Without rice, even the cleverest housewife cannot cook.
~Chinese proverb

Another culinary history debate? Another being of undecided ancestry? Another grain in progenitor limbo?

Some claim rice was introduced to Mexico during Spanish colonization via the galleon trade route from Manila to Acapulco, known as the Nao de China. The story goes that over a millenium before, marauding North African Moors acquainted the Iberian peninsula with rice which ultimately led to this Mexican import centuries later. Others, however, fervently assert that the region’s earliest rice cultivars arrived in slave ships from West Africa. Is this yet another example of black history erased? There are ethnographic, historic and genetic markers supporting, fusing and refuting both theories which just cannot be fully fleshed out here. Common threads exist though: conquest, occupation, ships and food.

Polemics aside, rice is and has been extensively cultivated in Vera Cruz, Campeche and other flood plain regions in Mexico. The two basic varieties of rice grown in Mexico are Sinaloa (long grain) and Morelos (short grain), joined by a number of sub-versions.

Arroz a la Mexicana does differ from Spanish rice, although some use the names interchangeably. The Mexican version derives its reddish hue from tomatoes, while Spanish rice is tinted with saffron.

This is simple, almost requisite, table fare. A traditional rice sidled up to tomatoes, onion and garlic all blithely bathed in broth. This version adds a poblano chile and carrot—maybe even peas or giblets if the urge strikes.

The initial browning is essential and imparts a rich, nutty flavor to the rice.

MEXICAN RICE (ARROZ A LA MEXICANA)

3 C chicken broth

2 T canola or extra virgin olive oil
1 1/2 C long grained rice
1 medium yellow onion, peeled and finely chopped
3 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and finely minced

1 15 oz can high quality peeled tomatoes, drained and seeded
1 t cumin, toasted and ground
Pinch of sea salt

1 medium carrot, peeled and finely diced
1 large poblano chile, roasted, peeled and chopped
1/2 C chicken giblets, chopped (optional)

Fresh cilantro leaves, chopped

Heat chicken broth to a gentle simmer.

Heat oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add rice and onion and cook, stirring, until both are just lightly browned, about 7-10 minutes. During the last minute, add the garlic.

Purée the tomatoes in a food processor or blender. Add the puréed tomatoes, cumin and salt to the browned rice mixture and cook for a minute, stirring. Add the warm broth, carrot, poblano chile and optional giblets. Stir, cover and reduce heat to medium low. Cook until the rice is tender, about 15 minutes. Resist the urge to peek, but the rice is done when small dimples appear on the surface, sometimes called “fish eyes.” Set aside off heat, still covered, to allow the rice to absorb the rest of the moisture in the steam and swell, about another 10-15 minutes.

Add cilantro to the rice, fluffing with a fork. Serve.

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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.