Sunday, 28 February 2010

Spanish Part 1

Manchego y Jamon (Cheese and Cured Ham)
7. Gambas al Pil-Pil (Garlic Prawns) Penelope Lopez
8. Paella Carlos Lopez
9. Asadillo de Pimientos (Roasted Capsicum Salad) Frank Camorra

Pan con Chocolate (Chocolate with Bread and Olive Oil) Frank Camorra, (MoVida Rustica)

Apparently, you don't need to know anything about cheese, cured ham or sausages to work in a gourmet deli. Whoever is doing the buying for Maxi Foods in Ferntree Gully knows what they're doing - evidenced by the Jonothan's sausages, Barossa Valley ham, Shaw River buffalo mozzarella and the Meredith goat's cheese. Unfortunately, this knowledge does not seem to extend to the teenage deli staff. Cheap labour is obviously of greater importance to the management than an ability to understand what it is that you are trying to proffer.

I picked out the manchego by the colour (very white - logic tells me that this must be a sheep or goat's cheese), the zig-zaggy wax coating, and the Spanish writing (Maeve says that you should look for 'queso puro de oveja' on the label), next to a drawing of sheep and goats frolicking in a picturesque, mountainous location. My deli assistant then spent 5 minutes looking through a long list of cheeses for a name matching that which I had selected. Eventually, he called another juvenile over for help, and they flipped through the list together, for another 5 minutes or so. They then asked me what the cheese I had selected was. I told them I was pretty sure it was manchego. Eventually, they gave up searching and charged me $24.99 a kilo (bargain). From there, we moved on to the Serrano Jamon, which proved impossible, despite the fact that I had seen it there before. I was irritated enough to breach supermarket etiquette and argue with the slightly more experienced adolescent about the difference between Sopressa and Serrano. Spectators began to gather, some gawping openly, some feigning disinterest, clearly thrilled at the prospect of witnessing a public fracas about the origins of cured meat. I eventually settled for some nice proscuitto. Sorry, Spain, but I was more concerned about my appearance as the Crazy, Ham-obsessed, Lady than adherence to cultural boundaries. Finally, I confounded him with my accurate pronunciation of the word 'chorizo'. It ended with the kid exhaling with relief as I turned my trolley towards the spices, and me sounding like a wanker in front of a small crowd of locals. Excellent. Sometimes I rue my idyllic, foothills location.

The rest of the hunter-gathering was a little simpler; I knew I wouldn't be able to find any fresh crab or pippis for the Paella, so I had already planned to substitute some fish (I chose some lovely snapper) and scallops. I managed to get my hands on some excellent fish stock so I didn't have to make my own (it was $12.99 a litre, so I only bought 500ml and planned to top up with water). It appears that only three banquets into the Challenge, I am becoming a bit laissez-faire regarding the utensils, as I had not even bothered to try to source a cazuela for the prawns, deciding that the base of my large tagine closely resembles the clay pans the Spanish use to cook and serve their tapas (North Africa, Southern Europe - same, same).

Given that the only Spanish dessert listed in Food Safari is rice pudding (which you obviously can't serve after Paella, unless you want the meal to resemble a poorly planned wedding with a 'alternate settings' menu), I knew that I needed an alternative. Luckily, I had received the MoVida Rustica cookbook for Christmas (unlikely to get much of a look-in given the Food Safari thing I've got going on, but a good cookbook should be able to stand the text of time), which includes a Spanish variation on chocolate mousse, which you sprinkle with salt and serve with very thinly sliced, toasted bread and sweet olive oil. Mmm. This I prepared first, as it needed to set in the fridge for a couple of hours before serving. As usually happens when preparing chocolate mousse, the chocolate split as soon as it came into contact with the egg. I have no idea how to avoid this (feel free to enlighten me). Maybe the eggs need to be at room temperature, or something. I just kept stirring it until it came back together again, then added the butter.

After sorting the mousse, I prepared everything else. I roasted and sliced the 12 capsicum, cleaned and chopped the squid, sliced the meat, blanched and peeled the tomatoes, chopped the garlic and chilli, diced the onions, scrubbed the mussels - I even chopped up the herbs. It was all very TV chef; you know that excessively annoying thing they do, where they tell you something takes five minutes to cook, when actually, all of the ingredients are cut up and measured out in little glass bowls by their minions, and are then left waiting to be added to the dish. I once saw a documentary about the "Jamie Oliver LIVE!" stage show, which included a funny scene where his food stylists/ prep staff were sniggering as they impersonated Jamie claiming something could be prepared from scratch in the same time that it would take to order and receive delivery of a take-away. Anyway, I did all of this work so that I could take everything outside and cook my gambas and paella on the new barbeque. The little dishes took up one dishwasher-load on their own, but it was nice being able to cook in the presence of the dinner guests (who were embracing the spirit of the evening by enjoying the balmy, late summer weather over some Spanish wine), rather than being confined to the kitchen. I had to send a runner back to the kitchen for forgotten utensils and ingredients about every 60 seconds, but other that that, it was lovely.

The manchego and jamon/ proscuitto must have been great, because it disappeared very quickly as our starving guests waited for the prawns. The tagine worked surprisingly well as a gambas vessel. They were juicy, garlicky and delicious, and we had cleverly put aside some of the bread to soak up the oil after all of the prawns were gone.

I assembled the salad, then started on the paella right away, because experience has led me to the conclusion that risotto and paella always take about twice as long to cook as their recipes suggest - even without counting all of the chopping and measuring. I had also, somewhat defiantly, decided to add chorizo to the Paella, because it just felt all wrong without it. I set the paella pan (a wedding gift, but let's pretend that I got off my arse and bought one especially) right on top of the barbeque grill plate, as I wanted an even heat and don't own one of those fancy gas rings that Maeve says she uses (the woman must have a whole room devoted to her specialist equipment and appliances). It worked well; the rice crackled nicely, it all bubbled evenly once I'd added the stock, the chicken and squid were not overcooked and the mussels looked quite spectacular. But... it just didn't taste as totally awesome as I wanted it to. The prawns had been so full of flavour that, by comparison, the paella seemed a bit (gasp) bland. Maybe I am being harsh - I should probably say the flavours were 'subtle', or something. It was improved with lots of lemon juice squeezed over the top (not in the recipe, but I always serve Paella with lemon), but if I do it again, I will add more of everything - more garlic, more paprika, more saffron and more salt.
The Asadillo was lovely and sherry vinegar is the best thing. I used some yellow capsicum as well as the red ones, just to add a bit of colour. We had piles of it left over (after all of the cheese, ham, prawns and rice there wasn't much room, and we were saving ourselves for the chocolate mousse), but we ate it the next day with chicken wrapped in flour tortillas, with sour cream, coriander and avocado (Spaxican??).
The mousse had set very nicely, though was a bit tricky to get out of the tin. I was supposed to invert it onto a serving dish then slice it. That was never going to happen, so I tried to slice and remove it one piece at a time, but I ended up having to squash a couple of the bits back together and smooth over the cracks with a knife. Presentation was never a strength.
I served the Chocolate with Phillipa's incredibly thin, toasted almond bread, because I couldn't be bothered toasting my own Pan (some would call it laziness, but I like to think of it as prioritising). The salt, olive oil and bread somehow prevented the mousse from being overwhelmingly rich, but we did have some left over which, tragically, I was unable to face the next day and kept forgetting to take with me to work. Eventually I had to throw it out.

Spanish Part 2 may have to wait a while, as the San Jacob (unbelievably delicious-looking crumbed pork, filled with cheese and ham) Arroz Con Leche (creamy rice pudding) look to be more wintery fare. Instead, the next challenge will be Mexican, which, I predict, will be more challenging than the old man and the cute little kid in the Old Elpaso 'Stand and Stuff' ads would have us believe.


sarah treadwell said...

La comida era deliciosa! x

Noman Khan said...

wow,delicius food.I like to eat this food.
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