Category: Recipes: Spain

Anti-Cucumber Crisis Watermelon Gazpacho

The past few months have been rough on the Spanish cucumber.

It all began with a false accusation. Based on what was later found to be inconclusive evidence, as you’ve likely heard, the Spanish cucumber was charged with causing the deadly E.coli outbreak in Germany. Truckloads of Spanish cucumbers (and other vegetables, too) were turned away at the German border. The nightly news in Spain showed close-ups of rivers of cucumbers falling over the edges of bulldozer shovels into industrial-sized dumpsters. The market languished.

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But wait – another announcement came that it hadn’t been the Spanish cucumber after all. Yet the damage had been done, and Spanish agriculture continues to suffer. The Spanish government has calculated losses so far at €51 million, the amount requested as compensation from the European Union, as reported in this article in El País. The fiasco has been coined, “la crisis del pepino,” the Cucumber Crisis.

Things are looking up, however. According to the same El País article, national consumption of Spanish produce has increased about 10% over the last month. The crisis has spawned a cucumber movement of sorts, with Facebook pages, such as here and here, and a new Spanish cucumber YouTube video genre. Cucumber-based recipes abound on cooking shows and in food blogs. An ice cream shop in Valencia has even started making cucumber ice cream to support the cause.

In addition to this homegrown movement, the government has launched a national advertising campaign with the goal of rebuilding consumer confidence. The slogan: “There are thousands of ways to support our vegetables. Choose yours.” The initiative includes slick ads and even campaign buttons, as you can see in the image below. My favorite reads, “I’m a chard fan.” (Soy fan de la Acelga.) Have you ever seen a more innocent-looking tomato?

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As one Spanish  food blogger noted, the campaign may not be necessary for Spaniards, who were already doing their part to support the nation’s farmers – it could be more effective elsewhere in Europe, where local pride does not come into play. Nonetheless, confidence appears to be returning elsewhere, too, albeit slowly.

I must say, I’ve  rarely felt so good about eating my veggies – slicing into a cucumber has become an altruistic endeavor. If only all crises were so easy, and pleasurable, to resolve.

Watermelon Gazpacho (with cucumbers, of course!)  Adapted from “Fashion” watermelon publicity pamphlet

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While buying cucumbers the other day at my local indoor market, I noticed the “Fashion Watermelon.” More specifically, I noticed the advertisement (*see below) for this new, unfortunately named variety, including recipe suggestions from chef Josué Rodríguez, of  Almería (where much Spanish produce originates, including the maligned cucumbers). I have to say my interest in the pamphlet was at first ironic – I mean, look at the way the models are holding the watermelon – but my satisfaction was real. So here I am doing the publicity – the irony’s on me.

This quick, refreshing summer soup toes the line between savory and sweet. What I really like about it is that all the flavors harmonize, which actually surprised me – I thought it would be much more watermelon-forward, and potentially cloying. But I was intrigued, and rewarded. And most importantly, there’s a lovely cucumber essence in each bite.

For the gazpacho

2 pounds seedless watermelon (without rind) – about 4 cups of 2-inch chunks

1 medium cucumber, peeled and cut into large chunks

1/2 medium red pepper, seeded and cut into large chunks

3 very ripe medium tomatoes, quartered

2 cups cubed white bread, crust removed (I used a baguette.)

1 1/2 tablespoons white wine vinegar

1/4 cup fragrant extra-virgin olive oil

Salt and fresh-ground pepper

For the  garnishes

Finely diced cucumber

Finely diced red pepper

Finely diced spring onion

Good extra-virgin olive oil

Anything else that suits your fancy

Drop the watermelon, cucumber, red pepper and tomatoes  into a food processor or blender and puree. Add the bread and puree some more. Pour in the vinegar, olive oil and season with salt (I started with 1/2 teaspoon) and fresh-ground pepper, and puree again, this time until very smooth (about 2 minutes). Adjust the vinegar, olive oil, salt and/or pepper if desired. The recipe says to strain the soup at this point, but I skipped this step and didn’t miss it. Refrigerate the soup until it is completely chilled, at least 2 hours.

Serve cold, drizzled with olive oil. Place the garnishes in mini dishes to pass around separately at the table.

YIELD: 4-6 servings

Fashion sandía

Arguiñano in My Kitchen: Mushrooms in Garlic Sauce with Egg

For an introduction to Arguiñano, see my last post.

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My lunchtime diversification project is off to a good start. This rustic dish with big, earthy flavors made for a satisfying winter meal. Browning the garlic first infused the olive oil with a toasty garlic essence that permeated the mushrooms, onions and wine as well each burst of steam that escaped as I cut into the egg.

I was going to be lazy and eat the dish with a slice of baguette instead of making toast points, but decided I had to take the extra step to fully honor the chef. Thoughtful presentation is an essential part of Arguiñano’s recipes, little touches that turn simple dishes into special meals.

The original recipe calls for white sandwich bread, although I used a country bread instead, for this is what I had on hand. I was pleased with the result, a crisp and flavorful utensil for scooping up tender mushrooms. Next time, I’ll try baked toast points brushed with olive oil to lighten them up a bit.

The mushrooms can be made in advance, then quickly reheated in a skillet before being baked with the egg.

Mushrooms in Garlic Sauce with Egg  (Champiñones en salsa con huevo )

Translated and adapted from Karlos Arguiñano’s original recipe, published on this site, where you can also see a condensed video. Click here for a printable version in Spanish.

For toast points (optional):

4 slices bread

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

Butter (for coating the tips of the toast points)

1 tablespoon parsley, finely chopped

For mushrooms:

2-3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

5 garlic cloves, finely chopped

1 medium onion, diced

1/2 teaspoon salt

Fresh ground pepper

2 dried whole cayenne peppers

2 tablespoons flour

1 1/2 cups white wine

1 3/4 pounds mushrooms, quartered

1 tablespoon parsley, finely chopped

4-8 eggs

To make toast points:

Prepare a plate with paper towel to absorb extra oil.

Remove crusts from bread and slice into triangle-shaped wedges. Heat oil in a small skillet over medium-high heat. Fry bread on both sides until golden. Remove and set on paper towel. (I used the leftover olive oil to prepare the mushrooms.)

Coat one corner of each wedge with butter and dip into parsley. The parsley should cling to the butter, resulting in a simple yet elegant decorative touch.

To make mushrooms:

Preheat oven to 425ºF (220ºC). Alternately, you can use the broiler.

Heat oil in a large skillet (with high sides) over medium-high heat. Add garlic, reduce heat to medium and sauté until it begins to brown, about 3-5 minutes. Add onion and cook until golden in color, about 5-7 minutes. Add salt, pepper to taste and whole cayenne peppers. Stir in flour and allow to cook 1-2 minutes. Stir in wine and add mushrooms. (As seen on TV: If the mushrooms don’t all fit in at once, wait until those in the pan begin to reduce before adding the rest.) Sprinkle with a pinch of salt to help release water and cook, stirring occasionally until mushrooms are cooked through and tender, about 12-15 minutes. The sauce will have thickened, but should still be abundant. Stir in parsley and adjust seasoning if needed.

Spoon warm mushrooms into oven-proof casseroles. You could use one large lasagna pan or individual serving-size dishes, as I did (see photo). Make a bit of a nest with a spoon where you would like the egg yolks to settle, then break eggs one by one over mushrooms. Sprinkle eggs with a pinch of salt.

Bake until egg whites are set and yolks are how you like them, about 4-6 minutes. If you leave it in for too long, the eggs will turn rubbery.

Garnish with parsley-tipped toast points.

YIELD: 4 servings

Variation:

  • Use red wine instead of white wine.


Oranges with Cinnamon and Honey

Throughout my childhood in Central Florida, I always had orange trees in my backyard. Occasionally my friends and I picked the fruit to eat, but mostly we used the trees for climbing and as bases for kickball and tag.

It wasn’t until I went away to college in Colorado that I truly began to appreciate my family’s modest crop. When I’d return home for the holidays, the oranges would be at their peak. I relished my newfound morning routine of picking as much fruit as I could carry and making fresh juice for my mom and me. “This is Florida,” I would think to myself.

Oranges have long been one of my favorite fruits, likely because each bite reminds me of home. I look forward to orange season every year and always feel a twinge of sadness as the season wanes.

When I’m not consuming my oranges in juice form, I tend to eat them in sections. I love the spray that lingers on my hands after peeling off the bitter skin, and the anticipation on my tongue before biting in. My taste buds gurgle as I try to guess which flavor will dominate – the sour or the sweet? And I hope above all that the fruit will be juicy, and that the beads of pulp will burst open in my mouth.

I don’t usually embellish my oranges, but a common way to eat the fruit here in Spain has made me reconsider. For the simple addition of cinnamon and honey can elevate my favorite backyard snack into a more refined dessert with exotic airs. Each bite contains the familiar sweetness of my Florida childhood with spicy notes from afar.

The orange has grown up indeed.

Oranges with Cinnamon and Honey

I have provided a base recipe, although this dish lends itself to experimentation. Try it with different varieties of oranges, either all sweet, such as Navel, Valencia and Temple, or mix up the flavor and color by adding a blood orange. I am a fan of early oranges, whose acidic bite adds complexity. If the fruit is really sweet, the dish stands on its own with very little or even without honey.

2 oranges

1 teaspoon honey

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon, or to taste

Peel oranges, removing as much of the bitter white pith as you can. Slice peeled fruit crosswise into rounds about 1/4-inch thick. I like to do these steps over the serving plate to catch the juice.

Arrange slices in overlapping concentric circles around the plate.

Drizzle oranges with honey and sprinkle with cinnamon.

Allow to stand for about 10 minutes to give honey a chance to soak in. But don’t wait too long, for the fruit loses nutrients over time.

(I have been known to pick up the plate and slurp, once all the slices have been eaten, of course.)

Yield: 2-4 servings

Variations:

  • You can also make a juice version using the same ingredients, which is a particularly flavorful way to fend off a cold. Squeeze the oranges and stir in honey and cinnamon to taste.
  • Use 1/2 teaspoon sugar instead of honey.

Pipirrana de Jaén – A Tomato and Green Pepper Salad from Jaén, Spain

This one goes out to all of those luscious summer tomatoes ripening on vines around the world.

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On a recent trip to a natural park in Jaén, a province in Northern Andalusia (read more here), I ordered pipirrana (not only delicious to eat, but also fun to say) every chance I got. Each version I had of this refreshing salad was a slightly different blend of the following base ingredients: ripe tomatoes, green peppers and hard-boiled egg in a garlicky olive oil vinaigrette. The result was akin to gazpacho, in salad form. I loved the blend of textures – the juiciness of the tomatoes, the crunchiness of the peppers — and the deep flavor of the dressing, perfect for dipping bread (my favorite way to clean the plate). Some versions were more soup-like than others, and the egg whites sometimes came grated and not diced, a nice decorative flourish (and a way to have a bit of egg in nearly every bite). One of my favorite versions, seasoned with cumin, was redolent of Andalusia’s Moorish past.

In all cases, this quenching salad, typically served cold, provided delectable relief from midday heat.

Pipirrana de Jaén– Tomato and Green Pepper Salad from Jaén

As is the case with many traditional Spanish recipes, there are likely as many variations of pipirrana as there are cooks, some more complicated than others. An entirely different pipirrana, with roasted peppers and salt cod, can be found in the region of Murcia. The following recipe is based on what I remember from the salads I had in Andalusia; several pipirrana recipes on Spanish websites; and Janet Mendel’s version in her book, Traditional Spanish Cooking. I have chosen a simple version, which makes for a quick and easy addition to any summer meal.

The olive oil from Jaén (where about 70% of Spanish olives are produced) tends to be fruity and assertive, so be sure to use a flavorful extra virgin olive oil in this recipe.

Pipirrana can be served as a side dish or fortified with canned tuna or sliced cured ham to make a light meal.

3 medium tomatoes, cut into 1/2-inch cubes

1 medium green pepper, cut into 1/8-inch dice

1 hard-boiled egg, the white and yolk separated

1 garlic clove

Salt

1 tablespoon sherry vinegar (red or white wine vinegar will work, too)

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

Combine the tomatoes and green peppers in a medium bowl. Dice the white from the hard-boiled egg (1/8 inch pieces) and add to the vegetables.

For the dressing: Pound the garlic with 1/4 teaspoon salt in a mortar and pestle, forming a paste (or put the garlic through a press). Add the yolk from the hard-boiled egg and mash to blend. Combine the garlic, yolk and vinegar in a small bowl, then whisk in the olive oil, adding it in a steady stream. The dressing will be thick and smooth. Taste for salt, and add more vinegar for balance if needed.

Pour the dressing over the tomatoes, green peppers and egg whites, and toss well.

If you like, garnish with additional ingredients: tuna, ham, olives… (see variations below).

Chill for one hour before serving.

Yield: 4 servings

Variations:

  • Top off the salad with 1 (5-ounce) can tuna, packed in water or olive oil, drained.
  • Or, garnish the salad with several slices of  serrano ham (to taste), cut into thin strips. (You can use any cured ham here.)
  • Toss in 1/2 cup flavorful olives (green or black), such as Arbequina, Picholine or Niçoise, either pitted and chopped or whole.
  • For a more seasoned vinaigrette, add 1/8 teaspoon ground cumin, blending it into the garlic-salt paste before adding the yolk.