Saturday, August 26, 2017


Don’t we all love ground meat? It’s all about versatility. From burgers to meatballs, kefta, meatloaf, stuffing for vegetables, pasta sauces and a lot more, ground meat makes for easy, quick cooking meals, often economical and usually kid-friendly.

Most minced meat recipes work equally well with beef, pork, lamb or chicken. In Spain, the preferred meat is pork, whether it’s for meatballs or stuffed peppers.

But I’ve taken to using ground chicken thighs instead, including for American-style meatloaf and burgers. What I totally avoid is prepared and packaged ground meat that contains additives and often fillers as well. I choose lean meat and have the butcher grind it for me. I add (healthful mono-unsaturated) olive oil to the grind to make it juicier.

Picadillo--ground meat, seasoned and fried.

This recipe for Spanish picadillo—minced meat that’s seasoned and sautéed--is a good example of the versatility of ground meat. As a main dish, it’s served in Galicia accompanied by cachelos, boiled potatoes, and cornbread; in Castilla y León with patatas fritas, in Andalusia, with rice.

Picadillo, like sloppy joes, is great on a toasted bun. Rolled in Mexican wheat flour tortillas, it’s an easy filling for burritos. Paired with a fried egg and fried bread, picadillo is a big breakfast or light supper. Add picadillo to beans, chickpeas or lentils for a satisfying meal. And, it sure is terrific on top of pasta.

Serve picadillo on a toasted bun for a kid-friendly meal.

Serve picadillo over a mound of rice.

Breakfast or supper? Picadillo with a fried egg and triangles of fried bread.

Picadillo with pasta, olé.
You can add ingredients to the meat mix—sliced olives, corn kernels, diced zucchini, mushrooms, chopped spinach, diced carrots—and change the seasoning to suit your mood. Vary the type of pimentón (paprika) in the seasoning. Use sweet plus picante (hot) and smoked and unsmoked.

Minced Meat Sauté
Picadillo de Carne

Use ground pork, beef, lamb or chicken for the picadillo. Season the meat and allow it to marinate, refrigerated, for at least 1 hour and up to 8 hours. When frying the meat, spread it in a hot skillet and let it fry 2 or 3 minutes without stirring. That allows the meat to brown before it starts giving off liquid. Then use a wooden spatula to turn and break up the globs of meat. The picadillo can be fairly chunky or broken into small bits. Remove the meat and all its juices from the skillet before making the sofrito of onions, peppers and tomato.

Serves 4.

1 pound ground meat (pork, chicken, beef or lamb)
3 cloves garlic
½ teaspoon coarse salt
½ teaspoon sweet pimentón (paprika)
¼ teaspoon smoked pimentón picante or a pinch of cayenne
Pinch of thyme
¼ cup white wine
5 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup chopped onion
½ cup chopped green pepper
½ cup chopped red bell pepper
1 cup peeled and chopped tomatoes
Salt and pepper
¼ cup sliced olives (optional)
Chopped flat leaf parsley to garnish

Place the ground meat in a bowl. Crush the garlic in a mortar with the coarse salt. Add the two kinds of pimentón, thyme, wine and 1 tablespoon of the olive oil. Add the garlic mixture to the meat. Use the hands to mix it thoroughly into the meat. Cover and refrigerate at least 1 hour and up to 8 hours.

Heat 3 tablespoons of oil in a skillet on medium-high heat. Spread the ground meat in the skillet and let it brown, without stirring. Then use a wooden spatula to break up the meat and turn it. Continue cooking until meat loses its pink color and is fairly loose. Remove meat to a bowl and set aside.

Add 1 tablespoon oil to the skillet. Sauté the onion and green and red peppers on medium heat until softened, 5 minutes. Add the tomatoes, turn up the heat, and cook 5 minutes until they give off their liquid.

Return the meat and its juices to the skillet. Add sliced olives, if desired. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, 10 minutes. The meat should still be juicy, though without a lot of liquid.remaining. (If the picadillo is to be served with pasta, add a ladle of pasta-cooking water to the meat before removing from the heat.)

Serve hot, garnished with chopped parsley. 

For more about types of pimentón:
More recipes for ground meat:
Meatballs in Almond Sauce.
Middle Eastern Meatball Soup.
Squid Stuffed with Ground Meat.
Lamb Roll Wrapped in Chard.
Chicken and Partridge Pâté.
Peppers Stuffed with Ground Pork.
Stuffed Cabbage.
Meat-Stuffed Eggplant.
Picadillo for Chorizo.

Saturday, August 19, 2017


One of summer’s delights are the many kinds of capsicum peppers—bell peppers in stop-and-go semáforo colors, red, yellow and green; chiles from hot to mild; stubby green Padrón peppers, and kinky, crinkly, skinny, green Italian frying peppers. 

Kinky green frying peppers. Choose straight ones for stuffing.

The green frying peppers are especially abundant and popular in local cooking. They’re fried whole and served as a tapa or side with grilled meat. They’re a basic ingredient in sofrito. Chopped raw peppers go into gazpacho and into pipirrana and piriñaca salads. They’re even used for stuffing.

These peppers are thin skinned and thin fleshed. Their crisp texture makes them ideal for using raw in salads. Many are twisted, even kinky. Their flavor is bittersweet and fruity, not hot.

I decided to stuff a bunch of these green peppers. Instead of the usual meat or meat plus ham stuffing, I chose a filling of canned bonito. Bonito del norte is white albacore tuna. Canned in olive oil, bonito has completely replaced canned tuna—endangered blue-fin—in my cupboard. This is an easy stuffing mixture to make with what you’ve got in the pantry. For stuffing, choose the less kinky specimens of peppers.

Once filled, the peppers are lightly fried in olive oil before being finished in a fresh tomato sauce. Frying adds flavor and blisters the peppers’ thin skin, which all but disappears during cooking.

Peppers stuffed with tuna are first fried, then simmered in fresh tomato sauce.

Stuffed peppers, a summertime treat. These are filled with canned albacore tuna.

Kids will love these tuna-stuffed peppers served with pasta.

Peppers Stuffed with Tuna
Pimientos Rellenos con Bonito

White albacore tuna from a can.
5-6 (6-inch) green frying peppers
1/3 cup fresh bread crumbs
2 tablespoons milk
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/3 cup finely chopped onion
2 cups tomato sauce (recipe follows)
2 cups drained canned tuna, flaked
3 tablespoons chopped parsley
Salt and pepper
1 egg, beaten
Olive oil for frying
Pasta for serving (optional)

Remove stems and seeds from the peppers. Press the stem in until it breaks free. Pull the stem out with the seeds. Shake out remaining seeds.

Push stem in to release seeds.

Pull seeds out.

Place the bread crumbs in a small bowl and add the milk to soften them.

Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a skillet and sauté the onion on medium heat until softened, 5 minutes. Squeeze out the breadcrumbs, discarding the milk. Add the bread to the skillet. Add 3 tablespoons of the tomato sauce and the tuna. Remove from heat. Add the parsley and season with salt and pepper. (Salt may not be needed, as canned tuna is fairly salty.) Stir in the beaten egg. Let the mixture cool.

Fry the stuffed peppers lightly before finishing in sauce.
Fill the peppers with the tuna stuffing mixture. Use a spoon or skewer to push it in. 

Heat enough oil to cover the bottom of a deep skillet. Fry the peppers, turning, until they are lightly browned and blistered on all sides. Remove. Pour off remaining oil.

Add the tomato sauce to the skillet or to a cazuela and place the peppers on top. Cook, partially covered to prevent splattering, 15 minutes. Turn the peppers over and cook 15 minutes more. The tomato sauce should thicken, but don’t allow the peppers to scorch.

Serve the peppers hot or room temperature, with pasta, if desired.

Stuffed peppers and tomato sauce are good served with pasta.

Fresh Tomato Sauce
Salsa de Tomate Fresco

Fresh tomato sauce, ready for many uses.

No need to peel the tomatoes before making the sauce, as later it gets pureed and sieved. The sauce keeps, covered and refrigerated, up to a week.

Makes about 2 cups sauce.

3 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup coarsely chopped onion
1 carrot, diced
3 cloves garlic, chopped
4 cups coarsely chopped plum tomatoes (about 1 ¾ pounds)
¼ cup white wine
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Heat the oil in a heavy saucepan and sauté the onion, carrot and garlic. Add the tomatoes, wine and salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer the sauce, partially covered, until thick, 30 minutes.

Puree the sauce in a blender and pass it through a sieve, discarding the skins and seeds.

More recipes for peppers—piquillo, Padrón and bell.

Saturday, August 12, 2017


Last year by mid-August, I was in tomato heaven, enjoying gazpacho daily and stashing garden tomatoes in the freezer for sofrito futures. This has been a disappointing year for tomatoes. I haven’t made a single gazpacho so far. I could buy tomatoes, sure, but they would never match the incomparable flavor of the home-grown ones.

Last year, tomatoes from the garden. This year, zilch.

But, while I’m bereft of tomatoes (and cucumbers and peppers, too), I’ve got a basket full of sweet pears. Maybe I could make gazpacho with pears in place of tomatoes?

Pears to replace tomatoes in gazpacho?

By my own definition, gazpacho requires only bread, garlic and olive oil and it doesn’t have to be red. Tomatoes and other fruits of the vegetable garden are modern additions to what is a very ancient peasant food. (Although, I have been pretty strident on what gazpacho doesn’t include: no tomato juice; no canned tomatoes; no tomatoes dropped in boiling water to facilitate peeling them; no ketchup; no chicken stock or beef stock; no pepper or chile; no salsa; no beets or watermelon or strawberries.)

So, pear gazpacho it is. With the addition of ground almond meal, it has similarities to ajo blanco, a white garlic gazpacho made with almonds. While gazpacho is a savory cold soup, served as an aperitif, this one, with some tweaking, makes an excellent dessert!

Gazpacho needs a garnish, both for visual and textural contrast. Crispy croutons are good. Crunchy chopped scallions would go with the sweet pears. In honor of the tomatoes I have not got, I used chopped cherry tomatoes plus a little shredded basil.

Chilled pear gazpacho served with chopped cherry tomatoes and sprigs of basil.

Serve with crispy croutons or bread sticks.

Olive oil and bread give the gazpacho a creamy texture.

Pear Gazpacho
Gazpacho de Peras

Makes 4 (½ -cup) servings.

Pears, almond meal, garlic, bread.
½ cup bread crumbs (1 slice, crusts removed)
2 cups diced pears (4 pears)
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1/3 cup unsweetened ground almonds
3 cloves garlic
½ teaspoon salt
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon Sherry vinegar
½ teaspoon aguardiente (anisette liqueur, optional)
Tomatoes and basil leaves to garnish

To make a sweet dessert pear gazpacho, omit the garlic and salt. Replace the vinegar with 1 tablespoon of honey. Use ¼ cup cream in place of the olive oil. Add a pinch of cinnamon or allspice. Blend the pears with bread, as for the savory gazpacho.

Place the crumbs in a small bowl and add ½ cup water. Soak the bread 10 minutes to soften. Squeeze out the bread.

Place the pears in a blender with the lemon juice (to prevent fruit from turning dark). Add the bread, ground almonds, garlic and salt. Blend until smooth. Add  the oil, vinegar and anisette if using. Blend to emulsify to a creamy texture. Blend in ½ cup water. Chill the gazpacho.

Stir the gazpacho before serving. (Add additional water if gazpacho seems too thick.) Serve the gazpacho in small cups, garnished with chopped tomatoes and shredded basil.

Follow the five-part “Gazpacho Diaries” for just about everything you ever wanted to know about gazpacho. A recipe for traditional Andalusian gazpacho is here.

More variations on gazpacho:

More recipes with pears: 

Saturday, August 5, 2017


When I fire up the grill on the patio, it’s never just to cook one meal. It requires so much  charcoal and/or olive wood to make a bed of coals on only one side of it that I try to get as many foods on it as possible. 

Use coals to cook foods in several shifts.

So, if there’s steak or ribs or a boned leg of lamb for tonight’s meal, then there are adobo-marinated chicken legs to grill for tomorrow. Eggplant, peppers, corn in the husks, potatoes wrapped in foil, whole onions, garlic, leeks. Some of the vegetables are flame-roasted while the fire is just getting started; others are grilled over the dying coals after other foods have been removed.

Roasted corn that we don’t eat at the first meal I will add to a salad of black beans and green beans. The eggplant and onions and garlic become escalivada, a Catalan dish that can be served cold or room temperature.

Charred eggplant, pepper, onion and garlic to make escalivada the next day.

Grill-roasted eggplant, green and red peppers, onions and garlic--add olive oil, lemon juice and it's escalivada.  Mash the soft, roasted garlic with some of the pepper juices and oil and drizzle over the vegetables.

Serve escalivada as a side dish or heap it on toasts as a tapa.

Bell peppers--roast them today, use them tomorrow.

Tomatoes can be roasted right on the grill or in an aluminum foil pan. They're easy to peel.

A heap of roasted red bell peppers, peeled and torn into strips and dressed with olive oil becomes a favorite summer salad.

This time, the remains of the barbecue—roasted peppers, tomatoes and potatoes—inspire me to make an Aragonese dish, cordero al chilindrón, a lamb stew with summery flavors.

Red bell peppers and tomatoes make this lamb stew a summertime dish.

Tender lamb cooks with grill-roasted peppers, tomatoes and potatoes.

Chilled rosado wine goes with a summer stew.

This festive dish is usually served accompanied by patatas fritas, fries, or potatoes cooked right in the stew. I took advantage of left-over roasted potatoes from the grill, adding them to the lamb and peppers at the end of cooking.

A summer stew needn’t be served piping hot. Let it set 10 or 15 minutes before serving. A chilled rosado wine and sliced garden tomatoes complete the meal. 

Lamb Stew with Red Peppers
Cordero al Chilindrón

Peppers and tomatoes may also be roasted in the oven or under the broiler--but the smoky aroma of the grill gives them an extra dimension.

Use any boneless cut of lamb for this stew—shoulder, leg, loin, breast. 

Serves 4.

4 red bell peppers, roasted, peeled and seeded
1 ¾ pounds lamb, cut in 2-inch chunks
Freshly ground black pepper
Pinch of thyme
Flour for dusting meat
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 onions, julienned
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 ½ cups peeled and chopped roasted or raw tomatoes
Red pepper flakes (optional)
½ cup white wine
2 baked potatoes, peeled and cut in pieces
2 ounces serrano ham, diced (½  cup)
Chopped parsley to garnish

Tear the roasted peppers into strips and reserve.

Season the meat with salt, pepper and thyme. Dust it with flour (the meat doesn’t need to be coated with flour).

Heat the oil in a cazuela or deep skillet. Add the lamb and brown it on all sides, Remove the meat and reserve.

Sauté onions and roasted pepper strips.
Add the onions to the pan and sauté 5 minutes until they are softened. Add the garlic and the strips of red pepper. Sauté on medium heat 5 minutes. Add the tomatoes and red pepper flakes, if using. Fry on medium heat 5 minutes. Add ½ teaspoon salt and the wine. Bring to a boil. Return the lamb to the pan. Cover and simmer 20 minutes.

Turn the meat and continue cooking until lamb is very tender, about 30 minutes more. If using the cut-up baked potatoes, add them about 10 minutes before lamb is ready.

Add the diced ham and heat 1 minute.

Allow the stew to set 5-10 minutes before serving. Garnish with chopped parsley.

The remains, for another day.

Recipes for escalivada, here and here.
Another recipe for lamb stew with red peppers, this one for winter is here.
Another recipe for chilindrón, this one with chicken is here. My chilindrón recipes from Aragón are made with red bell peppers, but in Navarra and La Rioja, chilindrón usually is made with dried red peppers called choriceros. Choricero peppers are a mild (not hot), bittersweet chile also used in making chorizo sausage.