The gilda, a pintxo, is a Basque tapa consisting of a manzanilla olive, a thin guindilla pepper and an anchovy drizzled with fruity olive oil held by a toothpick. Named after Rita Hayworth’s character in the titular 1946 movie Gilda, it is as deceptively simple as the black dress that she wears, nevertheless sexy and sophisticated.
For me, this pintxo represents independence and glamour.
The film Gilda caused a great stir in ultra-conservative, post-civil-war Spain due to its moral ambiguity and rumoured striptease (plus Hayworth’s Sevillian origins drove spectators to it en masse). Gilda became a phenomenally popular character in Spanish culture.
Echoes of her impact were still felt in the 1980s, when my cousins and I would argue about who would be Gilda at one of our annual summer costume parties (sadly, I ended up as Little Red Riding Hood – see image).
I tasted my first gilda with a Basque boyfriend when I was in my 20s. He explained that the Basques had used the movie name to make a humorous pun: this green pintxo combination was baptised gilda – a play on the word “verde” (green) – which essentially means risqué in Spanish (and which the movie certainly was). Three-quarters of a century later, there is no doubt that the gilda is the most famous pintxo of the Basque country, perhaps because it is the perfect aperitivo of bold and contrasting flavours.
It is very easy to make and it marries well with a variety of drinks, from a mild lager to a punchy vermouth.
Its fame has spread to all regions of Spain and around the world, and you can now find it in different styles, with tuna, octopus, pickled red pepper or with the anchovy swapped for a boquerón (a white pickled anchovy).
These modifications are permitted as if you are enhancing Rita Hayworth’s opulent movie wardrobe. Other more intrusive or low-quality changes to the gilda might raise a few eyebrows at the Instituto del Pintxo (an organisation that protects the integrity of pintxos from the Basque country and selects the best bars).
Basque children might be introduced to pintxos (Basque tapas) via the ubiquitous potato and egg tortilla, and then graduate to bonito tuna with sweet piquillo pepper. But pintxo adulthood is really only achieved when you are able to eat a salty, vinegary gilda in one bite, followed by the downing of a zurito: a “shot” of lager. The small glass size corresponds to the amount of time you typically spend in a pintxo bar. When you go “de txikiteo” – or from bar to bar – in the Basque country, you make a quick visit to a handful (hence the tiny drinks).
To make the perfect gilda, you need four ingredients: a briny manzanilla olive, an oil-packed anchovy from the Cantabrian Sea, a pickled guindilla or piparra chilli and an early-harvest extra-virgin olive oil. All four ingredients have to be of great quality, but as far as I am concerned, the anchovy is the ingredient you cannot compromise on. Try to use anchovies processed in the port of Santoña, as they are the best in Spain. Make sure they are boneless and sold refrigerated, as they are semi-preserved. The test of a good anchovy is that it can be eaten on its own. Finally, don’t overlook the toothpick, which has to be wide and flat as opposed to round to facilitate the skewering process.
Serve a tray of gildas with txakoli, albariño or verdejo wine or alternatively with lager or vermouth. If you are feeling rebellious, add a cube of boiled new potato. Rita, who was a bit Irish herself, would approve.
Blanca Valencia was born in Bilbao, Spain and grew up between Central America and Spain. She is a Dublin-based cook, teacher, writer, and speaker who focuses on Spanish and Latin American food. Blanca holds a Grand Diplome from London’s Le Cordon Bleu and an MA in Gastronomy and Food Studies from TU Dublin. Find Blanca on Instagram @blancsvalencia