While all the tourists are milling around the Mezquita and the Alcázar in Córdoba, the Córdobans are getting together over tapas at the first gastronomic market in southern Spain. Mercado Victoria (www.mercadovictoria.com) was installed in May 2013 in a feria pavilion in the Jardines de Victoria, just northwest of the Judería’s Puerta de Almodóvar. The 30 food stalls cover all the bases of a conventional fresh food market—fish, meat, produce, baked goods, and beverages—but most also offer food for immediate consumption on the premises. There’s also a kitchen workshop for classes and demonstrations. By early evening, the entire glassed-in pavilion is jammed with people eating and drinking, making it one of the most lively tapas scenes in town. But we were especially amused to spot this tapa. It’s a slice of Manchego cheese, topped with a piece of roasted red pepper, and an anchovy. That pretty much captures three of the essential flavors of Spain on a single toothpick.
In 2005, Tomás and Antonio Casablanca opened Bodeguita Casablanca on a busy little corner near the Puerta de Jerez in Sevilla, Spain. Their creativity with traditional dishes has made them the darling of chefs all over Spain. We first encountered their tortilla al whisky at Dani García’s La Manzanilla tapas bar in Málaga, where he acknowledges Casablanca right on his menu. So our first order of business on getting to Sevilla was to eat lunch at Bodeguita Casablanca. And the first thing we ordered was a tapa of Tortilla al Whisky, shown above. The sauce is made fresh, and carefully cooked so it retains some of the alcohol from the Scotch. And the roasted cloves of garlic on top are both pungent and sweet. This is a dish we hope to replicate, once we’re past the deadlines for the new Frommer’s Spain books. Meantime, you can find Bodeguita Casablanca at Calle Adolfo Rodríguez Jurado, 12, in Sevilla. The phone is 95-422-4114.
We’re in Sevilla at the moment, researching what’s great and new for the new Frommer’s Spain. Part of what’s new is the completely re-done public market in Triana, just across the river from Sevilla proper. This tapa of sweet red peppers stuffed with king mackerel (melva, to the Spanish) was a bargain at 2.80 euros at La Casa Fundida (stall #46A). It’s topped with mayonnaise and grated cheese and baked in a hot oven. It tasted as good as it looks. It’s one in a list of tasty bites we hope to replicate when we get home. This was made with canned fish, which makes it even easier. It doesn’t hurt that the Spanish make the best canned fish and shellfish in the world….
Peggy Regan of Salon de Té le Gryphon D’Or (www.gryphondor.com) in Montreal is the absolute mistress of shortbread, which you can enjoy at her tea room or order through the mail. When she gave us a shortbread recipe for Food Lovers’ Guide to Montreal (see SOME BOOKS), she casually mentioned how the recipe could be adapted to add other flavors. She had in mind flavors like maple and almond.
We happen to love shortbread cookies as an accompaniment to Spanish sparkling wine, or cava. So we wondered how another signature Spanish flavor — saffron — might taste in shortbread. Since we travel often to Spain, we tend to buy saffron when we come across a good deal or when we’re in Consuegra, the premier saffron town. And roughly once a year we purchase a full ounce (that’s 28+ grams) of premium saffron from Afghanistan from Vanilla Saffron (www.saffron.com) in San Francisco. So we almost always have a lot of saffron on hand.
We experimented a bit to perfect this shortbread. Saffron gives up its color and flavor sparingly to fat, so to get a lovely golden color and intense flavor for the dough, we had to make a saffron extract using grain alcohol. (Overproof rum or vodka works just as well.) The shortbread recipe takes hints from a number of chefs and bakers. Grinding the sugar (we use a coffee/spice grinder) speeds the absorption of sugar into the butter. The use of a blend of cake flour and all-purpose flour is a trick many bakers use for a more tender shortbread. The optional crumbled saffron creates little flecks in the cookies and makes the saffron flavor even more intense.
And if you don’t want to open a bottle of cava, the shortbread is great with hot coffee.
SAFFRON SHORTBREAD COOKIES
Makes 3 dozen cookies
1 cup (2 sticks) butter at room temperature (230 grams)
1/2 cup granulated sugar, ground in blender or food processor (100 grams)
1 egg yolk
1 teaspoon homemade saffron extract (see below)
1 cup all-purpose flour (140 grams)
1 cup cake flour (120 grams)
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
1 teaspoon saffron threads, crumbled (optional)
extra granulated sugar for sprinkling
Using power mixer and large bowl, beat butter until fluffy. Add sugar and beat for 5-10 minutes until fluffy and mixture no longer feels gritty between thumb and forefinger. (Scrape down bowl often.) Beat in egg yolk and saffron extract until well mixed.
In a separate bowl combine all-purpose flour, cake flour, baking powder, salt, and crumbled saffron threads (if using). Whisk thoroughly to blend.
Add flour mixture to butter-sugar mixture a little at a time, mixing in with wooden spoon or spatula. When flour appears to be fully incorporated, beat with mixer on low for 15 seconds to ensure uniform dispersion in the dough.
Mixture will be very soft. Turn out onto parchment paper and top with a second layer of paper. Press into disk and roll out about 1/4 inch thick. Place rolled-out dough in refrigerator for 30 minutes until firm.
Set oven for 325F (165C). Cut cookies into desired shape. (We use a 1 3/4-inch fluted circle.) Work quickly before dough softens. Place on ungreased cookie sheet and sprinkle each cookie with granulated sugar. Bake for 15-17 minutes, until cookies just barely begin to brown on bottom.
Remove to wire racks to cool.
1 teaspoon saffron threads
2 tablespoons neutral spirit (150 proof or higher)
Combine in small bottle. Extract can be used immediately but gains potency after a day of steeping. In tightly sealed bottle kept away from light, extract should retain its potency for a month or more.
Chef Matthew Bell hails from Montana, but after about a decade in the South, he felt confident to head the kitchen at South on Main restaurant in Little Rock, Arkansas. It’s a collaboration with the Oxford American, the magazine that chronicles the literary and cultural life of the South and is often called the ”New Yorker of the South.”
”We are taking our cue from the magazine and keying in on the cuisine from all regions,” Bell told a gathering of writers who previewed the restaurant and performance place while it was still under construction. ”Arkansas cuisine is a microcosm of the whole South with influence from the Ozarks and the Smokies,” he said. ”We have a long growing season and close access to the Gulf for seafood.”
Now open for business, Bell is offering updated versions of classic dishes, such as a starter of pork cheeks with gnocchi, parmesan, and a fried egg, or a main course of catfish with fried brussels sprouts, hushpuppies, and rémoulade. But for my small group he proved his chops with a masterful version of the Southern staple Pimento Cheese. I like to serve the colorful dip during the holidays — all you need are some celery sticks and a few crackers.
To add heat, chef Matthew Bell favors Frank’s Red Hot Sauce or Crystal Louisiana’s Pure Hot Sauce. Since I had neither on hand, I used traditional red Tabasco from Louisiana’s McIlhenny Company.
1/2 roasted red pepper, peeled and seeded and finely chopped
1/2 pound grated sharp cheddar cheese
1/2 teaspoon finely grated garlic
3 tablespoons mayonnaise
1 1/2 teaspoons pickle brine from your favorite dill pickles
3/4 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon hot sauce
pinch of salt and black pepper to taste
Using a strong wooden spoon and a bowl, combine all ingredients in order, stirring well after each addition. Pack into small bowl or ramekin and serve with celery sticks or crackers.
Mole amarillo is a classic sauce for Day of the Dead meals in Oaxaca. When we first started visited the Oaxaca region in the 1980s, we already knew the spicy, chocolate-y mole poblano. But of the seven classic moles, the one that really blew us away was the complex, subtle, and tangibly acidic mole amarillo (yellow mole). It was the first taste of travel that we labored to bring home. In those days, that meant growing our own tomatillos and yellow chile peppers and experimenting a lot to get the flavors right. It really does represent the culmination of our garden, which may be why we introduced mole amarillo with enchiladas into our post-Thanksgiving rotation many years ago. It’s a perfect way to use to leftover turkey. We often serve it accompanied by saffron rice mixed with sautéed scallions, corn, and coarsely grated carrot from the excellent New Southwestern Cooking by Carolyn Dille and Susan Belsinger.
The concentrated form of the sauce can be made far ahead, preserved in canning jars, and be ready to eat in 20 minutes. Just follow the directions through Step 3, ladle into sterilized canning jars, and process for 20 minutes at 10-15 lb. pressure. Because it’s a high-acid food, it will keep safely in canning jars for up to two years. Or so we think. We’ve never been able to hold onto it that long.
MOLE AMARILLO (YELLOW MOLE)
Traditional variations of this autumn Oaxacan sauce, often served on the Day of the Dead, substitute dried cascabel peppers for the yellow peppers and marigold petals or safflower stamens for the saffron. Epazote is a common weed all over North America, often found in vacant lots. When crushed, its leaves smell a bit like kerosene.
8 fresh yellow chiles (Fresno, Santa Fe Grande, etc.), roasted, peeled, deveined and chopped
1 raw onion, chopped
6 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped
2 lb. tomatillos, husked, parboiled and drained
1 roasted medium onion
1 roasted head of garlic
1 toasted cinnamon stick
6 toasted whole cloves
2 medium tomatoes, roasted and peeled
1 teaspoon dried oregano or 2 teaspoons fresh
8 epazote leaves, minced
1/2 cup cooking oil
2 tablespoons toasted peanut or sesame oil
1 slice raw onion
generous pinch of saffron
4 cups strong chicken broth
1/2 cup tortilla dough (masa)
1. Sauté chiles, raw onion and garlic until soft. Purée and set aside.
2. Purée tomatillos, roasted onion and garlic, cinnamon, cloves, oregano, epazote and tomatoes.
3. Heat oils in heavy skillet. Add onion slice and brown. Stir in tomatillo mixture and cook about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally until mole renders out the fat. Stir in chile mixture and simmer about 1 hour or until mixture thickens. Fat on top may be skimmed off.
4. Crumble and dissolve saffron in warm chicken broth. Dissolve tortilla dough in broth.
5. Add to the mole and simmer about 20 minutes until texture of custard, stirring often.
Traditionally served over chicken pieces, enchiladas or as dipping sauce for small tamales.
Over the years we’ve bypassed a lot of Wolfgang Puck Express eateries in many an airport in our quest to find restaurants and meals that truly speak of their place. But finally we found ourselves in the right place at the right time: LAX at breakfast. Or more specifically, LAX Terminal 7, the location of one of the two Wolfgang Puck Express restaurants at the sprawling airport (the other is at Terminal 2). Although Puck long ago went global with his fine dining, we think that his casual yet inventive food epitomizes the lifestyle of southern California, where he’s been based since 1975.
His Breakfast Pizza, which is big enough for two to share, is an easy-to-eat remix of of the bacon-egg-toast breakfast. The nicely chewy thin crust is topped with scrambled eggs, mozzarella, cheddar, bacon, caramelized onions, and chopped chives. It’s available to eat in or take out. The kitchen exercises restraint with the toppings, making it possible to consume the pizza in cramped airplane seats without mishap. But we had enough time before our flight to sit down and relax in the restaurant and spread out over breakfast.
“Would you like some dessert?” our waiter asked us when we had finished. “A nice latte would be perfect.”
He was right.
Courtney Tiara’s late grandfather founded King’s Hawaiian bakery in Hilo on the island of Hawaii in 1950. She brought a taste of the islands to Boston recently when she celebrated the introduction of the products to the area with a luncheon at Catalyst Restaurant in Cambridge.
According to Courtney, her grandfather was inspired by his Portuguese neighbors to create a soft and fluffy round bread similar to Portuguese sweet bread, but with a longer shelf life. The family-run company (Courtney’s 94-year-old great-uncle is the master baker) has expanded its product line to include dinner rolls, hamburger buns, and more. It relocated first to Honolulu and later to California. “My grandfather never imagined making it to California and then all the way out here,” she said.
Catalyst chef William Kovel gave the bread a workout. He toasted the Original Hawaiian Sweet Round and topped it with seared foie gras, braised cherry, and orange. He served chicken liver mousse on a King’s Hawaiian crostini. He stuffed a hot dog bun with lobster salad. And he used the Original Sweet Round to make a bread salad to accompany a lamb tenderloin.
The dessert of white chocolate bread pudding with caramel sauce, Courtney’s personal favorite, is a King’s Hawaiian classic. “I make it all the time. You just have to be patient and let the bread dry out for a day so it will soak up the milk and eggs,” she said. “I under-bake mine a little because I like it wet.”
She may be partial to this combination, but Courtney encourages creativity. “Hawaiian style is real easy,” she said. “Just take whatever you have in your pantry and mix it up.”
WHITE CHOCOLATE CHIP BREAD PUDDING WITH CARAMEL SAUCE
King’s Hawaiian Original Hawaiian Sweet Round
2 cups heavy cream
1 1/4 cups white chocolate chips
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 cups milk
2 eggs, beaten
3 egg yolks, beaten
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups toasted pecans, chopped
1. Cut the bread into cubes the night before and leave out to become a tad stale.
2. In a medium saucepan, heat the cream over medium heat. Meanwhile, place the white chocolate chips in a large mixing bowl. When the cream comes to a simmer, remove the pan from the heat and slowly pour the cream over the chips, whisking until the chips melt. Whisk the sugar into the mixture; add the milk, eggs, egg yolks, and vanilla.
3. Add the bread to the bowl, gently stirring to coat the cubes. Set the mixture aside to allow the bread to soak, tossing periodically (about 30-40 minutes).
4. Toss the pecans into the soaked bread mixture, then pour into a baking dish (individual dishes can be used for single servings).
5. Place in 350F oven for about 45 minutes. Test the bread pudding to make sure the top is golden brown and the inside is cooked (but not too dry).
6. Remove from oven and serve with caramel sauce and an optional scoop of vanilla ice cream.
1 1/3 cups sugar
1/2 cup water
1 teaspoon corn syrup
1 3/4 cups heavy cream
6 tablespoons butter or margarine
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1. In a large saucepan, combine the sugar, water, and corn syrup. Place over high heat and cook until the sugar dissolves and begins to boil. Note: Do not stir the sugar as this could cause it to seize.
2. While the sugar is cooking, combine the cream, butter, and salt in a saucepan over medium heat. Keep an eye on the sugar while heating the cream to keep it from scorching. Cook until the butter melts, stirring it into the cream. When the mixture comes to a simmer, remove from heat.
3. Continue to cook the sugar until it darkens to a rich caramel color, 9 to 15 minutes. Swirl the pan as the sugar darkens. Watch carefully as it can burn easily at this stage.
4. When the sugar is rich caramel in color, immediately remove the pan from the heat and add the cream mixture in a slow, steady stream. The sugar will bubble and steam as the cream is added. Stir in the vanilla.
5. Drizzle over individual servings of bread pudding.
Recipes adapted from King’s Hawaiian
I just returned from touring vineyards in the Morellino di Scansano DOCG district in southwest Tuscany, and once in a while I had to stop to eat. One of the most memorable meals was at Trattoria Verdiana (Ponticello di Montemerano on the road between Scansano and Montemerano, tel: [011-34] 0564-602-576). It’s open nightly except Wednesday, and uses the produce from a 10,000 square meter garden as the basis for the menu. There, as here in New England, the growing season is coming to a close. So I was surprised and delighted when the amuse-bouche pictured above appeared in front of me. It’s a grape tomato (upside down) cut in half, filled with a dab of creamy burrata and a tiny basil leaf. The whole composition was then drizzled in a great local olive oil. It summed up summer in a bite.