In Lieu of Gifts, Please Send Wine

14 04 2013

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We fist visited Lieu precisely one year ago. Easter Sunday feels just right for a proper degust, and there’s nowhere we like to do it more than at Daniele Scelza’s place in Madrid de los Austrias.

This time we succeed in bringing along a guest, and yet fail to remember a proper camera. It’s a blow – the lunch is certain to be a visual treat – but we’re running slightly tight on time, and the iPhone will have to suffice.

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We’re startled to note that we’re the only ones here. Lieu’s certainly not a place for rowdy lunchtime cañas, but the absolute stillness is stark. Of course, it’s an honor to be the center of attention – like last time, we’ve specifically requested the barside chef’s table in order to maximize connection with the kitchen. However, we badly want to see this place make it big, to not only weather the crisis but to sail through in high style.

Darío and I trawl through the excellent wine list, noting many current favorites. Juan Gil makes an appearance, so we inquire as to what else among the offerings might be in the same vein. Daniele recommends a 2010 Clio, and, my god, yes. Like its murciano brethren, it seems to expand in all directions at once, licorice and smokiness, overripe red fruits and dusky vanilla. The fledgling oeonologist within is positively giddy.

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An amuse of breaded morcilla dotted with apricot, followed by suckling pig canelone with crumbled pork cracklings and red pepper air. Weight mediated with lightness.

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Every single spring, I’m smacked across the face with a mad craving for asparagus. This visually stunning arrangement celebrates the stalk in both white and green incarnations, the fresh grassiness counterweighted by panna cotta and dots of creamy yolk. Spring’s stirrings, plated.

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Sheets of potato and bacon draped in velvety beef sauce. Oh, and a pair of juicy escargot. Yes. I love snails this way; their earthy umami is most successfully underlined for me by other robust flavor combinations. It calls for a second bottle of Clio, which keeps displaying different facets depending on its accompaniment. For sheer versatility, I think I even prefer it to my beloved Bierzos.

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The fish course is hake with herbs de provençe, resting on a bed of stoplight red tomato compote and topped by green quinoa. I ask where one acquires this variety of quinoa – because, wow! – which makes Daniele grin, and he reveals they make it in the kitchen by blending up herbs (duh).

The pork shank’s thickened juices form a yin-yang with the creamy yellow polenta, lifted with greens and a scattering of rogue raisins.

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Daniele and the newest member of his team come out for chat re: wine, business in Madrid, the jazz classics playing in the background. He’s a consummate host and, quite frankly, my favorite professional chef in the city. Note that each and every dish on the tasting menu is completely different from those a year prior. Daniele seems to take this as a matter of course – seasons change, and so should menus. Plus, why get into the restaurant biz at all if not for the opportunity to surprise your public with something new?

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The first dessert course is exactly this – something new, a kir royale like we’ve never considered it before. Icy berries huddle in the bottom of a glass layered with cassis sorbet just this side of sour. Champagne foam floats ethereal. It’s the hidden ginger chips that shock you, though, a sudden crunch of obstreperous spice that runs parallel to the otherwise angelic concoction. We goggle.

Our final sweet is Lieu’s cold and creamy rendition of arroz con leche, complete with puffed rice grains and slices of kumquat.

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We’ve picked Daniele’s brain regarding the world of professional oenology – I’m thinking it might make a very nice Next Step – and he emerges with a bottle of Rioja, and presents it to me. Wha! We spoke about Rioja Crianzas normally being much too woody to suit our taste, and he tells me this Viña Eizaga is anything but, and that I should give it a go.

I reel at the kindness. Can’t wait to pop the cork.

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The rain that’s been so unrelenting all of Semana Santa refuses to abate, and we figure we’ll wait it out in nearby Café de Oriente. Espresso and a corner table and belly laughs round out the afternoon: wholly idyllic.

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Shaved Asparagus, Sun-Dried Tomato, and Fresh Ricotta Pizza

12 05 2012

Fresh ricotta is easy. Homemade pizza crust is easy. Deciding what to do with the sudden summer afternoons, made that much more languid when lunch is this simple, proves continually more difficult.

(if you’re me, the answer seems to be: go to neighborhood bar and blog. the windows are flung wide open and people seem in general stupefied by the heat; it is glorious.)

To be fair, the assembly today was streamlined by means of lovingly packaged leftovers from last night – but honestly, both of the time consuming elements here require very little hands-on prep work. The trickiest bit might have been shaving the asparagus stalks, which absolutely refuse to come out even. The choppy chaos ends up rather visually attractive in the end, though, and the snappiness left in some of the fatter slices provides pleasing textural crunch as a foil to the creamy pockets of lemony ricotta.

There’s also an intentional excess of minced garlic, a quick dash of red pepper flakes for soft heat, and the occasional sliver of salty sun-dried tomato from my prized jar of Cetara beauties. A proper dose of olive oil and black pepper ties everything together, and the wholesomeness of the whole wheat dough is balanced out by the playful interaction of fresh vegetable with cheese.

Helloooooo fledgling summer. I missed you so.

Fresh Homemade Ricotta
from smitten kitchen.

I changed the amounts based on what’s commonly available around Madrid. Basically you want to be adding lemon juice to near-boiling whole milk, with the option of adding in extra cream. The exact amounts don’t matter a great deal.

You should try your hand at making ricotta regardless of whether you put it on pizza. It’s sublime in salads, pasta dishes, spread on sandwiches, or alone on crusty bread sprinkled with sea salt and olive oil. Then there are all the sweet applications – in crepes with fruit and honey would be exceptional (raspberries, peaches…!).

1.5 L fresh whole milk
1 small box heavy cream (“nata para cocinar”) – optional according to Deb.
1/2 tsp salt
juice from 1-2 lemons (I used a whole one plus a half I had sitting around)

1. Bring milk, cream, and salt to just under a boil, stirring constantly and scraping the bottom of the pan.

2. Take off the heat and add lemon juice. Stir maybe once to incorporate, then let it rest for about five minutes.

3. Voila! The curd has separated from the whey*. Pour curds into awaiting strainer, lined with cheesecloth if you can find it, several layers of paper towels if you can’t. Sit strainer atop a bowl to catch whey drips.

4. It takes about two hours of draining to get to what I’d consider a properly thick consistency. At the end, I switched out the paper towels twice, which seemed to work a charm at drawing out final remnants of moisture.

5. Eat immediately, or store in airtight container in the fridge for a few days. I stirred grated lemon zest into mine.

*WHEY NOTE: That liquid is nutritious! In essence, it’s the isolated milk proteins, and is absolutely lovely for cooking pastas, using in place of water for baking, or even throwing into smoothies if that’s your bag. I used part of mine for the pizza dough.

Couldn’t Be Easier Whole Wheat Pizza Dough
from eat make read.

1 cup whole wheat flour
1 cup all purpose flour (you can also use just all purpose flour if you like)
1/4 cup olive oil
pinch of sea salt
1 packet dry yeast/1 cube fresh yeast
2/3 cup lukewarm water – or fresh whey, if you’ve got it at hand!

1. Whisk the yeast into the water/whey and let proof until foamy, about 5 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, combine flour, olive oil and salt in a large bowl.

3. Pour the yeast mixture into the flour mixture and stir until combined – get your hands in there in the end and knead the dough until nicely homogenous.

4. When the dough is beautiful and smooth, take out of bowl and pour a small amount of olive oil in the bowl. Put the dough back in the bowl, then flip it to coat both sides. Place a towel/plastic wrap over the bowl and let dough rise, about 30-45 minutes. If you feel like it and have the time, punch it down and let it rise a second time – why not?

5. Preheat oven to super-duper hot – as hot as it will go, which on mine is 270C.

6. Roll out dough very thin on parchment paper – which I found will make two quite large pizzas. Reserve half for tomorrow in a ziploc in the fridge, if you like.

7. Pop dough in oven for 5-10 minutes, enough to develop a nice crustiness to it. It might puff up in the center, which looks funky but is easy to puncture and flatten.

8. Take crust out of oven and attractively arrange your toppings – which I’d recommend going light on, this ain’t no Chicago deep-dish – then let cook at slightly lower heat for a few minutes more, depending on what you’ve added and your personal taste. The asparagus/ricotta needs maybe five minutes to coalesce.

Shaved Asparagus, Sun-Dried Tomato, and Fresh Ricotta Pizza

1 pizza crust

1/2 bunch asparagus
4 sun-dried tomatoes, either packed in olive oil or reconstituted, sliced
3 cloves garlic, minced
dash red pepper flakes
piquant black pepper
good glug extra virgin olive oil

1/4 c fresh ricotta
crunchy sea salt

1. Shave asparagus with vegetable peeler. Don’t worry if it comes out uneven (it will). Toss with tomatoes, garlic, red pepper flakes, black pepper, olive oil to coat.

2. Arrange atop partially baked pizza crust. Daub with ricotta, sprinkle liberally with sea salt. Bake at perhaps 170C for perhaps 5 minutes – keep an eye on it, you want just the tips of the asparagus and the crests of the ricotta to brown.

3. Munch, maybe with a glass of chilled rosé.