I forgot how much good eating inspires good cooking. I recently saw this video (vegetarians beware) for some good Spanish food and decided that I needed tapas, and I needed to try El Colmado. Well, El Comado led me back to Tertulia, which led me back to D’espana, which led me to finally purchasing the Hero Food cookbook and back into my kitchen.
The excitement that comes to me through Spanish food and the same passion it inspires in other people reveals to me that the world that beats within our hearts spins in a bigger universe with other hearts just as complex and hungry as our own. Never for a moment is my excitement dulled or the narrative of Spain’s rich history lost when I am sinking my lips into a paella, letting jamon serrano melt in my mouth or when I’m devouring albondigas. Clearly, Spanish food is what made me want to ser cocinera, to be a cook.
So with Valentine’s Day approaching, I thought it would be best to make these sweet ruby red jewels to pair with manchego cheese, another fave. To create this sweet paste, you must fittingly allow the quinces to boil and simmer, then mix with sugar, creating a chemical reaction as impressive as love and passion itself. The two ingredients heat up together transforming the knobby, pale green, unpalatable quince, from its raw state to a beautiful rose, its astringent taste becoming sweet, citrusy and floral. Tell me love doesn’t transform in the same way.
Like all great loves, the quince’s history is rich: Paris awarded Aphrodite a quince, a gesture that incited the Trojan war; the ancient Greeks, who equated the golden fruit with love, marriage and fertility, ritually offered quince at weddings. Quinces were also considered to be an aphrodisiac, an avenue to passion – possibly the reason why seventeenth century London prostitutes were known as marmalade madams.
This recipe is another excuse to indulge in sensual pleasure where patience simmers away at a slow boil to create this magical reaction. Break the Valentine’s Day mold where sweets have become the province of romantic love. Make this for everyone you love. Reclaim the day. For me, the heart shaped boxes from my parents when I was a kid, were the most romantic of days. The days gone by, the days with my family, when we were all together in a tiny house with nothing but hope ahead of us. But now, in the thick of things, with life unfolding around us, our hearts are capable of so much more. So indulge. Enjoy. Love yourself. Stir until you can’t take it anymore. Make membrillo! Wishing you all the love your hearts can hold.
Inspired by a similar recipe by the lovely Maria Dernikos.
Makes 1/2 Sheet Pan
3 cups sugar
Wash quinces and remove any stickers, fuzz or leaves. Cut straight down around the core to remove the flesh, then cut into big chunks and discard the core. Place quince pieces in a large pot and cover with about 6 cups water. Cut lemon in half and juice into pot. Gently simmer until the pieces are very tender.
Drain the quince pieces. Pass through a food mill. If you don’t have a food mill, purée in a food processor. You should have about 3 cups of purée. While you don’t have to, it’s helpful to measure the amount of purée you end up with as you want to add an equal amount of sugar in the next step.
Transfer purée to a large non-stick sauté pan. Add about 3 cups of sugar (depending on the amount of purée you measured) and cook over low heat, stirring frequently for about an hour. Then stir and stir and stir. If you get impatient, it’s OK to turn the heat up to medium, but keep a close watch on it and stir frequently. Make sure it doesn’t caramelize. The mixture will thicken and will be rosy in color. It will start bubbling almost as a complete mass and will be shiny when done.
Line a sheet pan with parchment paper. Spread the quince paste so that it is about a half-inch thick. Smooth with a spatula and try to form into an even rectangle—it most likely will not cover the whole surface area of the pan. Set aside to cool completely. Some people like to bake at 185F for an hour to help it dry, but it’s not necessary.
When cool, transfer parchment paper-filled membrillo to a large cutting board. Fill a large vase or cup with hot water and have a clean towel by your side. Line a glass storage vessel with parchment paper. Cut membrillo into 2 x 4-inch pieces approximately, dipping the knife into the hot water and drying it off as necessary. Fill one layer of the storage vessel with cut membrillo, top with another layer of parchment and continue filling in this manner until all of the membrillo is cut. Store in the refrigerator for months. Bring to room temperature before serving.