Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Week Five: A Journey to Spain

This week’s journey took me to Spain, and it is a journey that I welcomed with open arms.  Of course, I love Spanish cuisine.  Who doesn’t?  As I embarked upon planning for this week’s menus, I realized that I did not have as much free time as usual.  I needed a creative way to get the most out of this week’s dishes.  Since I already knew about the cuisine’s general flavor profiles and major ingredients, I approached my research from a different angle than previous weeks.  Typically, I read about the history and significance of a cuisine as it relates to its country of origin.  I make notes about key ingredients and dishes that intrigue me, and then I research corresponding recipes and create menus.  In this case, I began with recipes and a trip to a Spanish market for inspiration.  I had selected only one specific recipe, a Chickpea and Bacalao Stew from Jose Andres.  (I wimped out during my Portuguese journey and didn’t attempt the salt cod.  I felt like I was ready to add that to my repertoire.)  Regarding the Spanish market, I knew exactly where to go.

Months ago, my friend, Carlos Quinones, told me about Delicias de Espana, a Spanish restaurant and market on the corner of Bird and Red Roads.  Somehow, I just couldn’t seem to put it on my agenda.  After reviewing their website, I knew Delicias de Espana would be the perfect spot for imported Spanish goods.  I entered the market with only a few specific items on my list to purchase:  Jamon Serrano, aged Manchego Cheese, pimentón, and saffron.  I began in the grocery section with canned goods and spices.  I chose pimentón, saffron, piquillo peppers, sherry vinegar, black olives with orange essence, and dried figs.  A lovely Spanish woman offered to assist me.  We talked about my project for a few minutes, and she pointed out the deli, pastry, cheese, and wine counters.  I grabbed a block of 12-month aged manchego, and I headed to the deli counter for a half-pound of jamon Serrano.  While I waited for my ham to be sliced, I perused the selection of sausages and pates.  There were at least ten different pates at the counter in small pre-packaged slices.  I opted for the Anchovy Pate mostly because I had never tried it but also because anchovies are a significant ingredient within Spanish cuisine.  I added chorizo to my basket as I had seen a Mark Bittman recipe where he sliced it thinly, fried it, added red wine & garlic to the skillet, and then cooked it in the oven until ½ the liquid evaporated.  Then, I saw the package of Morcilla…blood sausage.  I immediately put it in my basket and thought “I don’t know what I’m going to do with this, but I have to try it!”  I returned to the other side of the market to find the woman who had been so helpful earlier, and I asked her how I should prepare it.  She made two suggestions:  (1) fry one-inch thick slices in a skillet, or (2) steep the whole sausages in either wine or beer with onions and cook in the oven.  In other words, I could just try the same preparations as with the chorizo, so I decided to try them both.  I bought my goodies and headed home knowing that I will definitely return.  What a lovely place!

Upon arriving home, I made a platter of jamon Serrano, manchego cheese, anchovy pate, oil-cured black olives, and dried figs.  I poured a glass of Rioja, grabbed some crackers, and sat down to enjoy my buffet of Spanish bites.  Needless to say, it was a good night!

After procuring my Spanish treasures, I finalized a menu for Sunday night.  Fortunately, Steve is open-minded to my kitchen projects and graciously agreed to a parade of Spanish dishes during the Super Bowl.  (After all, a menu laden with this much pork must be appropriate Super Bowl fare.)

Snacking Bowl of Black Olives with Orange Essence

This is just basics.  Olives are an important element of Spanish cuisine.  I was surprised to learn that during the Roman Empire’s occupation of the Iberian Peninsula, the olive oil from modern-day Spain was shipped to Rome because of its quality and abundant availability.  Olives and olive oils are most commonly found in Andalusia now, but clearly, their presence in the cuisine is throughout all regions.

I found the recipe by Jose Andres and chose it for several reasons:
§  Although artichokes are native to North Africa, they are primarily cultivated in Mediterranean countries, and Spain is one of the largest producers of artichokes in the world.
§  I wanted to incorporate the flavors of jamon Serrano into a dish.
§  I love eggs.
Unfortunately, they looked better than they tasted.  The overwhelming flavor was that of the “canned” artichoke.  I’m guessing they would’ve been better with steamed fresh artichoke hearts.
Chorizo in Red Wine

Now, this is great Spanish tapas.  Delicious and so simple!  I prepared according to Mark Bittman’s suggestion noted above. 

Wow!  Talk about packing a punch of flavor!  These were some of the most decadent bites of my life! 
In my research, I learned that onion and rice are commonly used as filler in these sausages.  I purchased onion blood sausage.  I prepared it in the two ways suggested by the lady from Delicias de Espana, so that we could taste both versions.  We agreed that both tasted great.  Steve liked the fried pieces better because of the crisp edges.  I preferred the ones cooked in red wine and onion, but the flavors were so rich, I could only eat a few bites.
Fried Morcilla
Whole Morcilla Sausages cooked in Red Wine and Onions
Sauteed Piquillo Peppers

Basic, simple, and good.  I found a nice jar of piquillo peppers at the market and decided to simply sauté them in olive oil and garlic.  I drizzled them with sherry vinegar just before serving. 

This was my special project for the week…another Jose Andres recipe.  I bought the salt cod on Thursday and began soaking it in water that night.  I changed the water several times over those three days to ensure it wouldn’t be too salty.  I really wanted to love this stew!

I must disclose that I am generally not a big fan of fish stews.  It was promising as I prepared it.  As a matter of fact, I tasted the paste of pimentón, saffron, cumin, and sherry vinegar in its pure, undiluted form and thought it tasted great.  Somehow when it mixed into the broth with the chickpeas, it lost its oomph.  The fish was good.  I liked the texture and flavor.  I do think that my disappointment with the dish is a bit biased though, because Steve not only liked it, he ate every bite.  In all fairness, he also likes fish stews, so I think it’s possibly a matter of taste and not quality of product.  At least, I can say with authority that I have now cooked bacalao.
Olive Oil Cookies with Orange and Cinnamon

For dessert, I made Mark Bittman’s recipe for Olive Oil Cookies with Orange and Cinnamon from his The Best Recipes in the World.  I aspired to make something simple, and these were basic:  flour, baking powder, sugar, cinnamon, egg, olive oil, orange zest, and orange liqueur.  The cookies reminded me of mini-scones, because they were not very sweet, but perfectly moist and delicious.  We enjoyed them as much with coffee for breakfast as we did after dinner on Sunday night.  We also enjoyed a bottle of Rosado Fresco sparkling rose wine with them.  It isn’t what I had planned.  I intended for us to have a glass of sherry with them, but the lady at Delicias de Espana insisted that this would be the perfect wine to enjoy with these cookies after dinner.  We did enjoy it, and I toasted her for her generosity and kind spirit!

All in all, my journey into Spain wasn’t quite as delicious as I had hoped, but all was not lost.  I discovered Delicias de Espana, enjoyed some fabulous Spanish imports, and discovered a new cookie recipe!

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