Saturday, September 14, 2019

A PAN-MEDITERRANEAN SAUCE

As I was making ajo blanco last week with the new crop of almonds (yes, I pick them, shell them, blanch and skin the kernels), I was thinking how unique this cold soup is.  It’s more than the sum of its parts—almonds, bread, garlic and olive oil. Thinned with water and served with sweet grapes, ajo blanco is the original gazpacho. Unthinned, it is mazamorra or porra, a thick cream for spooning or dipping.


Except, as it turns out, it is not so unique. Italians have their agliata, or garlic sauce, made of bread, garlic, olive oil and vinegar, served with boiled meat or vegetables. The Sephardic community of Turkey has an ajada sauce of bread (or potatoes), garlic, olive oil and lemon juice, sometimes egg yolks too, served on roast beef. And the Greeks make skordalia, a garlic sauce originally made with bread and olive oil. Regional variations of skordalia include one made with potatoes instead of bread and another of bread plus ground almonds. Which is, basically, ajo blanco.

For variety, I decided to make the Greek version of this pan-Mediterranean sauce.

Skordalia is a Greek sauce made with lots of garlic (skordo means "garlic" in Greek), olive oil and bread or potatoes. Serve it as a dip with pita crisps, as salad dressing or as a sauce for fried fish, boiled vegetables or beans.

Skordalia accompanies cooked beets and butter beans (Greek gigantes). Add olives and bright tomatoes. (These are not Greek olives, but Spanish cuquillo olives.)

The sauce is the consistency of thick mayonnaise. It can be thinned to make a pouring sauce.

Skordalia is the centerpiece of a vegetarian lunch plate.

Or, serve skordalia as a party dip with pita crisps.

Skordalia (Greek Garlic Sauce)
Salsa de Ajo a la Griega

This Greek sauce can be served with fried fish or with all kinds of vegetables. I made the version with potatoes, instead of bread.

It's best to mash the potatoes in a bowl or put them through a ricer as pureeing them in a blender makes them gummy. 

1 ½ pounds potatoes, peeled
Salt
Freshly ground black pepper
8 cloves garlic
1 cup extra virgin olive oil
¼ cup Sherry vinegar

Cook the potatoes in boiling salted water until they are very tender. Drain, saving some of the cooking liquid in case the sauce needs thinning.

Mash the potatoes in a bowl with a potato masher or wooden pestle. Season them with pepper.

Beat garlic oil into mashed potatoes.
Puree the garlic in a blender with some of the oil. Gradually beat in the remaining oil, the vinegar and a spoonful of the mashed potato.

Beat the garlic-oil into the mashed potatoes. Season to taste with salt (1/2- 1 teaspoon). Add additional vinegar for a tangier flavor. If the sauce is too thick, beat in a spoonful of the reserved cooking water. 

Serve the sauce room temperature. It can be stored, covered and refrigerated, for up to 5 days. Bring to room temperature before serving.


Pita Crisps
Pan Árabe Crujiente

Triangles of pita, toasted with olive oil.

Use thin, pocket pitas for making the crisps. Separate them into layers.

Pita breads
Olive oil
Salt or spices such as za´atar or ras el hanout

Split the pita breads open. Use scissors to cut the layers in half crosswise, then in triangular wedges. Place on a baking sheet, rough side up. Brush them with olive oil. Sprinkle with salt or spices.

Bake in 400ºF oven until golden and crisp, about 5 minutes. Cool the crisps completely before storing in an air-tight container.




Here are recipes for variations on the theme:





Sunday, September 8, 2019

FAST FOOD FOR SEPTEMBER TRANSITION

I stared blankly at the usual array of meat at the butcher’s counter. What am I cooking for dinner today? September is such a transitional month. As summer segues into fall, vacation time comes to an end and routines resume. It takes me a while to adjust and I never seem to have enough time to plan and prep for meals.  My usual solution is to roast a big chicken. With leftovers, I avoid the “what’s for dinner” question for a few days. But the leftovers are finished. 


What caught my eye was a tray of chicken livers. Fast food! Livers are quick to cook, don’t need any special treatment. The tag end of an open bottle of Sherry makes for a very tasty sauce.

Chicken livers cook in minutes. Sherry gives the sauce depth of flavour.

Use any variety of Sherry. I combined dry Manzanilla fino and sweet oloroso.

Serve chicken livers in small portions as tapas, accompanied by bread.




Or, with rice and a side of vegetables, make the livers a main dish.

Serve fino Sherry with the meal.

Sautéed Chicken Livers
Higadillos de Pollo 

The classic recipe for chicken livers calls for dry fino Sherry, but any Sherry type (or combination) is fine. Best of all is oloroso seco, which gives the sauce a mellow depth of flavor. No Sherry? Try white wine fortified with just a little brandy. 

Fresh chicken livers and hearts.

1 pound chicken livers
¼ cup olive oil
1 cup julienne-cut onions
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 ounce chopped serrano ham or bacon
2 tablespoons chopped red pimiento
½ cup Sherry
Salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Fresh thyme
Bay leaf

Chopped parsley, to garnish


Scissors to cut up livers.


If livers come with hearts attached, discard the hearts (cook them for cat food). Use kitchen shears to cut each liver into 5 or 6 pieces. 

Heat the oil in a skillet and sauté the onions and garlic on medium heat, 4 minutes. Add the livers and fry them, turning, until they are slightly browned on all sides, 4 minutes.




Add the chopped ham, pimiento, Sherry, salt, pepper, thyme and bay leaf to the pan. Bring the liquid to a boil, then reduce heat and cover the pan. Cook gently until livers are cooked through, about 8 minutes.

Serve the chicken livers garnished with chopped parsley.

Chicken livers are tender, flavorful and FAST.



More ideas for quick meals:

Saturday, August 31, 2019

A FIELD DAY WITH VEGETABLES!

You may be celebrating summer’s end with the Labor Day holiday, but here in southern Spain, I’m celebrating the end of the high season for tourists (hopefully, more parking spaces will be available in the village). And, I’m having a field day with garden vegetables.


A friend handed us a bag of cherry tomatoes from his garden. And my green beans are finishing, so it’s time to pick them all before they get too woody. The pods become progressively more fibrous and stringy as the “bean” inside the pods matures.

I’m making an old-fashioned Spanish vegetable dish, judías verdes con tomate—beans slow-cooked in tomato sauce—except that I’m cooking the beans just until crisp-tender and using cherry tomatoes for a quick “sauce.”

Cherry tomatoes make a savory sauce for snappy green beans. 



Served with crisp-fried potatoes and garnished with egg, the beans and tomatoes make a great lunch.

The beans I grow are similar to what in the U.S. are called “Romano,” wide, flat pods. (One Spanish variety is the Garrofal, the bean added to classic Valencian paella.)  But this recipe will work with all green beans—round-podded “string” beans, skinny haricots, wax beans as well as the flat ones. Any degree of mature is fine. Remove strings, if necessary. Cook them crisp-tender if they’re still small, but don’t be ashamed to cook big ole mature beans a long time, until completely tender.

Cooking time will depend on the variety and maturity of the beans. I find that round-podded snap beans take longer to cook than the flat Romano variety. Taste them while they’re cooking and take them off the heat when they’re done to your taste. Plunging the beans quickly into ice water will help keep their bright green color.


This dish can be served as a starter, side or light lunch dish. Turn it into a vegetarian entrée by omitting the optional bacon or ham. (If you're using ibérico ham, don't sauté it, but toss with the beans when you remove them from the heat.) Serve the beans hot, room temperature or cold. Cold, theyt are improved with a splash of vinegar or lemon juice right before serving.

Sauté of Green Beans and Cherry Tomatoes
Judías Verdes Salteadas con Tomates Cherry

Serves 4-6.

1 ¼  pounds green beans
¼ cup olive oil
2 cloves garlic, chopped
½ medium onion, cut in julienne
2 ounces diced bacon, pancetta or ham
8 ounces cherry tomatoes, halved
Salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Red pepper flakes (optional)
Pinch of cumin
Quartered hard-cooked egg, to serve (optional)
Fresh herbs to garnish

Use a peeler to remove strings!
Get your beans in a row.























Remove strings from the beans, if necessary.  

Cut off tops and tails. Cut the beans into 2-inch lengths. Bring a pot of salted water to a boil. Have ready a bowl of ice water. Add the beans to the boiling water and cook them to the desired degree of doneness--5-6 minutes for crisp beans, 10-12 minutes for well-cooked.

Lift the beans out with a slotted spoon or skimmer and drop them into the ice water. Allow the beans to cool. Drain them.

Tomatoes release their juices.

Heat the oil in a large sauté pan or cazuela. Add the garlic. Before it browns, add the sliced onion and diced bacon. Sauté on medium heat until the onions begin to soften, 5 minutes. Add the tomatoes to the sauté pan. Fry them until they begin to release their juices, 3 minutes.
Add the beans to the pan and toss them with the tomatoes. Cook a few minutes so the flavors combine. 

Serve hot, room temperature or cold, garnishing with quartered egg, if desired, and sprigs of fresh herbs.



Add any fresh herb to garnish the beans. I'm loving the purple basil.

More recipes with green beans: