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Last week I went a little crazy at Miloski’s, the Long Island poultry farm we love. We’d driven out east 75 miles just to buy chickens. The trip itself was not unusual; we make it a few times a year, because they’re the best chickens we’ve ever had, even compared to all the free-range kinds available in Manhattan. We often make a day of it, pushing further out on the North Fork and adding farmstand and/or winery visits, even a little birdwatching. But this time we went just for chickens – straight out and straight back.

What we came back with is 18 pounds of poultry: 2 whole chickens, 10 very large chicken legs, and 4 duck legs. Even for me that’s excessive, Casasbut somehow they all called out to me. So now our freezer is full of fowl, and I’ve started happily working my way through it. Most recently I took out two of the big chicken legs and made Pollo al Vino Tinto, from Penelope Casas’s The Foods and Wines of Spain. I’ve made the recipe before and like it very much. Even Beloved Spouse – the irredeemable non-chicken-fancier – likes it, which helps ensure domestic tranquility.

I floured and browned my chicken pieces, then stirred in a mince of carrot, onion, garlic, and chorizo. Imported Spanish chorizo, I feel, is crucial to this dish.

chicken-1

When the vegetables had softened, I added a good dash of brandy and flamed it. (I tried to get a nice dramatic shot of the flames shooting up, but by the time the camera was ready I was in time to catch only the last spluttering.)

chicken-2

Next into the pan went a chopped roasted red Bell pepper – which I’ve found a reasonable substitute for a pimiento – salt, pepper, bay leaf, thyme, chicken broth, and red wine. Then it was just to stir, cover, and simmer until the dish was done. Casas says it takes 1½ hours, but I’ve found an hour to be fine, with the cover off toward the end to reduce the sauce a little.

chicken-3

Initially I wondered if I ought to puree that rough-looking sauce, but we actually liked the effect of the tiny nuggets of chorizo and vegetables in the same bites as the soft, tender chicken. The smoky, pimentòn spiciness of a good dry-cured chorizo gives an unmistakably Spanish lilt to this hearty, rustic dish.

chicken-4

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Compared to its cousin the squid (culinarily familiar as calamari), cuttlefish is still a fairly exotic food in the US. Having enjoyed it very much in Italy (a.k.a. seppia) and Spain (choco), I keep looking for it here. Unfortunately, cuttlefish don’t inhabit American oceans, as squid do, so they rarely appear in our fish markets. But in one store recently I found some lovely little ones, imported from Spain. I bought these three, which weighed in at half a pound:

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seppioline

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Casas MammaI’d found a recipe to make with them in Penelope Casas’s cookbook La Cocina di Mama: The Great Home Cooking of Spain. I’ve had several good results from this book, as well as from other books by this author. I’ve already written about a few of them here, here, and here. The recipe I chose this time, Potage de Garbanzos y Chocos, is a spicy stew of cuttlefish, chickpeas, and potatoes.

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At first reading, I thought the ingredient list was awfully heavy on the chickpea component, given the way dried legumes swell when reconstituted: To serve four, it called for a whole pound of dried chickpeas, as well as a pound of chocos. But I trust Casas, and I had some good heirloom chickpeas from Italy, so for the half recipe I was making I used the full half pound.

Soaked overnight in water, the chickpeas duly grew to three times their dried volume. Undaunted, I put them in a big pot with water, half a head of unpeeled garlic, olive oil, a small chopped tomato, parsley, a bay leaf, a small dried hot red pepper, and half a teaspoon of pimentón dulce (Spanish smoked sweet paprika).

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ceci cooking

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All this simmered for a little over an hour, producing enticing aromas that wafted out of the kitchen and scented half the apartment. When the chickpeas were beginning to soften, I moved on to the next step: adding the choco – neatly cut into short strips by my obliging knifeman – and a few fingerling potatoes.

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chocos added

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After another half hour, everything was tender. To finish the dish, I squeezed the garlic flesh into the stew and discarded the skin, stirred in another dose of pimentón, and let the pot sit covered for 15 minutes before serving.

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served

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It was a marvelous dish – everything worked together beautifully, and the taste fully justified the cooking aromas. The chickpeas had taken on good spicy flavors in addition to their own basic nuttiness. In fact, we couldn’t finish them all, but we got through more than I expected to. There was about a pint of leftovers, mostly chickpeas, which I carefully saved to use another day.

Thoroughly enjoyable as the cuttlefish were, I’d had a slightly uneasy feeling all during dinner, which I later decided was an overactive imagination responding to the splendidly lifelike Venetian glass cuttlefish that have looked over our shoulders for every meal we’ve eaten in this apartment. I couldn’t say for certain that they recognized their Spanish relatives, but the whole cephalopod family is highly intelligent.

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aquarium

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Back in the ‘70s, Tom and I often dined at a small Greenwich Village restaurant called El Rincón de España. We particularly loved the owner-chef’s specialty of octopus in a tangy red sauce, Pulpo a la Carlos. We didn’t know much about Spanish food then, and we never figured out what gave the dish its unusual flavor. (Innocents as we were, it didn’t occur to us to ask.) As time moved on, we grew away from El Rincón (it closed long ago), and it was many years before I became seriously interested in Spanish cooking.

Fast forward to the present. The food on our recent trip to Spain had given us a Pimentonstaste for pimentón – smoked paprika – tins of which we’d brought back and begun experimenting with. One evening Tom concocted a marinade for some shrimp to be broiled, using olive oil, garlic, oregano, and hot pimentón. The first taste of the shrimp was a Proustian moment for us both: This had to be the way Carlos did his pulpo!

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Of course, I had to try it. I was able to buy cooked octopus in a local store, which was a great time- and labor-saver:

cooked octopus

(That’s 2⅓ pounds of octopus – much more than I needed for the two of us, but there’s another octopus recipe, not Spanish, that I intend to try, which I’ll report on here in due time.)

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Casas MammaI also checked my Spanish cookbooks and found a recipe for Pulpo Encebollado (Octopus with Paprika in Simmered Onions) in Penelope Casas’s La Cocina de Mamá that used similar ingredients. It didn’t include a marinade, but the rest of the technique looked good, so I basically adopted it. Another good sign: The headnote mentioned that this was a recipe from Galicia, where octopus is enormously popular. El Rincón’s Carlos was also Galician.

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So: Tom cut up a pound of the octopus tentacles into one-inch pieces and I froze the rest. I simmered 2 minced garlic cloves, 2 teaspoons of hot pimentón, and ½ teaspoon of salt in ⅓ cup of olive oil. When it was cool I poured it over the octopus pieces and let them marinate for a couple of hours, stirring occasionally.

marinating octopus

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In the evening I poured off that seasoned oil and in it softened ¾ cup of minced onions, slowly and covered, so they almost dissolved. Then I added the octopus, stirred in just a little water to keep it from frying, and heated it all through.

final cooking

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It was simply gorgeous. Was it indeed the Pulpo a la Carlos we’d eaten so many years ago? We’re not certain, but it came as close as reminiscence allows. Maybe Carlos added a little tomato puree, to make the whole dish a bit saucier?  I can try that next time – and there will be a next time. Octopus is delicious: Low in fat, high in protein, packed with vitamins and minerals, it has to be the world’s meatiest mollusk. Its succulent flesh seemed to revel in the contrast with the lively pimentón sauce. The plain rice I served alongside absorbed that sauce with enthusiasm, too. It’s an extraordinary pleasure to rediscover – after 40 years! – such a great culinary treat.

octopus plated

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My recent post on the food in my trip to Spain mentioned four items that I wanted to make at home. It didn’t take me long to get to one: the revolcona potato dish I had as a dinner first course at the Hospedería Parque de Monfraguë in Extremadura. It was extraordinarily good, and my captive tasting panel of husband and house guest were standing by to test my version.

This is the dish I had in Spain: revolcona .

You can’t see too much of the potatoes under the “poché egg” – as the English-language menu called it – but they were definitely the star of the combination. I could tell there was smoked paprika in the flavor, which confirmed my resolution to bring some of that Extremenian specialty home with me. I bought modest-sized tins of all three types of Pimentón de la Vera (at a fraction of the cost I’ve ever seen them at in the US). Pimentons .

None of my Spanish cookbooks offered a recipe for revolcona potatoes, but the Internet provided many. I chose this one, which looked as if it would be closest to the version I’d had in Spain. And I decided to make it for a lunch, since the dish my palate remembered so vividly was really too rich and filling for a first course.

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I boiled my potatoes with a bay leaf in the water, then mashed them only roughly, with a little of their cooking water. The next step was to prepare the seasoning mix. I lightly browned some cloves of garlic in olive oil, transferred them to the mini food processor, added a hefty dose of the sweet paprika, a small dose of the hot, salt, and more of the potato cooking water. (The recipe called for cumin also, but I omitted it.) When that was all pureed, I stirred it into the potatoes, which I’d transferred to the garlic-browning skillet. potatoes twice .

While the potatoes were reheating I poached eggs and sizzled some pieces of bacon and prosciutto in another pan. The meat should have been Ibérico ham, but good slab bacon and Parma prosciutto were what I had, and I wanted to see which would make the better combination. Once the meats were ready, the final assembly was easy. Revolcona at home .

My tasting panel declared the dish a success. The potatoes were excellent, but we all agreed they wouldn’t be hurt by a little more zing, so I’ll try going heavier on the hot paprika next time; or maybe replacing the sweet paprika with the bittersweet variety. Both my “inauthentic” pork products were just fine, slightly salty and crisp, in excellent contrast to the almost melting texture of the potatoes and eggs. One other variation I might try is to replace the poached eggs with the wonderful Spanish-style fried eggs that I wrote about here last year. If that’s gilding the lily, I’ll be happy to go for the gold.

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My birding trip in Spain was definitely not focused on gastronomy. All dinners were taken at the simple rural hotels where our group was staying, and lunches were at cafes and other modest eateries in villages along the birding routes. Menus were sometimes limited, with dishes selected in advance for the group by the local leader (and described for us in English, so I never got some of the Spanish names). Nevertheless, we encountered very good food in some of those places, including a few dishes that I hope to be able to recreate at home.

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Lunches were usually a large assortment of tapas for the whole table, ranging from salads to the ubiquitous fried squid. Here are a few of the interesting items. (Click to enlarge the images.)

tapas

Jamón Ibérico, the air-cured Iberian ham at left, is always a treat. The fried cuttlefish were even tastier than their close relatives, squid. Next, potato croquettes – a frequent tapa offering. The medium-sized garden snails, a delicious short-season specialty, appeared to have been cooked with oil, garlic, and smoked paprika. And the last dish on the right is grilled chipirones: very small squid.

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Frequent main courses at dinner included beautifully cooked fresh seafood:

seafood dishes

The tiny fried fish are fresh anchovies. Next, braised octopus. In the middle, a roasted whole choco, or large cuttlefish. More small fried fish, including tiny soles. Last, two tentacles of yet another octopus.

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There were also good, hearty meat and poultry dishes.

3 meat dishes

Left to right, a simple lamb stew with the Basque name Corderico al Txilindron; duck leg confit; and Codillo de cerdo. This last was mystifyingly translated for me as “elbow of pork”; close examination showed it to be a pork shank that had been halved lengthwise through the bone.

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We even came upon some surprisingly elegant and sophisticated preparations. At lunch one day, everyone in our group was served a large, richly eggy crepe filled with wild mushrooms and topped with something like a light Mornay sauce. It was marvelous.

crepe

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Another day, as a dinner appetizer Tom had “ravioli” made with rice papers instead of pasta, filled with a creamy mixture of pears and oveja cheese, topped with pesto, and served on a bed of ratatouille. An improbable combination, it seemed to me, but intriguing and very flavorful.

ravioli

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That same evening, my appetizer was a cake of spicy revolcona potatoes topped with a perfectly poached egg and surrounded by quickly sauteed Ibérico ham. That in itself was almost enough for a dinner!

revolcona

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Finally, the most noteworthy dessert I had in Spain was Torrija. This traditional sweet is a sort of hybrid of French toast and bread pudding, and this version came with a crunchy crème brûlée topping. Quite luscious.

torrija

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These last four dishes are the ones I’m determined to try making at home. If I succeed, you may be meeting them again in future posts.

P.S. Tom’s blog has a post on some of the wines we drank in Spain.

 

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A Foretaste of Spain

Tom and I are away for three weeks on a birding trip around Spain with Victor Emanuel Nature Tours.

spain trip map

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While officially it’s purely a birding trip, for us it’s just as much a food and wine trip. The VENT leaders are usually as good at choosing restaurants as they are at 61jYp3TZ27L__AA160_finding birds, so we look forward to some interesting meals.

Anticipating the adventure a bit, and also to get us into the proper mood for Iberian-style eating, I made a modest tapas dinner the other day, using three recipes from Penelope Casas’ book Tapas: The Little Dishes of Spain.

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The main item was Fried Squid, Spanish-Style. Casas calls this “a classic on the tapas circuit,” a dish likely to be available almost anywhere in Spain. If so, hooray! – because these were excellent. The squid had to be cut in rings, dried thoroughly, dusted with flour, dipped in egg, deep-fried for less than three minutes, and dressed with sea salt and lemon juice. They were beautifully tender and fresh-tasting.

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Alongside, I’d made an Onion Tortilla. Normally, I make tortilla española, that luscious, thick, soft, eggy cake of fried potatoes and onions. This one had no potato but lots of minced sweet Spanish onions, which made it lighter but also delicious. Even easier to make: Soften onions in olive oil; cool them; mix them into beaten eggs, milk, salt, and pepper; then cook the whole mixture very slowly in a pan until it just sets. It’s good hot, warm, or cool.

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For a bright contrast with those two dishes, I made a little Cumin-flavored Carrot Salad – which Casas says is a specialty of a well-known bar in Cadiz. I simmered whole carrots in chicken broth and water until almost done; let them cool and sliced them; dressed them in wine vinegar, oregano, cumin, paprika, and salt, and left them to marinate all afternoon. Bracing!

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The three together made a very pleasant week-night supper. I have great hopes for our eating in Spain. I won’t be posting here again until well into May, but then I hope I’ll have some good dishes to write about from the trip. ¡Hasta la vista!

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Greenwich Village CookbookThe Greenwich Village Cookbook is a repository of local culinary and cultural history. Published in 1969, it has nearly 400 recipes from 75 restaurants and coffeehouses then active in the Village, with affectionate profiles of each. Most are long gone now, but several are still in business, though the recipes from those days reflect cooking styles of half a century ago. My friends Frank and Vickie gave me a copy of the book recently, and last weekend I made them a dinner from it.

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We started with The Coach House’s Black Bean Soup Madeira. Before it closed in 1993, the Coach House had been an immensely prestigious (also elegant and expensive) restaurant on Waverley Place for over 40 years, and black bean soup was one of its signature dishes.

This was one of the most time-consuming soups I’ve ever made. I started by cooking black beans in plain water for 1½ hours. At the end of that time, I added a sauté of chopped celery, onion, and parsley lightly thickened with flour; a whole smoked pork knuckle, a hillock of chopped leeks, a bay leaf, salt, and pepper. All that simmered together for 3 hours, after which I discarded the pork knuckle and bay leaf and pureed the soup. Next was to add Madeira (I didn’t happen to have any, so I used an oloroso sherry), reheat the soup, stir in chopped hard-boiled egg, and – finally – float a thin slice of lemon on top of each bowlful.

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It was a terrific soup – subtly spicy, lush and filling.  It made very clear why the Coach House had stood so long as a bastion of fine American cooking.

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Our main course was Chicken al Charro. El Charro Español is one of the surviving restaurants from those days: It still serves traditional Spanish food in its modest basement premises on Charles Street. Tom and I used to eat there in the early ’70s, and I often ordered its chicken, so when I found the recipe in the cookbook I knew I had to try to reproduce it.

Unlike the soup, this was a fairly simple dish to make. I cut up a nice plump chicken, rubbed the pieces with a paste of crushed garlic, ground cumin, paprika, salt, and pepper, and dredged them with flour. I softened a sliced onion in olive oil, added the chicken pieces, browned them briskly, then lowered the heat, covered the pan, and let them cook until tender. Just before serving I sprinkled on some red wine and additional crushed garlic. That, along with the cooking juices in the pan, made a tiny sauce to moisten the chicken pieces.

Chicken al Charro

This was a good, lively dish. It was important to have a really flavorful chicken; I think a bland supermarket bird would’ve been overwhelmed by the spicing. The final garlic addition was fairly pungent, but it was balanced by the other seasonings. My dish didn’t fully equal my recollection of the restaurant’s long-ago version – but the warm glow of memory and nostaglia has probably gilded that particular lily. I could check it out, though: Pollo al Charro is still on the menu.

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For a small fruit dessert, I chose Oranges à l’Arabe, attributed to Casey’s, a long-defunct down-home French-New Orleans-jazz restaurant on West 10th Street. There didn’t seem to be anything very Arabian about the recipe, but it sounded attractive. I peeled four oranges, made slivers of some of the peel, and cooked the slivers in sugar syrup for 30 minutes. When the syrup was cool I stirred in dry curaçao, poured it over the sliced oranges, and put the dish in the refrigerator until needed.

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It was very simple and very refreshing – a pleasant finish for a pleasant meal in the style of the Greenwich Village of our youth.

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