Saturday, August 30, 2014

CORN, FROM ILLINOIS TO SPAIN


Sweet corn--not Illinois, but not bad.

You can take the girl out of Illinois, set her down in Spain beneath an olive tree, but you can’t take the CORN out of the girl. Corn is deep in my memory bank. Acres and acres of field corn growing all around the town where I grew up (yes, this is where high fructose corn syrup comes from). Grocery stores with heaps of sweet corn in the summer.  Best of all was Sunday dinner at Aunt Gail’s farm in southern Illinois with sweet corn picked from the garden to go with the fried chicken, green beans and sliced tomatoes. Uncle Gene said you could hear the corn growing and, on a quiet summer's evening, I would go stand among the tassels and listen. I was sure that murmur was the sound of corn pushing upwards.

The first few years in Spain, we tried growing sweet corn, getting family to send us seeds for Illini Chief Super Sweet, a hybrid developed in Illinois.  Our Spanish friends thought we were nuts. They swore corn was only to feed to hogs. Even when we gave them some to taste, they turned up their noses. The indignity, too, of eating it right off the cob!

Corn did not do well in the poor, sun-baked soil on our hillside in southern Spain and we gave up growing it. But, a few years down the pike, I discovered a local source for sweet corn. Inland, on the vega, the fertile plain, of Antequera, some Americans associated with an evangelical church in Torremolinos were growing the real stuff.



Guys peddled the corn at intersections on the main highway. Trips to the airport in the summer meant a stoplight purchase of corn.

The Antequera farm, now a rehab center (Asociación Real de Rehabilitación de Marginados), is still growing corn, now marketed in the big hypermarkets up and down the coast as King Corn, el Rey de Maiz.

While Spaniards have been willing to accept canned corn kernels as edible (indiscriminately tossed in mixed salad, I detest them), I’m guessing most are still not eating corn-on-the-cob.

Mostly I serve corn-on-the cob not so differently from back in my Illinois girlhood. Only, instead of butter or, god forbid, margarine, I serve it drizzled with extra virgin olive oil. For an especially Spanish twist, I make a dressing, aliño, with ½ tsp smoked pimentón (paprika), 2 tbsps extra virgin olive oil, 2 cloves minced garlic, ½ tsp coarse salt and 1 tsp chopped parsley.

Corn, of course, is a New World plant, which may explain why it took so long to be naturalized in Spain. But, then, so are tomatoes, beans and peppers and they are totally accepted here.

Two areas of Spain where corn has long been part of the diet are Galicia in the northwest and the Canary Islands in the Atlantic off the coast of Morocco (yes, the archipelago is part of the Spanish nation). Galicia uses cornmeal in yeasted bread, pancakes, empanadas. Canary Islanders use a type of cornmeal, gofio, made from toasted grain that is ground to flour. And, corn-on-the-cob (piñas de millo or maíz) goes into typical stews such as puchero and potaje.

Potaje canario with corn, vegetables and pork.

This Canary Islands potaje seems especially appropriate to the season, with many late-summer vegetables as well as the corn. Heading into fall, other vegetables can be included as well—cabbage, chayote, sweet potatoes, carrots and chard are all typical. If desired, serve the soup with a side of escaldón, a cornmeal mush made with gofio and the broth from the soup pot. Because gofio is a toasted flour, it does not need cooking. (If Canarian gofio is not available, use Venezuelan arepa flour, which also is a precooked cornmeal.)


For vegetarian potaje, just omit the meat.
 
Potaje Canario con Verduras
Canary Islands Vegetable Pot with Corn

Stewing beef can be used instead of pork. For a vegetarian version, omit the meat and add 2 tablespoons of olive oil to the soup.

Serves 6.

1 pound pork ribs
10 cups water

1 cup chopped onion
2 tomatoes, peeled and chopped
1 teaspoon salt
2 cloves garlic
½ teaspoon cumin
Pinch of saffron (or substitute pimentón, paprika)
1 cup cooked or canned chick peas or pinto beans
2 or 3 ears of corn, cut crosswise in thirds
2 cups diced pumpkin or butternut squash
2 cups diced potatoes
1 cup garden cress
2 cups diced zucchini
1 cup green beans
Escaldón as an accompaniment (recipe follows)


Hack the slab of ribs in half crosswise, then cut each rib. Place the ribs in a soup pot with the water, onion, tomatoes and chickpeas. Bring to a boil, then lower heat to a simmer.

In a mortar crush the salt, garlic, cumin and saffron. Dissolve in a little of the broth from the pot and stir it into the pot along with the chick peas. Cook until the meat is almost tender, 30 minutes.

Add the corn, pumpkin, potatoes, cress, zucchini and green beans. Taste for salt and add more if needed. Cover and cook until vegetables are tender.

Serve the pieces of pork ribs, chick peas, corn and vegetables in soup plates with some of the broth.



Escaldón
Corn Meal Mush

Serve escaldón as a side dish with soup. Add mojo sauce.



1 ½ cups gofio (precooked corn meal)
3 cups boiling stock from the soup pot
Salt, to taste
Mojo verde (cilantro chili sauce, recipe here)
Sliced red onions
Vinegar


Place the gofio in a heatproof bowl. Stir in the boiling liquid. Stir until the mixture is fairly smooth, about the consistency of mashed potatoes. Add salt to taste.

Serve dribbled with mojo verde and red onions that have been salted and dressed with vinegar.
 



Saturday, August 23, 2014

CHILL OUT!

Coffee granizado.

I adore Spanish bar coffee—strong espresso with a shot of foamy, hot milk, served in a short glass.  But, in this hot weather, steamy coffee offers no pleasure. I order a tall glass of ice cubes and, after sweetening the coffee to taste, I pour it over the ice. Still tastes wonderful, but now it’s cold. I chill out with the local newspaper at my favorite café in the plaza.

Café con leche and a glass of ice.

My iced coffee reminds me of one of summer’s treats from many years ago, before there were ice cream stands on every corner, enjoyed on infrequent trips into Málaga city. There, on Calle Nueva, was a famous heladería, Casa Mira, founded in 1890, that served wonderful house-made ice creams (turrón ice cream was a specialty) and granizado de café.

A granizado is somewhere between a granita and a slushie—strong, sweet coffee turned into crystalline ice. Add a dollop of ice cream (a favorite flavor was nata—cream—plain vanilla without the vanilla) or sweetened whipped cream and call it a blanco y negro—“white and black”.

So, why not make coffee granizado at home? What a lovely idea.

Easy method: pour cold, strong, sweetened coffee over crushed ice, stir.

Frozen coffee.
Or, freeze the coffee and grind it to snow. Use either 4 cups of freshly brewed coffee, sweetened to taste, or instant coffee (“gold” brand) and water. Freeze, break up the ice and use an immersion blender to blend to slush. Blending incorporates air and turns the ice to “snow.” The ice will change color, from dark coffee to what looks like milky coffee, though it contains no milk.

As the granizado melts, the coffee separates from the "snow."

Serve the ice in short coupes or tall glasses. The slush begins to melt quite rapidly, separating into snow and dark coffee. Add a dollop of whipped cream or a scoop of ice cream, if desired. Or, how about a splash of brandy?  A cool finish to a summer’s meal.

Serve in coffee cups, dessert coupes or tall glasses.
Granizado de Café
Coffee Ice


3 tablespoons instant coffee powder
3 tablespoons sugar
1 cup boiling water
3 cups cold water

Combine the coffee powder and sugar in a heatproof bowl. Add the boiling water and stir until dissolved. Add the cold water. Pour into a bowl and place in the freezer until partially frozen, about 3 hours.

Break up the ice. Use an immersion blender to blend the coffee to slush. Return it to the freezer. Before it freezes hard, break it up again and blend until smooth.

Spoon the coffee ice into short coupes or tall glasses and serve immediately. The granizado can be stored in the freezer. Before serving, partially thaw it and blend again.


Lemon granizado is made in the same manner: Prepare lemonade and freeze it, blend to snow. My lemon tree has only green fruit right now, so lemon granizado is not on my play list.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

COOKING CLASS IN MY KITCHEN IN SPAIN

Cooking class: tapas and Sherry.

 

Come along on a cooking class and learn how to make tortilla and more great dishes from Spain!

 

“You can do it, Sarah,” I coach her. “Hold the plate tight on top of the tortilla, let some of the oil drain off into the bowl, then turn it right over.”

¡Olé! Sarah flips the tortilla and eases it back into the pan.

But, oh no!, some of the egg-potato mixture is sliding into the bowl too. We decide to put the tortilla back over a low flame and let it cook just a tad longer. The next try, Sarah turns the golden-brown tortilla onto the plate and slides it back into the skillet to cook on the reverse side. ¡Olé! Well done.

This is Day 1 of a three-day cooking course in My Kitchen in Spain with Sarah and Rosemary from Bristol, England. The tortilla is a variation on the classic one with just potatoes and onions. This one has diced chorizo (“everything can be improved with chorizo!” declares Sarah) and chopped chard as well.

We’ve already prepared three different gazpachos—traditional tomato, white-garlic with almonds and watermelon-yogurt—and put them to chill.

For the white gazpacho, we gather the almonds in the garden, crack them, blanch them to slip off the skins, then grind them in a food processor. That’s eating local!

The tomatoes, too, are from the garden. We do a taste-test—“long-life” supermarket tomatoes, all of them stamped out of the same mold, identically red and unblemished; big, misshapen beefsteak tomatoes from the market, and ones from my garden. The supermarket tomatoes, Sarah and Rosemary say, are considerably better than the ones they get in England. The market tomatoes are way sweeter and more flavorful. Lastly, the homegrown, organic ones—wow! What a difference!

That gazpacho, with no cucumbers or peppers in the blend, is one of the best ever to come out of my kitchen.

Day 2, we are off to the local market in the morning to get everything for a paella dinner today (the paella shopping list and recipe appear here) and a tapas spread tomorrow.

Disappointment at the fish stall—“No quedan boquerones,” we are told. The  boquerones, fresh anchovies, to prepare al natural, in a vinegar marinade, are all gone. We compensate with some tiny clams to cook with wine and garlic, a la marinera.

At the butcher’s shop, we get chicken for the paella, pork to make pinchos morunos, spicy mini-kebabs; and sliced serrano ham to go with sweet melon. Later, I discover I’ve forgotten the ground meat (mince, as the English call it) for the albóndigas, meatballs in almond sauce, one of my favorite tapas. I stop at the supermarket later in the afternoon when I pick up Sarah and Rosemary who have stayed in the village to shop for gifts.

Sarah mixes white sangría.
Back in the kitchen, we make a white wine sangría with orange slices, peaches and melon to sip while we prep the paella. “Not too sweet,” says Sarah. “Just right.”  They choose not to dilute it with fizzy water.

Rosemary enjoys a sangría.

Prepping for paella. Artichoke!

We’ve already prepared leche merengada, meringue ice milk, and put it in the freezer. A sweet and cold finale to our meal.

Day 3, Sarah and Rosemary enjoy leftover gazpacho for lunch by the pool and we start our cooking class in the late afternoon. Lots to do today!

The “lesson plan” for our tapas class is my cookbook, TAPAS—A BITE OF SPAIN (the book, with photos by Michelle Chaplow, is available from Santana Books). Rosemary is looking ahead for ideas for a party she is planning for her husband’s birthday. I show them how to adapt tapa-bar favorites to home entertaining.

Because tapas in their origin—Sevilla, Jerez de la Frontera—are so closely associated with Sherry wines, our tapas party will also be a Sherry tasting. So, to get us rolling, we make dessert (or, as the Brits say, “pudding,” even if it’s not pudding)—Tipsy Cakes, squares of sponge soaked in Sherry syrup.

Here’s our tapas menu.

Manzanilla fino from Sanlucar de Barrameda with gambas al ajillo (sizzling shrimp), toasted almonds, regañas (crackers), manzanilla olives.

Pinchos morunos- pork kebabs.

Fino Sherry from Puerto de Santa María with serrano ham, figs and melon; pork kebabs (pinchos morunos) and Málaga salad with oranges.

Ensalada malagueña with oranges.

Oloroso seco Sherry from Jerez with meatballs in almond-saffron sauce, potato salad with lemony dressing and fried eggplant (aubergine) drizzled with molasses.


With tipsy cakes, in theory, we should have had an accompanying PX Sherry, but we are happy to keep sipping the mellow oloroso seco with dessert. Sarah and Rosemary have a scoop of the remaining meringue ice milk too.

Meatballs in almond sauce.

Potatoes with lemon dressing.



All of the mentioned recipes, except for the tortilla with chorizo and chard, have previously appeared on this blog. To find them, go to the “Search” window at the upper-left corner and enter the recipe name.





Would you like to join me for cooking classes? Go to this blog post, http://mykitcheninspain.blogspot.com.es/2012/07/come-cook-with-me.html, and follow the link there to send me an inquiry.


Tortilla de Patatas con Chorizo y Acelgas
Potato Tortilla with Chorizo and Chard

Tortilla with potatoes, bits of chorizo and chard.
Makes 20 tapas or 4 main dishes.

1 kg / 2 ¼ lb potatoes (about 4 large)
120 ml / 4 fl oz / ½ cup olive oil
150 g / 5 ¼ oz chard leaves, chopped
2 tablespoons chopped onion
85 g / 3 oz chorizo, cut in ½ cm / 3/8 in dice
1 teaspoon salt
6 eggs

Peel the potatoes, cut them in half lengthwise and slice thinly crosswise. Heat the oil in a 28-cm / 11-in no-stick frying pan over medium heat. Add the potatoes, turn them in the oil, then reduce heat and let them cook slowly, without browning, 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, blanch the chopped chard in boiling water for 5 minutes. Drain well.

Add the onion, diced chorizo, chard and half of the salt to the potatoes in the pan. Continue cooking potatoes until they are completely tender, 15 minutes longer.

Beat the eggs in a large bowl with the remaining salt.

Place a large plate on top of the pan of potatoes. Tilt the pan so the oil runs to one side. Holding the plate tightly, carefully tip the pan and drain the oil into a small heatproof bowl. Stir the potatoes, chard and chorizo into the beaten eggs.

Return a spoonful of oil to the pan over medium heat. Pour in the egg-potato mixture. Spread it evenly. Reduce heat and cook, without stirring, until the tortilla is set on the bottom, about 5 minutes. Do not allow the bottom to brown too much. You can shake the pan occasionally to make sure the tortilla doesn’t stick on the bottom.

Again, place the plate on top of the pan. Working over a bowl to catch any drips, hold the plate tightly in place and turn the pan upside down, reversing the tortilla onto the plate. Slide the tortilla back into the frying pan. Let it cook on the bottom, 2 minutes.

Lift the front edge of the tortilla and carefully slide it out of the pan onto a serving dish or cutting board. Cut into 5-cm / 2-in squares to serve as a tapa or into wedges if serving as a lunch dish. Serve hot, warm or cold.