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.

Greek Chicken Stew With Cauliflower and Olives

19 02 2012

Spring’s here, and she demands parsley. This stew is healthy and easy and colorful and aromatic, light enough for the sun streaming in your kitchen window and rich enough to stave away any pesky winter winds asserting their waning presence. Kalamatas would be sublime; the green manzanillas I used were just dandy.

Make it with free-range chicken and you won’t regret it -I swear their liberty seeps merrily into the broth, saturating the cauliflower with wild chickeny depth you’d never squeeze out of cardboard-y 10-packs of pechuga.

Greek Chicken Stew With Cauliflower and Olives
adapted from The New York Times.

extra virgin olive oil
1 large red onion, chopped
4+ garlic cloves (to taste), minced
1 giant free-range chicken breast on the bone. Or thighs, or whatever – use your judgement here.
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1 28-ounce can chopped tomatoes, with juice
1/2 teaspoon Saigon cinnamon
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1 cauliflower, cored, broken into florets, and sliced about 1/2 inch thick
about 15 manzanilla olives (or kalamata if you got ’em), rinsed, pitted and cut in half (optional)
small handful chopped flat-leaf parsley
1 to 2 ounces feta cheese, crumbled (optional – I didn’t use it, but it would be a welcome addition)

1. Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil over medium-high heat in a large, deep, heavy lidded skillet or casserole and brown the chicken, in batches if necessary, about 5 minutes on each side. Remove the pieces to a plate or bowl as they’re browned. Add the vinegar to the pan and scrape up all the bits from the bottom of the pan.

2. Add the remaining tablespoon of the olive oil to the pan, and turn the heat down to medium. Add the onion and a generous pinch of salt and cook, stirring often and scraping the bottom of the pan, until it is lightly browned and very soft.

3. Add the garlic and stir together for a minute or two more, until the garlic is fragrant, then add the tomatoes and their juice, the cinnamon, thyme, and salt and pepper to taste. Bring to a simmer and simmer 10 minutes, stirring from time to time, until the mixture is reduced slightly and fragrant.

4. Return the chicken pieces to the pot, along with any juices that have accumulated in the bowl. If necessary, add enough water to barely cover the chicken. Bring to a simmer, reduce the heat, and simmer 15 minutes.

5. Add the cauliflower and olives and simmer for another 15 minutes, or until the cauliflower is tender and the chicken is just about falling off the bone.

6. Take chicken out of pot, remove from bone, shred, and re-incorporate. Simmer just a minute more, stir in the parsley, taste and adjust seasonings. Serve with grains – black rice is nice – with feta sprinkled on top if you like.

Best Baba Ghanoush

13 12 2011

This is what you’re going to bring to your next potluck dinner. This is what you’re going to have on hand for your unexpected guests. This is healthy, vegan, gluten free, low fat, slow carb, quick, simple, customizable, tastes complex, and gets better with age. This is David Lebovitz’s baba ghanoush, and this is my go-to recipe to easily impress.

The secret is pictured here – you roast the everliving shit out of the unassuming eggplant directly over open flame. This enchants the innards with some kind of complicated chemical magic (we’re talking way beyond wingardium leviosa here), inundating them with Essence of Char. The eggplant sweats it, but you don’t have to. Burn these beauties into brilliance, then pop them in the oven to further cream them from within.

Unf. Yeah, eggplant’s sexy.

Best Baba Ghanoush
adapted a bit from David Lebovitz.
enough for six for pickin’.

2 medium-sized eggplants
1/4 cup (130g) tahini
salt to taste
freshly-squeezed lemon juice to taste
2 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
1/8 teaspoon chile powder*
1/4 teaspoon cumin*
1/8 teaspoon pimentón de la vera*
1/8 teaspoon cayenne*
1 tablespoon olive oil
optional and amazing: za’atar

1. Preheat the oven to 375F/190C.

2. Prick each eggplant a few times, then char the outside of the eggplants by placing them directly on the flame of a gas burner, and, as the skin chars, turn them until the eggplants are uniformly-charred on the outside.

3. Place the eggplants on a baking sheet and roast in the oven for 20 to 30 minutes, until they’re completely soft; you should be able to easily poke a paring knife into them and meet no resistance.

4. Remove from oven and let cool.

5. Split the eggplant and scrape out the pulp. Puree the pulp in a blender or food processor with the other ingredients until smooth. Immersion blenders work wonders here.

6. Taste, and season with additional salt and lemon juice, if necessary. Chill for a few hours before serving. Serve sprinkled with za’atar with an olive oil well in the center, accompanied by pita chips, or carrot and bell pepper crudités.

* Change these as you please.

Sunday Night in La Latina: El Tempranillo Tapas

8 10 2011

The barrio of La Latina is the oldest area of the city, and it bustles most furiously on Sundays. El Rastro flea market during the day brings in scores of secondhand seekers; the night brims over with bubbly and tapas, particularly concentrated in calle Cava Baja.

El Tempranillo is my second favorite wine bar in La Latina. One glance at the decor leaves no doubt as to their priorities. As per the usual, I request a recommendation of Rioja – the bartender’s expertise definitely trumps my own. He rambles off a name and I agree immediately, resulting in two long-stemmed glasses of deep red diamonds, rich with the promise of warm complexity.

Such liquid treasure must be accompanied by equally superb edibles. Grilled chipirones on a bed of creamy caramelized onions are sweetly reminiscent of the sea without distracting from the Riojana star.

The bacalao accented with crunchy slivers of bell pepper atop a garlicky tomato sauce is an elegant presentation of a classic, but the showstopper is, rather unbelievably, the smoked salmon with banana. That’s right. There never was a happier marriage of fish and fruit than this salty-sweet symphony, drizzled with a balsamic vinegar reduction; the steady turning of the world comes to a screeching halt as we experience an entirely new and extraordinarily successful flavor combination.

My companion, eyes glazed over in pleasure, proclaims,

This. This is the best thing in Spain.

Adventures in Spanish Eats: Oreja Edition

6 10 2011

Morcilla: What Your Study-Abroad Teacher Warned You About. The not-so-secret ingredient that gives this Spanish sausage its characteristic blackish hue and earthy flavor is pig’s blood, which somehow manages to give many foreigners the heebie-jeebies. However, having already fallen in spicy vampiric love with Thailand’s nam tok – spicy soup deepened in flavor by the addition of fresh sangre – I remain free of such tikismiquis qualms; morcilla is one of my absolute top Spanish dishes.

There are two common variations, the kind made with onions and the Burgos variety made with rice. Burgos’ is best and has the rep to back it up. Lateral‘s version, pictured above, is total offal magnificence.

These gorgeous green puppies are pimientos de Padrón, and I think there’s some kind of blogging law about including the following gallego couplet in their description:

Coma os pementos de Padrón,
uns pican e outros non

The wiki claims 1 in 10 are unexpectedly hot enough to rattle your bones, but personal experience slates it at more like 1 in 20. Either way, the majority of the sautéed (or sometimes grilled) peppers taste of charred vegetable sweetness, accented perfectly by unmistakable Spanish EVOO and crunchy crystals of salt; it’s only when you’ve finally given up on seeking out any lurking Scoville beasties that they come out to play.

Funnily enough, I encountered these the last time I was back in the states, there marketed as Exotic Shishito Peppers From Japan. Munching them with mom and bro was magnificent in Greensburg back in June; the most recent Iberian iteration was the pictured plateful from Bar El Jamón in Lavapiés.

Couchsurfer Eddie convinces me to order up a ración of oreja along with the beloved peppers, and I savor hot, gooey, greasy gelatin vaguely reminiscent of animal product for the first and last time.

Beyond Perfect Tomato Sauce

28 09 2011

Halved and tweaked from Smitten Kitchen

5 or 6 plum tomatoes
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
1 large clove garlic, thinly sliced
Pinch of red pepper flakes
Small handful basil leaves, most left whole, a few slivered for garnish
1/8 cup olive oil
dried spaghetti for one or two, depending on how sauce-laden you like your pasta. Don’t worry, there won’t be any leftover.
1/2 tablespoon unsalted butter

1. Cut a small X in the bottom of each tomato and blanch in a pot of boiling water for approximately 30 seconds. This loosens their skins, which should now slip right off and be discarded. [You can cook your pasta in the hot water later if you like.]

2. Halve each tomato lengthwise and remove the seeds with your fingertips into a small strainer set over a bowl. Discard the seeds, but hang on to the precious, precious juice.

3. Add the tomato flesh and juices plus salt to a large saucepan over medium-high heat, mashing them with a wooden implement to your desired consistency as they soften. Bring to a boil, then lower to a simmer for 30-ish minutes.

4. While the tomato cooks, combine sliced garlic clove, a few whole basil leaves, the pinch of red pepper flakes, and the olive oil in a small saucepan. Heat over the lowest heat possible to draw out the time it takes to come to a simmer. Once you see bubbles, immediately remove from heat, strain into a small dish, and reserve.

5. At about 20 minutes of simmering, add a healthy dose of salt to your blanching water pot and bring it back to a boil. Toss in the spaghetti and cook just to the point of al dente – should have a slight bite to it. Reserve 1/2 cup pasta water and drain the rest.

6. Your sauce should be the most gorgeous brilliant red by now. Stir in the reserved olive oil and taste, adjusting seasonings if needed. Add the drained spaghetti plus just a touch of the pasta water to the sauce and cook together only for a minute or two. If sauce needs more liquid, add more pasta water.

7. Guild the lily: add in the 1/2 tablespoon of butter and stir. Garnish with slivered basil for a touch of green. Don’t add cheese, this sauce needs nothing. Serve; devour in reverent silence.

Sardinade à Hendaye, France

24 07 2011

” — hold on, let me check. Hey, do you want to go eat sardines in France tonight?”

Do I.

Summer means sardines in just-across-the-French-border Hendaye. It’s still Basque Country, but Frenchified; architecture sprouts Parisian flourishes, pastisseries seem infinitely more exotically attractive than their pasteleria counterparts, and syllables suddenly begin to slide languidly through nostrils.

Even I end up busting out French 101 remnants: “Bonjour, catre, merci!” Only one selection on the menu, and we want four of them.

Ten chargrilled sardines, freshly fished from the ocean just beyond the above-pictured Bay of Chingoudy. These are oversize puppies, designed to be nibbled by hand in the style of an ear of corn, delicately nursing each shred of fish flesh from out the spine. Everyone ends up eating a few dainty bones; follow them with a swig of Rioja and it doesn’t matter. The cheese is local, nutty and rich, and the Basque pastry at the end is pure butter.

And it’s sunset on the coast of France. Le sigh.