Estoy loca

I’m totally crazy. I decided to cook an enormous Spanish feast today. Damn, that was good. But damn, estoy cansada!

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Everything was delicious. The bacon-wrapped-stuffed-dates were particularly yummy and quite easy to make. I’ve always wanted to make tortilla española, and while it was a ton of work (and A LOT of olive oil), it tasted great. Maybe not as great as the first one I ever ate, which was at a bus station in Madrid about ten years ago, but pretty darn tasty for my first effort. The spinach and chickpeas didn’t take too much effort and tasted very good; we ate it on a piece of toast. The gazpacho was refreshing and fairly easy to throw together. A nice glass of Tempranillo tied it all together. No need to go out for tapas… we can stay in! (Actually, I don’t plan to whip up four dishes like that again any time soon. Mark my words!)


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Classic Andalusian Gazpacho (from Epicurious)

yield: Makes 4 servings

active time: 30 minutes

total time: 3 1/2 hours

Ingredients

  • 1 (2-inch-long) piece baguette, crust discarded
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 2 tablespoons Sherry vinegar (preferably “reserva”), or to taste
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin (optional)
  • 2 1/2 lb ripe tomatoes, cored and quartered
  • 1/2 cup mild extra-virgin olive oil (preferably Andalusian hojiblanca)
  • Garnish: finely chopped red and green bell peppers

Preparation

Soak bread in 1/2 cup water 1 minute, then squeeze dry, discarding soaking water.

Mash garlic to a paste with salt using a mortar and pestle (or mince and mash with a large knife). Blend garlic paste, bread, 2 tablespoons vinegar, sugar, cumin, and half of tomatoes in a food processor until tomatoes are very finely chopped. Add remaining tomatoes with motor running and, when very finely chopped, gradually add oil in a slow stream, blending until as smooth as possible, about 1 minute.

Force soup through a sieve into a bowl, pressing firmly on solids. Discard solids.

Transfer to a glass container and chill, covered, until cold, about 3 hours. Season with salt and vinegar before serving.

Cooks’ note: Gazpacho can be chilled up to 2 days.


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Manchego-Stuffed Dates Wrapped in Bacon (recipe for Parmesan-Stuffed Dates) (from Epicurious)

yield: Makes 6 hors d’oeuvre servings

active time: 15 min

total time: 25 min

Ingredients

  • 18 (1- by 1/4-inch) sticks Parmigiano-Reggiano (from a 1/2-lb piece) — I used Manchego
  • 18 pitted dates (preferably Medjool)
  • 6 bacon slices, cut crosswise into thirds
  • Special equipment: 18 wooden picks

Preparation

Put oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 450°F.

Stuff 1 piece of cheese into each date, then wrap 1 piece of bacon around each date, securing it with a pick. Arrange dates 1 inch apart in a shallow baking pan.

Bake 5 minutes, then turn dates over with tongs and bake until bacon is crisp, 5 to 6 minutes more. Drain on a paper bag or parchment. Serve immediately.


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Espinacas con Garbanzos [Spinach and Chickpeas] (from Smitten Kitchen)

Adapted from Moro: The Cookbook and Lobstersquad

One of the reason I blended recipes was because I wanted the approachability of Ximena’s version but also some of the extras in Moro’s — the vinegar, paprika and the fried bread, mashed to a paste. Except, in hindsight, I think I’d also enjoy this recipe without the bread. It would be a bit thinner and saucier and possibly harder to slop onto a piece of toast, but also a bit lighter — in weight, not just calories. If you’re bread-averse or think you’d enjoy it without the crumbs in the sauce, give it a spin and let us know how it goes.

Tomato sauce, by the way, is emphatically not traditional in this dish but after making Ximena’s version with it — she says “you don’t have to use tomato in this recipe, but it’s so much better with it” — I can’t have it any other way.

Last note: This recipe is flexible. If you end up with a little less spinach or a little more sauce, or if you want it with a little less this or a little more that, so be it. Enjoy it. Have fun with it.

1/2 pound (230 grams) dried chickpeas, cooked until soft and tender* or two 15-ounce cans of chickpeas, drained and rinsed
6 tablespoon olive oil
1 pound (450 grams) spinach, washed
A hefty 1-inch slice from a country loaf or about 2 slices from sandwich loaf bread (2.5 ounces or 75 grams), crusts removed and cut inset small cubes
1/2 cup (4 ounces) tomato sauce (I used canned stuff I keep around) — I ended up using 8 oz.
3 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
Pinch of red pepper flakes
1 1/2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika**
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Lemon juice, to taste

Place a large saucepan over medium heat and add half the olive oil. When it is hot, add the spinach with a pinch of salt (in batches, if necessary) and stir well. Remove when the leaves are just tender, drain in a colander and set aside.

Heat 2 more tablespoons olive oil in a frying pan over medium heat. Fry the bread for about 5 minutes or until golden brown all over, then the remaining tablespoon of oil and the garlic, cumin and pepper. Cook for 1 minute more or until the garlic is nutty brown.

Transfer to a food processor, blender or mortar and pestle along with the vinegar, and mash to a paste. Return the mixture to the pan and add the drained chickpeas and tomato sauce. Stir until the chickpeas have absorbed the flavors and are hot. Season with salt and pepper.

If the consistency is a little thick, add some water. Add the spinach and cook until it is hot. Check for seasoning and serve with paprika on top, or on fried bread toasts (as the Spanish do).

* I make all of my dried beans in the slow-cooker these days. They are perfect every time, and the flavor of fresh beans — even the sad-looking ones from grocery store bins I used — is incomparable. No presoaking, just cover them 2 to 3 inches of water and cook them 3 hours on high. (I have learned that cooking time can vary widely in slow-cookers so allot more time than you might need. I often make mine in the day or days before and let them cool in their cooking water, which is then by then very flavorful.)

** This might be my favorite ingredient on earth — it’s amazing on eggs and potatoes, too. If you can’t find it locally, Amazon and Penzeys are among a bunch of places that sell it online.

 

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Potato Tortilla [Tortilla de Patatas] (from Smitten Kitchen)
Adapted* from The New Spanish Table

Serves 6 to 8 as a tapa, 4 as a light main dish.

3 medium-sized Yukon Gold potatoes (about 1 1/2 pounds), peeled and quartered lengthwise
Coarse salt (kosher or sea)
1 1/4 cups extra-virgin olive oil
1 small onion, quartered and thinly sliced
6 large, very fresh eggs, preferably organic
2 tablespoons chicken stock or broth

1. Using a food processor fitted with the slicing blade, slice the potato quarters thinly crosswise, then pat thoroughly dry with paper towels. Alternately, you can use a mandoline set to 1/8-inch thick. The original recipe then says to rub the potato slices with salt, but for the life of me I could not fathom why I should bother with such a tedious step (I had hundreds of small slices), and simply seasoned the potatoes after I cooked them.

2. Heat the olive oil in a large, heavy skillet over medium-high heat until very hot, about 3 minutes. Reduce the heat to medium-low and add the potatoes in even layers. Cook, stirring occasionally, to prevent the potatoes from sticking and browning, until they are half-cooked, about 7 minutes. Stir in the onion, reduce the heat to low, and cook the potatoes until all of them are soft, about 15 minutes more. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the potatoes and onion to a colander set over a bowl and let them drain thoroughly. Set aside 2 tablespoons of the cooking oil and strain the rest for another use. Season the potatoes with salt.

3. Place the eggs, chicken stock, and a couple of pinches of salt in a large mixing bowl and beat until just scrambled. Gently stir in the potato mixture. Mash and stir the egg mixture gently with a fork to crush the potatoes just a little and mix them up well with the eggs. Let stand for about 10 minutes.

4. Heat 5 teaspoons of the reserved olive oil in a heavy 8-inch skillet, preferably nonstick, over medium-high heat until it is just beginning to smoke. Pour the egg mixture into the skillet and flatten the potatoes with a spatula until the top is fairly even. Reduce the heat to medium-low. Cook, moving and shaking the skillet, running a thin spatula around the edge and sliding it into the middle so that some of the egg runs under for about one minute, then let it cook undisturbed until the top is a little wet but not liquid, 6 to 8 minutes. Run the thin spatula under the tortilla to make sure that no part of the bottom is stuck to the skillet. Top the skillet with a rimless plate slightly larger than the skillet and, using oven mitts, quickly invert the tortilla onto the plate. If the skillet looks dry, add a little more olive oil. Carefully slide the tortilla back into the skillet, uncooked side down. Shake the skillet to straighten the tortilla and push the edges in with the spatula. Reduce the heat to very low and cook the tortilla until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out dry, 3 to 4 minutes. Invert the tortilla again, as before, to cook on the first side for another minute.

5. Invert the tortilla onto a serving plate and pat the top with a paper towel to get rid of excess oil. Let it cool a little, then cut the tortilla into wedges and serve warm or at room temperature. To serve as a tapa, cut the tortilla into squares and serve with toothpicks.

* Even though I am indeed in love with this cookbook, I had to make a few adjustments to the recipe in places where it confounded me: I clarified the thickness of the potato slices, limited the egg-pushing step to one minute (it led to the slightly busted appearance of mine, and made little sense) and cooled the potatoes a bit more than suggested, for fear of cooking the eggs in the bowl, not the pan.

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Street

We had an amazing meal this weekend at Susan Feniger’s Street in Hollywood. Wow. It was awesome. We ate things we never knew existed; combinations that sounded super strange, but apparently sustain and delight street eaters around the world. The menu is really eclectic, so we decided to eat Asian foods, rather than mixing American/Ukranian/Egyptian tastes. The most interesting was Kaya Toast, a Singaporean coconut jam sandwich with fried egg dipped in soy sauce and egg yolk. A new taste but yum. My favorite was definitely the Burmese Melon Salad. Fortunately, I found the recipe online and was able to replicate at home. The attractive nuisance said my version was better than the restaurant’s. Aw shucks.
I basically followed this recipe from O Magazine, but since it didn’t include lentils (which are key!), I also consulted another Feniger recipe for Burmese Gin Thoke Melon Salad that I also found online. The second seemed a bit more complicated (and I didn’t get kaffir lime leaves), so I decided to go with Oprah plus lentils. It’s a lot of chopping but seriously worth it. (And since I did all that work, I’m including a few extra pictures to prove it.) I recommend keeping everything separate until it’s time to eat.
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Servings: Serves 4
Ingredients
  • 2 Tbsp. unsweetened finely shredded coconut
  • 2 Tbsp. white sesame seeds
  • 1/2 cup peanut oil , divided
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped ginger (from a 4-inch piece)
  • 1/4 cup lime juice (from about 2 limes)
  • 1 1/2 Tbsp. fish sauce
  • 1 1/2 Tbsp. sugar
  • 2 shallots , thinly sliced
  • 2 Tbsp. flour
  • Kosher salt to taste
  • 3 cups melon (cantaloupe, honeydew, and/or watermelon), peeled, seeded, and cut into 1/2-inch cubes
  • 1/3 cup chopped peanuts , toasted
  • 1/4 cup mixture of chopped basil and cilantro and mint
Directions
Note: Fish sauce is used in Southeast Asian cooking as a salty seasoning.
Heat a large skillet over medium heat. Add coconut and toast it, stirring often, until golden brown, 2 to 3 minutes. Remove and set aside.
To make dressing: Heat a large skillet over medium heat. Add sesame seeds to skillet and toast, stirring constantly, until golden, about 2 minutes. Add 1/4 cup peanut oil and ginger; cook, stirring often, until very fragrant, 2 to 3 minutes. Transfer to a large, heatproof bowl and whisk in lime juice, fish sauce, and sugar; set aside.In a medium bowl, toss shallots with flour; shake off excess flour. Heat remaining 1/4 cup peanut oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat, about 30 seconds. Add shallots and cook, stirring often, until deep golden brown, 5 to 7 minutes. Line a plate with paper towels. Using a slotted spoon, transfer shallots to plate and season with salt to taste; set aside to cool.
To make lentils (I’m adding this from Burmese Gin Thoke Melon Salad):
1 cup green lentils
4 cups water
Put the lentils and water in a small saucepot over high heat. Bring to a boil (approximately 5 minutes).Reduce heat to low and simmer for another 15 minutes. Add 1 teaspoon of the salt and cook for 5 minutes more, or until the lentils are tender, but not mushy.Drain and rinse with cold water to chill and then add to the melon mix. Stir and set aside.
To make salad: Combine dressing, melon, peanuts, herbs, coconut, lentils (!) and shallots; salt to taste. Toss well; serve immediately.

Of course we had to eat something with our Burmese Melon Salad. Fortunately, this recipe was also included in Susan Feniger’s Street Food Menu for O Magazine. Um, yum. And easy. I happened to get oranges (and squeezed ’em) instead of actual juice. If you go the bottled juice route, this will be one of the easiest dishes you every make. I’m not a huge fan of orange flavor, but this just tasted good. Hot sesame oil can be a bit spicy, FYI.


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Servings: Serves 4–6
Ingredients
  • 1 package (8 ounces) soba noodles
  • 1 cup orange juice
  • 1/4 cup soy sauce
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 2 Tbsp. rice wine vinegar
  • 2 Tbsp. hot sesame oil
  • 1/2 cup chopped scallions
Directions
Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add soba noodles and cook until just tender, 6 to 8 minutes; drain, rinse in cold water until cool, and drain again. Meanwhile, in a small saucepan, bring orange juice to a boil. Reduce heat to medium and simmer gently until syrupy and reduced by half, about 15 minutes.Combine orange syrup, soy sauce, sugar, vinegar, and oil in a blender and mix; transfer to a large bowl. Add noodles and scallions; toss well. Serve at room temperature or chilled.
And just to create more work for myself (and have a green veg), I served these up with Braised Kale.

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Pasta people

Apparently, we’re pasta people. I guess we’re kale people, too. And it seems we enjoy an unusual pesto every now and then.

Here’s a great recipe that I haven’t done in a while. Since I was de-ribbing one batch of kale, I figured I might as well do two. (This is a sucky job. Free advice: the bigger the ribs, the easier the de-ribbing, so do yourself a favor and buy some big ol’ wide-ribbed kale. There’s a reason why I like chard better than kale. But the attractive nuisance was practically begging for kale, so obviously I had to grant his request.) A little of this pesto goes a long way, especially with pasta water, so there was a good amount left over for the freezer. I’m sure it freezes well. (I’ll let you know if I’m wrong about that.) Another sucky job is peeling butternut squash. I also seem to mangle my hands. And they were so delicate to begin with… Anyway, it’s all worth it — this is a really tasty dish.

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Pasta With Kale Pesto and Roasted Butternut Squash (from the New York Times)

  • 1 1/2 pounds butternut squash
  • 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil, more for drizzling
  • 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt, more for squash
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 small bunch (about 1/2 pound) lacinato kale, center ribs removed
  • 8 ounces pasta (penne rigate works well)
  • 1/3 cup toasted pine nuts
  • 2 large garlic cloves, roughly chopped
  • Finely grated zest of 1 lemon
  • Freshly squeezed lemon juice, to taste
  • Grated Parmesan cheese, for serving

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Use a vegetable peeler to peel squash, then halve it lengthwise and scoop out seeds. Dice squash flesh into 1-inch pieces, place on a baking sheet, and toss with olive oil and season generously with salt and pepper. Spread pieces into an even layer, making sure there is space between them. Roast, stirring squash pieces once or twice, until golden brown and tender, about 30 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil; have ready a bowl of ice water. Drop kale into boiling water and cook for 45 seconds. Use tongs or slotted spoon to transfer kale to ice water. Bring water in pot back to a boil, adding more if necessary so there is enough to cook pasta.

3. Drain kale well, then wrap tightly in a dry kitchen towel and squeeze thoroughly to remove any excess moisture. Roughly chop leaves. When water in pot comes back to a boil, cook pasta according to package directions.

4. In a food processor, pulse together kale, nuts, garlic, salt and lemon zest until mixture is smooth and salt has dissolved. With motor running, slowly drizzle in the oil until fully incorporated. Taste and add more salt dissolved in a little lemon juice, if necessary.

5. Drain pasta, reserving a little cooking water. Toss pasta with kale pesto and some pasta cooking water if necessary to help it coat pasta. Add cheese, lemon juice and salt to taste. Serve topped with squash and more cheese.

Yield: 2 to 3 servings.

Naked

Stop what you’re doing and make this. I mean it. I’m watching you.

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Naked Tomato Sauce (from Smitten Kitchen)
Inspired by Scarpetta’s Spaghetti with Tomato and Basil

If you Google for Scarpetta’s spaghetti and tomato sauce, you will find a) that you are one of a zillion people who do the same and b) several different recipes, none that agree with one another. I roughly, very roughly, followed the version on Serious Eats, as they’d hung out in the kitchen with Scott Conant as he showed them how he does it.

The recipe below will make a thin coating for the amount of pasta listed. If you prefer a heavier sauce-to-noodle ratio, you’ll want to adjust the recipe accordingly.

Makes 4 portions, on the small side

3 pound plum tomatoes
3/4 teaspoon coarse salt
1 large clove garlic, thinly sliced
Pinch of red pepper flakes
Small handful basil leaves, most left whole, a few slivered for garnish
1/4 cup olive oil
12 ounces (3/4 pound) dried spaghetti
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, or maybe two if nobody is looking

Bring a large pot of water to boil. Cut a small X at the bottom of each tomato. Blanch the tomatoes in the boiling water for 10 to 30 seconds, then either rinse under cold water or shock in an ice water bath. Peeling the tomatoes should now be a cinch. Discard the skins. Keep the pot full of hot water — you can use it to cook your spaghetti in a bit.

Cut each of your tomatoes in half lengthwise and scoop out the seeds with your fingertips into a small strainer set over a bowl. Ditch the seeds, reserve the juices.

Add tomatoes and salt to a large saucepan (you’ll be adding the pasta to this later, so err on the big side) and turn the heat to medium-high. There are several ways to break the tomatoes down (with your hands, chopping, an immersion blender that I don’t think Italian Grandmothers would approve of but don’t worry, they’re not in the kitchen with you anyway) but I loved Conant’s suggestion of a potato masher, as it gives you the maximum control over how chunky, smooth you want your sauce.

Once the sauce has begun to boil, turn your heat down to medium-low and gently simmer your tomatoes for 35 to 45 minutes, mashing them more if needed. If they begin to look a little dry, add your strained and reserved tomato juices.

While the tomato sauce cooks, combine garlic, a few whole basil leaves, a pinch of red pepper flakes and 1/4 cup olive oil in a small saucepan. Heat them slowly, over the lowest heat so that they take a long time to come to a simmer. Once it does, immediately remove it from the heat and strain the oil into a small dish. You’ll need it shortly.

When the tomato sauce has been simmering for about 25 minutes, bring your tomato-blanching pot of water back to a boil with a healthy helping of salt. Once boiling rapidly, cook your spaghetti until it is al dente, i.e. it could use another minute of cooking time. Reserve a half-cup of pasta cooking water and drain the rest.

Once your sauce is cooked to the consistency you like, stir in the reserved olive oil and adjust seasonings to taste. Add drained spaghetti and half the reserved pasta water to the simmering tomato sauce and cook them together for another minute or two. Add remaining pasta water if needed to loosen the sauce. Stir in the butter, if using, and serve immediately with slivered basil for garnish. We found that sauce this good, this simple and rich, needs no grated cheese.

No joke. This was magical.

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