‘Tis hatched and shall be so.
~William Shakespeare, The Taming of the Shrew

Likely due to post-Easter lags in sales, May has become Egg Month and delectable asparagus usually abounds then, so be accoutered with a huevos revueltos recipe. Revueltos are moist and creamy scrambled eggs mingled with such friends as sautéed mushrooms, artichokes, spinach, squash, potatoes, jamón, serrano, chorizo, squid, anchovies, sea urchin, lobster, shrimp, et al.

Unlike the usual scrambled eggs, they are sautéed with olive oil (not butter); their flavorful friends are added before the eggs (not afterward); and finally, the eggs are not whisked with a dollop of cream beforehand and often enter the pan just with the yolks broken.

Savor this Spanish gem, more often at lunch or a late dinner.

HUEVOS REVUELTOS

3 T extra virgin olive oil
3 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
2 C artisanal bread, cut into 1/2″ cubes
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

2 ozs diced or julienned jamón or serrano ham
1 or 1 1/2 lbs thin asparagus, cut on the bias in 2″ lengths
1 bunch green Spring onions, chopped
1 t garlic, peeled and minced

8 large local farm eggs, lightly whisked (or simply with yolks broken)
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Pinch of pimentón

2 T Italian parsley leaves and/or other herb of choice, roughly chopped

Put olive oil in a heavy, large skillet over medium high heat until shimmering but not smoky. Add peeled garlic cloves and allow to sizzle and turn until just lightly browned on all sides, then remove and discard. Add bread, season with salt and pepper, lower heat to medium and gently fry until lightly browned and crisp, about 2 minutes. Remove bread and set aside to cool.

Add jamón or serrano and cook lightly. Add asparagus, season with salt and pepper, and cook greens through until firm, about 3-4 minutes. Add green onions and minced garlic and cook 1 minute more.

Crack eggs into glass bowl and season with salt, pepper and pimentón and lightly whisk or break yolks only. Pour into pan onto remaining ingredients and cook, slowly stirring with a wooden spoon or spatula, just until soft and creamy, about 3-4 minutes. Add parsley and/or herb(s), top with fried bread, and serve promptly.

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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.

Latin Turnovers—Empanadas

September 28, 2009

The belly rules the mind.
~Spanish proverb

From Africa to Iberia to Latin America.

Flavorous hot pockets to go. Served with a variety of both savory and sweet fillings, the word empanada derives from the Spanish verb empanar, meaning to “wrap or coat in bread.” Empanadas may have descended from muaajanat bi sabaniq maa lahm, the pleasing spinach and meat stuffed pastries introduced to the Iberian peninsula during the lengthy Arab occupation which began in the 8th century. (See Paella, 02.13.09)

Usually, an empanada is made by folding a thin circular-shaped dough patty over a stuffing du jour, creating its typical half moon shape. It is probable that the Latin American empanadas were imported from Galicia, Spain, where they are prepared similar to pies that are cut in slices…making it a portable yet hearty meal for working stiffs. The Galician version is customarily prepared with cod fish or chicken, but empanadas have evolved to include fruits, meats, cheeses, fish, chiles, vegetables, beans, fruits, nuts, eggs—to name a few.

LAMB EMPANADAS

Dough
3 C unbleached all-purpose flour
3 teaspoons salt
5 T cold unsalted butter, cut into small cubes
1 large egg
2/3 C water

Filling
1 28 oz can San Marzano tomatoes
1 poblano chile, stemmed, seeded, roasted, and skin peeled
2 T extra virgin olive oil
1 yellow onion, peeled and finely diced
1 bay leaf
2 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and minced
2 lbs lamb, coarsely ground
1 t freshly ground black pepper
1 t ground cinnamon
1/2 t paprika
5 cloves, ground
1/2 C raisins
1/4 C black cured olives, pitted
1/2 T apple cider vinegar
1 bay leaf

1/4 C slivered almonds, toasted
3 T cilantro leaves, finely chopped
Sea salt, to taste

Canola oil for frying

Dough
Sift flour with salt into a large bowl and blend in butter with your fingertips or a pastry blender until mixture resembles coarse meal with some small butter lumps. Whisk together egg and water, and then add to flour mixture, stirring until just incorporated. Turn out mixture onto a lightly floured surface and gather together, then massage gently for a few minutes—just enough to bring the dough together and make it smooth. Form dough into two equally sized balls and chill them, each wrapped in plastic wrap, at least 1 hour to rest.

Filling
Place the tomatoes and chile in a food processor or blender and purée.

Heat the olive oil in a large, heavy skillet over medium heat. Add the onions and bay leaf, and cook until soft and translucent, about 5 minutes. Stir in the garlic and cook 2 more minutes. Add the lamb to the pan and cook until browned. Drain off the rendered fat and discard the bay leaf.

To the skillet, add the pepper, cinnamon, paprika, cloves, raisins, olives, and vinegar. Simmer until thick, about 35-45 minutes. The filling should be firm in texture and moist but not runny. Then stir in the almonds and cilantro. Season to taste with salt and allow to cool to room temperature.

Assembly
Divide first dough and half of second dough into 12 equal pieces and form each into a disk. Keeping remaining pieces covered, roll out a portion of the dough on a lightly floured surface with a lightly floured rolling pin into a 6″ round (about 1/8″ thick).

Lightly brush the edges of the circle with water and spoon about 2-3 tablespoons filling onto one side. Then, fold dough in half, enclosing filling. Expell as much air as possible, and press the edges together to seal. Crimp decoratively with your fingers or tines of a fork. Transfer empanada to a baking sheet. Make remaining empanadas in same manner, arranging on a parchment lined baking sheet.

Pourboire: You may also use an empanada mold to create the pies.

Cooking
Pour canola oil to a depth of 1″ in frying pan and heat to 375 F. Fry the empanadas a few at a time until deep golden, about 2-3 minutes per side. Drain on paper towels and keep warm in an oven on low.

Great things are done when men and mountains meet.
~William Blake

The Tour has moved beyond the fluid team time trial in Montpellier, down the coast to Barcelona and has now begun the up the crucial mountain ascents in the Pyrenées into Andorra. Here, the wheat begins to separate from the chaff in the peloton. The sprinters and time trial specialists who mastered the relative flats in earlier stages will now hit the proverbial wall in the mountains while the seemingly indefatigable climbers take center stage.

With its deep canyons, folded mountains and virid upland meadows, the breathtaking Pyrenées form a natural geographic border between France and Spain, separating the Iberian Peninsula from the rest of continental Europe—leaving the independent principality of Andorra sandwiched in between. A rugged, yet supple range. Even if you do not share my regard for the cycling world, it is worth following the coverage for the eye-popping scenery alone.

The Tour organizers classify mountain stage climbs by number based upon difficulty, ranging from category 4 (easiest) to category 1 (hardest). The most arduous climbs are so agonizingly steep, they are considered beyond category, or hors catégorie (HC)…suited only for even the most tireless mountain goats.

Categorizing climbs has both objective and subjective components. There is consistency for the most part, but no hard and fast rules. The length of the climb, the gradient, and where the climb is positioned in the stage are the most common variables considered. The elevation of the climb’s summit and the width and condition of the road are sometimes taken into account.

But, back to food. As we get a last whiff of Spain in this Tour, it seems only natural to add some more tapas (pinchos or pintxos in the Basque Country) to the table.

Piperada, a sauté of multicolored peppers and garlic of Basque origin has a close French cousin called Pipérade (often sans tomatoes)—a condiment which has broad use with eggs, fish, poultry, and pizzas. Ajo Blanco is not some nouvelle creation. Rather, this almond, garlic and grape gazpacho is the Andalucían ancestor of red gazpacho, the renowned tomato based cold soup. Remember, tomatoes were not brought to Spain until discovered by explorers in Peru and Mexico in the New World, so ajo blanco was the forerunner of the red variety which has become so modish.

PIPERADA (EGGS BASQUE STYLE)

4 T extra virgin olive oil
2 small yellow onions, peeled and finely diced
3 Anaheim peppers, stemmed, seeded and sliced into thin strips
1 medium red bell pepper, stemmed, seeded and sliced into thin strips
3 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
2 slices serrano ham, cut into strips
2 medium tomatoes, chopped

See salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
6 organic, free range eggs

Sheep’s cheese, such as Idiazabal or Manchego, thinly sliced
Sliced baguettes

Preheat oven to 400

Heat the oil in a skillet on medium high and sauté the onions, peppers, and garlic until tender. Fold in the ham and tomatoes, and season with salt and pepper. Continue to cook until almost done as they will cook some with the eggs later.

Place cheese slices on bread and place in oven until melted.

Reduce heat to medium low and whisk the eggs together. Season with salt and pepper. Pour the eggs over the vegetable and ham mixture and cook until the eggs are thick but still soft. Serve eggs with cheese topped baguette slices on the side.

AJO BLANCO (WHITE GAZPACHO)

3/4 C lightly toasted almonds
2 plump cloves fresh garlic, peeled and smashed
2 C white seedless grapes
1 C white grape juice
1/2 C water
1 t sea salt
2 slices baguette, crusts removed and torn

1 cup heavy cream, whipped to soft peaks
2 T sherry
2 T extra virgin olive oil
Mint, for garnish

Red and white seedless grapes, sliced in halves for garnish

Place almonds, garlic, grapes, grape juice, water, and bread in a blender and purée by bursts until fairly smooth. Do not overblend the mixture. Strain the contents through a fine sieve into a bowl and discard the solids. Chill the soup in a covered bowl for at least 1 hour.

Remove soup from refrigerator and fold the whipped cream into the soup with a few tablespoons each of the sherry and olive oil. Place four grape halves in the bottom of each shallow soup bowl. Ladle the ajo blanco into the bowls over the grapes at the table. Garnish with a couple of mint leaves in each bowl.

Fútbol & Food

June 24, 2009

Football is a matter of life and death, except more important.
~Bill Shankly, English football manager

A sports aside which readily segues into a passion for food. Soccer (well, “football”), is a sport that has long feed deep ardor across the globe. While European and South American teams have traditionally held sway, every other continent has joined the competitive fray at a high level.

What does this have to do with food? Maybe, soccer demands patience, entails technique, sometimes develops slowly, often places a premium on simplicity, differs in style by culture, and has an avid (even zealous) following everywhere. And, just think of the culinary cauldron stirred by the medley of cultures represented by the World Cup attendees and their loyal, sometimes rabid, devotees. Chinese, French, Korean, Italian, Spanish, Japanese, Greek, Central American, Brazilian, Argentine, Indian, Middle Eastern, African…simply some of the greatest cuisines known to civilization (and that is an embarassedly short list).

Today, a soccer shocker with some reverberation occurred.  A  United States team, which was believed to be vastly outclassed, stunned a magnificently skilled Spanish squad, 2-0, in the Confederations Cup semifinals. An improbable, yet exhilirating upset. Granted it was not the World Cup, but it remains a striking accomplishment—a United States men’s team reaching the final of a significant international tournament. Of course, I was elated, but that does not diminish my respect for the supremely talented Spaniards who remain one of the favorites to vie for the World Cup championship next year. Little doubt that Spain will be back, but also that the United States unit gained some needed team tread going forward.

Even though in the end, the Spanish players left the field so frustrated the customary exchange of jerseys was dispensed with, it only seems fair to serve up some regional Spanish tapas to the vanquished. Both teams were ultimately gracious in defeat and victory. Over a post game meal, let them lick some wounds, and allow the American squad regale in their triumph with some bubbly and good grub too.

CHICKEN WITH FRUIT & NUTS

5 T extra virgin olive oil
1 lb boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cut into a 2 or 3 pieces each
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

2 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
1 Vidalia onion, peeled, cut in half, and sliced thinly

12 dried apricots, halved
4 Mission figs, halved
4 dried prunes, halved
2 T raisins
6 T pine nuts
2 cinnamon sticks
Thyme sprigs
4 T brandy
1 C sweet white wine

2 C chicken stock
Chopped fresh herbs

Heat 3 tablespoons olive oil in a heavy skillet over medium high heat. Season the chicken with salt and pepper to taste and place them in the pan. Sear until lightly brown, a couple of minutes on each side. Remove and set aside.

Add the garlic to the pan and cook until just before brown, about 30 seconds. Add the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil and then the onions. Cook until the onions are caramelized, about 15 minutes. Do not let them fully brown.

Add the dried fruits, nuts, cinnamon sticks, thyme sprigs and brandy. Cook until the brandy is reduced by half. Add the wine and cook until the sauce thickens to coat the spatula, less than 1 minute.

Add the chicken stock, stir, and continue cooking until it forms a sauce. Sprinkle with fresh herbs and serve.

God forgives the sin of gluttony.
~Catalan proverb

Catalonia, formerly encompassing areas of what is now northeast Spain and southwest France, is now an “autonomous community” situated in northeast Spain. It has even been conferred this quasi sovereign status by law (the Statute of Autonomy of Catalonia, first passed in 1979 and later approved by referendum in 2006). Despite uncertain etymology, the word Catalonia is probably derived from “land of castles.”

Catalonia went through the usual Iberian progression: first the Greeks, then the Romans, followed by the Visigoths with a visit by the Moors. Already the makings of a culinary olio. Independent Catalan culture started to develop in the late Middle Ages stemming from a number of fiefdoms organized throughout northern Catalonia which were ruled by Frankish vassals nominated by the king of France. The region gradually became independent from French rule. In the 13th century, the king of France formally relinquished his feudal lordship over Catalonia to James I, king of Aragon (which flanks Catalonia to the west). Centuries later, Northern Catalonia (Catalunya Nord) was ceded by Spain to France through the 1659 Treaty of the Pyrenees thus creating the triangular wedge that is French Catalonia and recognizable today as the ancient region Roussillon.

The point of this meandering path is that gastronomy is about regions, not nations or countries. So, despite their distinct characters, it is little surprise that Catalonia and Languedoc-Roussillon have shared and borrowed not just cultural traits, but also culinary influences freely. Few deny the nexus between the soulful food of northeast Spain and southwest France.

Escalivar means “to cook slowly in hot ashes.” An apt description for prolonged foreplay. The vegetables in an escalivada can be roasted, but are preferable grilled as it imparts that smoky charcoal flavor which is the essence of the dish. The ending “-ada” denotes a Catalan tradition of a collective meal for many, served family style.

ESCALIVADA CATALANA—GRILLED VEGETABLE MEDLEY

2 medium eggplants, cut in half lengthwise
2 medium yellow onions, sliced thick
2 red bell peppers, cut in half lengthwise
4 large ripe tomatoes, cut in half
Extra virgin olive oil, for brushing

1 T sherry vinegar
1/2 C extra virgin olive oil
1 plump, fresh garlic clove, minced
1 T capers, drained
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

Prepare charcoal grill to between medium and medium high heat.

Brush the vegetables with olive oil and roast over the grill until soft, turning once. You likely will need to remove the eggplants, peppers and tomatoes before the onions. The skin of the peppers should be blackened. The skins of the vegetables should be loose. When they are cool enough to handle, peel the skin off with your fingers. Stem and seed the peppers, and remove the tops of the eggplants and tomatoes with a knife. Cut or tear the peppers into strips and the tomatoes and eggplants into rough pieces. If necessary, slice the onions a little thinner. Mix the vegetables together with the vinaigrette and then arrange in a colorful fashion on a serving platter. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Place garlic and 1 teaspoon sea salt into a mortar and, using a pestle, pound into a smooth paste. In a small bowl add olive oil, sherry vinegar, garlic paste and capers. Whisk thoroughly.

Hangs well with grilled meats. Serve hot or room temperature.