Friday, May 06, 2011

Spring Training! Spain & Saffron!

As time passes, whether or not the weather gets any warmer, I feel the urgency of spring.

I think that's because I grew up in Arizona where, by March, it was always pushing 90 degrees. Once Spring Fever starts, though, there is no turning back, and though I may not be able to control the weather, (well, not yet) I can still control what goes on in the kitchen.

Focusing on brighter, warmer flavors always makes me feel good. Plus, when baby dandelions show up at my local markets, I know it is ON. And nothing says spring and flowers for me like...saffron.

Iranian saffron. Yeah, man.

The invite:

Hungry Kiddies!!
I can feel it! Spring is coming!!! (I think I can, I think I can!!)

And to hurry it along, I thought we might gather for a good, old fashioned SND on a SUNDAY-- right before I am spirited off to the land of eternal halter tops and swimming pools (Phx) for the week.
I toyed with the idea of doing a Liz Taylor extravaganza, but on closer inspection, she really only ate a lot of junk food and drank martinis. Not that I have anything against that-- I most certainly don't. I mean, it clearly worked for her. But.... as the weather warms I find myself drooling at the vegetable stand, and thinking about the char marks on crispy grilled sardines, and asparagus, and the telltale sign that Greek Easter (Greaster!!!) is coming soon--wild baby dandelions!)

On with the menu!!


Spanish Tortilla


Fried Sardines with Romesco


Portuguese Chorizo, Shrimp, and Kale Stew

Baby Dandies with Fried Eggs and Spicy Garlic Dressing

Asparagus with Miso Butter

Farro and Roasted Beet Salad with Ricotta Salata


Tangerine Semifreddo

Of course, even though I cooked my own published recipe for Spanish Tortilla, it proved too difficult to, um, get out of the pan on this particular day. Thankfully, It was going to be cut into little pieces and served as a Scooby Snack before dinner so presentation wasn't as important. There's something about the synergy of potatoes, eggs, butter, oils and saffron that makes my tastebuds... relax. It is almost like my mouth says... "Ahhhhhhhhh." But, in a good way.

I have also discovered that whenever I put sardines on the menu, there's... well... fights.

Well, not quite that bad. But there are certain people who will not hesitate to use knees or elbows to fight their way to the sardine plate.

It is encouraging to see people clamor for the humble sardine in this age of Hake, Cod and the like. Not that there is anything wrong with the white fishes, but the sardine packs a superior punch, in my opinion. Plus, it's healthier for you AND better for the environment. Hands down, a winner of a fish.

This particular sardine frying expedition resulted in my discovering the PERFECT dredge for them: Flour, a little cornstarch, a little matzoh meal, salt and pepper.

Cornstarch keeps the coating airy and the matzoh meal gives it crunch. Pop those little fuckers in hot hot oil and you're all set! I put them out with a little side of Romesco sauce , but I think the truth is that salt and lemon is the perfect accompaniment.


I had shrimp stock in the freezer. The next time you buy shrimp, get them in the shell, and here's why: It only takes a few minutes to remove the shells, and then sauté the shells with just a little butter and white wine, cover with water or more white wine, or both, and you can simmer them into a bright orange, delicious stock that you can freeze, and it's oh-so-useful...

I sauteed fuck-tons of onions and garlic in butter AND olive oil, added salt, pepper, a very healthy amount of both bittersweet smoked paprika and some regular paprika, oregano and a pinch of cumin until the herbs were toasty, then I added the shrimp stock. I let this simmer for about a half hour to let the flavors develop, added a couple of cups of white wine and then the base was ready. Meanwhile, I chopped the kale into ribbons. Then, I pan fried the chorizo that I bought from Whole Foods, an atypical purveyor for me, but I'd had some of their chorizo earlier in the week from their "butcher counter" and it had been smoky and delicious...

After the sausage was cooked most of the way through, I cut it into pieces, deglazed the sausage pan with the shrimp stock extravaganza, poured everything into the big stock pot, and added the kale.

This simmered for about 15 minutes, long enough to break the kale down a bit, but not enough to boil the living daylights out of it, a technique I leave that to the Greek grannies.

At the last minute I added the peeled rock shrimp, and turned off the heat. Even if you're adding several pounds of shrimp to the pot, they are small and delicate, and cook almost instantly. The only way to assure they don't suffer a terrible "rubberized" fate is to let them cook in the residual heat of your dish, and that means adding them last. By the time everyone is served they are perfectly cooked. This soup is normally served with a poached egg on top, but since I was serving fried eggs on top of the baby dandies, I left it out.

Ah, the baby dandies. I can never get enough of these beauties!! They are only in season for a short time, and they are SPECTACULAR. After you've rinsed them seven thousand times (sooo sandy and gritty...) and have cut off their tiny roots, they are ready to rumble.

I spread the greens out on flat serving plates so that there is a lot of surface area to cover with the anchovy dressing and fried eggs. The anchovy dressing is so easy, is a flat-out, ball-busting punch of flavor and makes people go fucking insane: Melt a whole bunch of (about twenty) anchovy filets (I use the ones packed in oil) in a hot sauce pan or frying pan. Add a good amount of olive oil, since this will be a sauce, and let it heat up, but not to the point of smoking. Add about ten cloves of finely chopped garlic, and saute for a few minutes until the garlic softens, stirring constantly. Squeeze in the juice of a whole lemon and a dash of salt (yes, salt) and pepper, stir, and you are ready to dress your dandies.

Top with a few fried eggs, sunny-side-up or, if you are feeling fancy, over-easy, and SERVE. When the bright yellow yolks of those eggs breaks and combines with the garlic anchovy/dandies... well, it's gorgeous and heavenly.

Asparagus with miso butter is one of my favorite combinations. Zora and I stole the idea from a David Chang column in the New York Times a few years ago, and then ran with it and simplified it a little for the home cook. These days, I don't even follow my own recipe; I just reduce a little dry sherry for a few minutes, add a dollop of white miso, a stick (or two) of butter, whisking as it melts, and finish the butter with a touch of sherry wine vinegar. The miso is so salty it doesn't require anything else, except maybe the odd butter adjustment... If you squeeze a little lemon over the asparagus, right before you pour the hot miso butter, the acid balances the sauce perfectly.

Farro salads are our future, as far as I am concerned. A perfect grain, nutty tasting, satisfying and soooo good for you, it can be served hot, cold or anywhere in between.

I mixed the farro with bulgur, and tossed this mixture with roasted beets, boiled, chopped beet greens and a vinaigrette made with orange, tangerine, pomegranate molasses, olive oil, shallots, salt and pepper.

Then, I finished the salad with some shaved Ricotta Salata. This dish is gorgeous, and with a soup or green salad could stand alone as dinner.

Then, there was dessert...

I pulled this recipe out of Bon Appetit, because I have never made a semifreddo and thought it might be fun. Naturally, and despite Karl's repeated reminders that the semifreddo needed time to freeze, I waited until the very last minute to start it, and Karl was over in the corner, shaking his head, and doing everything in his power not to say 'I told you so,' while he made the crunchy toffee topping.

Crunchy toffee topping. myum myum myum myum...

Well, the last laugh was all mine.

The Tangerine Semifreddo came out perfect. Maybe if I am lucky he will comment here about how FUCKING DELICIOUS it was. (And he did:)

I'm Karl, and I approve this message:

This has been a political announcement, paid for by
Karl Was R-O-N-G Wrong Wrong Wrong 2011®

And that was it for the first "spring" meal of 2011! Shiny happy people, stuffed with warm, sunny flavors, and then sent back out into the early spring chill.

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