Friday, June 19, 2009

Tapas Menu - Take 2

Remember that nice post I wrote last month about A Picnic in Heaven? The one where cumuli were bobbing on periwinkle skies and everyone was writing in to say how pretty it made them feel? Well, those days are over, punks. It's bloody hell over here in Barcelona. Bloody, smoking, firey pits of hell with an incongruous humidity level of nearly 100%, probably from the blood, sweat and tears of all the condemned souls toiling in the devil's pits of tar and brimstone.

It's the kind of sticky cesspool of sweatiness that makes you want to pull your neighbour from his nicely air conditioned home and punch him repeatedly in the stomach, just for playing that infernal rock'n'roll music, the kind that makes all the small town kids fornicate in the crumb strewn back seats of their parents' sedans. Oh, the devil's work is never done.

It's precisely why crime levels soar in the summer months. If you don't believe me, just ask the New York Times about why I'm feeling my murder-meter rise apace with the raging heat.

Fortunately for the rest of you, my law abiding Canadian roots don't allow me to give free rein to my heat-driven bloodlust other than in recipe form. So, as my lone outlet for this summer's carnage fantasy, I'm making my next tapas menu blood based.

Tapas Menu - Take 2

Pimientos escalivados (roast peppers)
Setas a la plancha (grilled mushrooms)
Pan con tomate (see The Tapas Episode)

My bloody meat of choice is morcilla, a.k.a. blood sausage. I first sampled it on the impromptu trip around Spain with Mike Tkaczuk, the Canadian importer of jamón ibérico, and friends. We were in central Spain at the time, where the preferred variety of morcilla is rice based. Mike was so enamoured of morcilla, which you can't currently get in, or import to, Canada, that he ordered some whenever possible. While I'm generally not a lover of blood based foods (I'm still scarred by my Polish grandmother's duck's blood soup, a delicacy once beloved by my father), the taste for morcilla has stuck with me since that trip.

The best varieties are made with iberico pig blood mixed with rendered fat. Here, in Catalunya, onion is usually added and the sausage is often referred to as butifarra negra (black butifarra); in the centre and south, it's rice that's added, which gives the sausage a sweeter, more delicate flavour, one which I far prefer. The former is available at any charcutería in Barcelona; the latter, I've usually picked up at the Boquería, where one stall identifies it as morcilla de Burgos.

Because it's a substantial sausage, morcilla is a great (and adequately bloody) anchor for a meal of tapas. In the centre of Spain, it's frequently found in tapas bars removed from its casing and mixed in with huevos revueltos (scrambled eggs), sometimes with raisins; it's difficult to imagine if you haven't had it served this way, but it's actually indescribably good. The simplest way to serve it, though, is to slice it thickly and grill it in a lightly oiled pan for 1-2 minutes on each side--you have to be careful not to overcook or let it stick, which it is wont to do.

When we order it at the tapas bar in our local market, we usually also get a side of peppers escalivada (roasted red or green peppers). These are easily prepared at home by placing halved peppers, seeds removed and skin side up, on a lightly oiled baking sheet in a 220 C oven for about 25-30 minutes, until the skin begins to brown and puff up. You can let them cool and remove the skin before slicing into strips, seasoning with a little salt and pepper and drizzling with a little bit of good quality olive oil. If you'd like to go all out and make a more elaborate escalivada, which would also fit in well with this menu, have a look at the post titled The Charred and the Seedless.

As a final touch, mushrooms are nice. The chanterelles pictured are not in season yet, but this menu is well suited to late summer and early fall when they start to flood stores. For now, you can replace them with another type of mushroom--almost whatever is available will do; shitake, for example, though not particularly big in Barcelona, would make a great substitution. To prepare, you'll need to remove loose dirt first. I use a slightly damp paper towel, trying not to wet the mushrooms too much. I then sautee them for 4-5 minutes (until soft) in a little bit of olive oil (a tablespoon or two for 300-400 grams of mushrooms; you can add more if your pan starts to dry). The trick is not to salt them until the very end so that they don't start to release water. Just before you remove them from the heat, you can add a finely chopped teaspoon of flat leaf parsley mixed with a clove of very finely chopped garlic and stir for about thirty seconds. Drizzle with a good quality olive oil to serve.

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