Saturday, February 16, 2019

A TRANSITIONAL SALAD

Oranges and avocados are on the way out; fennel and radishes are coming in. A salad to mark the change of seasons.

It’s a season of contrasts as winter transitions to spring. Warm sunshine follows on stormy days and bitter winds. Sometimes in a single day I go from bundling in layers of sweaters to sitting in the sun in short sleeves.  


In the kitchen, too, I am in transition. I’ve got a crate of oranges and another of avocados. Both winter fruits, they need to be picked from the trees in the orchard before spring brings new blooms and growth. At the same time, I’ve got fresh fennel, sweet radishes and sprightly spring onions.

The last picking of winter fruit--crates of oranges and avocados.

Sweet, with a mild bite--spring radishes add color and snap.

Raw fennel has a delightful crunch, a subtle anise flavor. 


I tossed them all together, winter and spring, for a salad of contrasts, perfect for a transitional season. The salad has contrasts in texture—crunchy raw fennel, buttery avocado, juicy oranges. In color—green, red, orange. In flavor—sweetness of oranges,  subtle anise of fennel, mild bite of radish and spring onions.

Serve the salad layered on a platter, or---

or tossed all together in a salad bowl.



Orange, Avocado and Fennel Salad
Ensalada de Naranjas, Aguacate y Hinojo

The ingredients for this salad can be layered on a platter or tossed together in a bowl. The salad can even be prepared a day in advance, although, if you choose this method, be sure to garnish the salad before serving with some freshly chopped onion and green fennel fronds to freshen it up.

You should have about 2 cups each of sliced fennel, oranges and avocados.

Ingredients for a winter into spring salad: oranges, fennel, radishes, spring onions and avocado.

Serves 6.

1 fennel bulb (about 1 pound)
Salt
2-3 oranges
3-4 firm-ripe avocados (about 1 pound)
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons Sherry vinegar
2 spring onions
2 radishes
Salt flakes
Freshly ground black pepper (optional)
Red pepper flakes (optional)

Trim the fennel of tough outer leaves. Save green fronds for garnishing the salad. Cut the bulb into quarters and cut away the core. Thinly slice the fennel crosswise. Place the sliced fennel in a bowl and sprinkle with salt.

Place oranges on a cutting board. Cut a thin slice off both ends. Cut downwards, removing peel and white pith. Slice oranges crosswise. Discard any seeds or membrane. (Slices can be left whole, cut in half or cut in bite-size pieces.) Place the sliced oranges in a bowl.

Sliced and ready to combine in salad.
Peel and pit the avocados. Slice them crosswise. Place them in a bowl and sprinkle with salt.

Add the olive oil to the sliced oranges. Add 1 tablespoon of the vinegar to the sliced fennel and 1 tablespoon of vinegar to the sliced avocado.

Thinly slice the spring onions, including some of the green. Cut the radishes in half and slice them crosswise.

To assemble the salad: Layer the fennel, oranges and avocados on a rimmed platter. Scatter the sliced onions and radishes on top. Pour over all the accumulated juices from the bowls. Sprinkle with salt flakes and pepper or red pepper flakes, as desired. Garnish with a few snippets of green fennel fronds.


Salad of contrasts in texture, color and flavor.


More recipes with oranges:

More recipes with avocados:

More recipes with fennel:


Saturday, February 9, 2019

THE SEASON FOR "SPOON FOOD"

Seated next to a roaring fire, with a brazier of hot coals at our feet and a heavy table cloth tucked around our legs, we sipped fino from Montilla-Moriles, nibbled local olives and waited for soup to be served. We were lunching at Arte de Cozina, a restaurant in Antequera (Málaga) that specializes in traditional and local foods.


Spoons at the ready! One of Andalusia's many traditional potajes, beans with fennel and pork belly. This is adapted from a dish sampled at Arte de Cozina in Antequera (Málaga).

It turned out to be a four-spoon lunch, as we sampled our way through the sopas, guisos and cazuelas on the menu. Known as “platos de cuchara,” or “spoon foods.” these are the sort of soups, stews and soupy-stews that you eat with a spoon in one hand and a chunk of crusty bread in the other. Hearty, heart-warming and heart-healthy, they are a mainstay of Spanish home cooking.

Charo Carmona, chef and owner of Arte de Cozina, bought a village tapa bar 23 years ago. She began collecting and recovering traditional recipes of the region (Antequera is an inland town in the province of Málaga), starting with those learned from her mother and mother-in-law. Today her menu features many historical dishes as well as those of popular home cooking.


First of the spoons: porra blanca, a thick "porridge" of bread, Hojiblanca extra virgin olive oil, garlic and vinegar. This is a dish related to the original gazpacho. 

Puchero de tagarninas--a soup-stew with wild thistles. 



Galipuche--a soup with chunks of egg tortilla made with bitter wild asparagus (esparragos trigueros). 


My companion on the spoon food trail, Lars Kronmark, professor of culinary arts at the Culinary Institute of America in St. Helena, CA. Chef Lars comes to southern Spain once or twice a year to visit his mother who lives here. We usually get together for culinary explorations or just to have lunch.

Bean Pot with Fennel and Pork Belly 
Olla de Habichuelas Blancas con Hinojos y Panceta Ibérica

This is my rendition of one of the soup-stews served at Arte de Cozina--pot of beans with fennel and ibérico pork belly.

A traditional plato de cuchara--spoon food. Many are complete meals, with legumes and vegetables.


Chef Charo explained that she makes this filling stew with fennel bulb (not the stems of wild fennel). Cultivated fennel gives the stew a very subtle anise flavor. I added wild fennel fronds to make the flavor more pronounced. Her version is made with fresh panceta ibérica, pork belly from the ibérico breed of pig. If not available, any fresh pork belly could be used (uncured pancetta). She sprinkles salt-cured panceta that has been crisply fried on top of the finished soup, almost as a seasoning. Bacon is a fine substitute.

Put the beans to soak a day before cooking them. If you have very hard water, add a pinch of baking soda to the soaking water. Drain beans after soaking and cover them with fresh water to cook them.

The diced panceta is fried and the crisped bits of meat and fat—torreznos—are added to the beans. The fat is used to make a sofrito that flavors the stew.

Serves 4-6.

Fennel bulb, trimmed and diced.
16 ounces dry white beans (such as cannellini)
1 bay leaf
Sprig of wild fennel (optional)
¼ onion in one piece
Salt
6 ounces fresh pork belly (panceta)
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 fennel bulb (16 ounces)
1 cup chopped onion
½ cup chopped green pepper
½ cup chopped red bell pepper
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 cup chopped tomato
¼ cup (1.5 ounces) diced bacon
Fennel sprigs, to garnish

Put the beans in a pot and add twice their volume of water. Soak beans overnight (8 hours).

Drain beans and return to the pot. Add enough fresh water to cover them by 2 inches. Add the bay leaf, wild fennel, if using, and quartered onion. Bring the beans to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, covered, 30 minutes.

Fry diced pork belly.

While beans are cooking, cut the pork belly into ½ -inch dice. Place in a skillet with the oil and heat until fat is rendered and the bits begin to brown. Skim the pieces of pork belly out of the skillet and add to the pot of beans. Save the fat that has been rendered in the skillet.

Trim the fennel bulb of tough outer layers and core. Cut into ½ -inch dice. Add the fennel to the beans with the pork belly. Cook the beans until they are nearly tender, about 30 minutes longer.

Heat the fat remaining in the skillet and sauté the chopped onion, green and red peppers and garlic until softened, 5 minutes. Add the tomato and continue frying until the tomatoes are somewhat reduced, 10 minutes.

Puree the sofrito in a blender with ½ cup of beans from the pot. Push this puree through a sieve, discarding the solids.

Pour the sieved sofrito into the pot of beans. Continue cooking, uncovered, until beans are very tender (about 20 minutes).

Fry the diced bacon until very crisp. Ladle the beans into bowls (discard bay leaf and cooked  wild fennel sprig). Top each with a spoonful of crisp bacon. Garnish with a sprig of green fennel.

My variations: I added kale and sausage to the bean and fennel stew.



Charo Camona, chef of Arte de Cozina in Antequera. (Photo from the Arte de Cozina website.)


Arte de Cozina tables are in the (enclosed) courtyard of a 17th century house. A roaring fire and braziers beneath the tables keep diners warm even in cold weather. 

More recipes with fennel;
Fennel Soup with Chickpeas, Wheat and Sausage.
Pear and Fennel Salad with Walnuts.

More ideas for “spoon food.”
Andalusian Vegetable Stew.
Broth with Fish and Clams (Caldillo de Pintarroja)
Chicken Soup with Mint.
Andalusian Garlic Soup (Maimones).
Clams with Butter Beans.
Lamb and Bean Stew.
Spinach with Chickpeas.

Restaurante Arte de Cozina, Antequera (Málaga). The restaurant Arte de Cozina is situated in a 17th century house in the center of Antequera. There is an adjoining tapas bar and guest rooms on upper levels. Besides the soups and stews mentioned here, the menu includes main course dishes such as marinated pork loin, baby goat, pigs' trotters and wild partridge and desserts such as bienmesabe and almojábanas.


Saturday, February 2, 2019

HEAVENLY DESSERT

Angel’s hair and sweet almonds are made in heaven. Angel’s hair, or cabello de angel, is the confiture of squash that I made a couple weeks ago (that recipe is here). It’s a favorite filling for Andalusian empanadillas, fried turnovers, for cortadillos de cidra, a lard shortbread pastry, and for Mallorican ensaimadas, a spiral sweet roll. This Galician tart that combines the angel’s hair with almonds intrigued me.

A puff pastry tart is filled with golden strands of angel's hair and sweetened almonds.

The classic tarta mondoñedo (from the town of Mondoñedo in Lugo province of Galicia), according to the recipe by Álvaro Cunqueiro in Cociña Galega, the bible of Galician cooking, is made with layers of bizcocho (sponge cake) soaked in sugar syrup, angel’s hair and ground almonds baked in a crust of puff pastry and topped with pastry lattice and candied fruits. Sounds divine.

On a TV show I watched a pastelera (pastry maker) in Santiago de Compostela make a variation on the classic tart, omitting the sponge layer and mixing the ground almonds with eggs and sugar to spread on top of the angel’s hair. That reminded me a lot of Santiago Almond Torte, which I adore, so I decided to try the variation.

If my tart was a little short of celestial, it was not for lack of golden angel’s hair. The problem was the hojaldre, puff pastry. I don’t get it about puff pastry—why use it if it can’t puff and get crisp? Compressed as the base of the tart, the crust was pasty. I think I would use a pasta quebrada (flaky shortcrust pastry) on the next try.

Traditionally the tart is decorated with candied cherries, red and green. Incredibly, I couldn't find any. Just weeks after Christmas, all the stores cleared their inventory of candied fruits. All I found were candied kiwis!

A layer of sweet, golden angel's hair is topped with sweetened ground almonds and a lattice crust.





Sooo sweet!

Galician Tart with Angel’s Hair and Almonds
Tarta Mondoñedo

Not everyone will be able to make cabello de angel, angel’s hair, the candied squash confected from the strands of cidra, Malabar gourd. In Spain, you’ll find it in cans or jars, with other jams and marmalades at the supermarket. If not available, use apricot jam for this tart.

If angel’s hair or jam is too stiff to spread, mix it with 1 tablespoon boiling water to loosen it slightly.

Makes 16 thin slices.
Angel's hair--cabello de angel.

2 ½ cups unsweetened ground almonds (8 ounces)
1 sheet frozen puff pastry (8.5 ounces), thawed
1 cup (packed) candied angel’s hair (10 ounces)
¼ teaspoon cinnamon
4 eggs + 1 for brushing top of tart
¾ cup sugar + 1 tablespoon for glaze
Grated zest of 1 lemon
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 tablespoons flour + additional for rolling out pastry
Candied cherries to decorate

Preheat oven to 400ºF.

Toast ground almonds.

Spread the ground almonds on a rimmed baking sheet and place in the oven, turning them once or twice, until uniformly toasted and golden, about 12 minutes. Allow the almonds to cool.

Raise oven temperature to 425ºF.

Lightly grease a 9-inch round cake pan and line it with baking parchment, leaving an overhang of the parchment to help in removing the tart from the pan.

On a lightly floured board, roll the puff pastry just enough to cut a round to fit in the bottom of the cake pan. Save the scraps of dough. Place the pastry in the pan. 


Parchment overhangs.
Spread angel's hair.

Spread angel’s hair on top of the puff pastry dough.  

In a mixing bowl, beat 4 eggs with ¾ cup sugar until light. Add the zest, juice, flour and ground almonds and mix well. 

Spread the almond batter on top of the angel’s hair in the cake pan.

Roll out remaining scraps of puff pastry and cut them into strips, ½ inch wide and long enough to criss-cross the top of the tart. Place the strips on top of the tart in a lattice. Decorate the top with candied cherries. 

Beat remaining egg with 1 teaspoon water. Brush the pastry lattice with egg. (You will only need half of the beaten egg.)

Bake the tart 10 minutes. Reduce temperature to 375ºF. Bake until the pastry is golden-brown and the almond filling is done (skewer inserted in center comes out clean), 20-25 minutes. 

Cool the tart on a rack. While tart is cooling, make a simple sugar glaze. Boil 1 tablespoon sugar with ¼ cup water until reduced by half. Brush the top of the tart with the glaze.

To serve, loosen the sides of the tart with a sharp knife. Use the overhanging parchment to lift and slide the tart out onto a platter. Carefully pull the parchment out from under the tart. Use a serrated knife to cut the tart into thin wedges.

Because the filling is so sweet, the tart can be served in very small slices.

Cidra--Malabar gourd--from which the angel's hair is confected.

Another pastry dough:

More recipes with angel's hair:

Another almond tart: Santiago Almond Torte.