“The Día das Letras Galegas (Galician for “Galician Literature Day”) is a holiday in Galicia, a region in northwest Spain. This holiday has taken place on May 17 since 1963 when the first event was held to commemorate the centenary of Cantares gallegos, the first work written in the Galician language by Rosalía de Castro (1837–1885), who later became one of the most important poets in the history of Galicia. Cantares gallegos was published on May 17, 1863. Since 1963, each Galician Literature Day has been dedicated to a different writer in the Galician language. This writer must be dead, and is chosen by the Real Academia Galega (Royal Galician Academy).”
Buenos Aires – I can’t say that we made any real, or imagined, contribution to Galician literature this weekend. We didn’t read any, look at any, or, for that matter, I don’t think we really even thought much about this year’s honoree, Xosé María Álvarez Blázquez, who was born in 1915, died seventy years later, and in-between wrote poetry and prose, of which, I didn’t find anything translated into English that I might be able to share with you. And, of course, the translation would somewhat defeat the purpose of the day. So, instead, we ate food inspired by the traditions of Galicia… with my own odd twists, of course.
The traditional pepper of the region is the piquillo, a favorite of mine as well. Now, a year or so ago it was easy to find canned or jarred piquillo peppers here, already fire-roasted and ready to go. They ran about 5-6 pesos for about 6-8 peppers in each container. I should have stocked up. I spent days looking for them, and finally found them at Carrefours, where they now come in a teeny little jar with two peppers in it, and one clove of garlic, all in oil, and for a whopping 18 pesos. Ridiculous, but they were necessary at some point during the evening – I bought two jars. No way I was going to stuff piquillo peppers. Instead, at the same Carrefours I found fresh poblano peppers. Not traditional to Galicia, or, as far as I know, anywhere in the Iberian penninsula, but a workable substitute. They were stuffed with a mix of potato puree made with plenty of butter and milk (I was going to use olive oil, which would have been more traditional, but I just love potatoes pureed with butter and milk or cream…), to which I’d mixed in a good amount of finely chopped and then fried leeks. I then roasted the stuffed peppers in the oven, drizzled with some olive oil (there ya go) until they were just lightly blistered but nice and soft. For the sauce, I pureed the piquillo peppers with egg yolks and then warmed it in a double boiler until it just started to thicken, whisking constantly. Salt to taste. Delicious! We made extra the second night just for us to have.
There is a traditional dish of white beans and chestnuts cooked in the oven with a little bit of broth to make not so much a soup as a side dish. I took the idea and simply turned it into a soup. I made a vegetable stock with all the usual sorts of things that go into it. Then, cooked some celery and onions in a little olive oil, added pre-soaked white beans and the vegetable stock, and rather than whole chestnuts (which are hard to find here and prohibitively expensive when you do), a chestnut puree (unsweetened). Then just cooked it all until the beans were done, salt and pepper to taste. From there, it was on to a twist on the classic empanada de berberechos, which, like the more well-known empanada de gallego is normally made as a large pie, either round or rectangular, and then cut into pieces to serve. I took the filling – berberechos (cockles, or small clams), fire blackened red peppers, tomatoes, onion, salt and pepper – and wrapped it in phyllo dough, then baked them in the oven to finish. I had picked up some tomatillos, which are a sort of Mexican green tomato, only not exactly, and pureed them with a little garlic, salt and pepper, and then cooked the puree over low heat until thick.
On to the main course. Writer Richard Frisbie, writing in his column Food Bites about a restaurant in Galicia, Casa Marcelo, had this to say: “Fortunately, the hake course that followed was cooked to perfection. This womderful white fish was served so simply, on a dollop of garlic sauce with just a light, thin green pepper broth, nearly naked on the plate, clearly showing Chef Marcelo’s Galician roots.” That was enough to start me thinking. I had no more information than that, but it just sounded… inspired. For the green pepper broth I took a couple of green peppers, cored them, cut them in half, and put them under the broiler until they were blistered but not blackened. I peeled them, then pureed the flesh with a good quantity of chives and parsley, just enough water to give a thick puree, then added cream to get a nice smooth consistency. Seasoned it with turmeric, sugar, salt and white pepper. Strained it through a fine strainer and then just kept it warm, I didn’t want to cook the herbs, I wanted a nice fresh “green” flavor to it. For the garlic, rather than a sauce, which sounded like it was probably something sort of aïoli-ish, I decided to go with fried garlic – I julienned it finely, then fried it in very hot olive oil until it was just starting to brown, added a big spoonful of smoked paprika and a pinch of salt to it, and cooked it another minute just to finish browning. The hake, a classic fish of the region, was simply baked in the oven with a little olive oil and salt. I ladled some of the green pepper broth on the plate, placed the hake in the center, and spooned garlic and oil over it. Wow. I know it’s unlikely that it’s the same dish that Chef Marcelo put together, but kudos for the idea!
And, finally, dessert. A quesada reina, reinterpreted more as a cheesecake… sort of. It’s unsweetened, and gets its sweetness from powdered sugar coating it. It’s actually pretty simple. I made ricotta and then blended that with a little bit of rice flour, eggs, a pinch of salt, and a spoonful or two of cinnamon. Nothing more. Baked in a springform pan until lightly golden and set. Then cooled, chilled, topped with powdered sugar and slices of kiwi (the traditional appears to use kiwi and maraschino cherries, the latter being something I decline to use – see here, towards the bottom). I had made some limequat marmalade the other day which I thought would pair nicely with this, and it did. I promised the last time I made limequat marmalade to show you a picture of limequats… so here they are, ready to be blended into a coarse puree for making the marmalade – gives you a sense of how much smaller than a lemon they are…