Saturday, August 13, 2022

SWEET ON TOMATOES

Luscious tomato jam, a sweet way to use summer's tomatoes.

 When I began collecting Spanish recipes, besides jotting down notes on visits to neighbors’ kitchens, I borrowed their hand-written recipe collections and copied them to my notebooks. Some were sketchy directions, written with many misspellings, passed down from a madre or tía-abuela (great-aunt). Others were transcribed from notebooks put out by the Sección Femenina, the women’s section of the Falange party. (This was 1966, under the Franco dictatorship.)


Amongst those recipes was one for mermelada  de tomates, tomato jam. Revelling in a glut of locally-grown tomatoes, I needed to stretch beyond gazpacho and sofrito, so, outlandish as it seemed to me at the time, I made tomato jam.

The original tomato jam recipe called for tomatoes, sugar, cinnamon and cloves. I made it several times and enjoyed it on breakfast toast. I later changed the spicing—cardamom or ginger, basil or mint. Then I added cream and froze the mixture, creating an ice cream so mysterious that my guests couldn't identify it.

Tomato jam is a good accompaniment to a cheese board. Here it's served with Brie, a smoked sheep's milk cheese and cream cheese.



Add cream and turn the jam into ice cream. Your guests might not guess the flavor.


Interesting combo: sweet tomato ice cream and a garnish of salty serrano ham.

Tomato Jam
Mermelada de Tomate

This is not a true preserve, which requires processing in a boiling water bath. Keep it refrigerated and use within four weeks.

Use a blender or food processor to puree the seeded tomatoes to desired consistency—completely smooth or, my preference, with some lumps of tomato for texture.


Serve the jam on toast that has been “buttered” with olive oil. Serve it as an accompaniment to a cheese board, with muffins or plain cake, spooned over fresh fruit or alongside ham croquettes.

Pictured, toast with olive oil, spread with tomato jam and topped with cream cheese and seed crackers with Brie cheese and a dollop of tomato jam.



Blanch and skin tomates.






Makes about 2 ½ cups.

4 pounds ripe tomatoes (14-15 tomatoes)
¼ teaspoon ground cardamom
2 cups sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons lemon juice

Bring a pot of water to a boil. Cut an X in the blossom end of the tomatoes. Add them to the boiling water just until the skins begin to loosen, about 1 minute. Drain and refresh with cold water. 

Separate seeds.

When the tomatoes are cool enough to handle, slip off the skins and cut out the stem and hard core. Cut the tomatoes in half and scoop the gelatinous seed cells into a strainer placed over a bowl. Place the seeded tomatoes in a large bowl. Press on the seeds to extract as much of the juice as possible. Pour the juice in with the tomatoes. Discard the seeds. 

With a blender or food processor, puree the tomatoes to desired consistency. Place the puree in a heavy pan and add the cardamom, sugar, salt and lemon juice. 

Place the pan on moderate-high heat, stirring, until the mixture begins to bubble. Lower heat so the tomatoes don’t splatter. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the tomatoes are thick, about 45 minutes. As the mixture thickens, stir frequently to prevent the jam from scorching on the bottom. 

Remove from heat and ladle into clean jars. Store the jam refrigerated.




Tomato Ice Cream
Helado de Tomates

I made the ice cream using the tomato jam as described above and decided it was much too sweet. Rather than increase the quantity of cream, I decided it was better to make the jam--or sweetened tomato puree--with less sugar.

Make the tomato jam, as described above, REDUCING THE SUGAR TO 1 CUP.

If desired, the soft-set ice cream can be spooned into individual dessert cups to freeze. You will need freezer space for the cups. 

I garnished the tomato ice cream cups with mint sprigs, but basil or tarragon would be good also. 

Serves 6.

2 cups tomato jam (reduced sugar)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons medium Sherry
3 cups heavy cream
Mint, to garnish


Beat together the jam, vanilla, Sherry and cream. Freeze the mixture in an ice cream maker or in a metal container in the freezer. If freezer-frozen, remove when soft-set and beat it with an immersion blender until creamy and smooth. Return the cream to the freezer to harden.

The cream needs to soften a few minutes before serving. Garnish with mint sprigs.








Tomato ice cream poolside. (Photo by Marina Caviese.)

More tomato recipes: Fifty Ways to Use Your Tomatoes.


Saturday, August 6, 2022

GETTING CHEFFY WITH GARLIC

 
Ajo morado--purple garlic--the best variety.

In my news feed this week was the announcement of the winners of the contest for best dish made with purple garlic. The chefs’ competition was the culmination of the XLVIII Feria Internacional del Ajo in Las Pedroñeras (Cuenca, Castilla-La Mancha), the “garlic capital of Spain.”


The winner, Antonio González of Restaurante+Ideas (Higueruela, Albacete) created a dish called “Ajo Morado Pedroñero.” The photo depicted an out-size head of garlic on a plate, with no indication of what it was confected. No recipe, no description of ingredients.

I did find a recipe for a winner from a previous year, “Crema Helada de Ajo Morado,” by Federico Guajardo of Sal de Mar (Denia, Alicante). Crema helada de ajo morado asado, gamba ahumada, romesco y gelé de agua de pimiento asado. Frozen garlic cream, smoked shrimp, romesco sauce with smoked olive oil and gelée of roasted pepper. (See Chef Federico’s original recipe here.) 

The recipe looked doable—until I checked the list of tools required. Besides a grill, various knives and pots and pans were Thermomix, a Roner and a Pacojet, three very cheffy appliances. And, in the ingredient list were xantham gum and agar agar.

It’s always fun to try something above my pay grade, so I decided to have a go, adapting the recipe to the limitations of a home kitchen and family meals. Instead of artistically plating the cream with its accoutrements, I dolloped it as a garnish in a bowl of gazpacho (in this case, store-bought gazpacho poured from a carton). I added cooked, not smoked, shrimp; diced red pepper and smoked pimentón instead of the romesco and pepper gelée. My own touch was to add thin strips of mojama, air-dried tuna. 

Chilled gazpacho is garnished with scoops of frozen garlic cream, shrimp, chopped roasted red pepper and pieces of mojama, air-dried tuna. 


Full disclosure: I used store-bought gazpacho. Some brands are pretty good and I don't have any garden tomatoes to make my own. The frozen garlic cream turns it into something special!


Scoops of frozen garlic cream.
The Roner, what the chef used to make the roasted garlic oil, is the original sous vide device (invented by Gerona chefs, Joan Roca and Nora Caner). It uses a precision temperature thermal circulator to cook vacuum-sealed foods at low temperature. I simply cooked the roasted garlic in olive oil at a very low temperature, swirling the pan occasionally. 

The Pacojet, a Swiss-made device, is “a $4000 ice cream machine” that turns a frozen block into creamy-smooth puree in an instant. I used a blender to break down the ice crystals in the partially-frozen puree. And, instead of xanthan gum, an ingredient used in professional kitchens to produce extra-smooth emulsions, I used a little cornstarch. 

A Thermomix is a food processor/blender that also cooks. In the chef’s recipe, it was used to make the romesco sauce that was emulsified with olive oil that had been smoked by infusing it with a twig of charred grapevine. I skipped the romesco sauce, which, in any case, is easily made in a regular blender. I also passed on the gelée made with the liquid from roasted bell pepper, for which I might have needed agar agar to set the gelée (although gelatin would work too). 

The frozen garlic cream was a success. But, I could use some chef’s help with my food styling!

Gazpacho with Frozen Garlic Cream
Gazpacho con Crema Helada de Ajo Morado

You will not need all of the roasted garlic oil for this recipe. Use the remainder for salads or to baste a roast chicken.

The frozen garlic cream can be used while still creamy-soft. If allowed to freeze solid, unless you have a Pacojet, it needs to soften before scooping. Besides gazpacho, the frozen garlic cream would complement other cold soups such as vichyssoise and borscht. 

Serves 4-6.
Grill garlic, peel cloves.

For the Roasted Garlic Oil:
2 heads purple garlic
1 cup extra virgin olive oil

Roast the whole heads of garlic on a grill or over coals until outer skin is charred. Remove. When cool enough to handle, remove the outer skin. Slit open each garlic clove and carefully peel off the skin. 

Place the garlic cloves in a small saucepan and add the oil. Heat the oil until it just begins to bubble. Reduce heat to Warm setting, maintaining the oil at 175ºF. For 30 minutes. Strain the oil into a jar. (If desired, save the roasted garlic for another use.)

For the Garlic Cream:
4 ounces queso fresco de cabra (fresh white goat cheese)
½ cup roasted garlic oil (recipe above)
2 cloves garlic
1 ¼ cups cream
2 teaspoons cornstarch
2 tablespoons water
Pinch of salt

Whisk garlic cream.
Break up the goat cheese and place it in a blender or food processor with the oil.

Peel the garlics, crush them lightly and place in a small saucepan with the cream. Heat until the cream begins to bubble. Reduce heat and cook on low for 5 minutes. Strain out the garlics and return the cream to the saucepan. Place on medium heat. Stir the cornstarch and water together. Whisk the cornstarch into the cream and whisk until the cream is slightly thickened. Add the salt. Remove from the heat and pour the cream over the cheese and oil.

Blend or process until the cheese-cream mixture is very smooth. Pour into a metal container and freeze until very stiff. Beat the mixture again in blender or processor until smooth and return it to the freezer until ready to serve.

(To facitiltate serving, when the garlic cream is partially frozen, scoop up spoonfuls and place them on a lightly oiled plate and freeze. Lift them off the plate and into bowls.)

Place garnishes, add gazpacho.

For the gazpacho:
3 cups chilled tomato gazpacho
4-6 cooked shrimp
Roasted red bell peppers or canned pimiento, diced
Thin strips of mojama (salt-dried tuna)
Scoops of frozen garlic cream
Pimentón de la Vera (smoked paprika), to serve
Roasted garlic oil, to serve

Divide the shrimp between individual shallow bowls. Sprinkle with diced pepper and strips of mojama. Add a scoop of garlic cream to each bowl. 

Very carefully pour gazpacho around the shrimp and garlic cream. Sprinkle with pimentón and drizzle a little garlic oil over the top of the gazpacho. Or, simply fill the bowls with gazpacho, add the scoops of garlic cream and other garnishes.

Fantasy gazpacho! On a second serving, I added everything to the gazpacho--frozen garlic cream, diced avocado, chopped guindillas (pickled chilies), corn kernels, red pepper, shrimp, cilantro. We loved it!




Las Pedroñeras—literally, “rockville”—is a village southeast of Madrid, smack in the middle of Don Quixote country. The village lays claim to the title of Spain’s capital of garlic. A single growers’ cooperative in the town, San Isidro el Santo, produces in one season more than 15 million kilos of garlic. Most of it is the esteemed ajo morado, purple garlic, a variety of hard-necked garlic that has papery white layers enclosing cloves shrink-wrapped in violet skins. Purple garlic is both sweet and pungent, with a powerful bite. The purple garlic of Las Pedroñeras has an official IGP (protected geographic designation). 

More recipes with garlic:



Saturday, July 30, 2022

NO OVEN? NO PROBLEM!

 

Looks like a gratin, no? Summer vegetables cooked in the microwave are topped with cheese and crispy breadcrumbs. No oven needed.

Would you turn on the oven to make a summer vegetable gratin? That was a question posed in one of my food groups on Facebook. My answer: NO WAY. I don’t turn on the oven from the first of June until mid-September. That’s been the house rule for years. But now, with heat waves coming earlier and more severe (we hit 40ºC/104ºF a few days ago), we will have to extend the oven ban from May until October. Scary. 


If using the oven is out of the question, how to cook in the summer? I long ago stopped making baked goods, so that’s no problem. But I miss a weekly roast chicken, a simple preparation that’s good the first time round, with leftovers to last a few days. And, yes, I remember making summer vegetable gratins. How to adapt?

Andalusians have traditionally not used ovens at all. No roasts nor oven casseroles. So summer fare just means faster top-of-the-stove cooking—fried fish and gazpacho being a perfect summer meal. In the old days, paella cooked, on a wood fire, nowadays it’s still cooked outdoors, on a gas ring big enough for a huge paella pan. Fat bell peppers are roasted on the parilla, wood-fired grill, or else purchased with fresh bread at the village panadería, where the peppers are roasted in bread ovens.

At my house, I have adapted the roast chicken for the gas grill on the patio. And, the gratin, while not legally gratinée, works pretty well in the microwave.  

Vegetables cooked in the microwave soak up the olive oil, but keep their shape and texture. Fried bread crumbs added before serving give the vegetables some crunch. Serve this dish hot or cold, as a starter or side. It would make a great vegetarian main accompanied by rice or bulgur.


My summer substitute for oven-roasted chicken. Small, spatchcocked chickens are quick to cook on a grill.  


Leftover grilled chicken makes a great summer salad with cheese and tangy olives.


Microwave Summer Vegetables with Crumb Topping
Verduras al Microonda con Crujiente de Migas

I make a quite acceptable eggplant Parmesan in the microwave, after first frying the slices of eggplant in a skillet. This is different in that all the vegetables are layered raw. They never become totally soft as with an oven-baked casserole, but keep their texture very nicely. I’ve added the crunchy bread crumbs after removing the vegetables from the microwave.

A ceramic tian casserole is perfect for this dish, as long as it fits inside your microwave unit. A deep-dish glass pie pan is a good alternative as is an earthenware cazuela or any round, flat-bottomed bowl with straight sides. Presumably, microwave-safe plastic would work, although I didn’t try it. 

Slice vegetables.
The vegetables need to be cut in fairly equal ¼-inch slices. Salt the eggplant slices and let them stand in a colander 15 minutes so they release excess liquid. Slice the tomatoes, salt them lightly and lay on a plate. When assembling, lift them and discard the liquid. 

I used a vegetable peeler to peel the bell peppers.

You can use more or less of the listed vegetables or swap others. If you use sliced potatoes, sweet potatoes, carrots or butternut squash, steam or parboil them before layering with the other vegetables. 

Serve the vegetables hot, room temperature or cold. Sprinkle with the crispy crumbs right before serving. Cold, the vegetables are good with a squeeze of lemon.


Serves 4-6.

For the crumb topping:
3 slices day-old bread (5 ounces), crusts removed
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 clove garlic, chopped
Pinch of dried thyme or parsley

For the vegetables:
Olive oil
1 cup reserved crumbs
1 onion
2-3 medium eggplant (1 pound)
3 plum tomatoes
1 medium zucchini and/or yellow squash (12 ounces)
2 bell peppers, yellow and/or red
Salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Basil leaves, torn
1 ounce thinly sliced cheese
2 ounces grated cheese

Crispy bread crumbs.
Tear the bread into pieces. Use a food processor to chop it into coarse crumbs. You should have about 2 ½ cups crumbs.

Reserve 1 cup of the crumbs to layer with the vegetables. 

Heat the oil in a skillet. Add the remaining 1 ½ cups of crumbs and fry them until they begin to turn golden. Add the chopped garlic and continue to fry until crumbs are browned and crispy. Stir in thyme. Remove crumbs from the skillet.



Oil a microwave-safe dish. Spread the reserved 1 cup of crumbs that were not fried in the bottom of the dish.

Heat 1 tablespoon of oil in a skillet. Cut the onion in thin julienne slices. Sauté until they are softened and beginning to brown, 4 minutes. Remove from the heat. Spread half of the onions in the bottom of the dish on top of the crumbs.

Slice the eggplant crosswise into rounds. If eggplant is very large, cut the slices in half. Salt them lightly and leave 15 minutes  in a colander to drain. Pat them dry with a paper towel. Slice the tomatoes crosswise. Salt them lightly and lay flat on a plate.

Overlap sliced vegetables in dish.
Slice the zucchini, peppers and any other vegetables selected into more-or-less equal-sized pieces. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. 

Arrange the eggplant, tomato, zucchini and pepper slices in overlapping rows in the dish. Push slices of the sautéed onion and sliced cheese between the sliced vegetables. Tuck pieces of basil between the vegetables. When all of the vegetable slices have been incorporated, drizzle 2 tablespoons of oil over the top. 







Test vegetables for doneness.
Cover the dish with plastic wrap or a microwave plastic lid. Microwave on High for 5 minutes. Microwave on Medium-High until vegetables are done to taste, about 15 minutes. The heavy dish will be very hot, so use oven mitts or a towel to protect hands when removing the dish. 

Remove the lid or plastic wrap. Sprinkle the grated cheese on the top of the vegetables. Return the dish to the microwave uncovered. Microwave on Medium-High for 5 minutes. Leave the dish in the microwave for at least 5 minutes.

Before serving, sprinkle the top with the crispy crumbs. 



Grilled Chicken
Pollo a la Parilla

Two-pound chickens



These supermarket chickens come two to a package, each weighing only 2 pounds. Once spatchcocked and opened flat, they cook very quickly on the grill (40 minutes or so). “Dry brining” helps to keep them juicy.

Try different spice blends. I’m currently experimenting with Middle Eastern za’atar, a mixture of thyme, oregano, sumac and sesame seeds. Other mixes to try: Spanish pinchito spice, Moroccan ras el hanout, Indian garam masala. Or make up your own. 



2 small (2-pound) chickens
Salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Olive oil
Spice-herb blend such as za’atar
Lemon juice

Spatchcock (butterfly) the chickens by cutting out and removing the back bone, opening the chicken out and pressing the breastbone to flatten it. Sprinkle the chickens on both sides with salt and pepper. Leave them, uncovered, in the refrigerator for up to eight hours.

Before grilling, brush the chickens with oil. Sprinkle them with the spice-herb mixture and squeeze lemon juice over them. 

Preheat grill. Grill the chickens, bony-side down, over indirect heat for about 30 minutes. Douse any flare-ups and adjust the position of the chickens so they don’t burn. Turn them skin-side down. Grill until golden-brown and done in the thickest part. (Test by cutting into the thigh to see if juices run clear.)  

Allow the chickens to rest 10 minutes before serving. Or, store refrigerated, for use in chicken salad (recipe follows).

Chicken Salad with Olives
Ensalada de Pollo con Aceitunas

Cut leftover grilled chicken into strips or cubes for the chicken salad.

The slight sweetness of vinegar made from Málaga wine complements the vinaigrette for this chicken salad. PX vinegar would also be good. Both are mellow and less sweet than balsamic.

Trusty olive pitter!
Serves 2 to 3.

2 cups cooked chicken, cut in strips or cubes
Salt
Freshly ground black pepper
½ cup sliced pitted green olives
¼ cup seedless black grapes
2 tablespoons diced celery
1 tablespoon diced red bell pepper
2 tablespoons finely chopped onions
2 ounces cheese, cut in strips or dice (½ cup)

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 ½ tablespoons Flor de Málaga vinegar
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon pimentón de la Vera (smoked paprika)
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Salad greens to serve
Cherry tomatoes to garnish
Sprigs of fresh herbs to garnish

Place the cut-up chicken in a bowl. Season with salt and pepper. Add the olives, grapes, celery, red pepper, onions and cheese. Mix gently.

In a jar combine the mustard, vinegar, salt and pimentón. Stir well. Add the oil. Cap the jar and shake it until dressing is smooth.

Stir the dressing into the chicken and combine well. (If not serving the salad immediately, store it, covered and refrigerated.) Spread plates with salad leaves. Spoon the chicken salad on the greens. Garnish with cherry tomatoes and sprigs of fresh herbs.


More recipes for the microwave:





Another way to use the grill instead of the oven: