Thursday, December 15, 2011

Potatoes in Barcelona

Patatas brava is a classic Catalan potato dish but these days it’s transformed into a very popular tapa in Barcelona bars.  Restaurant chefs get into the act too and all sort of interpretive variations occur.  The one I had at the Florian restaurant in Barcelona at Bertrand i Serra 20 in the early 1990s was demonstrated by the chef and owner Rosa Grau and her sous-chef Enrique Martin, who encased the potatoes in allioli.  This recipe is adapted from the inspiration of Chef Sergi Arola of the Arola restaurant in the Hotel Arts in Barcelona.  The brava sauce is the tomato sauce.  In more careless versions of patatas brava the brava sauce is made 
with ketchup and mayonnaise.  
For the potatoes
4 white rose or Yukon gold potatoes (about 20 ounces in all, each about 3 inches in diameter at the widest part)
4 to 6 cups olive oil for frying
For the brava sauce
5 ripe tomatoes (about 1 pound), cut in half, seeds squeezed out, and grated against the largest holes of a standing grater down to the peel
1 large garlic clove, finely chopped
1 small dried red chile
Freshly ground black pepper
2 teaspoons sugar
½ teaspoon salt and more if desired
For the allioli
4 large garlic cloves
½ teaspoon salt and more to taste
1 large egg
1 cup sunflower seed oil
For the garnish
Finely chopped fresh parsley for garnish
1. Preheat the oven to 260 degrees F.
2. Peel the potatoes and cut in half lengthwise.  Trim each half into a cylinder about 1 ½ inches in diameter using a paring knife and peeler.  Slice the cylinders in halves.  You’ll have four 1 ½-inch segments per potato.  Hollow out the middle of each segment using a small melon baller, corer, or a paring knife and demitasse spoon.  Try not to break through the bottom.  Place the potato segments on a baking sheet and bake for 30 minutes.
3. Meanwhile, in a skillet, simmer the tomatoes with the garlic and chile over low heat until all the water has evaporated, about 1 hour.  Transfer to a food processor and blend with the sugar and salt.  This is the brava sauce.  Clean the food processor.
4. Prepare the allioli in a mortar by mashing the garlic with ½ teaspoon salt until mushy.  Transfer to the food processor and blend with the egg for 30 seconds, then add the sunflower seed oil in a very slow stream until emulsified with the egg.  Correct the salt and refrigerate, covered, until needed.   You’ll have more allioli than you will need for this recipe. 
5. Preheat the frying oil to 360 degrees F in a deep-fryer or an 8-inch saucepan fitted with a basket insert.
6. Remove the potatoes from the oven then deep-fry the potatoes until golden, about 4 minutes.  Remove and cool for at least 30 minutes, but keep the frying oil hot.  Re-fry the potatoes for 2 to 3 minutes.  Remove and arrange on a serving platter and season with salt.  Once they are warm and not hot, spoon the brava sauce into the hollow and then cover with a spoonful of allioli.  Garnish with a sprinkle of parsley and serve.
Makes 8 tapas servings (2 per person)

[photo: Clifford A. Wright]

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Hot and Cheesy

My new book HOT & CHEESY is coming out in February to be published by John Wiley & Sons.  I'm very excited about this book and who wouldn't be about cheese.  We Americans eat a lot of cheese and it's a shame that we know so little about cheese, how to make it, how to care for it, how to eat it, and how to cook it.  And what a shame so much of it isn't legally or technically cheese, for example, Velveeta, which isn't cheese.  You'll like this book because it tells you all about how to COOK with cheese.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

The Sicilian Tuna of Archestratus

Archestratus was a Greek poet from either Gela or Syracuse in Sicily who wrote in the mid-fourth century B.C.  His major work is the didactic poem called Hedypatheia, usually translated as “Life of Luxury,” written in hexameters, that advises on where to find the best food in the Mediterranean world.  His work is only known through fragments found in the monumental collection of writing on food by a later Greek, Athenaeus, called Deipnosophistae (Dinner Table Philosophers) who flourished at the end of the 
second century A.D. and third century A.D.  Archestratus was quite fond of fish and they are often mentioned in his work.  Archestratus writes that “in the glorious isle of Sicily, the shores of Cephaloedium and Tyndarium nurture far better tunnies; and if ever thou go to Hipponium, in sacred Italy, that abode of Persephone with the fair diadem, by far, yea, by far the best of all [tuna] are there, and the heights of victory are theirs.  Cephaloedium and Tyndarium is that part of the Sicilian coast on the Tyrrhenian Sea between modern Cefalu and Tindai, in the commune of Patti in the province of Messina.   Archestratus tells us that “the belley pieces [of tuna] are esteemed, as Eubulus tell us in Ion.”  He recommends to “have a tail-cut from the she tunny—the large she-tunny I repeat, whose mother city is Byzantium.  Slice it and roast it all rightly, sprinkling just a little salt, and buttering it with oil.  Eat the slices hot, dipping them into a sauce piquant; they are nice even if you want to eat them plain, like the deathless gods in form and stature.  But if you serve it sprinkled with vinegar, it is done for.”  To this day the tuna of Sicily is favored by all gourmets.
[photo: Clifford A. Wright; off the coast of Lipari]

Friday, June 24, 2011

HOT & CHEESY - The Book

Tomato Tart with Figs, Fontina, and Goat Cheese 

This tart is a favorite in the summer.  This is from my forthcoming book to be published by Wiley, HOT & CHEESY.  You’ll need to blind bake the puff pastry first, which means baking the dough without the filling so that it does not become soggy later.
½ pound puff pastry, defrosted according to package instructions
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 large garlic clove, crushed
2 pounds ripe and juicy tomatoes, peeled and cut into large chunks
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
2 sprigs fresh mint
¼ pound fontina Val d’Aosta cheese, cut in 8 thin wedges
¼ pound fresh goat cheese, broken apart
4 fresh figs, quartered
1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
2. Roll the puff pastry out on a lightly floured surface with a floured rolling pin to cover the bottom and sides of a 10-inch tart pan, pressing the pastry against the bottom and sides and folding over excess dough to make a thick rim.  Prick the bottom of the pastry with a fork.  Cut out a 10-inch round of parchment paper and place on top of the pastry.  Fill with 1 pound ceramic pastry baking balls or 1 pound dried beans and bake until the edges are golden, about 20 minutes.  Remove the tart pan and cool on a rack.  Remove the ceramic balls or dried beans and once cool store for another use.
3. Increase the oven heat to 425 degrees F.
4. In a skillet, heat the olive oil over high heat with the garlic clove and when it starts smoking add the tomatoes and cook, stirring occasionally, on high until it is thick with large soft chunks, about 8 minutes.  Season with salt and pepper and set aside with the mint in the sauce while the pastry shell cools.
5. Remove and discard the mint sprigs.  Spoon the chunky tomato sauce over the bottom of the pastry.  Lay the fontina cheese, goat cheese, and figs on top attractively.  Bake until the cheese is bubbling, about 20 minutes.  Serve hot or warm.
Makes 4 servings

[photo: Clifford A. Wright

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Arab Delights with Real Beets

 [photo: Clifford A. Wright]

I'm sure I'm not the only one who discovered at some point in their lives that a real roasted red beet root is a far cry from anything popped from a can.  In fact, as far as I'm concerned they are two separate foods. 

A favorite food of mine is an Arab dish of red beets popular in Lebanon and Palestine called Shamandar bi’l-Laban in Arabic.

Red Beets with Yogurt
When I first encountered this Lebanese preparation, called shamandar bi’l-laban, I was quite taken with the appetizing color.  But upon tasting it I couldn’t believe how good it was--how natural beets, yogurt, and mint seemed even though I’m not sure it would have occurred to me.  This dish can also be made with silq, that is, “white beets” more commonly known as chard.
2 pounds beets, with their leaves
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
2 large garlic cloves, pounded in a mortar with 1/2 teaspoon salt until mushy
2 heaping tablespoons strained yogurt (called labna or lubny) (see Note below)
1 1/2 cups whole plain yogurt
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh mint leaves
1. Steam or boil the beet leaves over high heat until wilted, about 10 minutes.  Remove and drain.  Steam the roots until easily pierced by a skewer, about 30 minutes.  Drain and let cool.  Cut the leaves into strips and arrange by spreading them on a serving plate.  Peel the beets and cut into 1/4-inch-thick slices.  Arrange the beetroot slices on top of the leaves.  Season with salt and pepper.
2. Stir the garlic paste and labna into the yogurt and beat for 1 minute with a fork.  Spread the yogurt over the beets and garnish the top with the mint.
Makes 6 serving 

Note:  Strained yogurt (labna or lubny) is sold in Middle Eastern markets and better supermarkets such as Whole Foods.  You can make it at home easily enough: place a good quality whole plain yogurt in a cheesecloth-lined strainer and let rest over a deep bowl to drain overnight.  The resulting yogurt in the strainer is called labna.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Fava Beans with Mediterranean Jews

Anyone steeped in Mediterranean culinary cultures, especially that of Sephardic Jews in the Eastern
Mediterranean, will note, for example, around the time of Passover, the complete unfamiliarity of this food with the food of Eastern Europe whence most of the Jews in Western Europe and North America hail.  May and June is a time for fresh fava beans and among Sephardic Jews “fava beans are one of the foods the Jews hankered for during their Exodus from Egypt,"Claudia Roden, author of The Book of Jewish Food: an Odyssey from Samarkand to New York, who Roden grew up in Egypt, tells us.

[photo: Clifford A. Wright]

Among Greek Jews a favorite dish this time of year is simply called koukia, fava beans.

Fava Beans with Dill
In the Ladino language spoken by the Jews of Greece in the seventeenth century, fava beans were called avas while today in Greece they are called koukia.  This is a delightful springtime dish that can also be served as a meze at room temperature.
6 tablespoons unsalted butter or extra-virgin olive oil
1 pound double-peeled fava beans (see Note)
5 small spring onions, white and light green parts, chopped
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
5 tablespoons chopped fresh dill
Juice of 2 lemons
1. In a skillet, melt the butter over medium heat, then cook, stirring, the fava beans, springs onions, salt, and pepper for 5 minutes.  Add water to cover the beans, about 3/4 cup, reduce the heat to low and simmer for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Add the dill and lemon juice and stir then simmer until soft, about another 10 minutes.  Serve hot, warm, or at room temperature.
Makes 4 servings
Note: Double-peeled means the fava beans are taken out of their pods (first peel) and then skinned of their tough light green skin (second peel) that surrounds the bean.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Making Pasta

My electric Imperia pasta roller and cutter just broke after 25 years of superlative service.  It had the decency not to break until I finished cutting my very last sheet of tajarill, a short 3-inch long fettuccine used in the province of Teramo in Abruzzo made of semolina and whole wheat flour.  I'm going to replace it with the pasta attachments KitchenAid sells for their stand mixers.

I've been making pasta a lot lately, partly because I'm writing a big book that requires everything to be homemade and partly because it just isn't that hard and it's head and shoulders above store bought, noticeably so.  My favorite pasta I cut by hand, the pappardelle which I love to make with a rich duck sauce. 

It's easy as I said.  Pour 3 cups of semolina flour on a work surface and make a well in the middle, like a volcanic crater.  Pour in 1 cup water, a teaspoon of salt and 1 or 2 tablespoons of olive oil.  Using your index finger stir and incorporate the flour on the walls of the crater and once it is absorbed form the dough into a ball and knead for 8 minutes, then let rest 1 hour.  Roll it out and use a pasta cutter roller or cut by hand.  It's up to you.  Lay the pasta on a table covered with a sheet, or in a 11 x 13 inch baking sheet sprinkled with flour so the pasta doesn't stick hopelessly together and let dry 4 hours to 2 days.

If you need more hand holding than that you'll find my detailed instructions here.

[photo: Clifford A. Wright

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Octopus Pie from Sète

The fishing of octopus has always been a secondary activity on the Golfe du Lion where Sète is a small but important port.  We know that octopus was caught on this coast and shipped to Toulouse in the fourteenth century.  There are a few extant octopus recipes from the Middle Ages, and one I’m familiar with is an octopus stuffed with mint, parsley, and other herbs found in the anonymous fourteenth-century Catalan cookbook Libre de sent soví.
            This recipe from Sète called Tielle de Poulpe Sètoise I first tasted in Cap d’Agde, a small, rather pleasant seaside resort in the Hérault department of the Languedoc.  Today it is notable as the site of the Quartier Naturisme, a nudist city of about 10,000 people. This delicious tielle, made in an earthenware pan about five inches in diameter of the same name, is a spicy octopus ragoût clothed in a sweet wine-flavored pastry dough.  The wine-colored crust glistens with a golden aura because of an egg yolk-and-tomato paste glaze.   Down the road from Sète, in Bouzigues, a similar preparation is made with mussels and is called chausson de moule.
2 to 2 ¼ cups unbleached all-purpose flour
3 ½ ounces pork lard
¼ cup sugar
¼ teaspoon salt
¾ cup sweet red wine
1 ½ pounds octopus, cleaned
2 tablespoons red or white wine vinegar
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra as needed
1 medium onion, finely chopped
4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 pounds ripe plum tomatoes, cut in half, seeds squeezed out, and grated against the largest holes of a standing grater down to the peel
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
¾ teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 bay leaf
Pork lard or butter for greasing the tart pan
1 egg yolk
1 teaspoon tomato paste
1. In a cold, large metal bowl, work 2 cups of the flour, the lard, sugar, and salt together with your fingers or a pastry cutter until it is pebbly and well-blended.  Alternatively, pulse in a food processor and then transfer to a cold metal bowl.  Add the wine and knead until you have supple dough, adding more flour if the dough is sticking.  Form the dough into a ball and wrap in waxed paper and leave in the refrigerator for 2 hours.
2. Put the octopus in a large pot of boiling salted water with the vinegar and boil until tender, about 45 minutes.  Drain, rinse with cold water and peel as much of the skin off the octopus as you can while it is still hot.  Chop the octopus into smaller than bite-size pieces.
3. In a large skillet, heat the olive oil over medium heat, then cook the onion , garlic, and octopus until the onion is soft, about 8 minutes, stirring frequently.  Add the tomatoes and season the sauce with salt, black pepper, cayenne, thyme, and bay leaf.  Reduce the heat to medium-low and let the sauce simmer until the water is evaporated, about 1 ¼ to 1 ½ hours, stirring occasionally.
4. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
5. Remove the dough from the refrigerator and roll out thin.  Cut out sixteen 5-inch disks.  Lightly grease eight 4-inch tart pans with lard or butter and cover each with a disk of dough.  Prick the dough all over with a toothpick.  Spread several tablespoons of the tomato-and-octopus stuffing over it.  Cover with the remaining disks and pinch down the edges so they meet the bottom disk.  Pinch off any excess dough.  Prick the top with a toothpick.  Whisk together 2 or 3 drops of olive oil with the egg yolk and tomato paste and brush on the top crust.
6. Bake until a glistening golden, about 30 minutes.  Remove the tarts from their pan, arrange on a serving platter, and serve.
Makes 8 servings

Monday, January 24, 2011

Pirates of the Mediterranean

In the Pelion region of Greece, fishermen would give up their gardens and hunting and move their families to the streets of the local harbor for the fishing season.  In Crete, men routinely joined Turkish ships even a century before Crete fell into Turkish hands.  Turkish recruiters would also find Greek sailors in the taverns of Pera on Cyprus.  There were many small-time Greek pirates in the islands of the Aegean and along the coasts of the Adriatic, in search of small-time victims and whatever food could be stolen.  Although these fishermen-pirates could take from the sea, pirate rations were usually a sack of flour, some biscuits, a skin of oil, honey, a few bunches of garlic and onions, and a little salt.  These rations would last a month, or until the next raid or port.

            Greek fishermen were truly sailors who found a home all over the Mediterranean.  Greek sailors could easily be found manning a Spanish, Turkish, or pirate galley. The infamous brothers, the Barbarossas, were Greek or Turkish sailors from Lesbos who converted to Islam and settled in Djerba, becoming pirates who terrorized the western Mediterranean.  By 1518, they ruled Algiers until the last brother’s death in 1546.

When you throw that just-caught fish onto the grill, wrapped in grape leaves, you can think of how rich that Mediterranean is with its magnificent cuisines and equally fantastic history.  Try the recipe for grilled fish wrapped in grape leaves.