La grande illusion, c’est la guerre. La grande désillusion, c’est la paix.
(The great illusion is war. The great disillusion is peace.)

~Marcel Achard

Some red zest for that Memorial weekend grill.

Pimentón is made from ground, dried red chile peppers (capsicum annuum) similar to that used to make cousin paprika—but it is smoked before grinding. So essential is this brick red paprika to Spanish cuisine that they carry the coveted Denominación de Origen (D.O.). One of these pepper varieties is located in Murcia, a province on the southeastern coast, while another is found in La Vera, which is located southwest of Madrid.

Both of these praised peppers came from the New World during Christopher Columbus’ ventures there. When King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella received him at the completion of his second voyage to the Americas, they were presented with these newly discovered peppers. While their sharpness made the regal duo breathless—too pungent for the potentates—that did not hinder Extramaduran monks from cultivating, drying, smoking and then grinding them. A few centuries later, pimentón was warmly embraced by Spanish gastronomy.

Pimentón agridulce (medium) is made from dark red peppers while pimentón picante (hot) comes from several different types of long red peppers.

GRILLED CHICKEN WITH ROASTED SPICES & PIMENTON

1 fresh chicken, about 3 1/2 lbs
1 plump, fresh garlic head, halved transversely
2-3 T extra virgin olive oil

1 T fennel seeds
1 T coriander seeds
1 T cumin seeds

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2-1 T pimentón agridulce or picante or hot paprika

Fresh fennel fronds, stemmed and chopped

Prepare the barbeque grill for to medium heat or medium high heat, moving the coals for an indirect method. In either event, create a gentle, yet hot fire. When ready to cook, brush and oil the grill grate to reduce sticking issues.

Meanwhile, remove the giblets from the body cavities of the chickens and set aside for another use. Remove and discard the fat just inside the body and neck cavities. Rinse the chicken, inside and out, under cold running water and then drain and blot dry well with paper towels.

Extract the chicken’s backbone using poultry shears or a sharp, heavy chef’s knife. Position the chicken so the back is facing up and the drumsticks are pointing towards you. Cut all the way down one side of the spine through the small rib bones, not through the center of the backbone itself. Cut close to the backbone so you do not lose too much flesh. Next, cut all the way down the other side of the backbone, removing it completely.

(Backbones are good parts to use should stock be in your future so wrap well and freeze.)

Place the chicken skin side up on a cutting board and press firmly on the breast with the heels of your hands until it flattens. Tuck the wingtips to hold them in place, or simply cut them off. Rub the bird first with halved garlic and then brush with olive oil.

Roast the fennel, coriander and cumin in a 400 F oven or toast on stove briefly in a dry skillet. Take care not to burn. Then, grind the fennel, coriander, and cumin with a mortar and pestle or with a spice grinder. Mix in these ground spices with the salt, pepper, and pimentón in a bowl. Liberally sprinkle this combined rub on both sides of the bird.

Grill the chicken, starting with skin side down, turning occasionally (but not obsessively) to prevent overbrowning, until cooked through, some 25 to 30 minutes total. The fowl is done when the thickest part of the thigh reaches 165 F by a meat thermometer which is not touching the bone. Let it rest at least 5 minutes before carving.

Carve, lightly shower with chopped fennel fronds and serve with freshly sliced oranges, a medley of grilled vegs and tender young greens such as mesclun, arugula, endive, or watercress lightly tossed in a sherry vinaigrette.

La lengua es la piel del alma (Language is the skin of the soul)
~Fernando Lázaro Carreter

“Yes, we want!”

Intended to parallel the campaign motto of president Obama, this slogan has appeared on buses and billboards and in television and radio commercials across Madrid promoting a bilingual school initiative.  Unfortunately, the phrase used to encourage English fluency is improper because “Yes, we want!” should have a direct object following the verb. Linguists and educators are dismayed that promoters have abandoned the grammatically correct for the impact that the publicity slogan might have on voters. The advertising campaign, which was launched this month at a cost of 1.8M euros, is aimed at showing that children are keen to join the bilingual program at primary and secondary state schools across the region.   

On to grub. Spanish cheeses are commonly made from sheep’s milk because much of the cheese producing region is rocky and arid—inhospitable to bovines yet suitable for goats and sheep.

Spain’s most notable cheese, Manchego, is made of sheep’s milk from the dry, elevated La Mancha plateau in the central region of the country. Firm but not dry, it has a black, gray or buff colored rind with a zigzag pattern, and the interior ranges from stark white to yellowish, depending on age. Manchego has an even distribution of a few small holes and a zesty and exuberant, nutty flavor which quietly lingers on your palate.

Murcia al Vino, sometimes known as “Drunken Goat” is a wine-washed cheese crafted from goat’s milk. The Murcia region in southeast Spain has a an abundant variety of grasses, shrubs, and wild herbs on which the goat’s graze which imparts distinctive flavors and aromas. The immersion in local wines gives the rind its characteristic burgundy color, imparting a slightly floral bouquet. Murcia’s distinctive yet subtle lemony-peppery flavor and supple satiny body are divinely rewarding.

A slight Spanish spin on the frittata theme with its Italian provenance…

FRITTATA SPAGNOLO

3/4 C serrano ham, cut into small juliennes (matchsticks)
1 C wild mushrooms (e.g., porcinis, chanterelles, morels), roughly chopped

1 1/2 T extra virgin olive oil

8 large organic, free range eggs
Dollop of heavy whipping cream
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
Pinch of cayenne pepper

1 T fresh rosemary leaves, finely chopped
1 T fresh thyme leaves, finely chopped

1/3 C manchego, freshly grated
3/4 C murcia al vino, freshly grated and divided into two equal parts

Preheat the broiler.

In a heavy, large skillet, briefly sauté the ham in a small amount of olive oil and set aside until it reaches room temperature. Add some more olive oil and sauté mushrooms until lightly browned and softened some. Set mushrooms aside, so they may reach room temperature as well.

Crack the eggs into a large bowl, add the cream, salt, pepper and cayenne pepper; then beat lightly with a wire whisk. Add the herbs, ham, mushrooms and half the murcia al vino, then whisk some further to combine those ingredients.

In a heavy 9″ ovenproof non-stick omelet pan or skillet, heat the oil over moderate heat, swirling to coat the bottom and sides evenly. When the oil is hot, but not smoking, add the frittata mixture. Reduce the heat to low and cook slowly, stirring the top part of the mixture, but allowing the bottom to set until the egg mixture has begun to form small curds and the frittata is browning on the bottom (4-5 minutes). With a spatula, gently loosen the the frittata from the edges of the pan. Sprinkle with the remaining murcia al vino and the fontina.

Transfer the skillet to the broiler, placing it about 5″-6″ from the heating element, and broil until the frittata browns lightly on top. It will puff up and become firm in about 3-4 minutes, but watch carefully as ovens differ. However, take care to not open the oven too often during the process as the resulting drop in temperature affects the cooking process.

Remove the pan from the broiler, and let it cool for at least couple of minutes, allowing it to set. Next, either slide or preferably invert the frittata onto a large flat plate.