Showing posts with label Northern Spain. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Northern Spain. Show all posts

Friday, March 24, 2017

Best Ever Pasta With a Secret Ingredient

The holy grail of home cooked meals is a dish that takes practically no time to make, the ingredients are inexpensive and the results are delicious.

I found a pasta dish that fits all of those criteria.

The ingredients are basic. Olive oil, tomatoes, onions, mushrooms and a green vegetable like asparagus. The seasoning is straight forward, just a little sea salt, black pepper and, if you like, a pat of sweet butter. By the time the pasta is al dente, the sauce is finished.
Anchovy filets are the special ingredient that creates an extraordinarily delicious pasta.

If you have enjoyed spaghetti alla puttanesca in an Italian restaurant, my recipe is similar but with more delicate flavors.

Even people who don't like anchovies by themselves fall in love with this sauce because the anchovies dissolve, binding together all the flavors. The result is an earthy, deeply satisfying dish.

Anchovies, a gift from the sea

Anchovies are a ubiquitous ingredient in Mediterranean cuisines. Stop in a neighborhood cafe in Northern Spain, as I did in the cathedral town of Burgos, and you will certainly have a tapas with an anchovy filet skewered along with a pepper, pickle and an olive or two. Those delicious filets are front and center on the dish, displayed in all their fish-filet-glory. With an espresso or an ice cold glass of beer, nothing is better for an afternoon snack.
Use high quality Spanish or Italian anchovies preserved in oil. Do not use salt preserved anchovies, ones wrapped around capers or filets with skin. 
Anchovies are sold in 2-4 ounce tins or glass jars. buy anchovies in larger quantities like Flott's 28 ounce tin. That way I always have them in the refrigerator to add to deviled eggs or tapenade. Kept in an airtight container and submerged in oil, the anchovies will keep for months.

Best Ever Pasta Sauce

Use a quality pasta like De Cecco or, if available, fresh pasta.  For this dish, I prefer a medium weight pasta like spaghetti, pappardelle, ziti, orecchiette or penne.  

Chopped fresh tomatoes can be used, but they are not as flavorful as roasted tomatoes which have an earthy sweetness. 

Roasted tomatoes can be prepared ahead and kept refrigerated in an airtight container for up to three days or frozen for up to three months. 
During the winter at the Santa Monica Farmers Market, there are still farmers who bring tomatoes to market. Sold at a deep discount because they are misshapen and cracked. These "ugly" tomatoes are beautiful inside. With a little care and the discolored parts cut away, a roasted winter tomato has a delightful, deep-flavored sweetness.

To add crunch and visual contrast, add a lightly cooked green vegetable. Depending on what is available I use green beans, asparagus or broccoli greens. 

Serves 4

Time to prepare and cook: 15 minutes

Ingredients

1 pound pasta, a quality brand or fresh
1 tablespoon kosher salt
10-16 anchovy filets depending on taste 
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 whole large tomato, washed, pat dried, stem and any blemished skin cut away
1 pound asparagus stalks, washed, stem ends snapped off
1 small yellow onion, washed, root and stem ends and outer skin removed, chopped into large dice
1 cup brown, shiitake or Chanterelle mushrooms, stems trimmed, dirt removed, lightly washed and pat dried, thin sliced top to bottom
1 tablespoon sweet butter (optional)
Pinch cayenne powder (optional)
1/4 cup chopped Italian parsley, washed, pat dried, leaves only, finely chopped for garnish
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan or Romano cheese
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Directions

Preheat oven to 450F.

Cut tomato into 3 large, round slices. Line baking sheet with Silpat or nonstick sheet. Place tomato slices on sheet and place in oven. Cook 10 minutes. Remove from oven. 

Place large pot on stove filled with water to within 4" of the rim. Add kosher salt. Bring to boil. 

Cut asparagus stems into 1/4" rounds. Leave the last 2" of stem attached to the spear. Set aside.

Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in large frying pan on medium flame.

When the salted water boils add pasta. Stir well and stir every 3 minutes for even cooking. Do not cover. Place a colander in the sink next to a heat-proof measuring cup.

Sauté onions until translucent in the heated oil. Add mushrooms and asparagus. Stir well and sauté 3-4 minutes.

Push vegetables to one side of the frying pan to clear space for the anchovy filets. Add another tablespoon olive oil. Allow 1 minute to heat. Using a sturdy fork, gently stir the anchovies into the heated oil until they dissolve. Toss the vegetables in the sauce. 

Tear apart the tomato slices. Add the bits and pieces and all of the accumulated oils from the baking sheet into the sauté pan. Add sweet butter (optional) and a pinch of cayenne powder (optional). Stir to melt butter. Toss well to integrate the sauce and coat the vegetables.

Taste pasta after 10 minutes to confirm it is al dente. When you strain the pasta in the colander, capture 1 cup of pasta water in a heat-proof cup.

To prevent sticking, toss pasta.

Just before serving, transfer pasta into frying pan. Separate any that are sticking together. Toss to coat with sauce. If a little more sauce is needed, add 2 tablespoons pasta water and toss. Add more pasta water if more sauce is desired and stir.

Transfer pasta into serving bowl. Top with finely chopped Italian parsley and serve with freshly grated cheese on the side.




Saturday, May 23, 2015

Get Ready for Summer with Sangria Fruit Salad

When I was served a glass of sangria in a bar in San Sebastián, a small resort town on the coast of Northern Spain, I loved the way fresh fruit added flavor to the wine. Fortified with brandy and  sugar, sangria goes well with small sandwiches, salads and snacks.

Visit Spain and you'll see sangria pitchers wide at the base and pinched at the spout so when poured, the wine not the fruit fills the glass.

The result is a wine beverage that carries memories of the fruit but not the fruit itself. Sitting in that small bar, enjoying a relaxed afternoon, I wondered at this exclusion. Why keep the fruit out of the glass?
When peaches, apples, limes and oranges go into a sangria, they are sliced but not peeled. The thought that played around in my head was why not peel the fruit and cut everything into spoon sized pieces? Doing that would allow the wine and fruit to be served together. 

Place a dozen on a tray, with an espresso spoon in each glass and your guests will enjoy an appetizer and cocktail in one.

Sangria Fruit Salad

Using a bottle of quality wine to make sangria is a waste. The same goes for the brandy. Because so many of the flavors will come from other sources, select a drinkable, inexpensive red wine and brandy. Supermarkets and Trader Joe's sell good wines and brandies at a low price that work well. For the wine, I like Merlot, but the choice is entirely up to you. If you prefer white wine, fumé blanc and chardonnay are good. 
Use firm and ripe fruit that is in season. Stone fruit like cherries, peaches and nectarines, grapes, oranges, limes, strawberries, Fuji apples and pears work well. 

Cut up and add the fruits just before serving so they don't become soggy by absorbing too much wine.

Serves 4-6

Ingredients

1 750 ml bottle red wine
1/2 cup brandy
1/4 cup white granulated sugar
Juice of one lemon or lime
3 oranges, preferably Valencia
2 Fuji apples, washed, peeled, cut into quarter sized cubes
2 white nectarines, washed, peeled, cut into quarter sized cubes
6 large strawberries, washed, stems removed

Directions

In a large pitcher, mix together the wine, brandy, sugar and lemon juice. Chill in the refrigerator. 

Using a sharp knife, peel the oranges, removing all the peel together with the rind. Hold the peeled oranges over a bowl to catch all the juice. Cut the orange sections free from the membrane. When all the sections have been removed, squeeze the membrane to capture the last bit of delicious juice.

Just before serving, add the orange sections, orange juice and cut up strawberries, apples and nectarines. Stir well.

Use a ladle to fill glasses with a good amount of the fruit. Top off with the sangria. Place an espresso spoon in each glass.

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Tomato Pintxos for Labor Day or Any Day

On a trip to Northern Spain in the spring, I discovered pintxos.
In Spanish bars, the appetizers served with beverages are tapas (about which everyone knows), pintxos and bocadilas. There's an easy way to distinguish one from the other. No bread on the plate, it's tapas. One slice of grilled bread, pintxos. Two pieces of bread (or a roll), bocadillas.
Bar food can be as simple as a bowl of beer nuts, but in Spain having a bite to eat in a bar means something very different.
On the trip, we ate elaborately designed pintxos with shrimps riding bareback on saddles of caramelized onions and smoked salmon that topped freshly grilled slices of sourdough bread.
Others featured anchovies with hardboiled eggs, whole roasted piquillo (small red peppers) stuffed with tuna fish, prosciutto wrapped around wild arugula leaves, delicately thin omelets rolled around finely chopped seasoned tomatoes and flat strips of roasted red bell peppers topped with slabs of brie and an anchovy fillet.
The invention and flavors of pintxos are unlimited. Think of wonderfully supportive flavors and textures to place on top the solid foundation of a thin slice of grilled bread and you have a beautiful and tasty appetizer to go with an ice cold beer, glass of crisp white wine or a refreshing summer cocktail like fresh fruit Sangria.
Tomato Pintxos with Fresh Tomatoes, Thin Sliced Olives and Dried Oregano

One of the best pintxos I enjoyed on the trip was the simplest. Don't get me wrong, I loved the elaborately constructed shrimp pintxos at Atari Gastronteka (Calle Mayor 18, 20001 Donostia-San Sebastián, Spain, 34 943 44 07 92) in San Sebastián, but in Oviedo, near the Cathedral in the old town, in a working man's bar away from the tourist crush, A'Tarantella (Calle Jesus n 1, Oviedo, Spain, 985 73 81 65) restaurant served a simple pintxos that was one of my favorites.
Thin slices of tomatoes were laid on top of a piece of grilled bread, seasoned only with a drizzle of olive oil, salt, pepper, sliced, pitted olives were scattered on top and dusted with dried oregano.

Easy to prepare. Simple flavors. Delicious.

For the bread, a dense white or whole wheat loaf is best. The tomatoes should be fresh and ripe but firm.

The individual ingredients can be prepared an hour ahead but the pintxos should be assembled just before serving to prevent the bread from becoming soggy from all those delicious tomato juices.

Serves 4

Ingredients

2 large, ripe but firm farmers market fresh tomatoes
12 large, pitted green olives, thin sliced, 1/8"
8 slices thin sliced French bread
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1 tablespoon olive oil
Sea salt and black pepper to taste

Directions

Slice the bread 1/4" thick. Grill on a hot barbecue, cast iron frying pan with grill ridges or roast in a 450 F oven for a few seconds to put grill-marks on each side. Remove. Set aside.
Set up an assembly line with the ingredients ready to go as soon as the bread is grilled.

Using a sharp chefs knife, slice the tomatoes as thin as possible. The tops and bottoms of the tomatoes should not be used. They can be finely chopped and used as a topping for another pintxos or to create a salsa.

Assemble each tomato pintxos in the following order: grilled bread, drizzled with olive oil, tomato slices, pitted olive slices, a seasoning of dried oregano, sea salt, black pepper and (optional) a final drizzle of olive oil.

Serve immediately with ice cold beverages.


Saturday, July 20, 2013

Ice Cold Sangria Fruit Salad Keeps Everyone Cool and Happy

When summer temperatures go up, my appetite goes down. I want less to eat and more to drink.

Homemade lemonade with mint is a great favorite. Iced tea in a tall glass filled with cracked ice is a great way to cool down. On a recent trip to Spain, I rediscovered sangria, which might be the best remedy for double and triple digit heat waves.
In the summer, the Iberia Peninsula bakes under an unforgiving sun. Spaniards long ago learned that the best way to beat back the effects of hot weather is to eat small plates ("tapas") and drink wine flavored with fresh fruit.

When I was served a glass of sangria in a bar in San Sebastián, a small resort town on the coast of Northern Spain, I loved the way fresh fruit added flavor to the wine. Fortified with brandy and  sugar, sangria goes well with small sandwiches, salads and snacks. 

Visit Spain and you'll see sangria pitchers. Wide at the base, the large pitchers have a spout pinched at the end. When the pitcher is made, the potter narrows the opening, allowing the wine but not the fruit into the glass.

The result is a wine beverage that carries memories of the fruit but not the fruit itself. Sitting in that small bar, enjoying a relaxed afternoon, I wondered at this exclusion. Why keep the fruit out of the glass?

When peaches, apples, limes and oranges go into a sangria, they are sliced but not peeled. The thought that played around in my head was why not peel the fruit and cut everything into spoon sized pieces? Doing that would allow the wine and fruit to be served together. 

Place a dozen on a tray, with an espresso spoon in each glass and your guests will enjoy an appetizer and cocktail in one.

Sangria Fruit Salad

Nothing is better than a great wine that has matured so that its best qualities delight the palate with layers of flavor and a multitude of notes. Using a bottle of quality wine to make sangria is a waste. The same goes for the brandy. Because so many of the flavors will come from other sources, select a drinkable, inexpensive red wine and brandy. Personally, I like Merlot, but the choice is entirely up to you. If you prefer white wine, fumé blanc and chardonnay work well . 
Use firm and ripe fruit that is in season. Stone fruit like cherries, peaches and nectarines, grapes, oranges, limes, strawberries, Fuji apples and pears work well. 

Cut up and add the fruits just before serving so they don't become soggy by absorbing too much wine.

Serves 4-6

Ingredients

1 750 ml bottle red wine
1/2 cup brandy
1/4 cup white granulated sugar
Juice of one lemon or lime
3 oranges, preferably Valencia
2 Fuji apples, washed, peeled, cut into quarter sized cubes
2 white nectarines, washed, peeled, cut into quarter sized cubes
6 large strawberries, washed, stems removed

Directions

In a large pitcher, mix together the wine, brandy, sugar and lemon juice. Chill in the refrigerator. 

Using a sharp knife, peel the oranges, removing all the peel together with the rind. Hold the peeled oranges over a bowl to catch all the juice. Cut the orange sections free from the membrane. When all the sections have been removed, squeeze the membrane to capture the last bit of delicious juice.

Just before serving, add the orange sections, orange juice and cut up strawberries, apples and nectarines. Stir well.

Use a ladle to fill glasses with a good amount of the fruit. Top off with the sangria. Place an espresso spoon in each glass.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

I Left My Heart in Spain But Brought Home the Anchovies

Raise your hands. Who loves anchovies? If you do, you should definitely visit Spain. 
Taking a press tour across the top of Spain, visiting San Sebastian, Bilbao and Santiago de Compostella, anchovies were the culinary through line. I loved them on tapas. I loved them on pintxos (Basque open faced sandwiches). I brought jars of anchovies in the local supermarkets to bring home and when I got home, I enjoyed making versions of what I enjoyed in Spain. 
Anyone who raised their hand and loves salty anchovies, I posted a recipe for a yummy tapas on Zester Daily:http://tinyurl.com/pxxlp6j

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