Tuesday, February 23, 2010


Menu for a Dinner Party

“This is Spanish?” asked one of my dinner guests, as I served a platter of rolled and stuffed pork loin. Well, yeah—pork, figs, Sherry, that’s all pretty Spanish. “It’s a recipe from one of my cookbooks,” I said.

The guest, friend and colleague, Gerry Dawes, is a journalist and specialist in the wines of Spain who lives in New York, but spends long stretches of time travelling in Spain. (Read about Gerry's talks with Spain’s top chefs, wine makers and other figures in the world of gastronomy.) Gerry was passing through town, thus the occasion for my dinner party. 

“You know,” said Gerry, “you could serve this dinner in an American home and, if you didn’t say so beforehand, I doubt if anyone would identify it as Spanish.” He went on to say that I should do a cookbook, based on Spanish ingredients, but oriented towards American tastes. Gerry calls it  “modernized traditional” Spanish cuisine.
In fact, once you take away paella, gazpacho and roast suckling pig, much of Spanish cooking could be modern-traditional-Mediterranean-Californian. Just add olive oil. I want Americans to realize that Spanish cooking is perfectly adaptable to how they want to eat.

My menu was both Spanish and seasonal—chilly, rainy weather called for robust food and the days of carnaval, the Spanish equivalent of Mardi Gras, the last feast before Lent, seemed to demand an appearance by Don Carnal, Mr. Flesh. So, I went whole-hog and opted for a stuffed pork loin. Easy to prepare in advance, the loin could be popped in the oven before guests arrived. Requiring little attention, it was perfect for a dinner party.

Here’s the complete menu:

Alioli dips (quince and piquillo pepper) with breadsticks
Wild boar pâté (from a can) with mini-toasts
Home-cured olives

Salad of oranges, scallions, celery, mesclun and (canned) quail escabeche

Pork loin with fig stuffing in Sherry sauce
Double-mashed potatoes
Chard sautéed with bacon and pine nuts

Cheese-custard tart with pears

Pork Loin with Fig Stuffing in Sherry Sauce
Lomo de Cerdo Relleno con Higos al Jerez

If possible, have the butcher butterfly the pork loin. To do this yourself: make a first horizontal cut, about one-third of the thickness of the meat, from one long side almost to the other side. Open up the flap. From the inside crease, make a second horizontal cut back to the first side, without cutting through the meat. Open up the second flap. You should have a single rectangular slab of meat, of more or less equal thickness.

You will need skewers and kitchen twine to roll and fasten the stuffed meat.

The meat can be salted, stuffed and rolled up to two days before cooking. Cover and refrigerate. Bring it to room temperature before continuing.

Serves 8.

                                                                                                   (Photos by Gerry Dawes)

3 pounds boneless pork loin
salt and pepper
1 cup fresh bread crumbs
½ cup chopped serrano ham
¼ cup chopped pork belly fat (fresh pancetta)
1/3 cup chopped parsley
½ cup chopped dry figs + 5 figs
2 tablespoons brandy
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/8 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, chopped
1 carrot, sliced
1 cup dry Sherry
1 cup water

Open up the slab of meat and sprinkle liberally with salt and pepper.

In a bowl combine the bread crumbs, ham, pork fat and parsley. Soak the chopped figs in brandy for 10 minutes. Add the figs to the ham mixture with the garlic, rosemary, ¼ teaspoon salt and freshly ground black pepper. Mix well.

Spread the stuffing mixture on the meat. Starting with a long side, roll the meat up. Secure with skewers, then tie it at intervals with butcher’s string.

Preheat oven to 350ºF.

Heat the oil in a pan large enough to hold the piece of meat. Brown the meat on all sides, adding the onion and carrot when meat is nearly browned. Add the five remaining figs.

Add the Sherry and water. Bring to a boil and cover the pan. Place in the oven. After 30 minutes, turn the meat. Continue roasting until the meat is tender and reaches an internal temperature of 145ºF, about 30 minutes longer. Remove meat to a cutting board and cover loosely with foil.

Skim fat from remaining liquid in the pan. Purée the liquid with carrots, onion and figs in a blender. Remove skewers and string from meat and slice it crosswise. Drizzle some of the sauce over the meat and serve the remaining sauce separately.

Double-Mashed Potatoes
Patatas Revolconas

This side dish comes from Extremadura, where pimentón de la Vera, smoked paprika, is produced. It can be prepared in advance and reheated in the oven.

Serves 6 to 8.

3 pounds potatoes
1 bay leaf
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
4 cloves garlic, peeled
1 tablespoon sweet pimentón de la Vera
pinch of hot pimentón or cayenne
½ teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon salt

Peel the potatoes, cut into chunks and cook them in boiling salted water with the bay leaf until fork tender. Drain, saving 1 cup of the cooking liquid. Mash the potatoes with a potato masher or wooden spoon, adding ½ cup of the reserved liquid.

Heat the oil in a large skillet and fry the cloves of garlic until they are golden and remove them to a blender container. Add the pimentón, cumin and salt and remaining ½ cup of liquid and blend until smooth.

Add the mashed potatoes to the oil in the skillet. Pour over the garlic mixture and mash it into the potatoes. Reheat, turning the potatoes in the oil. If they are to be prepared in advance, heap them in an oven dish, cover with foil and refrigerate. Bring to room temperature before reheating, covered, in a medium-hot oven. 

Sautéed Chard with Bacon and Pine Nuts
Acelgas Salteadas con Tocino y Piñones

Serves 6 to 8 as a side dish.

2 pounds fresh chard, washed, trimmed and chopped 
3 tablespoons olive oil  
2 tablespoons pine nuts
1 ounce chopped bacon
2 cloves chopped garlic
½ teaspoon salt
freshly ground black pepper
grated lemon zest

Heat the oil in a deep skillet and fry the pine nuts for a few seconds until they are toasted. Skim them out and reserve. Add the bacon to the pan and fry until crisped. Skim it out.

Add the garlic to the pan and, when it begins to turn golden, add the chopped chard. Sauté the chard for 5 minutes. 

Add ½ cup water, salt and pepper. Cook, covered, for 10 minutes. Remove cover and cook another 5 minutes until most excess liquid has evaporated.

Toss the pine nuts and bacon with the chard. Grate lemon zest over the top and serve the chard hot.

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