Hardcore fans of Laurie Colwin will recognize that as the title of one of her essays. I´m going through a particulary strong LC phase right now, reading all her fiction. Her food writing I know by heart, almost.
Last week J came back from a congress in Vienna. I didn´t pick him up at the airport, tut tut, but I did compensate by having a good meal waiting for him. Sure, a Vienna-Madrid flight is hardly a Lindbergh-esque exploit, but I find that any sort of waiting around airports takes its toll these days, and well deserves a treat.
Now, Laurie says that someone just off a plane should be given soup and a sandwich. But J was arriving at 5, and that´s mots emphatically not soup-time in Spain. All hours are good for a sandwich and some cake, though, so I made a cute little Victoria sponge, complete with strawberries and jam, and prepared all the ingredients for this awsome sandwich, which has now entered my files as the
"Welcome back from Vienna awsome sandwich":
Crusty bread, baguette or good oldfashioned "barra"
A perfect avocado
The assembly is as simple cutting a good sized portion of bread, taking out some of the white crumb, smearing one side with onion jam, topping with slices of the avocado and tomato (and salting them a little)- and then finishing off the job with the sausages cut into thick wedges.
This sandwich has everything: the crunch from the bread, the fatty cloudy factor from the avocado, satisfying and savoury protein from the sausages, oomph from the onion jam and freshness from the tomato. Per-fect, good at any time, and just the thing to get you ready for a slice of cake, a shower and a long walk admiring spring in the Retiro.
The May issue of Telva Telva magazine is out. It comes with a little book of recipes for rookie gourmets, illustrated by yours truly.
Everyone in Spain go buy it inmediately! I haven´t had time to go into to it fully, yet, but apart from its extraordinary beauty, it looks like there are good recipes inside, and lots of tips.
I´ll report back as soon as I´ve tried and tested the intriguing concept of the bisque made from tinned mussels (always been one for striking the iron while it´s hot, you see).
The joys of spring, as seen last week:
Buying asparagus from a farmstand covered in blue tarpaulin, by the side of a field. Is there anything a city slicker loves more than some residue of mud on their vegetables?
Podding peas and eating the tiny ones straight away. Sweet.
Marinading strawberries in balsamic vinegar and brown sugar, a la Nigella. The only way to make silly huge fresones edible, really.
Splashing home under an umbrella, and stepping in puddles.Lovely lovely.
If you live in a desert and there´s a drought, you won´t complain about rain, but it might pose a bit of a catering problem. You can´t give dinner guests a trim dinner of steamed asparagus with poached eggs and strawberry cake; they´ll freeze. But you can´t really trot out lentils and apple pie.
The answer? Memento mussel soup. Memento being a restaurant where they serve a beautiful starter of mussels with chistorra (a light cooking chorizo from Navarra). It always has us clamouring for more bread to dip in the rust-red strong sauce, and seemed like a perfect springboard for a good soup.
My version is soupier (duh) and lighter, and has gone straight away into the folder of "things I´ll be making again and again".
It´s good, and it´s easy, and it´s quick, provided you buy cleaned mussels or enlist help.
I served it with a home made focaccia, which was pretty amazing, but any crusty bread for making boats will be great. Provide plenty of napkins and maybe finger bowls.
Memento mussel soup
2kgs mussels, cleaned and debearded
100 gr. or so of chistorra, or any other cooking chorizo
a bunch of spring onions, or three shallots
2 cloves of garlic, minced
4 smallish tomatoes, grated (or a 1/2 kg. tin, which will give you more liquid, and lucky you)
salt, pepper, dried oregano to taste
1 tablespoonful flour
300 ml or so of liquid (white wine, beer or both)
Creme fraiche, or any thick cream
Begin by sauteeing the chistorra in olive oil in a big pan that will hold all the mussels later, until it´s released its fat and it´s beginning to crisp up. Add the spring onions. After a couple of minutes, add the tomatoes and garlic. None of this has to cook down a lot, but give it a couple of minutes, too. Now add the flour and stir til it dissappears, and stir it around for a bit more so it won´t taste raw.
Pour in the liquid and stir until it´s thickened and the alcohol has evaporated. Throw in the mussels, cover, and, taking the pan in your mittened hands that are also clamping down the lid, give it a good shake.
Do this again a couple of times (males of the species are good for this job. recruit one). Check after three minutes. If there are a lot of unopened shells, leave it another minute.
Now serve in big deep bowls, as many mussels as you can, plenty of the soup and a blob of sour cream (with chopped parsley or chives if you have them, for prettiness). Put a big salad bowl for the shells on the table, alongside some hot sauce. As people eat, their bowls will be ready for more, so top them up.
Serves 4 as dinner, with fresh bread, or 8 more timid souls as a starter.
Oh the guilt. Albatross round my neck, dammit! This won´t do. I feel guilty enough about enough things, to have to add a blog to the list. So finally I drag myself to the computer and here I am. I feel I´m fobbing you off with a photo of my cooking notebooks, but that pepper is the illustration I did ten years ago when writing doen this recipe, so at least I´ve done some archival effort.
We had a visit from Pille and K. of Nami-nami.
Not that that´s an excuse. I´m just mentioning it. We had the best four days of food related talk, and of eating and tasting and cooking and sightseeing, and it was wonderful and fun. But the retribution wasn´t long in coming, and I had to work, and so I hung up the apron and lived on toast for the rest of the week. Do you beleive that? No? Well, it´s almost true. I also had a lot of pollen chocolate, and yogurt with sea buckthorn muesli. Perks of having friends in the Baltic, you see.
Anyway, I´m going to post a recipe for the peppers Pille and Kristjan had at my parents´. These peppers are the most wonderful thing ever, and if I haven´t blogged about them before, it´s because I´ve never cooked them before, and it feels a little bit like cheating.
The thing is, these are the special, for-guests-only, best-in-the-world stuffed peppers, and they are only made at home, by Escolástica, when the occasion merits. It´s never entered my mind that I, your humble self, can ever come close to the effect.
However you, labouring under no such a heavy weight of tradition, can have the recipe and go ahead and made these beauties, thereby making friends and influencing people. Here they are.
You need as many red peppers as will comfortably fit the tray in your oven. Here in Spain it´s very usual to find red peppers the size of rubgy balls, and those aren´t very good, since you can only fit four, and one of the beauties of this dish is the ease of portion control. You don´t want the petite Dutch cricket ball type, either. Try to find ones that are the size of a tea mug. Am I making sense? I feel not. Anyway. The perfect type of pepper will have ten or eleven snugly nestling side by side in a standard oven tray.
Ground meat, 600 gr. We like a mixture of beef and pork.
One green pepper, one onion, one 1/2 tin of tomatoes, 2 cloves of garlic, 1 bay leaf.
Two cups of rice. At home they use parboiled, and much as it pains me to say it, it´s wonderful in this dish. It´s the only time I don´t mind parboiled rice, but of course sticklers go with any long grain variety that gives you confidence.
Heat the oven to 170ºC
Take your biggest frying pan and fry the mince for a few minutes, until it´s no longer pink. Set aside.
Now make a sofrito, which, as you know, consists of chopping finely your onion, sauteeing it in plenty of olive oil, adding the chopped green pepper, waiting a bit for it to wilt, and then throwing in the tomatoes, bay leaf and garlic (I add a good handful of sugar too). When it has reduced to a fragrant dark pulpy mess, it´s done. You should probably make it salty, as the peppers will be unseasoned.
Now add the meat and the rice, and turn to coat well. You want a homogenous mix, and you want to rice to be nicely coated with all the flavorings and oils.
While the sofrito reduces, you can spend the time cleaning the peppers, which you do by carefully cutting round the stem, and keeping that bit; then cleaning the inside of seeds and that white membrane thing. Be careful and don´t break them.
Now fill them with the mixture. Go easy. They should be filled more than half but less than three quarters, as the juice from the peppers will make the rice swell. Put the stem lids back on.
Coat them with a slick of olive oil, put them on their sides and bake them for an hour. Turn them over (careful now! go easy and use a couple of very wide spoons), and bake for another hour.
At the end, they will be sticky and glossy, charred in places and smelling so good that you will want to eat them all.
Don´t forget to dip your bread in the oily dark goo at the bottom of the tray.