Saturday, March 16, 2019

FIESTA WITH A BANG

It´s Fallas in Valencia! Fallas is a week-long spring fiesta ending at midnight on San José day (March 19), where the protagonists are fireworks, firecrackers and giant bonfires to burn the fallas, or ninots, effigies, usually representing satirical and allegorical characters. 


The Fallas were originally a pagan festival marking the Spring equinox, a time for cleansing bonfires as fields were prepared for sowing. Over the centuries they became a popular fiesta incorporated into the Christian holiday of St. Joseph (which, by the way, is Spanish Fathers’ Day).

Besides the noise of firecrackers and smell of gunpowder, the festival is full of music (brass bands at 8 in the morning!), thousands of feria lights and good things to eat. Being Valencia, of course there’s paella and other rice dishes. Street stalls sell sweets and holiday fritters such as buñuelos de calabaza.

Buñuelos de calabaza are puffy fritters of fried dough that's made with squash.

Buñuelos are small fried doughnuts made with a pumpkin batter. They’re delicious eaten out-of-hand or dipped in thick, hot drinking chocolate or, if the weather is warm, cold horchata, a sweet and refreshing drink made of tigernuts.

I am terrorized by loud bangs, gunshot, firecrackers and the like. So I have never been to the Fallas in Valencia. But I’m celebrating with some quiet buñuelos with friends and family and touring the fallas--tableaux of images that will soon be put to the torch--on TV.

Puffs of fried dough, sprinkled with sugar, are good dunked in thick, hot chocolate.


The squash gives the puffs a nice color; grated orange zest flavors them.

Puffs are spongy on the inside.

Serve the puffs any time of the day. Breakfast? With a fruit salad.


Fried Pumpkin Puffs
Buñuelos de Calabaza

I made this with pureed butternut squash. The directions for making the puree follow the recipe. You could also use unsweetened canned pumpkin.

This recipe makes a soft, squishy yeast dough—more of a heavy batter than dough, really. The dough is formed into balls and a hole poked through them. They are then dropped into hot oil to fry until golden. To form them takes practice. My first two rounds were just misshapen puffs. It wasn’t until the third batch went into the hot oil that I managed to get my thumb through the dough to make a hole in the middle. 

It would be easier to have two people to make these—one with hands in the sticky dough, the other to turn the puffs and skim them out when golden. 

Another option: forget the doughnut hole. Use two spoons dipped in (cold) oil to scoop up a ball of dough and push it into the oil.

Moderate the heat as needed so the balls don’t brown too fast, otherwise the dough will not be fully cooked.

Serve the puffs at room temperature. They are best on the same day they are fried, but are pretty good the following day for dipping in hot chocolate.

Makes about 45 puffs.

1 cup warm water
1 teaspoon sugar + more to sprinkle on the puffs
1 envelope active dry yeast (2 ¼ teaspoons)
1 ½ cups unsweetened pumpkin or squash puree (see recipe below)
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon grated orange zest
3 ½ cups plain flour
Olive or sunflower oil for frying

In a small bowl combine the warm water, 1 teaspoon of sugar and yeast. Stir and allow the yeast to set 5 minutes until it becomes bubbly.

Put the pumpkin puree in a large bowl. Stir in the salt and orange zest. Beat in the yeast water. Use a large wooden spoon to gradually stir in all the flour. Use spoon or hands to thoroughly mix the dough until very smooth. The dough will be loose, more like a heavy batter than like dough. 

Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and put in a warm place to rise for 1 ½ hours until doubled in bulk. (Dough can be prepared a day in advance of frying the puffs. Refrigerate it without rising. Remove from fridge and allow to rise before forming and frying the puffs.)

Place oil in a deep skillet or pan to a depth of at least 2 inches. Place on medium-hot heat. Place a bowl of water (for dipping fingers) near the pan. Have ready a skewer and/or heat-proof skimmer for turning and removing the puffs. Place a sheet pan covered with paper towels close at hand. 

Squeeze out ball of dough.
With the left hand, scoop up a handful of dough. Squeeze the squishy dough in the fist, extruding a “bubble” of dough (about the size of a walnut) from between the thumb and forefinger. Dip the right hand in water and pinch off the ball of dough with the fingertips. Stick your thumb through the center of the ball. Let it stretch slightly as you (carefully) drop the dough into the hot oil. Continue forming the balls and dropping them into hot oil. Don’t crowd the pan.

Skim puffs out of oil when they are golden-brown.
When puffs are golden-brown on the bottom, use a skewer or skimmer to turn them. Remove them when browned on all sides and drain on paper towels. Regulate the heat so the puffs don’t brown too fast, or the dough will not be cooked all the way through. Continue frying puffs in batches until all the dough is used.

Sprinkle the warm puffs with sugar. 

Sprinkle sugar on warm puffs.


Squash Puree
Puré de Calabaza

Hard-skinned pumpkin and winter squash are difficult to pare. But it’s easy to strip off the skin once they are cooked. I sliced the butternut squash and cooked it quickly in the microwave. You could also cook it in a little water or roast in the oven. 

To make 1 ½ cups squash puree:
1 butternut squash (approx. 1 ¾ pounds)

Sliced squash is easy to peel after cooking.
Cut the squash in half lengthwise and scoop out seeds and fibers. Cut the squash crosswise into 1 ½-inch slices. Place them in a microwave-safe bowl. Microwave on “high” for 5 minutes. Stir the slices to redistribute them. Microwave on high for 5 minutes more or until squash is very tender. 

Slice away peel.

When the squash is cool enough to handle, slice off and discard the skin. Drain any accumulated liquid. Mash the squash with a fork until smooth. It’s now ready to use in the puffs.


Only about a third of my buñuelos have holes! It takes some practice to poke a hole in the dough and drop it into the hot oil.


More recipes for fritters/buñuelos:

For dunking the buñuelos:

Also for dipping in drinking chocolate: Sweet and Crunchy Fried Bread.

Another recipe for San José day:

More about Valencian horchata.

Saturday, March 9, 2019

A RICE DISH FROM ANDALUSIA

A friend recently posted photos on Facebook of lunch with friends at a restaurant on the banks of the Guadalquivir River, south of Sevilla. One of the dishes pictured was arroz caldoso con pato—soupy rice with duck. 


When you think of Spain and rice, you probably don’t think of Andalusia.  But, not all Spanish rice is paella and not all rice comes from Valencia. In fact, more rice is produced in Las Marismas, the wetlands of the lower Guadalquivir River, than anywhere in Spain. Here, rice dishes are as indigenous as paella in Valencia.

Rice cooked with duck legs and mushrooms is caldoso, or soupy.

The Marismas, bordering the national park of Coto Doñana, are rich in wildlife. For centuries, this has been prime hunting territory, both for the rich and titled and for the poor who inhabit the region. Hunters might cook up a pot of rice with wild duck and seasonal wild mushrooms.

I didn’t have wild duck, nor even fresh duck. But I had several legs of duck in confit—cooked in duck fat and vacuum-sealed. No wild mushrooms either, so portobellos and shitakes would have to stand-in for the woodsy, wild fungii. (Typical in this region are gurumelos, amanita ponderosa; tanas, amanita caesarea, and senderuela, marasmius oreades or “Scotch bonnet.”)

Manzanilla is fino Sherry made in Sanlucar de Barrameda, the town where the Guadalquivir finally empties into the ocean. Use manzanilla to cook the rice and serve it with the meal too.

Bomba variety of rice absorbs less liquid. If you want the rice even soupier, add more cooking liquid.


Whole duck legs, conserved in confit, are already cooked, so add them to the rice near the end of cooking.


Pimentón (paprika) adds color and flavour. Saffron can be used as well.




Soupy Rice with Duck and Mushrooms
Arroz Caldoso con Pato y Setas

If you are using fresh, not confit, duck, cut it into small serving pieces, removing as much fat as possible. Use the back and wings to make stock. Add the pieces of duck to the pan with the liquid and cook until it is tender, 30-40 minutes, before adding rice.

Use medium-short grain rice, preferably the Bomba variety because it does not “flower,” or open up, when cooked in lots of liquid. Don’t wash the rice and don’t stir it once the duck has been returned to the pan.

Pimentón (paprika) both colors and flavors the rice. Use ordinary sweet pimentón, not smoked. Saffron can be used, if desired.

Duck legs in confit are already cooked. Scrape off all the fat before adding them to the rice.

Serves 4-6.

4 confit duck legs (about 10 ounces each)
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup chopped onions
½ cup chopped green pepper
¼ cup chopped red bell pepper
3 cloves garlic, chopped
5 ounces mushrooms, sliced or quartered
1 cup chopped tomatoes
1 teaspoon pimentón (paprika)
¼ teaspoon coarsely cracked black pepper
½ cup manzanilla or fino Sherry
5-6 cups chicken or duck stock or water
Sprig of thyme
Salt
1 ¼ cups medium-short-grain rice, preferably Bomba variety

Scrape fat from the duck legs. (Save it for another use.) Save any juices or gelatin clinging to the meat. 

Heat the oil in a cazuela or deep sauté pan. Brown the pieces of duck on both sides and remove. Add the onions, green and red peppers and garlic to the pan and sauté for 5 minutes. Add the mushrooms and continue sautéeing. Add the tomatoes and fry them until they lose their juice. 

Stir in the pimentón and pepper. Add the manzanilla. Cook off the alcohol, 3 minutes. Add any reserved juices or gelatin from the duck. Add 4 cups of the stock or water. Bring to a boil. Add the sprig of thyme and salt to taste. Stir in the rice. Let the rice cook, uncovered, on medium-high heat for 5 minutes. 

Rice starts with a sofrito, including mushrooms, then cooks in stock 5 minutes before duck is returned to the pan.

Return the pieces of duck to the pan. Add remaining 1 or 2 cups of stock or water to the pan and bring to a boil. Lower heat so the rice bubbles gently. Cook without stirring the rice until it is tender, 12 to 14 minutes more. 

Let the rice set 5 minutes before serving. 


Another "soupy" rice dish: Chicken with Soupy Rice and Vegetables.
Another rice dish from Andalusia: Córdoba Rice in a Skillet.

Web site for Gerry Dawes, the friend who posted the photo of duck with soupy rice that inspired this blog. Gerry knows lots about Spanish food and wines.

Saturday, March 2, 2019

MEATBALLS, REJIGGERED

I’m crazy for meatballs. But I don’t relish the process of making them. I don’t mind rolling them, but flouring and frying a few dozen balls is a pain. I started out intending to try the oven-roasting method to cook the meatballs and wound up giving my favorite meatball recipe a complete re-make. 


Besides doing away with the frying, I eliminated the carbs (bread) from both the meatballs and the traditional almond sauce. And, I used ground chicken thighs instead of the usual pork-beef ground meat. I must say, I’m delighted with the results.

A remake of a traditional Spanish meatball recipe. The meatballs are made with ground chicken, there's no bread and they're not fried. The sauce is classic, though, with almonds and saffron.

Bread in meatball mix is not just filler. It actually keeps the meat from compacting, preventing dense, hard, dry balls.  So, I needed to replace the bread with something. Ground almonds were the perfect solution. They contributed moistness, richness and flavor. (Other gluten-free additions—although not low-carb—are chickpea flour, oat flakes, cooked rice or cornmeal.) Finely chopped mushrooms added meatiness and juiciness to the ground chicken.

In 10 minutes of roasting, the meatballs were done (no longer pink in the center), but they were browned only on the bottom. I tried turning some of them and placing them under the broiler for a few minutes, but I decided I liked the meatballs best juicy and pale, the better to show off the golden saffron sauce.

For the sauce, I eliminated the bread that usually thickens the sauce and increased the quantity of almonds.

Meatballs in almond sauce are favorite tapa bar fare.

A tapa-sized portion. In a tapas bar, meatballs are served with a few patatas fritas (fries) and chunks of bread. In keeping with the low-carb theme, I served them with neither potatoes nor bread.

Meatballs for dinner, with "zoodles"--low-carb zucchini noodles.


Meatballs in Almond-Saffron Sauce
Albóndigas en Salsa de Almendras


Makes 30 meatballs.

For the meatballs:
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 ounces mushrooms (1 cup finely chopped)
1 egg
½ cup ground almonds (unsweetened)
¼ cup finely chopped onions
2 cloves minced garlic
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
1 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Grating of fresh nutmeg
1 ½ pounds ground chicken thighs

Heat the oil in a small skillet and sauté the chopped mushrooms until they have lost their moisture and begin to sizzle in the oil (4 minutes). Remove from heat and let them cool slightly.

Beat the egg in a mixing bowl. Mix in the almonds, onions, garlic, parsley, salt, pepper and nutmeg. Stir in the sautéed mushrooms and oil from the skillet. 

Mix meat in very lightly.

Use a fork to fold the ground chicken into the mixture in the bowl.

Cook one meatball to taste.
(Fry one meatball in a small skillet to taste for seasoning.)






Line a rimmed baking sheet with baking parchment. 

Form the chicken mixture into walnut-sized balls. (If you like precision, that’s about 1 ounce per ball.) Place them as they are shaped on the baking sheet.

Preheat oven to 450ºF. 

Roast the meatballs until just done, 10-12 minutes. (If you want them to brown on two sides, turn them after 6 minutes.)

Roasted meatballs are browned only on the bottoms.
For the almond-saffron sauce:
3 tablespoons olive oil
¾ cup blanched and skinned almonds
3 cloves garlic, peeled
½ teaspoon saffron
10 peppercorns
1 clove
¼ cup hot water
½ cup white wine
1 cup chicken stock
Salt
Chopped parsley, to garnish

Fry almonds till golden and crisp.

Heat the oil in a skillet and fry the almonds and garlic until golden. Skim out the almonds and garlic and place them in a blender. Leave the oil in the skillet.

Crush the saffron, peppercorns and clove in a mortar. Add hot water and let the saffron infuse. 

Add the wine to the blender with almonds and garlic. Add the spices and water. Blend the mixture to make a smooth paste. 

Pour the almond mixture into the oil in the skillet. Stir in the chicken stock. Add salt to taste (about 1 teaspoon). Simmer the sauce, stirring, until it is smooth and thickened, about 8 minutes.

To serve, add the roasted meatballs to the sauce and reheat them. Serve the meatballs garnished with chopped parsley.

Ground almonds help to keep oven-roasted meatballs juicy and tender. The dark flecks in the meatballs are chopped mushrooms, which add to the meatiness.

More meatball recipes:

More recipes with almond-saffron sauce:

More low-carb recipes: