26 June 2013

I didn't think it would happen, but it did

I wasn't going to post unless the tortilla flipped properly and there was something to photograph.

Well, the oil was on my side, and my, was this good.

Let me go back a bit. The last time I had Tortilla Espanola (no, not frittatas with leftover roasted potatoes slipped in for bulk), authentically, I was in high school on a Spanish class trip. We visited a hole-the-wall Spanish restaurant in Morristown, NJ, about five minutes from the school. The joint was nestled between a Blockbuster video and hardware store(?)... I can't quite remember, nor do I recall the name of it. But it wasn't noticeable. One of those. Forget hidden Brooklyn storefronts, that trend was happening in Morristown, too, circa 2002.

My teacher, Sister Josephine, aka Hermana Josefina, had a routine of taking her classes here year after year because she claimed it was the most authentic Spanish food in the area and was obsessed with the preparation of the Tortilla Espanol and the Chicken Soup that contained the bones of the chicken in addition to the meat, which was what made it authentic, we were told. There were whole pieces of maize in there, too, or corn on the cob.

It was all  made there, fresh and took a lot of time, as most authentic cooking does. I had little concept of this at that point but I remember her describing a few things about the special tortilla: batatas, cebollas, acieto de oliva, huevos y sal and that was it. Potato, onion, olive oil, eggs and salt. And black pepper if you so desire. The trick wasn't exactly in the ingredients, but the preparation, the watching, and the flipping. And then, it must cool to room temperature.

Perhaps it was an off time, 12 noon (don't the Spanish eat a late lunch?) but needless to say, I remember the place being near empty when we showed up, a group of ten or so girls and Hermana. An attentive waiter sat us in a corner oversize booth and I remember feeling slightly anxious that I didn't know what I was in for. We were all being ordered for. I think she ordered the soup for everyone, and a few tortillas for the table. I wasn't a huge chicken soup person and this described Tortilla Espanol, prepared with its copious amounts olive oil was a bit daunting.

But both were, of course, ridiculously good. I remember taking a piece of tortilla home but had no idea how you'd make such a thing.

Fast forward. I slip leftover potatoes into frittatas here and there, but that's a cinch. Last summer, I seem to recall ordering a piece of Tortilla Espanol at an extremely loud, crowded Happy Hour tapas bar on the Upper West Side. What emerged satisfied my need for solids at the moment and tasted ok, but was clearly microwaved and not the real thing. Oh, Upper West Side. No. 

And so, facing six little potatoes in the pantry with no salmon in sight (or desire to transport any sort of fish more than ten minutes in this sauna of a city), I took out the eggs and started sourcing the web for this thing.

As I was sauteing the potatoes, I learned the olive oil is somewhat over-emphasized in the description, or should I say, an unnecessary intimidation factor. For this go-around (which was actually the first time I made it), rather than go with cups and tablespoons, I eyeballed it. You're after a thickish, slick coat of oil in a "preferably nonstick" pan, enough to evenly cook potatoes and onions until soft and cooked through, not browned. This is achievable if you stick to the heat settings described below.

Now I get a little intimidated with taking on recipes people describe as "traditional." Like, who am I kidding? I'm going to pretend to be a knowledgeable chef from another country right now who's been whispered the secrets over the years of pulling this off without looking at instructions? But sometimes, the instructions are the jumping off point. I read them, a few times, then go into the kitchen. If something has to cook longer than 5 minutes on the stove, I often go look at the instructions again. But mostly, I stay there and watch what I started.

Putting this together was actually pretty zen. And despite the fact that a cast iron skillet is about the most masochistic piece of equipment one could subject herself to lift with one arm and flip onto a plate, I think it was very helpful in the category of non-stickiness.

All that said, I'm sure a Spanish grandmother could have watched me make this and point out all the subtleties I negated, starting with my proportions: I used 6 tiny potatoes (I actually found them easier to work with, slice and soften), peeled and sliced super thin, and 4 eggs. I think traditionally you are supposed to use larger potatoes and a tighter egg ratio. But I am not concerned...The fact that these volumes yielded a thinner tortilla was just fine. And where's the aioli say you? Well I that's another recipe. For tonight a dollop of salted and paprika'd sour cream was a nice touch.

My only regret: where are the leftovers? They don't exist. I'll have to make it again.

Tortilla Espanola
Adapted from various sources

6 small, low-starch potatoes (I used red new- you could use Yukon too), halved, peeled, sliced into thin into rounds
1 small/medium yellow onion, diced
4 eggs
Generous pinches of salt and black pepper
A pinch of a smashed garlic clove.
A small pinch paprika

Slice your onions and your potatoes. Place the potatoes in a bowl and toss with a pinch of salt and let them sit while you heat the pan.

Heat a pan, preferably non-stick, with 10 inch diameter and 1 1/2-2 inch depth. I used a cast iron skillet. Pour in enough oil to coat the bottom. Heat to medium high. When the oil is very hot, add the onions, set to medium, add a pinch of salt, and sautee about 4 minutes, turning frequently so they are translucent.  Take a scoop of onions out to make a little more room, and set on a nearby plate.

Add the potatoes.Cook on medium, turning frequently, not breaking them, but softening them to fork-tender but not browning them (thinness of slices helps here). You want everything coated in oil and softening together. Allow about 10-15 minutes for this. Add a little more oil if needed. Add the reserved onions back into the pan in the final moments of cooking. Toss to combine.

When the potatoes are cooked through (stick a knife in to no resistance) but not overly soft, sprinkle with a little more salt, pepper and paprika. Toss then transfer to a plate to sit and cool a few minutes.

Pour any oil left in the skillet out (reserve this) and wipe it (especially stuck on bits)

Beat eggs with pinch each salt and pepper in a wide bowl. Add the potato mixture to this. Let sit a moment.

Heat the skillet on medium high. Add about a Tbs. reserved oil. Let the pan and oil get  hot (important so the eggs don't stick), and then pour in the potato and egg mixture, spreading it evenly. Cook for a minute, then lower the heat to medium low, cooking until the eggs are completely set at the edges, halfway set in the center, and the tortilla easily slips around when you shake a little, 8 to 10 minutes.

Now remove the skillet from the pan and have a large plate nearby. Lift skillet and with one hand against the plate and the other holding the skillet's handle, invert the skillet so the tortilla lands on the plate. Now slide the tortilla. back into the skillet to cook the other side. Neaten the sides, and cook until a skewer inserted into the center comes out clean, hot, and with no uncooked egg on it, another 5 minutes.

Take the skillet off the heat and then transfer the tortilla to a cutting board. Important. Let cool at least 15 minutes or more. Slice into wedges and serve.

23 June 2013

On Ease and Essential Olive Oil Granola

Hi all. I wanted to share a couple of things today and then end with a recipe I think all granola lovers can add to their arsenal. It can be memorized and should be, and the entire thing can be prepped in a few minutes with very little on the front of prep bowls by the way. There's just some plopping and mixing and spreading on a tray. No heating of anything, except the oven. And you'll be glad, as the weather begins to get hotter, by the way, that you have a jar of this on your window sill in the mornings.

It's sort of like the south over here in the shadow of the city right now. Is "on ease" a coined phrase or not? Well, it's certainly better than "on edge," huh? I've been mulling over iced Americanos and finishing up Boardwalk Empire season 3 and eating (well not all by myself) another batch of these and reading the book in the picture above. It's great so far and I recommend it for any Pollan fan or cooking aficionado. Let me quote, albeit from the introduction:

"How is it that at the precise historical moment when Americans were abandoning the kitchen, handing over the preparation of most of our meals to the food industry, we began spending so much of our time thinking about food and watching other people cook it on television? The less cooking we were doing in our own lives, it seemed, the more that food and its vicarious preparation transfixed us...this very activity that many people regard as a form of drudgery has somehow been elevated into a spectator sport...I don't need to point out that what you're watching on TV being cooked is not food you get to eat."

I couldn't agree more with this observation. And so....more on the subject when I finish the book!

Right now I'm only on the first chapter, about fire: the origins of the heat source that would be the essential tool for the transformation of raw to cooked food.

I suppose then, something reading the book has me thinking about, is the theme of ease. How one ingredient, transformed through heat, can satisfy. Pollan has another's quote, on the first page of the chapter on Fire:

"Roasting is both nothing at all and absolutely everything." -Marquis de Cussy,  L'Art Culinaire

On the note of simplicity, here's a recipe for an essential, easy-to-put-together, olive oil granola. I think it's extraordinary, and it lends itself to adaption with whatever you have on hand. I'm always making granola and have tried differnt fat/sweetener combos: butter and honey, butter and maple syrup, butter and honey and maple syrup, olive oil and honey, and... olive oil and maple. I started using olive oil once when I didn't have enough butter on hand and kind of haven't looked back. I think the olive oil and maple wins for texture and even baking as well as flavor depth. It gives it a great crispness, too.

There was quite a buzz about using olive oil instead of butter for granola last year or so, with Melissa Clark's recipe in the NY Times. She also uses coconut and lots of different nuts and seeds. I tend to not have coconut on hand too often and so I have adapted this to a much more smallish batch featuring pepitas and almonds as the nuts, spice it with cinnamon and vanilla, skip the coconut, and sprinkle on raisins in the end. It's a lovely thing to have in your arsenal and easy to memorize. The measurements below will yield 3-ish cups, enough for yogurt topping for a few people for a few days. Feel free to double it!

It's the kind of thing I'll stick in the oven after dinner while it's still hot, and I'm cleaning up and can check on it. The original recipe also included brown sugar but I don't even find it necessary.

Have a great night everyone : )

Olive Oil Granola (adapted from NYT)

1 1/2 cups (115 grams) old-fashioned rolled oats
3/4 cups (80 grams) raw nuts and/or seeds (almonds and pepitas were my choice)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 cup pure maple syrup
3 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1/3 cup raisins
coarse salt + granulated sugar for finishing, optional

Preheat the oven to 300 and line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment.

In a large bowl mix together oats, nuts, salt and spices. Whisk together olive oil and maple syrup and vanilla, pour over the oat mixture, and stir well until very evenly coated. Spread the mixture onto the prepared pan and pat into a single layer. Bake for 45-55 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes, until the oats are toasty and lightly browned. Remove the pan from the oven and set on a wire rack to cool. Sprinkle with a few generous pinches of salt and sugar, if using, then the raisins, and stir to combine. When the granola has cooled completely, store in an airtight container for up to a week.

06 June 2013

June's Quinoa

Meals have been a little simpler around here lately but that does not mean they lack detail or flavor. In fact, I think simple meals with ingredients that don't require too much temperature-watching or straight-away serving are the best place to play around with texture, color and flavors and pairings.

Fresh produce, grains, salads, bread, cheese, and baked (breadcrumb-less) chicken meatballs using this sausage, both roasted and blanched veggies, avocados, egg dishes, dipping sauces...they all present opportunities for details and blending and have been appearing on my table quite a bit. 

There's no one named June in my life but the month brings changes always. For one, it's a birthday month! For two, lots of spring produce appears at the ready, and for three, it gets quite warmer. And with the warmth and late afternoon sun streaming in through the bedroom, I haven't wanted to do too much heavy cooking. But it's the time of year where cooking a nice batch of a few bulk items goes a long way.

The other night I threw together this hearty salad as a side to those chicken meatballs I mentioned at the top (side note: The herb leftover herb pesto for this salad is a great dip/sauce for chicken meatballs or other protein), and one of the many good things about this layered salad is the fact that you can prep all the ingredients in advance.

Here's what I worked with: carrots and asparagus-oven-roasted. Torn handfuls of arugula. Cooked, fluffed and cooled quinoa. Toasted walnuts and ricotta salata shavings. An herb pesto made with arugula, mint, basil, toasted walnuts and a bit more ricotta salata for creaminess. Rounded out with coarse salt, lemon juice and drizzled with more olive oil. It's the sort of thing that can sit on the table half, mostly or totally prepared while you do some other things or make another component of the meal or just hang out. It's snappy, herby and hearty all at once and it's welcoming to other accompaniments.

The next day for lunch I also made a variation of this using the leftover pesto and roast carrots, arugula and quinoa and added avocado and cheese...and the next night the herb pesto was mixed with a bit of avocado for a nice spread for bread...you see where I'm going, the routes are endless, use the ingredients as a canvas...I encourage you to get the most out of all the components.

June's Quinoa

Herb Pesto:
Making this pesto is largely a matter of preference. For this usage I like to play around with making it more herby than oily but if that's not your thing, feel free to increase the oil. The substitution of a softer/tangier cheese here makes a nice change from the typical parm.

1 packed cup chopped herbs/greens of your choice: I used basil/arugula/mint
Small handful toasted walnuts or other nuts
1 clove garlic, minced
2-4 T olive oil
1 T lemon juice
2 T goat or ricotta salata cheese
Salt to taste
Warm water if needed

Using a food processor, your hands or an immersion blender (that's me) combine the nuts and  herbs, then the garlic, lemon juice and a trickle of the oil. Add more oil by the teaspoon, until you are getting a bit of an emulsion/creaminess. Scrape and stir, add a little water if needed to thin, add pinch of salt, the cheese, and stir, and then a bit more oil and salt if needed, stir again and set aside.

7-8 asparagus spears, whole and trimmed
3 large carrots, chopped into batons
1/4 c herbs, chopped (use same as pesto)
2 big handfuls arugula
Scant cup cooked quinoa
2 T toasted walnuts
1/4 c shaved ricotta salata
Salt and pepper to taste
lemon juice
olive oil

Roast Carrots and Asparagus: Heat oven to 425. Toss each vegetable with oil, salt, pepper, with your hands and spread on two baking sheets. Set the timer for 15 minutes. The asparagus will be done first. Take it out, set aside to cool and let carrots cook another 15 minutes. Cool both on a rack, the chop asparagus.

To assemble:

Get a big bowl and start by tearing the arugula into it. Next add the quinoa and roasted vegetables. Add a dash each of lemon juice and olive oil, toss gently, then add a heaping spoonful of herb pesto, pinch of salt and pepper, toss again, add half the cheese, toss toss and finally, finish with the remainder of cheese and toasted nuts, a drizzle more of oil and lemon juice, and a pinch of coarse salt.

Serves 2-3 heartily.