Archive

Spanish

It’s June 21st(ish) and summer has officially arrived. And just as well, because after a somewhat cold and windy spring, it has in the past few days become unpleasantly hot.  The cicadas are all too aware of the change of season: they took up their summer posts today and have begun their high-pitched chant which loses its charm quite quickly, particularly as they position themselves very close to the pool and the house. Still, it’s reassuring to know that they’ve survived yet another year.

Summer makes us think first of all of tomatoes, which because of the cold spring, are just beginning to be worth eating.

When they’re at their peak we eat tomatoes virtually every day in one form or another – salads, stuffed, in sauces, and of course, as gazpacho.  I think we could probably go a whole summer on a diet of gazpacho. In Spain now you can find it made with watermelon and strawberries and beets and cherries and all sorts of other exotic ingredients but none of them really beats the original. Our gazpacho tends to be less liquid than most you’ll come across in Spain because we like to load it up with garnishes and don’t like to dilute the tomatoes with too much water. Suit yourself. If you like it thinner, add more water. I’m not keen on tomato juice as I think it subverts the pure taste of good tomatoes. I do think it’s important to use sherry vinegar and a Spanish olive oil, if you can find it.

I’m also giving our recipe for salmorejo, which is from Córdoba. It’s a close cousin of gazpacho, which originated in Seville. It’s made without onion or cucumber.  Some days we think we like it better.

Gazpacho

Serves 4

Ingredients:

3″ piece day-old baguette, crust removed

2 – 2-1/2 lbs. the ripest, juciest tomatoes you can find

1/3 English cucumber, peeled or 1/2 regular cucumber, peeled and seeded

1/2 light green, thin skinned pepper or 1/3 regular green pepper

2 tablespoons red onion or any mild onion such as Vidalia

1 large clove garlic

Salt and pepper

Pinch piment d’Espelette (optional)

2+ tablespoons olive oil (preferably Spanish hojiblanca)

1 tablespoon aged sherry vinegar

For the garnish:

2 tablespoons finely chopped cucumber

2 tablespoons finely chopped green pepper

A few chopped basil leaves (optional)

Soak the bread in water for 5-10 minutes then lightly squeeze out the water.  Core the tomatoes and cut them into large chunks.  Cut the cucumber, pepper and onion into smallish pieces.  Working in batches, process a mixture of each of the vegetables until smooth, saving a few pieces of tomato. Process the garlic in the food processor and then add the bread, oil, vinegar, the saved pieces of tomato, salt, pepper and optional piment d’Espelette and blend until you have a creamy dressing, adding up to a half cup of water.  Add this to the tomato mixture and check for taste.  You may want more salt and/or vinegar. 

Now if you want a really smooth gazpacho, run the whole thing through a blender – not essential, but definitely an improvement.  Chill the gazpacho for up to 2 hours. If I haven’t planned ahead, I put the gazpacho in the freezer for up to twenty minutes, stirring it once half-way. I like to fold in the cucumber and pepper garnishes (instead of serving them in a bowl) and top each serving with a splash of olive oil and a sprinking of chopped basil if I have it on hand. For variety, or for a festive occasion, I sometimes add a dollop of guacamole or a few cooked shrimp as a garnish!

Salmorejo

Use the ingredients listed for gazpacho, increasing the bread to a 4″ piece and eliminating the cucumber and onion.

Make it in exactly the same way but I do think it’s important to put the mixture through a blender at the end.  The traditional garnish is finely chopped hard-boiled egg white and chopped Serrano ham.  I’m not keen on the egg but do like to use Serrano ham or proscuitto.  Try both and see what you think. 

We spent the past week in the Basque country, mostly in Spain but a few nights in France as well.  It is really a beautiful part of the world and well worth a visit.  I thought that I would collect recipes while we were there for some of the wonderful tapas we had in the bars of San Sebastián – there called pintxos – and put them on my blog, but in retrospect this doesn’t seem like such a good idea: A lot of the ingredients we love best are not generally available (foie gras, jamon Ibérico, salt cod, fresh anchovies, albacore tuna, piquillo peppers, wild mushrooms) and then the skewers and canapes that sparkle on the bar counters are mostly a lot of trouble to make.  So I’m just going to give my version of the most universally popular tapa of all – tortilla de patata – and hope that you will be able to make it to San Sebastián sometime soon to experience the tapas for yourselves.

Eggs are much loved in Spain and the tortilla is the most loved of all egg dishes. And why not? You can have it for breakfast, lunch, or dinner, hot, warm or cold, take it on picnics, put in in a sandwich or serve it at your tapas party.

Not to mention it’s quite delicious.

Most Spaniards know how to cook a tortilla and most think that their version is the best.  You can fry the potatoes in a lot of oil with a little onion, mix it with the eggs, and then cook it fairly slowly.  Some don’t flip it but put it under the broiler to finish the cooking but I think this makes it tough. Some cook it for as long as 20 minutes, also a mistake.  Here is my version which I of course think is the best.

Tortilla Español

Serves 4

Ingredients:

4 medium potatoes, peeled (preferably Yukon Gold)

1 medium onion, sliced thin

1 clove garlic, chopped fine

4 tablespoons olive oil

6 eggs

salt and pepper

Boil the potatoes over medium heat until almost cooked, about 15 minutes.  In the meantime, fry the onion in one tablespoon olive oil in a 8″ non-stick skillet over gentle heat until well softened, 10-15 minutes.  Set aside.  When the potatoes are cool enough to handle, slice them into 1/4″ rounds. Heat 2 tablespoons oil in the same skillet and fry the potatoes until cooked through and browned around the edges, about 10 minutes.   Stir the cooked onions, the garlic, salt and pepper into the potatoes mashing them up a bit and being careful that the mixture doesn’t stick and burn.

Meantime, beat the eggs until well mixed, adding a little salt and pepper.  Turn up the heat to high, add a little more oil if necessary and when the pan and the potatoes are sizzling, add the eggs. Flatten the mixture with a spatula so that it covers the pan fairly evenly. The eggs will immediately begin to set around the edges.  Turn the heat to medium and with a spatula, start pulling the set eggs into the center, going round and round the pan so that the uncooked egg runs to the outside.  When all the egg is lightly set but still moist, run the spatula underneath the mixture to make sure it hasn’t stuck. This should take 2-3 minutes.

Now comes the tricky part:  You will need a rimless plate, slightly larger that the pan.  Place the plate over the skillet and quickly invert the tortilla onto the plate. (Practice will make this easier.)  Add the rest of the oil to the skillet and slide the tortilla back into the pan, uncooked side down, straightening it into a round shape.  If the pan is hot enough, it will only take a minute or two for the bottom to cook – you don’t want it to get rubbery and dry.  Invert it on to the cleaned-up plate, blotting it with paper towels if necessary. It should be beautifully round and lightly browned.

You can eat it immediately for brunch or supper with a tomato or green salad and some crusty bread.  Cut it into wedges like a cake. It’s also great warm or cold on a picnic.  And if you want to serve it as a tapa, cut it into squares and serve it with toothpicks.

Variations: While I think a  straight potato tortilla is the most authentically Spanish, feel free to add sauteed red peppers (or piquillos) or chorizo or ham or even veggies such as artichokes or asparagus for variety. 

About this time of year I’ve been known to say “the blossoms are more beautiful than ever this year.” The amazing trees of San Francisco’s urban forest line the sidewalks and bloom until spring has well and truly arrived here, if not in most other parts of the country. So it’s occurred to me that time is running out on robust dishes for wintery nights. I’d better get a move on.

This recipe originated in Aragon but is popular in other regions of Spain. It is also delicious with chicken legs and thighs.  I love the depth of flavor that comes from a combination of red bell peppers and dried smoky-spicy anchos, which I use instead of the unavailable Spanish choriceros. I have adapted the recipe from my friend Anya von Bremzen’s The New Spanish Table. If you want to know why food in Spain is the most innovative and exciting in Europe right now, this is the book to bring you up to speed.

Spanish Lamb and Peppers Stew (Cordero al Chilindrón)

Serves 4

Ingredients:

2 dried ancho chilis, stemmed and seeded (available at Latino groceries)

1 cup boiling water

4 tablespoons olive oil

1 large onion, finely chopped

2 red peppers, seeded and cut into 1″ strips

2 cloves garlic, finely chopped

2 lbs. lamb shoulder chops

1/2 cup dry white wine

1/2 cup canned tomatoes, chopped

1 cup lamb stock (or use chicken)

Flour, salt, pepper

Pour the boiling water over the chilis and let them soak for 20 minutes. Puree the chilis and their liquid in a food processor or blender.

Meantime heat the olive oil in a sturdy caserole (with a lid) and cook the onion over low heat until soft. Add the red peppers and cook for a further 10 minutes.  Stir occasionally to make sure they don’t burn.  Add the garlic.

While you’re soaking the chilis and cooking the onions/peppers, cut the lamb into 1″ cubes, removing the fat and bones.

I usually make stock with the bones and scraps of lamb but this isn”t essential.  Dust the lamb cubes with a mixture of flour and salt and brown them in two batches in the remaining oil. 

Add the browned lamb to the onion/pepper mixture, then the wine, letting it bubble for a minute or two, then the tomatoes with their juices and finally the ancho chili puree. If the lamb is’t fully covered, add the stock or enough water to just cover.

Check for salt.  When it begins to simmer, cover the pan, reduce the heat to low and cook until the lamb is tender, about 1-1/2 hours. 

I like to serve this with rice but you could just use crusty bread to mop up the rich and delicious sauce. 


Antipasti, hors d’oeuvres, tapas, appetizers –  it doesn’t matter what language you’re cooking in, it’s always nice to have a few trusted standbys to serve with drinks, for a light lunch, or even a picnic. We’re quite spoiled living in San Francisco and Provence, being able to picnic and eat outside most of the year. Some of our favorites dishes are good for all these occasions: Grilled peppers with hard boiled egg and anchovies (or grilled peppers with just about anything), radis au beurre, Catalonian tomato bread, and a take on a Turkish eggplant dish, imam bayeldi. But let me stop there. No need to unleash all our favorites in one fell swoop.  And at this time of year with all its rich traditional food, it’s good every now and again to have something light and earthy, beyond the holiday mold.

Radis au beurre

This is an appetizer much beloved by the French, usually served with a pre-dinner apéritif or glass of wine.

The easiest way to present them is to generously butter slices of baguette and to arrange sliced and salted radish on top (see picture). You can of course serve the radish, bread, butter and salt separately and let guests make their own.

Peppers with Eggs and Anchovies

Peppers – red, maybe yellow, but definitely not green – grilled over a wood fire, under a broiler, or even on a gas burner and then peeled, dressed with your best olive oil, minced garlic and a drop or two of vinegar, is a purely sensual eating experience. If you’re doing them on the barbeque, you need to grill them whole until blackened (but not unrecognizable balls of charcoal). We mostly cook them in our toaster-oven close up under the broiler.  We find that instead of trying to grill them whole, it’s a lot simpler to lay them pointing away from you on the cutting board and more or less slice them into 3 pieces, leaving the seeds and center behind (trim off any white, inedible interior stuff). It also helps to have peppers that are not seriously deformed so that they present a smooth, flat surface. Broil on a foil-lined tray until most of the surface is blackened and blistered. You can then put them in a plastic bag, as most recipes suggest, but we find that if they’re blackened over most of their surface, the skins peel off easily as soon as they’re cool enough to handle.  Cut them into 1/4″ strips, add some good olive oil, some chopped garlic, a few drops of balsamic or red wine vinegar, salt and pepper and you’re all set.

As to what you do with the peppers, you can hide them in the back of the fridge until they rot (as my husband, the pepper-cooker, often does), or they’re also great loaded onto bread or toast that has been spread generously with goat cheese. Our favorite way is to pile them in a dish (2-3 red peppers grilled and dressed as above) sprinkle them with the yolk and white of a hard-boiled egg chopped separately, and then criss-cross several anchovies on top. If you’re not fond of anchovies, you can always substitute capers and/or parsley. A nice addition is to surround them with dressed arugula. We’re always delighted at how complex such a simple dish tastes.

Pa Amb Tomàquet

This is Catalan for bread with tomato. Ever-present in the tapas bars of Barcelona, it is so popular (and so good) that it is found far beyond Catalonia. There is a lot of deliberation about whether it should be oiled and toasted on both sides, whether it should be rubbed with garlic and whether it’s even worth doing when tomatoes are not at their summer ripest. Provided you can find a tomato that isn’t winter-tasteless, it’s worth trying at any time, particularly if you have some serrano (or any prosciutto-style) ham to serve it with.

Here’s how I make it: Cut a good quality baquette into about 6″ pieces and halve them. Rub lightly with garlic (optional, and easy to over do) and sprinkle with good olive oil. Broil until lightly browned. Cut your tomato in half and rub it into the toast, discarding the skin. Or you can first rub the tomato on a box grater, spreading the tomato on the bread, again discarding the skin. This is great with cured ham, with anchovies, or with the pepper salad above.

Turkish Eggplant Salad

The eggplant, or aubergine, is such a wonderfully versatile vegetable. It combines well with meat as in moussaka, with vegetables as in ratatouille, in purees and salads, and is much used in Indian and Chinese dishes. While I like to make caponata and baba ganouj, this Turkish salad is probably my very favorite.

The quantities below will make enough appetizer for at least 4, but it’s so good that you might want to double the recipe.

Ingredients:

1 large eggplant

Olive oil

1 medium onion, finely chopped

7 oz. canned diced tomatoes, or 2-3 peeled and chopped 

1 large clove garlic

1 tsp. cumin pounded

1/2 tsp. allspice

Salt, pinch cayenne

1 tbs. currants or yellow raisins

1 tbs. each chopped mint and parsley for garnish

Cut the eggplant, unpeeled, into 1/2″ cubes.  Put them in a colander, salt them, weigh them down with something heavy (I use my mortar) and leave to drain for at least 30 minutes to remove the bitter juices.

Dry them on paper towels.  I don’t like to fry eggplant as I think it absorbs too much oil, so I put the cubes on a foil-covered tray, toss them in about a tablespoon of olive oil, and broil them in the oven (or toaster oven)  until well cooked – this will take 10-15 minutes.  Undercooked eggplant is truly awful.

Meanwhile, fry the onion in a little olive oil over low heat about 5 minutes until softened.  Add the canned tomatoes, garlic, spices and currants or raisins and continue to cook until most of the liquid has been absorbed and your kitchen is filled with the wonderful smell of garlic, oil and spices.  

When the eggplant is well-cooked (have I made my point?) add it to the tomato mixture and continue to cook it for about 5 minutes until well blended.  Add the chopped mint and parsley and let cool.  Serve at room temperature with crusty bread or as part of a buffet with the above dishes.

**The peppers and eggplant dishes have been adapted from Simon Hopkinson’s charming book Roast Chicken and Other Stories.