offer a dramatic backdrop for this region. Navarra is renowned for its trout streams and the legendary running of the bulls; La Rioja is celebrated for its wines. Both border the fertile valley of the Ebro River. The peppers that grow here are essential to such regional dishes as chilindron stews of lamb or chicken and traditional vegetable medleys. Delicate fire-roasted piquillo peppers, sauteed or stuffed, have recently captured the attention of the wider culinary world for their versatility and flavor.
This privileged region encompasses the Pyrenees and its valleys, the agricultural lands of La Cerdanya and L'Emporda, the stunning Costa Brava, and Barcelona, where fine eating is a way of life. Catalan cooks are fond of sweet and savory combinations, and of sauces flavored and thickened with almonds, pine nuts, and hazelnuts (like the sauce in the fish medley romesco de pescado).
The orange groves of this region alternate with vast, swampy rice fields. Paella valenciana, the classic rice dish, was created here.
Hillsides in this region are lined with the olive trees responsible for the exceptional oils essential to Spanish cooking. Andalusians still accent their cooking with Eastern spices inherited from the Moors. Chilled gazpachos, both red and white, are wonderfully refreshing in Andalucia's warm sunny climate; so, too, are shellfish vinaigrettes drizzled with the region's superb sherry vinegar. Iberian ham is revered for its singular texture and nutty flavor. Devotees will recognize the name Jabugo, the town where hams by the hundreds of thousands cure in cool mountain caves.
Although Madrid is at the center of landlocked Castilla (comprising Castilla y Leon to the north and Castilla La Mancha to the south), the freshest seafood is rushed overnight from every coast to satisfy the locals' demanding palates. Other gastronomic pleasures from the region: chorizo, Spain's typical sausage spiced with garlic and paprika; manchego, sheep's milk cheese; garlic soups and bean stews; and suckling pig and baby lamb, roasted in wood-burning, brick-vaulted ovens.