Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Things I Ate in Cantabria

You may not know this, but the Iberian peninsula was once hopping with Neanderthals and Cro-Magnons--Cantabria, in the northern part of Spain, in particular. They lived in caves. They hunted wooly mammoths, bison and the like. Some of them painted incredibly sophisticated pictures with metal oxides and plant extracts...of mammoth, bison and the like.

In the Cuevas del Castillo, just outside of the pretty spa town of Puente Viesgo, we saw some incredibly preserved cave art, some as old as 28,000 years. It was mind blowing, to say the least.

But, more importantly, I ate cow stomachs. Perhaps the stomachs of cousins of the two cows pictured not far from Casa Sergio (Puente Viesgo), the restaurant where said stomachs were consumed. Impossible to say.

In any event, the stomachs (innocuously monikered "callos" in Spanish) were tasty. While, as you can imagine, the beige gumminess of your typical cow stomach is not particularly pleasing to the eye, these particular stomachs came in a rich beefy stew which lent them a little cover and, one might even say, nobility. The callos themselves were less chewy than expected, with a soft, part meaty, part fatty texture and an interior resembling a fleshy shag rug, which was particularly nice.

Judging by their depictions of cow ancestors, I think the cavemen would have approved.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Whatever Became of the Palacios Chorizo Challenges?

My musings on ice cream may have lead you to wonder how I'm doing with my fridge full of sausage. Believe it or not, I am almost all the way through the Palacios chorizo. However, as I recently received another shipment of samples (of Hungarian origin this time), the fridge still remains practically full of cured meat.

How did I manage to use up my remaining chorizo friends? A variety of ways. I was not above slicing the chorizo into sandwiches of fresh baguette, tomato, basil and manchego cheese. I also served much of it as part of a cured meat tapa dish (alongside good Seville olives and slabs of tortilla--see the Tapas Episode). My favourite use, however, continued to be a chorizo based paella (see First Challenge), which I returned to again and again, particularly in times of ingredient scarcity.

Another impromptu invention, albeit one requiring more ingredient planning and therefore less frequently attempted and still requiring some perfecting, was the chorizo tart (pictured). While the tart does require a few things that you may not normally keep in your fridge (e.g. puff pastry), it is in fact ridiculously easy to make. Here is as far as I got with my experiments:

1 sheet of pre-prepared puff pastry
2 small chorizo sausages, quartered length wise
10 small rounds of young goat cheese (about 1 cm thick)
1 handfull of asparagus (trimmed) or 1 cup of red pepper (roasted in 200C oven for 1/2 hour), sliced
4 cups of whole milk (you can substitute 2 cups of creme fraiche for the same quantity of milk for more deliciousness)
2 large eggs
salt and pepper, to taste

Press the puff pastry into a greased 9 inch pie pan. Precook according to package directions. While the pastry is baking, beat together the eggs and milk; season with salt and pepper to taste. Once the pastry is out of the oven, place the rounds of goat cheese evenly across the bottom of the pastry. Top with milk and egg mixture. Lie the chorizo and the asparagus (or peppers) evenly across the top of the tart; they should be only partly submerged in the egg mixture. (To convert this into a vegetarian friendly delicacy, simply omit the chorizo.) Bake in a 180C oven for approximately 20-25 minutes or until the tart is set.

Accompany with a crisp white wine, perhaps an albariño.

More Musings on Ice Cream

It's mid-August. There's no denying it. Though ice cream days are limited, they're not coming to an end in the immediate future--we can all take comfort.

Felipe and I are continuing our search for a favourite ice cream spot. Cremeria Toscana of How to Lick an Ice Cream Cone is in the lead without question (try a scoop of cinnamon gelato, if you go). It's closely followed by the resectable gelato and frozen yogurt of Gracia's Gelateria Caffetteria Italiana (Placa Revolució 2). Pictured above are the Gelateria's banana and blackberry flavours--the former a perfect demonstration of superior licking technique, the latter not so much.

In the old town, I feel the absence of Heladeria La Campana, black listed for reasons explained in detail two posts ago. Tomo II (c/ Argentera) is very good (the mango sorbet is all succulent mango, for instance), but its minimalist, gizmo focussed approach to ice cream doesn't appeal to me--when it comes to ice cream, I'm a traditionalist.

Wandering the Born and Gotico, we tried to get satisfaction from Gelateria Pagliotta (c/ Jaume I 15, Gotico), but the gelato didn't come up to snuff--a little watery and of middling flavour, not to mention the disappointing scoop size.

We have yet to try Gelaaati! (c/Llibreteria 7, Gotico), recommended by Marco by way of comment on the preceding post. It sounds promising. You'll be the first to hear how it stands up to the lick test.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

How to Lick an Ice Cream Cone

The best thing about ice cream on a hot summer day is that it doesn't let you waste a moment. If you neglect it even briefly, it's sticky sweetness doesn't delay in running down your hand, possibly to wreak havoc in the decolte of your loose summer top or mar the leg that's turning slowly from sun starved to sun kissed. No question: it must be licked.

Beware, however; licking in the heat is not a lackadaisical negotiation, it's a a battle--marshaled by the tongue. A skillful luchador will always, always start from the bottom, rounding the base to eliminate any hint of insurrectionist drips. From there, she will work her way up urgently, smoothing the surface of the ice cream into a cohesive mound, disappearing by mouthfuls any rebellious ledge or mutinous chunk until the ice cream finds itself confined to the limits of the cone, incapable of retaliation. Having contained the fractious fringes, she can rest and lick with leisure for a while, using her tongue to push what remains of the scoop down into the depths of the cone, biting down the edges as they become exposed. And if she's succeeded completely, a small core of passionate resistance will remain at the very bottom of the cone to be devoured in a single determined swoop or fed to her lover with a complicit kiss.

I might mention that I have been inspired by a new licking frontier: a little shop on the left side of the Eixample (corner of Muntaner and Córsega) called La Cremería Toscana. Mind boggling tubs full of worthy opponents.