Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Four hours in Barcelona

Sunday evenings have become a way for me to connect with friends, drink some good grape juice and to also do some intensive cooking.  Since these are some of my very favorite things in the world, I look forward to the end of the week when I am relaxed, enjoying fabulous wine, fabulous food and fabulous friends.  I've noticed a pattern: wine needs to be well-matched and "finish the bottle" good.  Food needs to be approachable, but far from routine.  The table and presentation of everything served needs to be beautiful.  And friends?  They never disappoint: an evening spent in the company of warmth, lively conversation and laughter is the panacea that heals me after the work week. 

As I've mentioned in previous posts, cooking is therapeutic for me and imagining how to serve and present the food I've cooked renews and restores me.  I love the feeling of anticipation during the week while I'm preparing for Sunday evening guests.  And I love it when the doorbell rings and friends arrive, hugs and kisses are passed 'round and then, just a few moments later, the happy sound of a popping cork, wine being poured, appetizers being passed...and the evening is underway.

This past Sunday, I planned a very ambitious menu.  Having run into some friends earlier in the week who have traveled to Spain frequently, we agreed that it had been far too long since our last meal together.  The menu came together when one of my friends suggested that her lovely and talented daughter make a tapa that was a favorite in their household: poquillo peppers stuffed with cod and bechamel sauce.  At that moment, I envisioned a table full of tapas, and a relaxed gathering that would eventually culminate in paella for dinner.  My friend also suggested that her husband make an avocado and herb crostini they had enjoyed, and that she would make Crema Catalana, the Spanish version of creme brulee, for dessert.  I was delighted! 

One of my great pleasures where food and wine are concerned is collaboration.  When friends bring good wine and when they bring food that enhances the experience of eating together, I am overjoyed.  But when friends cook with me, I am in my element.  Being an over-achiever, I had decided to make two different paellas, so it was wonderful to stand apron-clad, side-by-side with one of my friends (highly skilled in her own right at making paella), cooking in authentic paella pans, making a holy mess of the stove and talking with the guests that stood opposite us, on the other side of the stove where there is a large opening in the wall that divides my kitchen and dining room.

As we cooked and talked and drank wine together, the air was perfumed with smoked paprika, saffron, garlic, onion, wine, and I drifted dreamily into the sensuous alchemy of olive oil, tomatoes, and pimento melding together in the pan, mussel shells glistening like onyx, shrimp curling and lusciously pink, lobster tails, elegant and kingly, and clams opening expectantly, as they all lay luxuriously on their bed of rich, rosy rice, enchantingly infused with essences of the sea, the vineyard, and what must surely have been the original fruits of the Garden of Eden.
                                       ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~

Dreaming about creating this beautiful, rustic food all week produced a lot of pleasure--and a lot of inspiration.  Envisioning the intensity of paprika, saffron and abundant Spanish wines inspired the table settings.  The indoor table, set for tapas, was adorned in black and gilded in topaz organdy, candles and small bunches of life-life grapes.  The outdoor table, in our lovely garden "dining room," was dressed in black and draped in scarlet organdy, golden chargers, ruby goblets, candles, small bunches of grapes and small cache-pots of scarlet and gold Gerber daisies.  More scarlet organdy adorned chairs.  It was a beautiful setting, indoors and out.  Spanish music, provided by my friends, transported us to Barcelona for the evening.  And here's what we ate:

Pimientos Rellenos de Bacalao

     Red Peppers Stuffed with Cod  (from Classic Tapas: Authentic Spanish Recipes, 2002) 

5 oz. salt cod, soaked in water 24 hours prior to use, flaked and drained well
3 Tbs. olive oil, divided
1 large onion, divided, half finely chopped, half roughly chopped
1 green pepper, divided, half finely chopped, half roughly chopped
2 cups tomato sauce
tobasco or cayenne to taste (optional)
1 Tbs. flour
1 Tbs. butter
1/2 cup milk
10 poquillo peppers (you can use peppers from a jar, or roast, stem, seed and peel your own from fresh)
salt and pepper to taste
grated Manchego cheese, optional
chopped fresh parsley for garnish

1.  Heat 1 1/2 Tbs. olive oil in a frying pan and saute the finely chopped onion and green pepper until just lightly browned.
2.  Add the flaked cod and saute for a few more minutes to blend flavors.
3.  Melt butter in small saucepan, add flour and whisk to blend.
4.  Stir in milk and blend well.
5.  Heat and stir until bubbling.
6.  Add white sauce to cod, onion and green pepper mixture. 
7.  Taste and correct for salt.
8.  Stuff drained poquillo peppers with cod/white sauce mixture and place in ovenproof dish.  Set aside.
9.  Heat oven to 375 degrees.
10.  Heat remaining 1 1/2 Tbs. olive oil in a frying pan and saute remaining onion and green pepper without browning.
11.  Add tomato sauce, tabasco or cayenne, and salt and pepper to taste.
12.  Continue to heat sauce, stirring, until bubbling.
13.  Pour sauce over stuffed peppers.
14.  Bake peppers in oven for about 5 to 6 minutes.  Serve hot, garnished with grated Manchego cheese if you wish, and chopped parsley.  Serves 6.

Ensalada de Champinones con Aceitunas

     Mushroom and Olive Salad (adapted from a recipe by Simone & Ines Ortega)

16 oz. large mushrooms
juice of one lemon
2 Tbs. olive oil
1/2 red or green bell pepper, seeded and thinly sliced
2 cups tomato sauce (either commerically prepared or homemade)
1 can medium-size pitted black olives, drained
2 garlic cloves, very finely chopped
salt and pepper to taste
chopped parsley for garnish

1.  Wash the mushrooms in cold water with a dash of lemon juice.
2.  Remove mushrooms from water, pat dry, and trim the stems.
3.  Heat the oil in a skillet over medium heat. 
4.  Add the bell pepper and the mushrooms to the pan and saute, stirring occasionally.
5.  When the vegetables begin to soften, stir in the tomato sauce, olives and garlic.
6.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.
7.  Bring to a boil, the turn heat to low and simmer for 10 minutes.
8.  Remove skillet from heat and serve warm, or let cool completely and serve at room temperature.  Serves 6.

Crostini de Aguacate
     Crostini with Avocado and Basil Pesto (from Cocina Mediterranea, 2004)

8 slices ciabatta bread, or 16 slices baguette
1 garlic clove
1 bunch parsley or basil, or mixed
5 tsp. extra virgin olive oil
salt and ground pepper to taste
2 avocados
1 Tbs. or more fresh lime juice
flake salt and freshly ground pepper for garnish

1.  Toast ciabatta bread in a 325 degree oven for approximately 10 minutes.
2.  Chop garlic, parsley and basil finely, then transfer to mortar and mash with a pestle.
3.  Add olive oil and continue to mash to a paste.  Season with salt and pepper.
4.  Cut avocados in half and and remove seeds.
5.  Scoop avocados from skins, chop coarsely flesh and combine in a small bowl with lime juice.
6.  To serve, spread crostini with parsley/basil mixture, top with chopped avocados and season with flake salt and freshly ground black pepper.  Serves 4.

Mini Meatballs in Saffron Sauce

         Originally published in Bon Appetit, October 2002.  I substituted smoked paprika for the sweet paprika.  You can also substitute ground beef for the ground veal.  Redolent with garlic and saffron, and absolutely delicious...

Gambas al Ajillo

        Shrimp in Garlic Sauce is quick, easy and very garlicky.  Serve with warm crusty bread for dipping in the sauce, and pass Romesco Sauce (recipe follows) separately for extra depth.

Romesco Sauce  (adapted from a recipe by Kate Ramos)

1/2 medium tomato
2 cloves garlic, peeled
2 slices crusty bread (about 2 oz.)
1/4 cup slivered almonds
1 (7.25 oz.) jar roasted red peppers, drained (about 1 cup)
2 Tbs. red wine vinegar
1/4 cup olive oil
1 tsp. kosher salt
1/2 tsp. smoked paprika

1.  Heat oven to 400 degrees.
2.  Arrange oven rack in middle of oven.
3.  Place tomato, garlic, bread and almonds on baking sheet.
4.  Roast until bread and almonds are lightly toasted, about 10 to 15 minutes.  Watch carefully so that almonds do not burn.
5.  Transfer roasted ingredients to food processor or blender and chop coarsely.
6.  Add roasted red peppers, vinegar, olive oil, salt, and paprika and combine until relatively smooth.  Makes about 1 cup.

Manchego and Membrillo with Fresh Mint Leaves

        Beautiful and delicious.  See procedure here from a previous post.

Cocoa Cardona with Thyme Honey

        A lovely and incredibly delicious combination of honey and cheese.  Cocoa Cardona is an artisinal domestic semi-soft goat cheese with an edible rind of cocoa powder, made in the Carr Valley, WI.  This cheese goes exceptionally well with earthy, red wines of Spanish, Chilean and Argentinian origins.

Procedure:  Place cheese on a beautiful plate.  Drizzle with honey.  Garnish with fresh thyme leaves or tiny, unsprayed flowers.  Serve with a cheese knife and picks.

Sopa de Ajo Blanco

       White Garlic Soup (adapted from a recipe by Lisa and Tony Sierra)

4 oz. (1/2 cup) blanched, peeled, almonds (or an equal amount of packaged slivered almonds)
4 slices stale baguette or other rustic white bread
3 cloves garlic, peeled and root ends discarded
5 Tbs. EVOO (preferrably Spanish)
3 to 4 Tbs. sherry vinegar
4 cups water
salt to taste
sweet paprika, for garnish
green grapes, for garnish

1.  Trim crusts from bread if very hard.
2.  Soak bread in 1 to 2 cups cold water to soften.
3.  Combine almonds and garlic in food processor.  Pulse until smooth.
4.  Remove bread from water with slotted spoon and squeeze out excess water.
5.  Add bread and 1 tsp. salt to garlic and almonds.  Blend well.
6.  Slowly drizzle in olive oil, then vinegar and finally, the water.
7.  Taste and adust seasonings.
8.  Strain mixture through a sieve into a container or bowl.  Press as much liquid as possible through the sieve. 
9.  Cover and chill at least 3 hours or overnight. 
10.  Serve in glass mugs or tall parfait glasses, sprinkle each glass with sweet paprika garnish with small clusters of grapes on the side.  Serves 4. 

Ensalada con Rabanos

     Radish Salad (adapted from a recipe by Simone & Ines Ortega)

11 oz. mixed salad greens (such as baby lettuces, argula, chicory and radicchio), well-rinsed and patted dry)
1/2 bunch radishes, washed, trimmed and thinly sliced
1 Granny Smith apple, washed, cored and thinly sliced


2/3 cup plain yogurt
1 to 2 Tbs. Dijon mustard
1 Tbs. chopped scallions
1 Tbs. fresh lemon juice
1/4 tsp. sweet paprika
salt and pepper to taste

1.  Make the dressing first by beating together the yogurt, Dijon, scallions, lemon juice and paprika in a small bowl. 
2.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.  Chill for at least one hour to blend flavors.
3.  Mix together salad greens, radishes and apples.
4.  Pour dressing over salad and serve.  Serves 6. 

The Ultimate Paella

      Published in Bon Appetit in May of 1992, this recipe developed by Penelope Casas is labor-intensive but well worth the effort.  Rich and complex with seafood, wine and saffron, it is as beautiful as it is delicious.  I made a few adaptations to simplify it.  Make sure you have everything prepped and ready to go before you start cooking the paella.


8 garlic cloves, minced
3/4 tsp. salt
2 cups mayonnaise
2 Tbs. EVOO
1 tsp. fresh lemon juice

1.  Mash garlic and salt with mortar and pestle, or in a small bowl with the back of a spoon.
2.  Transfer to medium-size bowl.
3.  Whisk in mayonnaise, olive oil and lemon juice. Chill.
4.  Can be made up to 1 week ahead.  Makes about 2 cups.

Fish Stock

Shells from the 1 1b. of shrimp that will be used in paella
32 oz. clam juice ( 4  8 oz. bottles)
2 cups water
2 fresh parsley sprigs
1 bay leaf
1 cup white wine
1 tsp. saffron

1.  Put shrimp shells, clam juice and water in a large pot and bring to a boil.
2.  Add parsley and bay leaf; reduce to a simmer and cook for 20 minutes.
3.  Add white wine and heat thoroughly.
4.  Strain stock into large measuring cup.  If stock measures more than 5 1/2 cups, return to pot and simmer until reduced to 5 1/2 cups.
5.  Mix in saffron.  Keep warm, or cool, cover and refrigerate.  Can be made up to one day ahead.


1/2 cup olive oil
1 lb. peeled medium shrimp (21-25 shrimp per pound), tails intact
18 mussels, well rinsed  (purged if wild-caught)
18 cherrystone clams, well rinsed
2 lobster tails, cut into 3 pieces each
1/2 cup olive oil
1 1/2 cups finely chopped green bell pepper
12 garlic cloves, minced
2 tsp. smoked Spanish paprika
1 15 oz. can crushed or finely diced tomatoes
1 Tbs. minced fresh parsley
1 bay leaf, crumbled
3 cups bomba, Valencia, Arborio, or other pearl/short-grain rice
1/2 cup frozen peas (optional)
1 4 oz. jar pimientos, drained and sliced
minced fresh parsley for garnish
lemon wedges

1.  Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
2.  Make sure fish stock is simmering, cover and keep warm over very low heat.
3.  Place 14" paella pan or heavy 14" skillet over two stovetop burners or one very large burner.
4.  Add oil and heat over medium-high heat.
5.  Add lobster tail pieces and saute for 2 minutes.  Transfer to large bowl.
6.  Add shrimp to pan, season with salt and saute for 2 minutes, rotating pan occasionally for even heat.  Transfer shrimp to bowl containing lobster.
7.  Add bell pepper and saute for 3 minutes.
8.  Mix in garlic and saute for 1 minute.
9.  Add 3 Tbs. alioli (as prepared in recipe above) and the paprika, stirring to combine.
10. Stir in tomatoes, 1 Tbs. parsley and bay leaf and cook for 2 minutes.
11. Add rice and stir to coat with tomato mixture.
12. Add fish stock and peas and cook until rice is partially cooked and liquid is thick, stirring frequently, about 15 minutes.
13.  Season to taste with salt and remove from heat.
14.  Add shrimp and lobster and any accumlated juices from bowl to rice mixture.
15. Arrange mussels, clams and pimiento decoratively on top of rice mixture. 
16. Transfer paella to hot oven and bake until rice is almost tender, about 10 minutes.
17.  Remove from oven, cover with foil and let stand 20 minutes at room temperature.
18. Garnish generously with parsley and serve immediately, passing alioli and lemon wedges separately.  Serves 6 with leftovers.

Another Ultimate Paella

    This recipe is from Tyler Florence.  Although it is not authentic, it won rave reviews from my husband, the original chicken and sausage man...

Crema Catalana

       Rich, complex and utterly delicious when served with Spanish brandy and strong coffee.

And now a word about the wines we drank....

We began with a lovely and unusual cava recommended by my friends who know Spanish wines and food, Naveran Brut Vintage, made from the classic triumvirate blend of varietals that gives cava its distinctive notes.  This is a dry, refreshing cava and there is definitely citrus, but there is also spice and almond.  Clean, minerally finish.  About $14 per bottle. 

The Cune Monopole Rioja Blanco 2009 (Spain) was young, fresh, citrusy and floral on the nose and opened up to a deeper citrus and more tropical flavors.  Long, lovely finish; clean, crisp and delicious.  About $13 per bottle.

El Quintanal Rueda Verdejo 2009 (Spain), about $14 per bottle, is another light, young classic Spanish white.  Crisp, refreshing, citrusy and nicely balanced.  Pleasant mineral finish. 

Esperanza Verdejo Viura 2010 (Spain):  This is a young wine, a blend of two varietals.  It is a crisp, floral, fruity white that is a lovely match with seafood paella; just under $10 a bottle.

Las Valles Tempranillo/Garnacha/Syrah 2009 (Spain): an incredible bargain ($8) when you consider that this blended red is well-balanced and full of dark berry and spice.  Scrumptious with tapas and paella with enough fruit to carry the most intensely flavored tapas.

Cune Rioja Crianza 2007 (Spain): Bordeaux-style blend, aged in American and French oak.  Berry/cherry and spice, faint floral notes of woodland shade flowers.  Less than $13 per bottle.

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