Sunday, April 24, 2011

Spain has become THE Culinary center of the world....

For many years there wasn't a doubt as to where the new tendencies in food would come from: France, of course, right? Except that little by little something magical happened which turned the culinary scene on its head and made everyone sit up and take notice of the domination executed by Spain. Yes, Spain and not the Madrid area even but the North, the Basque area of the country is where the most intriguing, amazing and new tendencies have come from. This has literally brought this once quiet and sleepy part of Spain into the forefront of anyone who is interested in good food, and what good food can be.

Of course, no conversation about the new food scene can be considered complete without mentioning the most innovative Chef that has come along in a long time: Ferran Adria. He is the head chef of the El Bulli restaurant in Roses on the Costa Brava, and is considered one of the best chefs in the world. He has referred to his cooking as deconstructivist. Adrià's stated goal is to "provide unexpected contrasts of flavor, temperature and texture. Nothing is what it seems. The idea is to provoke, surprise and delight the diner." As he likes to say, "the ideal customer doesn't come to El Bulli to eat but to have an experience." Although people refer to him as working in molecular gastronomy, there is confusion, but in any case his restaurant is renowned for new techniques that have revolutionized the world of food.

There are other best of the world restaurants in this area as well: Arzak, Mugaritz, El Celler de Can Roca, Martin Berastegui and Asador Etxebarri. Should you have the chance to go to Spain and wish to visit these Top 50 Restaurants of the World restaurants, be sure to make reservations with months of advance as they have limited hours and schedules, but always worth the experience. You might be surprised to see the location of these lauded food shrines too, not glitzy or showy at all but instead focusing on comfort and of course "the food". Meals take hours and offer many courses and are guaranteed to blow your mind.....

So let's take a look at some of the traditional food from Spain and revel in the flavors of our Mother country, shall we? These are by no means molecular gastronomy but just great dishes you're sure to enjoy!

Ajoblanco con Higos y Uvas (Garlic Soup with Figs and Grapes) .- What's more traditional than this garlic soup? You'll love it!

6 oz almonds, peeled
6 cups water
6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons Sherry Vinegar (from Jerez if possible)
1 piece of stale bread
1 handful of grapes, peeled
4 fresh figs, cut in quarters
1/2-1 garlic clove
Salt to taste

Put the almonds, bread and garlic in blender / food processor / food mill and process until the
almonds are finely ground. Add water little by little until the soup is liquid. Add the oil at this time along with the vinegar and add a little salt. Check to see that the soup is nicely thickened and that the seasoning is pleasing.

Serve in soup bowls, topping with the grapes and figs.

Patatas a la Riojana (Rioja Potatoes).- Very traditional, very flavorful, very wonderful....

2 1/2 lbs potatoes, peeled and sliced
8 oz chorizo (Spanish style is best)
1 onion, chopped
2 green Bell Peppers, sliced and de-seeded
2 tablespoons Pimenton, Spanish Smoked Paprika, if not use regular Paprika
2 red Bell Peppers, sliced and de-seeded
2 garlic cloves, chopped
Olive Oil
1 Bay Leaf
1 Hot Pepper, or use crushed red pepper flakes
Salt to taste
1/2 cup Parsley, chopped

Using a large cazuela or Dutch Oven, we place it on a med-high heat. Add some oil and fry the onion and garlic for 1 minute. Add green peppers and potatoes mixing well for 2-3 minutes. Add the Paprika, Bay Leaf, hot pepper, red bell pepper, chorizo and we cover with water so the potatoes are covered. Allow to come to a boil then turn down the heat to simmer for about 30 minutes or until the potatoes are done. Check the seasonings, add salt and add some parsley.

Serve in bowls insuring everyone gets chorizo and top with fresh Parsley.

Salsa Romesco.- From the Barcelona region comes this most amazing sauce that although traditionally served with Calcots (charred onions) is great on everything, even toast! There will be a flavor change due to no Romesco Peppers in the US (smaller and hardier than red bell peppers) but worth making anyway.....

6 oz almonds, toasted
6 oz hazelnuts, toasted
2.5 oz pine nuts
2 walnuts
1 onion
8 tomatoes
1/2 a head of garlic (yes, half)
5 Romesco Peppers (dried) or red bell peppers
1 tablespoon smoked Paprika, ground
1 garlic clove, pressed thru garlic press
1 teaspoon of sugar or to taste
1 teaspoon hot pepper, ground or to taste (cayenne?)
1 cup olive oil
1/2 cup red wine vinegar
Salt to taste

On a grill, char the onion, tomatoes, garlic and red bell peppers. You can use your oven at about 400 F (200 C) for 30 minutes or so. Cool the vegetables and then peel them (do not run under water). In a food processor, add the nuts, process a little- add the vegetables and process, then the seasonings. You finish with olive oil which you add slowly in a thin stream so the sauce comes together. You can add a piece of bread and mix it in to help with the consistency too if you like. Continue processing until it's well mixed but still rustic. Add the vinegar and salt at the very end, taste it to adjust to your taste.

Calcots.- Onions from Cataluna, a type of spring onion grown there. Calçotades, feasts at which the humble calçot is the star attraction, are held all over Catalonia from midwinter to early spring. However, the region of Tarragona and particularly the tiny town of Valls (an hour and a half outside of Barcelona) are the cradle of the custom. Calçots are trimmed and laid out on large racks, char-grilled in batches over a small bonfire made from the vines of the grapes that were harvested, wrapped in newspapers to keep warm and then served in traditional clay roof tiles, whose shape fits the long onions perfectly. The coals that remain after grilling the calçots are used to prepare the roasted meats and sausages served as the second course. First, you slide off the charred outer coating of the calçot with one hand, holding on to the green ends with the other. Then, you dip the newly uncovered pearly white end into salvitxada or romesco sauce, traditional sauces that indispensably accompany calçots. Finally, you tilt your head back and lower the dangling calçots into your mouth, biting off the white portion and discarding the ends. The flavor is rich, creamy and beguilingly sweet. The most popular spots to experience calçotades are masies, large rural estates that have been converted into restaurants. There, calçots are more likely to be grown on-site and grilled over outdoor fires in the traditional manner.

To do at home: Using a grill or charcoal grill (wood is better), you lay lots and lot of spring onions with the tips cut off on the grill until they char or turn black. You then wrap them in a couple of sheets of newspaper, tightly wrapped, and lay them inside a thermos chest (usually used for cold foods at the park) so they can steam for 30-60 minutes. Then, package by package is unrolled and you follow the technique explained above. Don't forget to supply lots and lots of red wine, happy people, crusty bread and other goodies to make it into a feast.

Bunuelos de Bacalao (Fried Cod Balls).- In Spain, Cod is King and there is no argument, so for those of us that love Cod, it's amazing! Try these easy and tasty Cod balls, you'll be glad you did....

1 lb Cod (usually salted and soaked) I prefer fresh
2 tablespoons onion, finely chopped
2 tablespoons green bell pepper, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, chopped
Orly Paste (see below)
Olive oil

Orly Paste.- 1 lb flour / 2 cups beer / 1 teaspoon olive oil / salt to taste.
Mix everything well until smooth. Use for breading and frying.

Make the Orly paste and have it ready for use.

Shred the Cod and insure it's not wet. Dry with paper towels if needed. In a pan with a little oil, medium heat, add the onion, pepper, garlic and stir until almost golden, then add the Cod allow it cook slightly.

Drain this well and mix with the prepared Orly paste. Using two spoons, make balls of the Cod mix and fry in a generous amount of hot oil. Drain well before serving. Serve hot.

That was a nice little food trip that brought back good memories of time spent in Spain and the food that you find there, of course, there is so much more to discover and I hope if you ever have the opportunity of visiting Spain, you will search out the amazing food and experience their traditions for yourself.

Wishing everyone a lovely Easter, full of peace, renewal and good cheer. Talk soon.....

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