Would You Like to Buy a Vowel?

2007.May.09 Wednesday · 4 comments

in Casa SaltShaker, Drink, Food & Recipes

 Always end the name of your child with a vowel, so that when you yell the name will carry.”

– Bill Cosby, Comedian

Buenos Aires – To me, it seemed a natural match – five official vowels, five courses to the meal – why is that a bizarre theme for a Casa Saltshaker dinner? I mean, come on, we’ve done The Great Moon Hoax… and that got us into the New York Times. Who knows where vowels will lead? Coincidentally we ended up the same day on the television channel, Telefe – which, if anyone happened to record and has a way to send me a digital copy of, I’d love it, we tried, but the DVD recorder did a lousy job of recording and we ended up with a black & white version without sound. But back to our vowels, and plates, and trying to plan a menu around not only ingredients that start with vowels – in Spanish – but also the dietary restrictions over the course of two nights of one pescetarian and allergic to garlic, one person allergic to fish and wary about shellfish, one person allergic to crustaceans, one person allergic to nuts, one person who “doesn’t do anything from the sea”, and one person doing some local version of the South Beach diet who didn’t want any “bad” carbs… it was just one of those weeks… in order to accommodate everyone’s diets we would have had a very green menu indeed – I decided on more or less plunging ahead with what I wanted to do and just coming up with a couple of substitutions along the way. The bad carbs were just going to be there, I let the person know that I wasn’t going to be able to work around her diet, and she decided to come anyway and figure it out as she went. She ate everything, pretty much licking the plates clean – what my friend Barbara and I have taken to referring to as the South Park diet.

Sopa de Acelga y EchalotesA couple of days ago I reviewed the restaurant Almanza, where I’d been thoroughly enthralled with the Sopa de Ortigas, or nettle soup. My local verduleria couldn’t get any nettles in in time for the weekend, and I decided that Sopa de Acelga y Echalotes would be a fine thing. Acelga, or Swiss Chard, is one of those greens that’s used alot here, but I rarely saw it used anywhere back in the U.S. It’s really quite good, and this soup is a great way to start a cold evening’s meal. Strip a large bunch of chard leaves from their stalks, blanch and shock them to set the color nice and green. Then, saute several shallots in olive oil – I’ve been infusing some jars of oil with different herbs, and for this decided to use the oil infused with lemon-thyme and rosemary, you could just add some of the herbs to the saute. Add about half a pound of chopped button mushrooms and continue sauteing until they are lightly browned – it adds a nice caramelized flavor to the soup. Toss the mushroom shallot mixture into a soup pot, add the chard leaves, and a couple of large potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks. Fill the pot with water, bring to a boil, and simmer until the potatoes are cooked through. Then puree the whole thing with a hand blender, or in batches in a regular blender. Season with nutmeg, salt, and black pepper. Serve, garnished with a little more nutmeg. Our new house sparkling wine, the Codorniú María worked beautifully with this soup.

Tarta de Alcauciles y EstragonNext up I’d been thinking about an asparagus, or espárragos tart or flan – there were bundles of beautiful pencil thin, tender green asparagus in the markets the whole week long. Of course, they all disappeared and there was none to be had by Friday. I had an inspiration to do something with artichokes – alcauciles or alcachofas, depending on where you are in the Spanish speaking world – and that opened up to do something interesting with tarragon, or estragón as well, especially as I’d been thinking about the herb after that delicious tarragon ice cream at the same restaurant… and so, a Tarta de Alcauciles y Estragón was born. A simple pastry crust lining the mold, baked for just a few minutes to allow the bottom to cook slightly before putting in the filling. In a blender, mix 6 eggs, 1/3 cup of breadcrumbs, 2 sauteed, chopped leeks (okay, you have to do that first – and I sauteed them in another of my infused oils – oregano and chive), some oregano, chives, and tarragon, a half cup of reggianito (more or less parmagiano reggiano) broken up in pieces, salt and white pepper – and blend the whole thing until relatively smooth. Quarter some artichoke hearts (I used ones straight from a jar, preferably not pickled – just in a light brine), line the bottom of each tart shell with the hearts, and fill with the custard mixture. Bake until lightly browned and puffy. Top them with a mixture of ricotta cheese, more tarragon, salt and white pepper – return them to the oven to warm the ricotta mixture through – it won’t really melt, that’s just the nature of ricotta. Garnish with some cherry tomato halves for color. We served this with the Carlos Pulenta Tomero Semillon-Chardonnay blend – it held up well against the artichokes, a tough match with wine.

Orrecchiete con Almejas, Albahaca y AjonjoliYou may, or may not, remember my pappardelle with clams and basil – it’s been awhile. But hey, clams and basil – almejas and albahaca – fit right into my vowel theme, and so I went with it – allowing for two of our guests needing or wanting a substitute for the clams – and at last minute the person allergic to garlic cancelled so I didn’t need to make a portion without – and, of course, deciding on a pasta that would work with this dish that started with a vowel would be a plus – Orrecchiete con Almejas, Albahaca y Ajonjoli – the last ingredient being sesame in some parts of the world. A simple dish – saute the garlic in olive oil… oliva – there’s another one – add the clams and cook until they’ve firmed up nicely – add whole basil leaves, cover the pot and just let them wilt into the clams. To finish, add sesame oil to taste, preferably the lighter type as the dark sesame oil is probably a little too intense for the other ingredients, salt and pepper to taste as well. Toss with cooked orrecchiete, garnish with some lightly toasted sesame seeds. This paired quite nicely with the Calia Alta Rosado de Syrah, though might actually work better with a relatively heavy white – maybe a nice medium oaked Chardonnay, or even the wine from the above course, a Semillon Chardonnay blend. For our non-seafood folk, we made the same pasta, but substituted diced zucchini for the clams, which works really well with the sesame and basil flavors.

Ojo de Bife en Adobo, Infusion de Orozuz y OportoWant a few vowels? How about Ojo de Bife en Adobo, Infusion de Orozuz y Oporto… That’s a mouthful right there… I almost went with a grape sauce – uvas – but we just made a dish like that last weekend and I didn’t want to repeat something so similar. Besides, this sounded like fun – ojo de bife, a boneless rib-eye steak, marinated for the day in a nice adobo – a puree of tomato – traditionally tomato paste, but I used a fresh tomato, an onion, a couple of cloves of garlic (left out on the day of the garlic allergy), a couple of hot chilies – ají, more vowels! – and salt. Then more or less braised in the adobo – a quick browning on both sides first, then the rest of the marinade added to the pan(s) and into the oven at low heat – 250°F until cooked through. The sauce, a simple infusion of equal parts of beef stock and port with a handful of dried licorice – orozuz in some places, regaliz in others, but the former for our vowelish purposes – and parsley stems. Simmer for about twenty minutes to infuse the flavors, strain, and finish by whisking in some cold butter cubes, season with salt and black pepper. Garnish with the parsley leaves. We tried two different wines with this – one night the Finca La Linda Tempranillo Reserva, the other night the Calia Alta Bonarda-Syrah blend. Both worked really well with the dish – it definitely benefits from something medium bodied and a bit on the spicy side. For our non-red meat person, we offered up a steak of gatuzo, a type of local shark relative, a nice “meaty” style fish, done up the same way.

Cheesecake de Orejones y AgaveAs always, apologies for not providing the cheesecake recipe, I just can’t chance that severe Hungarian curse I’m under not to reveal the recipe. At most I can say that I substituted some agave syrup for part of the sugar, lime juice instead of lemon juice, and added in chopped dried apricots to the mixture – resulting in a Cheesecake de Orejones y Agave, which turned out very nicely – I like the addition of the dried apricots – look for some future playing around with some other dried fruits. As usual, our house dessert wine, which almost everyone seems to love, the Finca El Retiro Tardío Sauvignon Blanc Chardonnay blend late harvest wine worked out quite well with this dish.

And yes, I know there were no ingredients starting with I or U – I could have used iñame, or yams; intestinos; uvas, or grapes; or, of course ubre, a cow’s udder… but it just didn’t happen.

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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

ksternberg May 9, 2007 at 12:22

Hungarian curse? Is that anything like Hungarian coffee?

For a copy of the Casa Saltshaker segment on television, I suggest that you contact the reporter involved, or the station’s news director. They’d probably be glad to send you a copy.

dan May 9, 2007 at 16:51

Unfortunately, no they’re not, I asked. That’s why I’m trying to find someone who may have happened to tape the segment.

ksternberg May 9, 2007 at 19:45

God! What unreasonable people.

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