I recently read an article about Spanish food, and once again I had to do the eye roll when I heard that old chestnut about "the very best ingredients, simply prepared".
There´s some truth in that, but it ignores skill. Skill, experience, a good hand, call it what you will; that´s the quality that´s going to make the food sing. Give an organic chicken to an inept cook and you may very well get a stringy, tasteless dishcloth in gravy. Give one of those Spanish grannies a battery horror and watch as she magics it into croquetas that will make you sing. Rest assured, she will have used factory eggs and shop bought crumbs for that crispy coating, and I am quite happy to bet a substantial sum that she won´t have used extra virgin olive oil to fry them.
The process, the cooking, the things that you add and the care that you take, they matter as much as the ingredients. I hate to think that there are people out there being discouraged when they hear that patter about organic birds and heirloom tomatoes, who think they might as well reach for the frozen pizza because they don´t have time to make a sourdough starter.
So anyway, here´s a recipe for chicken thighs. If I can find organic chicken thighs I buy them, but often I can only find free range, and most of the time not even that; my local supermarket carries something they say is guaranteed by some humane sounding association and only fed vegetables, but I doubt we´re talking about prize poultry here. Not that it matters, they really are delicious:
First, salt them well. Then put them in a freezer bag with a glug of olive oil, a squeeze of lemon juice, some Sherry, a couple of smashed garlic cloves, a spoonful of sugar and some herbs; dried, to add insult to injury. I like oregano.
All these things are, of course, additives, but they are good things that you add yourself, and have no numbers or unpronounceable names. Their purpose, however, is the same; to amplify the flavor of your chicken.
Leave it in the fridge overnight, or just an hour out of it.
Roast in a 200ºC oven until crisp and golden, about 45 minutes, but do check, because ovens vary.
You can bake these on a bed of parboiled or boiled potatoes and they will be out of this world, having soaked up all that wonderful chicken fat.
it doesn't have to be stews and soups all the time, you know. this salad is guaranteed to lift your spirits and fill you up with good things and zingy energy.
The greens can be anything you like. I toss a bag of spinach, watercress and rocket with another one of something called Italian salad.
To this add orange, peeled and diced, avocado, ditto, and smoked mackerel (if you're in Spain, bacalao en aceite).
dress with a vinaigrette heady with sherry vinegar and if you want crunch, scatter a few seeds over it.
Good stuff, guaranteed.
I suppose the last person (possibly the first, too) to be excited by a pot of lentils was Esau. So I won´t say that this is exciting news, but, well it´s certainly changed the way I cook lentils, and that´s something.
It´s a trick I read about in the River Family Cookbook, and it couldn´t be simpler; add red lentils to your pot of brown lentil soup. Genius. Why?
Because the red lentils dissintegrate during cooking, which thickens the soup without your having to bring out the blender.
This works with any lentil soup recipe you might use. My usual method is to heat some oil in the pressure cooker and while it heats to chop a stick of celery, an onion, a clove of garlic and a carrot in the food processor. When this has softened slightly I add a cup of brown lentils and a cup of red lentils, a peeled potato, water to cover by about an inch, and a small bay leaf. I cover, bring up to pressure and leave it for ten minutes (some sources say less time but I hate a crunchy lentil).
You can start with bacon before the vegatables go in, or add chorizo or any sausage, but I like my lentils plain.
Once they´re cooked, add salt or stock powder, a dash of sherry, a knob of butter and a squeeze of lemon. Wonderful stuff.
Forgive the cliché, but...what´s not to like in chocolate pudding? In Spain we call it natillas de chocolate, and I´d never consider it in a romantic dinner. This is strictly children´s food, the sort that the adults love to find at the back of the fridge, or steal from unsuspecting toddler´s plates.
I make it in the Thermomix, because it´s just very very convenient. You dump, the machine stirs, and when it´s over you pour it and let it cool. If you top it with whipped cream it becomes the ur version of the Copa Danone, beloved of Spanish children.
The hardest part is hiding it from children (and husband) until it´s properly cool. I dare say it´s very easy to make by hand, but I´m not sure I´m up for the careful stirring for minutes on end. I´d make chocolate mousse instead.
For a more adult and punchy flavour, try this malted version of Sally Schneider´s.
This makes four or five portions.
Put 50 gr of chocolate in the bowl and chop it with a few pulses of the turbo button.
Now add 30 gr. of cornstarch, 500 ml. of full fat milk, 50 gr. sugar and a pinch of salt. Program 8 minutes, 90 degrees, speed 3.
Now add a few drops of vanilla extract and give it a further two minutes with no heat, so it cools down a little.
Pour into a big bowl or ramekins, and if you hate the skin that will form, cover it with clingfilm.
The actual pudding is best enjoyed cold, but nobody said you had to wait to lick the bowl.
Perhaps I write too much about soup? I eat a lot of it, that´s for sure, but why wouldn´t I, when it´s just so good? It also happens to be a dish all the family can share. That makes life a lot easier, you´ll agree. Even if someone skirts around the peas and someone else has to have the meat shredded to smithereens, it´s still one pot feeds all. Magic.
Mostly I do the same soups over and over, but they´re never the same, since soup takes so well to improvising. Yesterday we had the lentil and tomato soup with barley thrown in. Instead of pureeing it with the stick blender I gave it a few swirls with the potato masher and it became a chunky mess, but wonderful.