Posts Tagged ‘saffron’

Spanish orange & almond tart for Christmas

Holiday tart of almond, saffron, and Seville orange
Last year for the holiday season we made saffron shortbread cookies, and we were feeling bad that we didn’t have a new holiday cookie this year. We got to thinking about winter sweets and some of our all-time favorite flavors, and the two sort of came together.

Some of the quintessential tastes of Spain are almonds, saffron, and bitter oranges. Why not adapt our standard linzer tart recipe to reflect that different range of flavors? Instead of hazelnuts in the dough, we could use almonds. Instead of vanilla, we could use saffron. And in place of raspberry jam, we could use Seville orange marmalade. (OK, we know that the marmalade is more a Scottish than Spanish flavor, but it does use the bitter oranges of Andalucía.)

Our first thought was to make almond meal using toasted Marcona almonds since they are the classic snack almond of southern Spain. We did that, but by losing the skin of the almond, we also lost a lot of the taste. Moreover, toasted blanched almonds ground up into too fine a flour. The result was a perfectly edible tart, but one with a more crumbly crust and less pronounced flavor than we were looking for.

Back to the drawing board. In the end, it turned out that the much less expensive California almonds gave the best flavor and were the easiest to work with. We toasted them in a dry pan in the oven at 400°F for about 10 minutes, then ground them into fine meal in a food processor after they had cooled. This technique gives a good toasted almond flavor, and also makes the saffron flavor more pronounced. The strength of saffron will depend on what kind you are using. It’s not very Spanish, but we got the best results with “Baby Saffron” from Kashmir, using four blisters of the single-serving packs.

Slices of the finished tart go well with espresso or a flute of cava.

ANDALUCÍAN CHRISTMAS TART slice of holiday tart

Makes one 7 1/2-inch (19 cm) fluted tart (serves 6-8)

Ingredients

1/3 cup (66 grams) granulated sugar
1 generous pinch saffron (0.2 gram)
1/4 teaspoon (1.5 grams) salt
1/2 cup (1 stick, 114 grams) butter, softened
1 egg
2/3 cup (96 grams) all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon (2 grams) baking powder
1 cup raw almonds (150 grams), lightly toasted
1/2 cup + 1 tablespoon (200 grams) Seville orange marmalade

Directions

In coffee or spice grinder, mix sugar, saffron, and salt. Grind briefly. Empty into medium bowl. Add butter and beat until light and fluffy. Add egg and beat to mix well.

In another medium bowl, place flour and baking powder. Whisk to blend. Grind almonds to fine meal in food processor. Whisk nuts into flour mixture. Add nut-flour mixture to butter mixture. Mix on low speed until all ingredients are incorporated.

piping lattice onto tart Pat 2/3 cup of the dough into bottom of 7 1/2 inch (19 cm) fluted tart pan with removable bottom. Place remainder of dough into cookie press or pastry bag fitted with a 3/8-inch fluted tip. Pipe around the edges to make side crust. Place orange marmalade into shell and smooth out until even. Pipe a lattice over top of tart.

Refrigerate tart for 30 minutes while preheating oven to 350°F. Bake tart until preserves just begin to bubble – about 35 minutes. Transfer to rack on counter to cool. Serve with a dollop of whipped cream or vanilla ice cream to balance the bitterness of the orange.

12

12 2014

Saffron shortbread cookies for festive season

Shortbread and coffee
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.

Saffron extractWe 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 cookiesShortbread cooling vertical

Ingredients

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

Directions

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.

SAFFRON EXTRACT
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.

22

12 2013

It’s saffron harvest time!


Growing saffron crocuses always seemed like a rather romantic undertaking–until we visited Consuegra, Spain during the harvest season. The dry plains of Castilla La Mancha, about 90 miles south of Madrid, are perhaps best known as the stomping grounds of the befuddled knight Don Quixote. But farmers in the region grow about two-thirds of the world’s culinary saffron. It’s also the best on the market (just ask any Spaniard). The harvest season is usually the last three weeks in October and is capped by the Saffron Rose Harvest Festival (La Monda de la Rosa de Azafran) in Consuegra on the last full weekend of the month. We visited one year to take part in the festivities–and also got a lesson in the hard work that goes into picking and plucking the world’s most expensive spice.

The small crocuses are unusual spots of color in the red clay landscape, but the pickers really have little time to contemplate their beauty. Men and women alike arrive in the fields before dawn and spring into action as soon as the first rays of sun hit the blooms. They scoop up the flowers into big wicker baskets before their scent is lost to the wind. And that’s just the beginning. The three bright red stigmas must be plucked from each bloom by hand and then toasted over charcoal braziers. (The whole region smells great.) The ability to quickly separate stigma from flower is a prized skill in these parts. A competition between the top pickers from all the saffron-growing towns is the highlight of the harvest festival and the competition is intense. The top pluckers can go through about 100 flowers in less than three minutes.

We didn’t really appreciate their dexterity until we sat down in a tavern one evening with a small pile of crocuses that a harvester had given us. Even with guidance from a couple of local women, it took us an hour or more to pluck our flowers. We toasted our twisted and broken stigmas over the radiator in our hotel room, wrapped them in paper towels and carried them home. We swear that they flavored the best paella we have ever tasted. And we will never again complain about the price of saffron! Check out: www.turismocastillalamancha.com

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08

10 2010

Las Fallas and more paella tips

When we think of Valencia, the first thing we think of is paella. But the city is probably most famous for its jaw-dropping Las Fallas festival always held March 15-19. This year we finally got to attend. It is a whirlwind of parades, music, fireworks, controlled explosions outside city hall, and general madcap revelry that continues around the clock. Valencians construct immensely complex satirical scenes in 300 or more squares of the city. Some of them go 75 feet tall and can cost up to $1 million each. They represent a wide array of political and pop cultural subjects, and the satire can be both biting and bawdy. (Witness Nicolas Sarkozy of France in a hot tub with three buxom women, one of whom is perhaps performing an intimate underwater kiss.)

Between midnight and 1 a.m. on March 20, all but two “pardoned” figurines are burned to the ground. It feels like a cross between Mardi Gras and the bombing of Baghdad as shown on CNN. For the Valencians, it’s a way to get rid of the old and welcome in the new. To the uninitiated, it is simultaneously unnerving and exhilarating. (See the bottom of this post for some sample photos.) But back to paella….

We took a break from the sensory overload of Las Fallas one afternoon to head down to L’Albufera, the lagoon south of the city, for a lesson in making paella outdoors. La Matandeta restaurant sits right at the edge of the lagoon’s rice fields, and chef Rafael Galvez uses rice from the adjacent plot as well as meat and vegetables raised or foraged in the immediate area. Cuisine doesn’t get more local than that.


Working with two 20-inch pans on tripods over wood fires, he made both a traditional paella valenciana (similar to ours—see here) and another version featuring squid and its ink with an abundance of vegetables.


We were reminded that the traditional outdoor cooking infuses the paella with a haunting smokiness and helps to guarantee a nice crust along the bottom. We also learned some tips that we expect to use in our own paella endeavors from now on.


For the paella valenciana, Galvez begins by setting the pan over the fire and adding enough olive oil to thinly coat the bottom—and a few tablespoons of coarse sea salt, which we have never done. At this point he fully browns the meat (bone-in pieces of chicken, duck, and rabbit) along with the onion. As the meat browns, he adds paprika and colorante (a coloring agent with some saffron), and stirs well to coat everything. He then adds three kinds of beans—flat green beans cut in 1-inch lengths, meaty white beans found only in the Valencia area, and a flat bean similar to a lima bean.


The handles on most paella pans are attached with rivets. We had never realized that these marks serve as measuring devices. Galvez adds enough broth to bring the mixture up to the bottom of the rivets. Then he adds the rice to bring the mixture to the top of the rivets. He likes to lay out the rice in a cross pattern on top of the soup, then swirl it into the liquid. He says this distributes the rice evenly. Then he adds a large sprig of rosemary—something we had never seen before but is apparently quite traditional. (He fishes it out before the paella is done to keep the herb from making the dish too bitter.)


After all that intensive prep, Galvez simply brings the mixture to a simmer, adjusting the wood beneath the pan to heat it evenly. We were surprised to see that he keeps the burning wood and its coals around the rim of the pan, but not in the middle. This prevents the dish from burning, as the shape of the pan allows the liquid to bubble up on the sides and spread back toward the middle. He never stirs the rice for the 20 minutes it takes to cook.


The finished paella is a lovely golden dish, which the restaurant serves with a fruity red wine from the nearby Utiel-Requena district, where the Iberians were making wine from the Bobal grape variety 500 years before the Romans invaded. The rice and the wine are a perfect match.

As soon as the weather permits, we’ll fire up the Weber kettle grill to make paella outdoors. Now if we can just find a red from Utiel-Requena….

La Matandeta is located on the Alfafar-El Saler road, km. 4, in Alfafar. Tel: (011-34) 962-112-184, www.lamatandeta.com. A cooking lesson with meal is 50 euros per person for groups of 10 or more.

And now for some images from Las Fallas:

22

03 2010

Super Bowl arroz con pollo

We were surprised to read recently that Super Bowl Sunday is the second biggest eating holiday in the U.S., close on the heels of Thanksgiving. Since our own team, the New England Patriots, is not part of the action this year, it’s a diminished holiday for us. But we thought we could console ourselves with a good meal, and realized that the one dish we’ve probably eaten most often while watching football is arroz con pollo.

Of course, the football in question is what we Americans call soccer, but the Spaniards are every bit as obsessive about it. As in the U.S., tickets to the games are expensive, and the matches are typically broadcast on premium cable. If you want to see a match in Spain, you go to a bar.

According to Madrileños, Real Madrid is the best known team in the world, and we’ve watched them play in smoky flamenco bars, in Moroccan couscous joints, in burger palaces, and in “bars deportivos,” or sports bars. We drink beer and eat bar food, which as often as not includes arroz con pollo, a sort of poor man’s paella of saffron-paprika rice studded with pieces of chicken and sausage. This is our stand-by recipe the way we learned to make it on our first long trip to Spain in 1983.

We have tweaked it over the years, using all sweet red peppers instead of the standard mix of red and green, and going with boneless chicken. (Spaniards take a whole frying chicken and cut it into 16 or more pieces, often cutting right through the bones. Boneless chicken is splinter-free.) Spanish recipes also call for chorizo, which we usually use. This year we decided we would root for the New Orleans Saints, so we are substituting a smoked Louisiana andouille sausage. The Spanish version is more rice than meat. Feel free to add more protein.

Serves 4 hungry eaters or 8-10 if used as one of several game time snacks.


Ingredients

4 tablespoons fruity olive oil
2 boneless chicken breasts, cut into 16 pieces and sprinkled with sea salt
6 oz smoked andouille or chorizo sausage, cut in 1/4 inch slices
3 red sweet peppers, roasted, peeled and cut into 1-inch squares
1 large onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/2 pounds fresh tomatoes, peeled and chopped, or 1 28-oz can of diced tomatoes (drained-use the juices as part of the stock)
2 teaspoons sweet Spanish paprika (pimentón a la vera dulce)
2 teaspoons smoked Spanish paprika (pimentón a la vera ahumado)
big pinch of saffron
2 cups Valencian rice
1/2 cup dry white wine
3 1/2 cups strong homemade chicken stock

Directions

Heat olive oil in paella pan with 15-inch base or in 17-18-inch shallow, ovenproof skillet. Sauté chicken and sausage until lightly browned. Remove meat from pan and reserve.

Add red peppers, onion, and garlic to pan and cook until onion softens (about five minutes.) Stir in tomato and cook until juices reduce (5-7 minutes). Stir in both kinds of paprika and the saffron, then the rice, turning well to coat rice with oil. Pour in wine and stock. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to simmer, and cook on stove-top until rice is no longer soupy (about 7 minutes). Do not stir.

Remove from heat and stir in sausage and chicken. Pat down until even, then place uncovered in 325F oven and bake for 15 minutes.

Remove from oven, cover with foil, and let sit 10 minutes before serving.

06

02 2010

Making paella Valenciana at home

Paella must be popular worldwide, judging by the recipe we received from the proprietor of Ceramicas Terriols (see below) when we purchased our paella pan. The directions were in a babble of languages, including Chinese and Russian. We can’t comment on the clarity of the Chinese and Russian, but the English was, shall we say, tortured. (Sample directions: “When the meat is gilding, the tomato and paprika are thrown well moved till the whole is lightly fried.”)

Still, we got the gist of it and we wanted to try it when we got home.

Since we have to traipse halfway across the city to buy rabbit, we decided to see if chicken thighs would make a good substitute. We can get good periwinkles in our neighborhood but rarely find live land snails, so we substituted button mushrooms to approximate the chewy texture and earthy flavor. Likewise, fresh favas would be nice, but lima beans are much easier to find.

We tinkered with the recipe over several months. The chicken is not as delicate as rabbit, but has similar size, texture and flavor. The lima beans are less meaty than favas, but as a close relative, they have a texture that is similar enough to pass muster. The mushrooms are definitely a compromise, but better than periwinkles. For an authentic version, you really need land snails. Still, we think this take on paella valenciana is better than any we’ve found outside Valencia. Our friends like it.

One additional cooking note: The broad base and shallow depth of a traditional Spanish paella pan ensures the classic texture with a slight crust on the bottom. You can also use a 15-17-inch shallow ovenproof skillet but you probably won’t get the crunch.

Paella Valenciana

Ingredients

2 tablespoons olive oil
24 button mushrooms
8 chicken thighs, skinned and cut in half (about 2 pounds)
1 cup chopped tomato, drained
2 teaspoons sweet or smoked Spanish paprika (pimentón a la Vera)
2 roasted and peeled red peppers, cut in 1 inch squares
1 1/2 cups green beans, fresh or frozen
1/2 cup lima beans, fresh or frozen
3 cups strong chicken stock
1 cup white wine
1 thick pinch saffron (about 1 gram)
1 3/4 cups Valencia rice (ideally, Bomba)

Directions

1. Heat olive oil in 15-inch paella pan over medium heat.
2. Brown mushrooms on all sides (about 5 minutes).
3. Add chicken pieces and brown on all sides (about 7 minutes).
4. Add tomato and paprika. Stir well to loosen browned bits in pan.
5. Add red pepper, green beans, lima beans, stock, wine, and saffron. Stir well and simmer 10 minutes.
6. Stir in rice to distribute evenly. Simmer 7 minutes while preheating oven to 350 degrees.
7. When rice is still moist but not soupy, move pan to preheated oven. Bake 7 minutes.
8. Remove pan from oven and cover loosely with foil for 7 minutes.

Serves 4.

11

01 2010

Shopping in Valencia for paella tools and ingredients

Mercado Central, Valencia

After tasting paella at La Pepica (see previous post) , we were able to identify the essential ingredients and seasonings we needed to bring home to recreate the dish. The best place to shop for in Valencia for paella fixings is the soaring Modernista train-shed of the Mercado Central (Tel: 963-829-101. www.mercadocentralvalencia.es, open 7:30 a.m.–2:30 p.m. Monday–Saturday). It’s one of the largest fresh markets in Spain, perhaps because the area around Valencia is intensively agricultural. The subtropical climate not only permits year-round cultivation of greens and legumes, the swampy lagoons are also home to some of Spain’s most prized rice plantations. You cannot take home the fresh veggies, but you can bring the heirloom rice, the spices, and the special pans for making paella.


The best paella is made with Bomba rice, an heirloom variety introduced to the area by the Moors in the 8th century and still grown in the Albufera wetlands south of the city. It is nowhere as productive as modern rice, but has an exceptionally nutty flavor and will absorb nearly twice as much liquid as other short-grain rice while still remaining al dente. La Pista Pastor, at stall #43, sells it.


Pimentón a la Vera

The other critical items for a good paella are saffron and Spanish paprika. Pimentón a la Vera is a subject unto itself, but let it suffice that Antonio Catalán (stall #457) drew us into his orbit with heaping mounds of bright red sweet and hot paprika and a brick-colored hill of smoked paprika (pimentón ahumado). He also has the best prices in the market on saffron, and cheerfully educates buyers on the subtle differences between grades. (Bottom line: Try to purchase whole threads with few or no golden flecks.)

Paella pans

Strictly speaking, of course, “paella” is not the rice meal, but the metal pan in which it is cooked. The shallow pans ensure that the rice is spread out well, and the thin metal guarantees a fine crust on the bottom. It is only a slight exaggeration to say that you can’t make a proper paella without a real paella pan. We knew we could purchase one at home (where it would be more expensive) but couldn’t pass up the array of iron and stainless steel pans at Ceramicas Terriols (stall #51), where the proprietor provides a recipe with every purchase.

06

01 2010