Saturday, February 27, 2021

IT’S PUMPKIN BUTCHERING SEASON

 

So many possibilities with these pumpkins. The largest one is 22 inches long.

Big enough to be sentient beasts are these pumpkins, from the huerta of friends who live in the Granada highlands. The squashes have served as objets d’art on my kitchen shelf for awhile. But their time has come to submit to the knife. It’s pumpkin-butchering time. 


Knife to the heart. Not the best way to cut squash.
Hard-skinned varieties, known as winter squash, keep well during colder months. But, once broached, the flesh needs to be cooked off as soon as possible. I needed to come up with several pumpkin dishes in close succession. 

Before butternut and other small varieties of squash became widely available, my local village market sold only huge pumpkins, hacked off into pieces and sold by weight. Home cooks use the pumpkin with vegetables, legumes and sausages in stews such as berza (recipe here)

Pumpkin guts.

    I cut the middle-sized pumpkin into thirds. (The best way to cut it is not to plunge the knife in, but to place the blade on the surface and, exerting some pressure, roll the squash against the blade.)

  Once emptied of seeds, the cavity of the thickest section seemed to beg to be stuffed. I once made a vegetarian version stuffed with grains, chickpeas and tofu (that recipe is here). This one would be stuffed with meat, without even bread crumbs, so it’s fairly low-carb.  

   Use ground meat of choice. I have ground chicken thighs, but turkey, pork, lamb or beef are equally good. The same mixture could be used to stuff peppers or baked like meatloaf, in a pan by itself. If you've got a bigger squash, increase the quantity of meat.




The squash is stuffed with meat and cheese. It bakes in a cazuela with tomatoes, which make the sauce.

Carve the pumpkin into wedges. Serve sauce alongside.






Pumpkin Stuffed with Meat
Calabaza Rellena con Carne

Serves 3 as a main dish.

2-pound whole pumpkin or squash
Salt
1 pound ground meat
3 tablespoons olive oil + additional for the baking dish
¼ cup pine nuts
¼ cup diced bacon (1 ounce)
1 cup chopped onion
½ cup diced red bell pepper
½ cup diced celery (2 stalks)
2 cloves garlic
½ teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon sweet pimentón (paprika)
1 teaspoon oregano
Pinch of cayenne
Grating of nutmeg
Freshly ground black pepper
¼ cup chopped parsley
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 cup grated cheese (2 ½ ounces)
1 ½ cups canned crushed tomatoes

Cut the stem and top off the pumpkin. Scrape out and discard the seeds and stringy pulp in the center. Lightly salt the inside of the pumpkin and set it upside down in a colander to drain.

Heat the oil in a skillet and fry the pine nuts until they are golden. Skim them out and reserve them. Add the bacon, onion, red pepper, celery and garlic to the skillet and sauté them on moderate heat until onion is softened, 8 minutes. Season with 1 teaspoon salt, cumin, pimentón, oregano, cayenne, nutmeg, pepper and parsley. Stir in the pine nuts. Remove from the heat and allow to cool slightly.

Preheat oven to 400ºF.

Heap stuffing in shell.
Place the meat in a mixing bowl. Add the sautéed bacon and vegetables. Mix in the egg and cheese. Spoon the meat mixture into the cavity of the pumpkin. Don’t compact it. Set the stuffed pumpkin in an oiled baking dish. Pour the crushed tomatoes around it. Salt the tomatoes lightly. Drizzle additional oil over the pumpkin and tomatoes.

Bake the pumpkin 15 minutes. Lower oven temperature to 350ºF. Bake until the pumpkin is tender and meat is thoroughly cooked (it should register 150ºF on an instant-read thermometer), about 60 minutes. 

Squash baked with tomatoes.


     
     To serve, cut the pumpkin and stuffing in wedges or scoop the filling out of the shell. Accompany with the tomatoes and juices from the baking dish.



This piece of pumpkin roasted alongside the stuffed one. It makes a good side dish with roast chicken or pork chop. Or, perhaps to be pureed for pumpkin pie filling.


A third of the squash, cubed, in a vegetarian curry with tofu, coconut milk and peanuts.

Links to more pumpkin recipes here.

Another sort of meat loaf, Lamb Roll Wrapped in Chard.


Saturday, February 20, 2021

CARNAVAL! DOUBLE-MASKING AND CRISPY EARS

 
A masque and a mask for Carnaval.

They closed down the party. No Carnaval this year, due to the ongoing pandemic. Instead of fabulous masks and feathered headdresses, rollicking music and all-night revelry, we have double-masking and curfews.


Carnaval is the pre-Lenten festival, also known as Mardi Gras (theoretically the Tuesday before Lent), that goes on for a couple of weeks and is celebrated throughout Spain. This year it will be virtual. 

I feel sorry for the many makeup artists, costume designers and seamstresses who are out of work this year. (The spangled costume and flamboyant headdress of a Canary Island carnival queen can weigh more than 400 kilos/880 pounds and strut some 7000 feathers. They need rollers so that the wearer can move.)

But, the confectioners and bakers are still doing good business, as folks line up to buy typical Carnaval sweets and pastries. With home quarantine, probably many are even making some of the traditional goodies at home.

A typical Carnaval treat--crispy fried "ears."


In Galicia (northwestern Spain), a typical Carnaval pastry is orejas, or orellas de Entroido in Galician, “ears” for Carnaval. The ears are pieces of dough fried crisp and sprinkled with sugar. They are a delight with coffee, tea, hot chocolate or a copita of fiery aguardiente de orujo, clear grape brandy.

In “green” Galicia, where dairy cattle thrive, butter is more prevalent than in Mediterranean Spain. Butter is used for making the simple dough. Rendered pork fat (lard) or “vegetable” oil, usually sunflower oil, are also used. In Castilla-La Mancha, similar fried pastries, called hojuelas, are made with only olive oil. As are a similar Sephardic Jewish treat called orejas de Hamán, Haman’s ears, traditional for the holiday of Purim (which this year is from the evening of February 25 until the following evening.)

These ears are easy to make—cut free-form “ears” from dough rolled out very thinly. Don’t flour the work surface; oil it lightly.

 If you want to get artistic, after placing a piece of dough in the frying oil, use two forks to push edges together, crimping the dough into the form of an ear. I recommend olive oil for frying the pastries, although any vegetable oil can be used. You don’t need deep oil for frying. A half-inch of oil in the frying pan is sufficient. Add additional oil as needed. Moderate the heat so the dough doesn’t brown too quickly. 

After frying, the ears are sprinkled with cinnamon sugar and a little powdered sugar.






Crispy “Ears” for Carnival
Orejas de Carnaval

Makes 25 (4 X 3-inch) fried ears.

1/3 cup melted butter, lard or vegetable oil
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1 tablespoon anise liqueur, brandy or sweet Sherry
¼ cup orange juice, milk or water
Grated zest of 1 lemon or orange
2 cups + 2 tablespoons flour
¼ teaspoon salt
Oil for work surface and for frying
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
Honey (optional) 
Confectioner’s sugar (optional)

In a small bowl combine the butter, lard or oil, beaten egg, liqueur, orange juice or other liquid and grated zest.


Place the flour in a mixing bowl and stir in the salt. Make a well in the center and pour in the liquid ingredients. Use a wooden spoon or fork to mix until the dough forms a soft ball. Knead the dough briefly, either in the bowl or on a work surface. Form into a smooth ball and cover with a clean cloth or plastic wrap. Let the dough stand at room temperature for 1 hour.

Place olive oil in a skillet to a depth of ½ inch. Place on moderate heat.



Before rolling out the dough, brush the work surface and rolling pin lightly with oil




Cut free-form ear shapes.


You need about 1/2 inch of oil for frying the ears.


Drain fried pastries on paper towels, then sprinkle with cinnamon sugar. Olive oil is best for frying.


Lightly oil the work surface and the rolling pin. Divide the dough into 8 equal balls. Roll out one ball as thinly as possible. Use a sharp knife to cut the dough into “ears,”—triangles, rhomboids, trapezoids or free-form. Transfer the cut shapes to the hot oil. Fry them until golden on both sides, 2-3 minutes. Remove the fried dough with a skimmer and drain on paper towels. Continue rolling, cutting and frying the remaining dough.

Combine the granulated sugar and cinnamon. Sprinkle the fried ears generously with the cinnamon sugar. If desired, sprinkle with confectioner’s sugar as well. (Alternatively to the cinnamon sugar, boil a few tablespoons of honey with a little water for 1 minute. Brush the honey syrup over the ears.)



More Carnaval goodies:





Saturday, February 13, 2021

INTRO TO COOKING WITH CIDER

Escanciado--first try.
     
     I learned a new word this week: escanciado. It refers to the manner of decanting natural cider. Having never visited Asturias, I’ve never set foot in a sidrería, a cider bar, where the custom of pouring cider from on high into wide-mouthed glasses is an art. 

     I encountered the word escanciado (and escanciador, the person who practices the art of pouring cider) because I needed to know how to open a bottle of cider in order to use it in a recipe for merluza con sidra, hake with cider, a dish from Asturias.

     Asturias, tucked away at the very top of the Iberian peninsula, is a land of green meadows and mists, thick forests of oak and chestnut, fat cattle and fast-running trout streams. It’s famous for its cheeses—nutty Afuegu, stinky Pitu, mild blue Gamoneu, sharp blue Cabrales; for its fabulous seafood, and for fabada, a potage of beans with smoked sausages. Little wine is produced, but Asturias grows some 250 varieties of apples, so cider is the preferred drink. 

We had an experimental go at escanciando. The professionals hold the bottle above the head with the glass extended below at arm's length. The stream of cider is supposed to hit the side of the glass. The method supposedly "wakes up" the cider's natural carbon bubbles and releases volatile aromas.

Cider can be used in cooking exactly as white wine. It’s tangy and dry, perfect with fish. Besides hake, try it with salmon. Use cider also in beef stew or braised chicken. Try a pan of chorizo baked with cider. 

Incidentally, in Spanish, “sidra” is cider, but “cidra” is a kind of squash used to make candied angel’s hair. 

Fillets of hake are layered with sliced potatoes, shrimp and clams, then covered with cider sauce.


Hake and potatoes in cider sauce with a salad of kale, apples and walnuts. A culín of cider to wash it down.


Cider sauce is perfect with small fillets of frozen fish. 

 
Hake in Cider Sauce
Merluza con Sidra

Use hard, dry cider for cooking. The degree of alcohol doesn’t matter, as it cooks off. It needn’t be espumoso, carbonated, as the fizz is lost in cooking as well.  

I have used frozen small fillets of hake. Fresh fish, cut either in steaks or fillets, would be even better. The fish in the cider sauce can be cooked right in a cazuela on top of the stove or in the oven. Adjust cooking times depending on thickness of the fish. 

Serves 2-3.

2 medium potatoes
¼ cup olive oil + additional for baking dish
1 pound hake fillets
Salt
Flour for the fish
1 cup chopped onion
2 cloves garlic, chopped
¼ teaspoon hot (picante) pimentón (paprika)
½ cup grated tomato pulp
1 cup cider
Chopped parsley
12 clams
12 medium peeled shrimp

Peel the potatoes and slice them ¼-inch thick. Heat the oil in a heavy skillet and fry the potatoes on medium heat, turning them once, until they are tender, about 10 minutes. They do not need to brown. Remove the potatoes and reserve them.

Sprinkle fish with salt. Dredge the fillets in flour and pat off the excess. Fry the fish in the same oil that the potatoes cooked in. Don’t brown the fish, just turn the pieces to seal the flour coating. Remove them.

Add the onion and garlic to the remaining oil. Sauté on moderate heat until onions are softened, 5 minutes. Stir in the pimentón, then the tomato pulp. Season with ½ teaspoon salt. Cook, stirring, until the tomato is thickened, 10 minutes. Add the cider and remove the sauce from the heat.

Pour the contents of the skillet into a blender and blend until smooth. 

Preheat oven to 425ºF. Lightly oil an oven-safe dish (earthenware cazuela is perfect). 

Place fish on top of  sliced potatoes.


     Arrange the fried potatoes in the bottom of the oven dish. Sprinkle them with salt and some of the chopped parsley. Place the pieces of hake on top. Tuck the clams and shrimp around the fish. Pour the sauce on top. Drizzle with a little oil.

     Bake until sauce is bubbling, fish flakes easily and clam shells have opened, 12-15 minutes. Serve sprinkled with chopped parsley.












More recipes from Asturias: