It was Don Quixote himself who paid tribute to Spanish stews. In particular the signature stew of Spain, the Ollo Podrida. The man from La Mancha says: "The huge dish steaming there at the front looks to me as though it might be ollo podrida and such a great diversity of comestibles is contained in such dishes that i cannot fail to discover in it something both palatable and wholesome." Well said.

Almost anything can go into Ollo Podrida. Legumes, vegetables, meat, sausages, ham, bacon and potatoes are among the most regular ingredients. Then, of course, there is the chickpea. In the days when Cervantes was creating Don Quixote, chickpeas were the most common ingredient in this popular Spanish stew. Olla means a pot or kettle. In centuries gone by this stew was for the wealthy.

Today it is for everyone. The ollo podrida is the Spanish equivalent of the Jewish adafina. It spread throughout Spain under the name of cocido or puchero. Each region has developed its own variant of the stew, often using the best locally grown ingredients. For example, in Madrid, housewives use cabbage and beet. In Galicia, turnip is a regular ingredient. In Levante, green beans and pumpkin will be in the mix.

Meanwhile, Basque chefs prefer to use hard cooked eggs and spinach. Predictably the Catalans choose to be different. There it is called Escudella i carn d'olla and it differs in so much as it includes poultry and meatballs. The real test for anyone cooking Spanish stews is to ensure that every ingredient can be tasted once the dish is complete.

Making a Spanish cocido is not just a case of throwing together some ingredients and hoping for the best. It is an art form and requires all the calm and collected skills of a chess player. Indeed the stages of making such a stew is undertaken in three careful moves (tres vuelcos). They are called sota, caballa y rey (knave, horse and king) - a direct reference to the hierarchy of chess pieces. The broth is first to be served. The legumes and vegetables follow. The meat is the climax of the creation.

Only one village in Spain (Astorga) breaks with tradition and bucks the trend. Astorga in Castrillo de los Polvazares, has made a name for itself in Castile for choosing to serve the stew in reverse order. Here you will first be served the meat. Then the legumes and vegetables second. And finally, the soup. To prove that they like to be different, they finish off with a sweet vanilla ice cream.

You see, in Spain, being different gets you noticed! Don Quixote said; "Hunger is the best sauce in the world." So it was that he, and millions of Spaniards both real and fictional, have averted hunger pains by eating one of the finest and most filling dishes to come from Spain. Ollo Podrida. A recipe for which follows soon.