Basque Gastronomy Part 3: Mugaritz

Last, but certainly not least, on the gastronomic tour was lunch at Mugaritz. Located about half an hour drive from San Sebastian, in the country side village of Errenteria. Chef Andoni Luis Aduriz established this restaurant in 1998, after having worked as a part of Chef Ferran Adriá’s team at El Bulli. The restaurant is nestled in the hillside surrounded by gardens in which they cultivate many of the ingredients used in the kitchen.

Upon arrival, before even being seated, you are brought into the kitchen where Chef Aduriz himself, along with his head chef, explain their philosophy – they use only the freshest ingredients, tailoring the menu to what they find in local markets each day. Each and every plate is scrutinized for perfection before leaving the kitchen.

After an amuse-bouche in the kitchen we are taken to the table – a huge, circular table with white linen and with no silverware. Mugaritz only serves a 20 course tasting menu and shortly after sitting, and after choosing our first bottle of wine with the help of the sommelier, the first of five amuse-bouche begin to arrive, all of which are eaten sans utensils.

“Edible Stones”  First up, a dish that really does look like two stones nestled in a bowl of sand. The waiter coyly says, “If you find you can bite into them, try dipping them in the aioli…” The “stones” are small baked potatoes and somehow the skin is made to look like a stone. It has us giggling as we try to bite into the stones and encounter a perfectly buttery potato. And thus starts an incredible meal.

“Scarlett Shrimp over Sake Lees”  A take on a lettuce wrap, we must roll up the filling in the leaf to eat it. The sheer uniqueness of eating a leaf with little flowers in it gets us going all over again. It’s surprisingly tasty and we realize we are definitely in for a lot of surprises today.

“Grilled Toast with Bone Marrow, Herbs and Horseradish Ash”  This next one is a doozy – I’ve never seen such a large pice of bone marrow. Its fatty and succulent and just over the top, but in such a good way.

“Flax and Wheat “Kraft” Paper with Marine Accents”  A lump of tender crab meat on a paper thin cracker.

“‘Fishbones’ with Nuances of Lemon, Garlic, and Cayenne Pepper”  Teeny tiny little fish, fried and stuck together with dab of a spicy sauce between each one. Salty, crunchy with a spicy kick.

For all of this we have been sipping on this Ossian 2009 Verdejo from the Rueda region. A light golden, crisp wine with hints citrus.

“‘Bonding…’ Toasted Seeds and Spices Served in a Mortar with Vegetable Broth”  Next up, a sort of make-your-own-soup. We’re served a warm cast iron mortar full of hemp seeds and peppercorns and told we need to mash them up. It seems strange at first, but as we start mashing, a wonderful toasted aroma starts to rise out of our bowls as the mashed seeds come into contact with the heat of the cast iron. Once we’re sufficiently mashed (and by that I mean the waiter has come around to ensure we’ve put enough muscle into it) we are served a couple slices of cod and a small pitcher of creamy vegetable broth, which we add to the seeds.

For this dish we switch momentarily to a beer to complement the nutty flavors of the hemp seeds. Not just any beer of course, a beer brewed especially for Mugaritz.

“Tomato and Sweet Garlic”  And this is how the next set of courses begins – a thick slice of heirloom tomato with black fermented garlic imported from China spread over top. The garlic is surprisingly sweet and has a very mild garlic flavor. It’s a perfect combination with the juicy acid of the tomato.

“Scarlet Prawns, Fresh Pasta, and Tomato”  Next is a couple bites of fresh, possibly rice, pasta in a creamy broth made of prawns and tomato. The broth’s concentrated flavor is intense and complex and leaves you wanting another bite.

“Stew of Lemon Rinds and Grilled Squid”  Ohmygosh, so delicious. The squid is tender and the sauce is so intensely sweet and tangy. There are pieces of lemon rind in there also that have taken on a sweet flavor, like lemon rind candy. It clearly tastes like lemon, but without any sour flavor.

Pause. We need more wine. Sommelier, what’s the word? Ekam 2010 from Castell d’Encus:  a combination of Riesling and Albariño with a bright gold color and with a floral sweetness. It’s a limited production from the Catalan Pyrenees. And it’s delicious.

“Portion of Home-made Cheese, Cured in Its Own Rind, Mushrooms and Fleshy Leaves”  This next dish again plays with your perceptions. It looks a lot like cheese, but as the waiter sets down the dish he asks, “Is it cheese? You decide. I’ll tell you afterwards…” And… cue tablewide debate about whether it’s cheese or not. We decide it’s not cheese – the texture is just not quite right – and we get a gold star; its not cheese, and though it’s made with milk, the process is different. It has a yeasty flavor, kind of like when you make bread dough, and the texture is similar as well.

“Tagliatelle of Concentrated Milk, Lightly Soaked in a Silky Juice of Roasted Squash and Tomato”  This is another crazy “milk technique” where the “pasta” is made by drying the film of milk that occurs when it boils. The dish arrives with this dry pasta wrapped by a thin slice of cured Iberian ham fat and at the table the broth is poured over, instantly making the “pasta” melt. It’s strangely delicious.

For the last four dishes, the meat courses, we order a red wine. An Artigas 2008 from Bodegas Mas Alta from the Priorat region. A smooth full bodied red with a touch of dried cherry.

“Roasted Loin of Hake with Clashing Grains of Aged Mascarpone, Cauliflower, and Fresh Almonds”  The first of the four second courses is hake, a flaky white fish common in Spain. On top is a ground up mixture of aged mascarpone, cauliflower, and fresh almonds, all of which seem to have the same texture, making them indistinguishable as you eat it, melding all of the flavors together.

“Costal Fish with Crunchy Trimmings of Aged Sourdough and Sweet Pickled Onion”  The next dish is a tender rock fish, the soft texture and mild flavor of which goes perfectly with the crunch and tangy flavor of the toppings.

“Crispy Sweetbread with Homemade capers, Bitter Leaves, and Artisan Praline”  Ah, sweetbreads…can’t really say a bad thing about them. These are amazing of course, crispy outside, tender inside.

“Crunchy Terrine of Iberian Pig Tails with a Bunch of Bitter Leaves and Txakoli Sediments”  The last dish (before desserts, of course) is thin slices of pig tail pressed together to form this disc shape. I have to recognize that I am not a huge fan of pig tails as I don’t particularly care for the texture. At the same time, I must say that this was an excellent example of them – if you had to eat them, these would be the ones to eat. They are perfectly cooked, so that they are soft inside and the fat has melted, the skin on the outside is crunchy. Txakoli, as I mentioned in my last post, is a dry, highly acidic white wine typical of the Basque country, so the tart flavor of this sauce pairs really nicely with this dish, as it breaks up the salty fattiness.

“A Taste of Subtlety. Folded Linen with Toasted Crème Fraiche and Crème Caramel”  The first of the desserts is a paper thin wafer, served on a white linnen napkin. To the side, a butter knife with a delicious frosting of crème fraiche and crème caramel. You are told to spread the frosting over the wafer first. It’s has a buttery texture and just a hint of sweetness intermixed with the tangy crème fraiche.

“‘Traditional’ Almond Fairy Cake”  Next up is a new take on a typical pastry called a mantecado, which is like a crumbly cookie that is traditionally made with ground almond. This is a frozen version made with a light airy almond ice cream that’s then coated with crumbled mantecado and ground almonds.

“Fig Leaves and Lemon in a Creamy Milkshake”  Number three is my favorite by far. The milkshake is served with a small vile of fig extract, which you may add to your milkshake with the pipette. The flavors are incredible: sweet figs and tangy lemon all in a creamy, cold milkshake.

“Candies of Frankincense. The Perfume of Eucalyptus Bark”  Number four is the strangest thing I’ve ever eaten. Out to the table comes a bowl with wispy smoke and the smell of incense. At first glance, it looks like there are three sticks of incense sticking out of the bowl, but then we are told that actually, those sticks are what we need to eat! They remind me of drawing with charcoal sticks in art class and they smell like smoke. But, they taste like sugar and incense and melt away in your mouth like a sugar cube.

“Cocoa Dusted Hazelnuts”  Lastly, a box of toasted hazelnuts dusted in unsweetened cocoa powder.

To end the experience, the waiter comes by with moist towels for us to wash our hands. But, this is Mugaritz, so of course they aren’t your average towelettes. These are condensed cloths that expand when liquid is poured over them, in this case a warm peppermint infusion.

Ah, it’s all so strange and whimsical… They make you interact with your food, eat with your hands, and question everything you thought you knew about some of the most common ingredients. Chef Aduriz is young and has a fantastic imagination and it all shows in his dishes. It’s somehow less serious, at times it makes you laugh at your own confusion, and at the end you leave feeling lighthearted and amazed.

After a fantastic meal, we took a walk around the gardens, which are beautiful, so below are some pictures of their vegetable garden and edible flowers (many of which appeared on our plates).

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Basque Gastronomy Part 1: Arzak

 

Back in Spain now, along with my parents and some friends (those wonderful wine pairing ones, to be exact), and the first stop is San Sebastian. The Basque Country of Spain is really hot right now in the food world with a lot of the worlds best restaurants and most famous names. So this year’s plan was to do a gastronomic tour of San Sebastian. Lucky me!

Before I give my impressions of this experience, I have to say that this was the first time I have ever had the opportunity to do something like this. As a foodie in training, I was beyond excited to experience the edible art that these restaurants are famous for. And let me tell you, my expectations were met, and then some.

Our first meal was at Arzak, a 3 Michelin Star restaurant located in San Sebastian. Chef Juan Mari Arzak is renown for his avant garde twist on Basque Cuisine. We were advised as first timers to do a tasting menu, and that’s exactly what we did.

“Corn, Figs and Black Pudding” and “Chorizo with Tonic”  The first and second dishes are two of the five amuse-bouche that started the meal. On the right, “Corn, Figs and Black Pudding”, a complexly flavored soup with a hint of sweetness from the corn that perfectly balanced the intense flavor of black pudding, or morcilla. On the left, “Chorizo with Tonic”, a more whimsical dish, served in the hollow of a crushed Shwepps Tonic can, consisting of a very thin slice of melon wrapped around a chorizo mouse. Both were delicious and really get your imagination flowing about what could possibly come out next.

Before we go on with the next dishes, we must talk about wine. Remírez de Ganuza Reserva 2003: a wine made from only the hips of the best bunches from vines that are 60 years old. A rich, smooth red wine that paired nicely with the whole meal.

“Kabraroka Pudding with Kataifi”  Kabraroka is a type of fish and we were told this was a pudding wrapped in fried fideos, or very thin noodles. Like a crunchy and savory lollypop.

“Gooseberry with Coconut”  You can’t see the gooseberries due to the wispy white fog pouring out of the dish, a chemical reaction between dry ice and a coconut infusion which the waiter poured at the table. In one bite a sweet gooseberry and crispy salty potato chips.

“Marinated Sardines and Strawberries”  The last amuse-bouche, a side of a sardine, covering a dollop of cream with herbs and a strawberry. This is a combination one would not immediately think of, but again, Arzak knows what he’s doing by ending this portion of the meal with an elegantly plated challenge for the senses.

By now we have all ooh-ed and ahh-ed at every plate, and then again after tasting them, and can hardly wait to see what else is in store.

“Cassava Cromlech with Foie Gras, Onion, Coffee, and Tea”  And we are not disappointed. In my opinion, one of the best. It’s like an ice cream cone, they told us, you have to pick it up and turn it over quickly and then eat it like an ice cream. The outside “cone” is cassava and it’s stuffed with caramelized onion and foie gras – so much flavor in each little bite. And you get two of them!

“Hemp Mustard and Lobster”  Next up, choice pieces of perfectly cooked, moist lobster atop a dollop of slightly sweet mustard. Next to them, hemp seed crackers with mixed greens. The clothespins are made out of the delicious “essence” of the lobster found in the head – I suppose mixed with a gelatin and put in a mold. The lobster was fantastic and was complimented and not overwhelmed by the mustard.

“Tapioca and Citrus Salad”  Accompanying the lobster, a little salad of tender mixed greens, lightly dressed with citrus, over tapioca pearls. Definitely a different combination of textures – a unique take on classic flavors.

“Dusted Egg and Mussel”  A perfectly poached egg. When you cut into it, the intense orange yolk soaks into the crisp sitting on top, melting it. I’m pretty sure everyone at the table put manners aside and sopped up that goodness with bread. The mussel, perfectly steamed, and dusted with pulverized parsley and red pepper, was a bonus bite.

The last of the first courses. Now onto the main dishes. You got a choice of one of the three. At our table, two were chosen, so I have pictures of both.

“White Tuna, Prickly Pear, and Figs”  I had this one because when I see tuna on a menu at a restaurant I have to have it, especially if that restaurant is Arzak. The tuna is perfectly cooked so that the layers just slide apart. It’s heaven. The sauce is sweet and savory and it’s all accompanied by triangles of prickly pear, a slightly sweet fruit. I could eat this tuna every day, and that’s a fact.

“Gooseberry, Spelt, and Monkfish”  What I missed out on was this Monkfish with two different sauces. On the separate plate in the upper left are gooseberries poached in cured iberian ham fat. I didn’t taste this plate – I guess I was too enthralled by my tuna…or perhaps someone “forgot” to give me a taste. I wasn’t even mad about it, too happy to care.

Second courses now and we got a choice of one of four dishes. Between us all, we ordered three – and this time I got to taste them all!

“Pigeon with Anthocyanin”  Pigeon was not my choice, but one must try these things when they are offered to you. The meat is similar in texture to duck, but with a much stronger flavor, maybe even a bit gamey. But, of course, if you’re going to eat pigeon, eat it at Arzak where it’s perfectly tender and moist. You’re probably wondering what anthocyanins are (or maybe you’re a biologist and you’re like, “What? You don’t know what anthocyanins are?”) so just in case you’re more like me, they are the pigmentation that occurs naturally in plants. And you can seem them painted on this plate. They are flavorless, so their purpose is only to make this dish look like a modern art painting. Pretty nifty!

“Lamb with Corks”  I did not choose lamb either, though this proved to be delicious lamb. It’s garnished by a variety of fruits (melon and watermelon) and vegetables (carrots and potatoes) all shaped into cylinders of varying size and length. In my very humble opinion, this dish was not as exciting as some of the others just because the flavor profile, though hearty and delicious, was pretty standard for lamb.

“Beef with Vegetable Screens” and “Smoked Yogurt with Micro Greens”  So that means I had beef. It was tender, it had a sweet gooseberry glaze, it had cous cous with pretty edible flowers and dried gooseberries, and it had screens – yes, like sugar glass with vegetable “essence” (because I’m not sure what to call it) in it. They melted away as they came in contact with the juices from the meat and just added another flavor. It also came with yogurt – smoked yogurt, actually – in the form of a little side salad. Talk about different. Usually you equate yogurt with tart or sweet flavors, but smokey…I guess it makes sense when you think of smoked cheeses that also have that intense smell and taste.

And that ended the savory portion of the meal. Now on to the six desserts they have ready. You don’t choose the desserts, the desserts choose you. Actually the waiters decide who gets what, though I’m not sure if it’s based on what you ate or whether you just have a “she’ll-like-chocolate” face. Things also get a little confusing flavor-identification-wise, so bear with me.

“Roots, Fruits, and Seeds”  This is the first dessert that found me. The center is white chocolate mixed with parsley (I think – like I said, many things are a mystery at this point in the meal) and next to it are “cocktail spheres” – that’s the name I’m giving them, at least. I was advised that each of these must go in whole and that’s pretty much because they each hold about a tablespoon of port wine. There’s a gelatin skin around them and when you bite or just put pressure on them, they pop and you can then drink the liquid. I don’t even know – it was weird and exciting at the same time. Food chemistry skills were put to work in this and all of the desserts.

“Playing Marbles with Chocolate”  The “marbles” are chocolate on the outside and, like my port bubbles, are totally liquid inside. These had a chocolate liqueur in them, I think…

“The Cocoa Forest”  This was my favorite dessert, though it was sadly not mine to devour. The “tree” is filled with a fruit custard – maybe passion fruit – and dark chocolate and fruit are always a winning combination for me. The other chocolate piece is again full of liquid, but I didn’t eat it, so I can’t describe that particular burst.

“Castles on the Sand”  My second dessert, plated over a backdrop photograph of San Sebastian’s most recognized beach “La Concha”. The castle on the left is carved out of watermelon and the pink is a strawberry custard. Again I’ve got gelatin water balloons – the green is basil, and my-oh-my was it basil, and the red was strawberry.

“Pistachio and Beetroot Stones”  This dessert is a pistachio cake that is full of air bubbles. Little circular air bubbles – again, food chemistry. It’s topped with candied pistachios coated and sits on a sauce made of beetroot.

“Golden Footprint”  Lastly, a golden footprint made of chocolate and stenciled edible gold along with two ladybugs full of a piquillo pepper liquid. Very intense flavor, your brain really thinks you are eating a pepper. Not my favorite thing when I’m in dessert mode, but fascinating all the same.

Speaking of piquillo peppers, each dessert was accompanied by a scoop of homemade ice cream, which somehow I forgot to photograph, and one of them was in fact piquillo pepper. Again, tasted just like the real thing. I had a flashback to watching Iron Chef when the secret ingredient is crabs and one of the chefs gets the ice cream maker out and you’re at home thinking “what the heck is that going to taste like?!”. Well now I know. It tastes just like crab and cream. Anyway, I’m getting away from the point. The ice creams ranged from grilled pineapple to basil and piquillo peppers.

And last but not least, an assortment of chocolate nuts and bolts and even gelatin bottle caps topped with pop rocks.

What else can I say about this meal. I think it speaks for itself that I just described all of that to you from memory, two weeks after the fact. It’s a meal that involves all the senses – yes food always involves first seeing it, then smelling and finally tasting, but here at Arzak they play with textures and chemistry. Sometimes your eyes deceive you and your palate is surprised by new flavors. Four hours later you emerge and it’s like you’ve been sightseeing in a new place and seen and experienced things that you hadn’t before.

And this was only part one…

Wine Pairing Dinner

OK, I’m back! Lot’s of pending posts and this is number 1 of 4 of the amazing things that I’ve been eating (and drinking) in the past month.

I am lucky enough to have some good friends who have taken it upon themselves to further my wine education. They painstakingly set up a wine pairing lesson disguised as a dinner party.

Four wines: a Cabernet, Pinot Noir, Chardonay, and Sauvignon Blanc. First lesson: detecting scents. In the first picture, scents typical of white wines and in the second, those typical of reds. Lot’s of laughs and debates about whether we could detect tobacco and leather in the Cab or whether there were the scents of green pepper and fresh cut grass in the Sauvignon Blanc.

Next lesson: the 5 tastes and how they change the taste of each wine. Sweet – Sugar; Salty -Salt; Sour – Sour Cream; Bitter – Radicchio; and Umami – Dried Seaweed. Finally we get to taste the wine!! A sip of each wine after tasting each of the ingredients determined that sugar pretty much ruins the flavor of all of these wines, as any fruity flavors get dulled. The sour cream went better with the fresh whites as did the Radicchio. Umami and salt brought out more flavor in the reds.

And the last lesson: different cooking methods. Here we tasted all of the wines with both steamed and grilled vegetables, salmon, chicken, and beef. I have to admit that at this point is when I began to understand why at wine tastings they tend to spit the wine out after tasting…

Overall a very fun experience (isn’t it great when learning is fun?) followed by a delicious “real” meal of Cuban Chicken Fricassee, a slow cooked chicken dish with olives, peppers, and rasins.

So, a huge thanks to the Menas for a fabulous meal and for such a great learning experience!

Lemon Squares

I’m officially in “summer mode”. Classes are winding down and I only have to work a few hours each afternoon. I’m at the point where I have to remind myself several times a day to remember that I have to go to work. So today after sleeping in, having a leisurely breakfast, going for a run, and still finding myself with nothing in particular to do, I felt like baking something. Only problem: I really did not feel like going out to the store – you know how that is, right? After a quick look in the pantry and the discovery of a whole lemon and some butter in the fridge (two things I rarely have!), I confirmed that, yes, I did have all the ingredients necessary to make some Lemon Squares!

The first step is to mix 3 tablespoons of unsalted butter with 1/4 cup of sugar – use a fork or a mixer – until they are creamed together. Then add 1 cup of flour little by little. I used half whole-wheat and half all-purpose, not for any other reason than that I didn’t have enough left of either type to do all one (seriously, summer mode). Keep mixing these with a fork or mixer until it looks like fine crumbs, but still holds together when you pinch it. Spread this mixture into the bottom of a lightly greased pan – the recipe called for a square 8in x 8in, but I used a rectangular one and just reduced baking time a bit. Press it down and bake at 350 ºF (or 176 ºC) for 13 minutes.

You have to let this cool before pouring in the topping, so while you wait you can make that. First, beat 3 large eggs until they get frothy.

Then, add 3/4 cup of sugar, 2 teaspoons of lemon zest, 1/3 cup of lemon juice (this is approximately the entire zest and all of the juice of one large lemon – good thing, because that is all I had!), 3 tablespoons of flour, 1/2 teaspoon of baking powder, and 1/8 teaspoon salt. Mix together well and when the crust has cooled, pour it over the top and bake at the same temperature for 20 to 25 minutes, until it’s set.

Once the Lemon Squares are cool, sprinkle them with 2 tablespoons of powdered sugar and cut into 15 squares.

So, these are delicious. Like really, really delicious. And I was excited about them because they are only 120 calories each, but now I’ve eaten two already! These are not going to last long…

Anyway, I love lemon desserts in the summer, so this is a winner!

Ingredient List:

Crust:

  • 3 tablespoons of unsalted butter
  • 1/4 cup of sugar
  • 1 cup of flour

Topping:

  • 3 large eggs
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 2 teaspoons lemon zest
  • 1/3 cup fresh lemon juice
  • 3 tablespoons flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons powdered sugar

*Recipe from Cooking Light (link)

Banana Bread with Chocolate Chips & Walnuts

Banana Bread muffins to be exact. It’s not the kind of thing you can plan to make. It has to happen because you got carried away and bought more bananas than you could eat, and then you went out of town for a couple of days, and then came back to bananas that looked like this:

And that’s when you know that special time has come. It’s pretty exciting. In my own humble opinion, banana bread is a bummer without chocolate chips. We had a neighbor when I was growing up who made us a loaf one time and I’ve been hooked ever since.

Over the years I’ve tried various recipes, and finally, it’s happened – I’ve found the best banana bread recipe ever. So, check it out – it starts with 1/2 cup (100g) of unsalted butter at room temperature and a cup of sugar. Cream them together ’til they’re that nice light yellow color. Then add 2 large eggs, one at a time, mixing each one.

One. And Two.

Then mash up those over-ripe bananas (minimum 2, but I used 4 for extra moisture, sweetness, and all around banana goodness) using a fork, or a potato masher. Add it into the butter, sugar, egg mix. Also, add 1 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla extract.

Now it’s time for the dry ingredients. In a separate bowl, mix 1 1/2 cup of flour, 1 teaspoon of baking soda, 1 teaspoon of baking powder, and 1/4 teaspoon of salt. Add the dry to the wet and mix until fully incorporated.

Now add semi-sweet chocolate chips (about a cup).

And chopped walnuts (or not – up to you – about half a cup).

Now you can put this into a loaf pan – you’ll probably need two, but I’m not sure because I always make them in cupcake molds. I have these super cool silicone cupcake molds shaped like hearts. They are good because they are reusable and don’t stick, so you don’t have to put any cooking spray in them.

These go into a 350ºF (176ºC) oven for 12-15 minutes until they are golden brown on top. Like this!

This mix made 16 muffins. That’s a lot of yummy muffins to have around tempting me…

Anyway, now you know what to do when your bananas get too ripe. Try it, you won’t regret it.

Now, here’s the ingredient list:

  • 1 1/2 cup all purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 3/4 cup chopped walnuts
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 cup ripe bananas, mashed (more makes it more moist!)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

*Props to epicurious.com for this one (link)

Spaghetti with Creamy Roasted Red Pepper Sauce

Happy Easter everyone (a tad bit late)! It’s been a good week because it’s included 2 whole days of vacation! And now I’m on semi-vacation because the majority of my students have gone back to whence they came for the vacation. I’ve encountered a curious problem though with this free time. I have so many things I want to do and haven’t been able to do because of work that now I can’t decide where to focus my energy first. It’s making me almost less productive than when I am working full time… How can that be?

Ok, so I’m focused now and have decided that step one is to update my blog because on my two little days free I encountered some pretty enjoyable food. We went to Zamora on Friday with the intention of seeing Holy Week processions for which this city is famous, but also to visit with family members who I haven’t seen in ages. Unfortunately, it rained the whole day and no processions were seen, so instead we had ourselves a fantastic homemade meal and a marathon of card games accompanied by an assortment of liqueurs and firewater. Procession? What procession?

When we finally emerged, the rain had ceased and a little fresh air was needed. We took a ride into a nearby village where their underground bodegas are famous. Zamora is wine land, and these bodegas is where the wine was made and stored, deep in the ground where it’s cool and dry. Nowadays, most of them are restaurants that serve an assortment of meats grilled over an open flame, or parrilla, family style. There’s not even a menu – the waitress just comes up to the table and tells you which types of meat they have and do you want some wine.

Chorizo, pork ribs, and wine in a pitcher…

To finish it off, a little sweet flan (sadly, not homemade). By now, you’re ridiculously full and your only real option is to sip on a shot or two of firewater (it’s on the house after all) to help digest this meal fit for some type of burly lumberjack.

Only three of us were eating all of this, by the way…

But it is an interesting place to eat. It’s down in the depths of a cavern paved in stone. So you have to remember, while drinking your firewater, that you have to make it back up these stairs…

Back at home the following day (which commenced with a brutal headache from that pitcher of rural wine) two things happened. It was a holiday and supermarkets were closed and overconsumption led to a need for a lighter meal. Enter spaghetti with creamy red pepper sauce. I had a jar of roasted piquillo peppers in the pantry, so I tried out this recipe I had bookmarked a few months ago, but hadn’t gotten around to trying.

Slowly sauté a whole medium onion, sliced thinly, and a few cloves of garlic in about 2 tablespoons of olive oil. As always, I leave the cloves whole so I can remove them later… When it’s soft and translucent, add a whole jar (250 grams/a cup or so) of roasted red peppers or roasted piquillo peppers (these are the smaller triangular ones). Drain them and give them a rough chop first. If you’re super ambitions, roast your own, but then this will cease to be the super fast and easy meal that it is…

Give them a couple minutes more, just to get heated through, then remove the garlic (if you want to) and put the mixture into a blender or tall cup (if you have an immersion blender) and puree until completely smooth.

The finished product. This is now ready to be poured over your favorite pasta. The original recipe called for feta, but since I don’t care for feta, I decided to omit it and see what it tasted like on its own before deciding whether or not to add some kind of cheese or cream. Turns out its delicious all on its own! This is a great substitute to tomato sauce. So much so, in fact, that the next day I used the leftovers as  the base for a veggie pizza.

So there you have it! Another one of those fast and healthy meals – and this one is versatile too!

Ingredient list:

  • one medium onion, finely sliced
  • 2-3 cloves garlic (whole or roughly chopped)
  • 250 g/1 to 1 1/2 cup roasted red peppers/piquillo peppers, roughly chopped
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • a few tablespoons of parmesan cheese for topping

This makes enough sauce for 4 servings of spaghetti.

*Recipe adapted from Elli Krieger (cookingchanneltv.com) (link)