Mark Bittman’s Squid and Artichokes Braised in White Wine

7 03 2013

Predictably, the cusp of spring brings desire for both rebirth and new vegetables.

Mark Bittman's squid and artichokes braised in white wine

The rain doused me today. I think I needed it along with the city. The surprise snow last week was charming for an hour or two, but ultimately resulted in little more than frozen toes. March calls for proper rain.

I went out walking in it, south to the Mercadona I used to frequent my very first year in the city. Very first year. It’s suddenly long ago. The grunge and the gintonics and the wicked-witch-of-the-West nails, Hector and Marta, Emily, theme parties and walking back across the city incensed about the nature of love during the night’s smallest hours. Surely aggravating our unseen neighbors with joyful raucousness of all sorts, much stomping and wailing. Always meaning to try that Colombian place across the street. Wearing boots. Cooking my first octopus, deciding to stay.

It’s all still there, when I visit. All the chaotic love that I found in Madrid, me, for myself, despite/owing in part to The Brick getting lodged somewhere deep in my corpus callosum. You know, I don’t even think about it anymore. I’ve told that story so many times that it has ceased to have weight. I disagree, in the end – we can heal, and we do. We’ll never be the same, but who wants pepper-pots anyway?

Mark Bittman's squid and artichokes braised in white wine

I want to rededicate myself to the art of constantly learning. I’ve misplaced much of the curious drive that so propelled me that first year. It’s not a wish to regress, far from it; it’s a desire for much more movement. I read somewhere recently that we Americans mistake comfort for happiness, which rings terribly true.

And so, today: I decided to learn how to prep artichokes. I’ve done so before but never alone. The thistle bulb takes specific TLC before it’s ready to offer up its buttery secrets, and the specific names for its alien parts make the process feel all the more intimate.

Spoon out the choke. Savor the heart.

Mark Bittman’s Squid and Artichokes Braised in White Wine

1 lemon
4 large artichokes, trimmed
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 1/2 tablespoon minced garlic
2 anchovy fillets, chopped
2 medium-sie squid, bodies cut into rings
1/2 cup white wine
Freshly ground black pepper
Minced parsley to garnish

1. Prep the artichokes: squeeze the lemon into an awaiting bowl of water, and submerge the artichokes as you trim them so they resist oxidation. Cut them into quarters.

2. Heat 2 T EVOO, then add the garlic and anchovies. Cook a few minutes, breaking up the ‘chovies. Add the squid, artichokes, and wine. Stir and cover.

3. Uncover and stir the mixture every 5 minutes or so. Both elements should begin to tenderize around 20 minutes; at this point, remove the cover and let the liquid simmer off – should take about 15 minutes or so. Season with black pepper, salt if needed, and parsley. Serve.


23 03 2011

It’s been on the list for ages, and my betentacled destiny beckons at last. It’s time to cook my first Spanish octopus.

It would be a stretch to call my first octo-stint wholly “successful” – grilling the partitioned beast over fiery coals on the Puerto Peñasco beach was a cheerful affair, but resulted in what would inevitably be remembered as rubber. Since then, I’ve done my reading; proper octopus (known by some as proptopus) (okay, this stops now) must be exposed to heat for either an extremely short amount of time, yielding a pleasantly springy final specimen, or stewed for an extended period, resulting in supremely tender cephalo-goodness.

I hunted down my frozen eight-legged friend at El Corte Inglés; I could swear they normally have them at Mercadona as well, but perhaps there was a run on them this weekend – I can’t be the only one who craves it. It took a warm water bath until totally defrosted, which took perhaps 10 minutes.

One of the neatest things about octopus is the amount of liquid they hold within their bodies; upon braising, this releases into the pot, conveniently cooking the flesh in its very own juices. It simmers this way for at least an hour, filling the air with aromas of tentacled tempation.

After a slew of stewing and an equally lengthy period of cooling rest, the octopus is ready for the knife. There’s nothing rubber-esque about it whatsoever at this point, and it smells divine. The head gets cut up completely as well; the only inedible bit is the small hard circle where the mouth bone has been removed – amazing.

My octopus was treated to a pairing with garlic, spinach, garbanzos, and a pair of thai bird chiles. The broth is purely what was released during braising, which ends up being quite strong, seafood-y and salty. The subtle heat imparted by the chiles rounds out this dish, prolonging the magic of the octo’s complex and dominating flavor.

It’s also ridiculously good for you; octopi are almost purely protein, plus a great source of iron and omega-3 fatty acids. Add spinach, and you have a seriously nutritious soup.

Octopus and Garbanzo Soup with Spinach, Garlic, and Chiles
Adapted from epicurious

takes: 2 1/2 hours, mostly unattended
makes: at least 4 hearty servings

1 cup cooked garbanzos
extra virgin olive oil
6 cloves garlic, smashed with the side of a knife
Zest of 1 lemon
1 small octopus, defrosted and rinsed
1/2 package frozen spinach, defrosted
1-2 celery stalks, thinly sliced
2 dried thai bird chilies

1. Heat a few tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat in a pot (preferably heavy-bottomed, but you know, make do with what you got). Stir in 3 of the garlic cloves, the lemon zest, and 1/2 teaspoon salt and cook, stirring occasionally, until the garlic begins to soften.

2. Add the octopus, stir to coat it with the oil, and then weight it down with a plate or lid to ensure it does not begin to float once it starts releasing its water. Cover the pot and adjust the heat to a gentle simmer. The octopus will start slowly releasing its water, creating its own braising liquid.

3. Cook for about 30 minutes and check to see how much braising liquid is in the pot. If it is about 1 cup or less (unlikely if you are using an uncooked whole octopus), add 1/2 cup of water. Check the tenderness and continue to cook for 30 to 50 minutes longer, or until almost completely tender. The octopus will dramatically decrease in volume.

4. Remove the pot from the heat and allow the octopus to cool in the braising liquid for 1 hour.

5. Once cooled, transfer the octopus to a large cutting board and strain the braising liquid through a fine-mesh strainer. Give the pot used to cook the octopus a quick wash and return it to the stove.

6. Starting at the thickest point of the tentacle, slice into 1/4-inch-thick-pieces, increasing the thickness of the pieces as the tentacle becomes narrower. Halve the head, then cut it into 1/4-inch strips. Set aside.

7. To prepare the soup, heat a few tablespoons olive oil in the cleaned pot over medium heat. Add the remaining 3 garlic cloves, the celery, and the chiles. Stir in the beans and the octopus, plus however much reserved braising liquid you desire. Heat until hot and then taste for seasoning, adding more salt if needed (probably not). Stir in the spinach and simmer for a few minutes more.

8. Serve immediately. Holy moley.

best things I have cooked so far in Spain

31 01 2011

whole chicken in a pot, momma style
chipotle burgers with leah‘s guacamole
3-hour bolognese
isana’s chinese eggplant-pepper-tomato-ground meat-ginger lettuce wraps
green thai curry with basil, eggplant, peas, red bell pepper, carrots, and pork
sunday afternoon valencian paella with alex and hector
happy monday bouillabaise
stuffed green pepper soup
dahl (with cardamom pods and nutmeg!)
khao soi (with pickled chinese mustard greens!)
gambas al ajillo with sam
chicken adobo – the first time I have butchered a whole chicken myself
coq au vin alla italiana
food-processor-free hummus with emily
the wednesday chef’s let-my-eggplant-go-free! sauce
smitten kitchen’s mushroom bourguignon
emeril’s chicken etouffee
ropa vieja
palak paneer (with the “burgos” cheese in place of paneer, also plus chicken)
tunisian chard and white bean stew
challah bread
fiery sweet potatoes
roasted eggplant, spinach, and cherry tomato pita

(that’s French, Spanish, Israeli, Indian, Thai, Chinese, Italian, Mexican, New Orleans, Tunisian, Arabic, Cuban, and ‘merican, in case anyone’s counting)

current food goals:
better my butchering skillz
use the frozen squid ink I found at Mercadona
make a big ole day-long pot of rice-n-beans
hold a fancy french dinner party
learn to plate
learn a few snazzy cocktail tricks
oh oh oh kalua porrrrrk (hmm. I may need to invest in a slow cooker.)
grill outside at La Tabacalera at the very first spit of spring

on the menu this week:
roast chicken with dijon sauce
lentil soup with spinach

Cooking, Spanish-Style: Round 1

3 10 2010

After the exquisite lunchfeast in Toledo, I feel inspired to dabble in the realm of Spanish cuisine. My reasons for not doing so before are twofold:

1. In Thailand, it is a bit on the foolish side for a foreigner to cook any variety of Thai food at home – it’s quicker, cheaper, and likely more delicious to buy it from the street. This isn’t the case in Spain, and I’ve had to adjust my thinking.

2. I’ve never been impressed by tortilla española.

Eating with Alvaro is a beautiful reminder that there are many facets to every branch of cuisine, and that there is a whole host of very good reasons why Spanish food is currently so in vogue. Family-style dining is popular and fairly inexpensive if you manage it right, and the range of flavors is decent, especially when it comes to regional specialties.

Our unanimous favorite from Toledo is asadillo manchego, a cold tomato-based dish with hard-boiled eggs, salty fish, and piquillo peppers. It’s the natural sweetness of the peppers that catches the tongue off-guard; it pairs lovingly with the fruity overtones of olive oil.

It’s certainly not the most high-profile Spanish dish, which is perhaps what causes such difficulty in encountering a proper recipe online (the one I’ve linked insists on the use of something called a “Thermomix Varoma”…). We first find the dish lacking in acidity; a few squeezes of an unconventional lime help brighten the mix, but it’s still lacking in magic. We munch it regardless. Interestingly, after the few remaining bites have sat in their own juices for about thirty minutes, the flavors seem to have developed – most notably that of the dash of cumin. I’ll be trying this one again, next time preparing it in advance to see what happens.

I remember loving a rice dish my Valencian host made me a few years back that included the combination of garbanzo beans and raisins, which I never would have thought to put together. The internet informs me that arroz con pasas y garbanzos is well-known as a Valencian specialty. My version includes chicken, because everyone likes extra protein, and lacks colorante alimentario, because no thank you.

Challah At Me Boy

17 09 2010

It’s the kind of day when your energy is such that there is no option but to bake.

Lightly sweet and eggy challah bread is what comes immediately to mind. I’ve never made it before, but it can’t be all that tricky. The braiding looks fun.

One major sticking point is that we lack an oven. No matter, we’ll need to involve nearby friends as baking buddies.

I know yeast is “levadura,” but if you pick up a box of “levadura en polvo,” you will end up with a baking soda mixture of dubious origin. Acquiring this refrigerated fresh yeast means making a special Mercadona excursion while Em readies the rest of the ingredients. If you’ve never encountered fresh yeast before, do not fear – one of these lil puppies is equivalent to the packets Americans are more used to.

While the dough rises for the first time, Fausto makes good on his promise to take Emily out for her very first kebab. We are joined by Leah, Kate, and Sam. Top-notch conversation accompanies the delicious cheap eats in Lavapiés.

On the walk back home, I discover yet another manifestation of Madrid’s constant vigilance.

Our doughbaby is now enormous, and it has managed to fill the entire piso with the sweet fragrance of yeast. It’s time to punch it down, which Em does with fervor. The recipe doesn’t call for a second rise here, but we want a siestita and do it anyway.

Perhaps forty minutes later, the moment of transportation has arrived. Sam runs out to a tienda chino for baking implements in anticipation of our imminent arrival.

Leah snaps a photo of the two giris with dough on the metro. Em and I not only match each other, but also our doughbaby’s blanket. It’s slightly sickening.

In Sam’s gorgeous and spacious kitchen (…), we form three doughsnakes, which Em proceeds to braid beautifully. It cradles snugly into the glass breadpan Sam found in the chino.

I lovingly brush the top bits of the braid with an eggwash, ensuring a shiny golden coat once baked.

Here the recipe suggests a final rise of an hour. We tuck our baby into bed, then know exactly what to do with the time:


The enticing scent of honey wafts into our nostrils as soon as we open the door. Our baby has gotten nearly too big for its britches.

What a beautiful beast. Sam cranks the oven to 190°C, and we pop it in. It needs twenty minutes of direct heat, then an aluminum foil tent prevents the top from charring too much.

We play Uno impatiently. Tragically, Emily has to head out during this time to make it to her very first Spanish class somewhere in the center – I promise her a challah feast upon returning to the piso later tonight.

After a series of unfortunate losses on my part, the time feels ripe.

Our breadchild could not be more beautiful. The product of a drizzly day’s work of slow efforts brings smiles all around, and even draws one of Sam’s housemates out of her room to investigate.

The honey and extra yolks in the dough give this dense bread a richness that pairs most sweetly with the semi-cured sheep’s milk cheese we brought over, and we also sample it with strawberry jam, honey, and a nutella-esque chocolate spread of Sam’s. A very well-dressed Kate comes over from a day at the museum and munches with us as well.

Recipe and abridged post here.