miércoles, 28 de noviembre de 2007

Six Steps to Pisto Bliss

Pisto is a vegetable melange suitable for all kinds of bread-dipping, fork-licking and lycopene-induced, tomato-tinted day dreams. It is simple enough, sauteed onions, peppers, zucchini and a little tomato sauce. Top with an egg or two and you've got something special.

It is also one of the few honestly vegetarian Spanish dishes. Spain i
s in general, a seriously carnivorous country. A passionate connection/devotion to all things piggy, fishy, meaty, rabbity, sea-buggy and birdy crosses all lines of class, region, and age in the Iberian peninsula. Order a salad and it will most often come covered in tuna and ham bits. But pisto is vegetable revelation. The vegetables cook down together and the eating is good! A perfect dish for cold winter nights or late Sunday lunches.

Pisto is also one of those dishes that everyone says their mom makes best. Recipe and technique consensuses are difficult to come by. There is a bit of contention about whether each ingredient should cook down separately or if they can all be cooked together. After consulting several recipes and several mothers, I have arrived at a recipe that hues close to the pop
ular dictum. I added a little wine which strays a bit from the original, but I think it gives the dish a little more depth. Feel free to omit it for the sake of tradition. The eggs are also optional but give the pisto a little more substance. My dining companion insisted on the eggs because he claimed that without the eggs "you are just dipping bread in sauce." But I say, "what's wrong with that?" You decide.

Serves 3-4

2 onions finely chopped (divided)
3 large cloves garlic finely chopped (divided)
1 small green bell
pepper finely chopped
1 small red bell pepper finely chopped
2 medium zucchini
s cut into thick chunks
4 large tomatoe
s roughly chopped (or one large can canned tomatoes)
***(Don't worry about peeling them, but please don't tell any of the Spanish mothers that I gave you that advice! If you must peel the tomatoes, cut an x in the bottom and pop them in boiling water for about 20 seconds. Then, fish them out and carefully
remove the skin. You can peel them if you really want to, but the skins are not a big deal and who wants to clean another pan?!)
1 teaspoon sugar
1/4 cup white wine
3 eggs (optional)
salt and pepper

In a large pan heat a generous glug of olive oil and add half of the onions and a teaspoon of salt. Saute until translucent then add peppers and half of the garlic and cook until beginning to soften, about 5 minutes. Pour in wine and let bubble for a few minutes.

In a separate sauce pan, heat some olive oil and saute the onions until translucent and soft, then add garlic and cook a few more minutes. Add tomatoes and 1 teaspoon sugar and let cook until they are thick and saucy, about 15 minutes over medium-high heat.

Add the zucchini to the onion and pepper mixture and give it a good stir. Let cook a few minutes and then add the tomato sauce. Cover and simmer for about 15-20 minutes. Poke around the pan with a fork. If everything is tender and melty, you are ready to add the eggs or eat up, if not, check back in a few minutes and then proceed.

If you would like to make this egg-tastic, crack three eggs into the pan over the pisto (still on the flame). If you like sunny side up, cover the pan and let the whites set to your liking. If you like a more scrambley kind of egg (as I do) just mix the eggs into the pisto pretty vigorously, breaking up the yolks and essentially scrambling them into the veggies. They will cook through quickly, but you want to make sure they stay creamy, so don't don't overdo it (2-3 minutes of egg cooking, max)

With or without the eggs, eat the pisto with plenty of crusty bread maybe a little wine. Be sure to imagine that you are seated at a wooden picnic table in a sun-dappled olive grove, that should chase away any winter blues!

martes, 27 de noviembre de 2007


So, remember how I wrote about being a recovering picky eater? Well, last night I made some serious headway. What I am about to tell you may not seem like much, but for me, it was a major leap forward. Last night, sitting around a small wooden table, drinking deliciously tart white wine from a small ceramic bowl/cup, I ate two pieces of purple-tinged octopus. The felled beast arrived at our table sliced into bite sized chunks, the little suction cup bits and tentacle points dusted with smokey paprika. The meat was ocean-y and chewy and not totally unpleasant. My dining companions were all over it. I demurred after my two bites and moved onto the other dishes that completed the Galician spread.

Galicia is the northwestern province of Spain directly above Portugal, and these Gallegos know how a thing or two about a thing or two. When the bread basket arrived (with a little screen at the bottom to catch the crumbs or
migas) I bit into a dense, chewy slice and sighed a brief sigh before the crust's gentle crunch took over. Then there were these croquetas. Fried bits of almost feathery, bacalao tinged bechamel with a perfectly golden crust. For a little Spanish surf and turf, we then used our tiny forks to inhale a plate of juicy, salty, ethereal steak bits and fried potatoes.  Dessert was thick slices of tetilla cheese, a creamy, rich showstopper topped with an equally thick slice of slightly grainy, sweet but not cloying, preserved quince (dulce de membrillo.) Perfect!

I wish that there could be an accompanying recipe for Pulpo a la Gallega, but I can't quite bring myslef to wrestle one of these sea monsters.  Maybe you should just come to Spain to visit me and you can try for yourself!

viernes, 9 de noviembre de 2007

The Freudians Live

Last Monday a new student told me that the reason why I couldn't remember the Spanish word for band-aid was because I didn't want to acknowledge my wound. She is a psychoanalyst and apparently thought that I was asking her opinion when I was really just trying to tell her that we all struggle with learning a new language and we have to be patient and thoughtful about the process.

If only the analysis had stopped there. Very much in keeping with the tone set by the giant Freud calendar adorning the office wall, she proceeded to tell me that my inability to acknowledge my wound stemmed from (I think you
know where this is going) my deeply held penis envy. YUCK! And she used a dirty word in Spanish to tell me this (she would not speak in English.) When I told the story to the language academy director he said "that is something out of a Woody Allen movie." Only it was worse because I couldn't just start to laugh as she made lewd gestures and explained to me that Freud really got it right about women, that we never take responsibility for our short comings. This unsolicited journey into my soul came after the reading of her new poem about the solitude of death and just before she looked at her watch and said "time's up!" Things can be rough for an itinerant English teacher.

So, food. Well, I ate a lot of tuna sandwiches this week. And some sub par pizza and some dreadful Mexican food (if you are in Granada, do not, I repeat, do not eat the tacos.) The week's highlights included some really g
reat pears and many, many clementines. Pears are one of the new foods I have discovered. I say new because I am a recovering picky eater. Pears along with pretty much everything green including avocados (and the vast majority of foods of almost all colors) were once on the no-fly list. I once accidentally ate a pear in a fruit salad at a potluck and became moderately famous in certain circles as the girl who shouted "what the hell is wrong with this apple?"

As a recovering picky eater, certain foods provoke a kind of "where have you been all my life" epiphany. The sweet, earthy and slightly grainy texture of a Comice or Bartlett very much fit into that category. While foods like pears, squash, mayonnaise and beets are recent additions, there are other foods like anchovies, anchovy stuffed olives and blue cheese that are still touch and go. Since I first realized about 10 years ago that being a dry hamburger eater was really quite boring, I have been steadily adding new foods arsenal. The process is pretty strait forward. I pick a food I "don't like" and decide to like it. It mo
stly works. Except int he case of blue cheese. I still think it is one of the grottiest things I can possibly imagine ingesting. Hopefully though in a few years' time, that designation will go the way of the "funny tasting apple."


These little bad boys are anchovy explosions on a stick. Made by Alvaro, the much beloved photographer of allkindsofdelicious.blogspot.com, they are sure to cure anyone of an aversion to anchovies or further cement one's fears about their salty, fishy dubiousness. The technique is simple. You get a bunch of olives (preferably stuffed with anchovies) a jar of brined green chilies, a nice container of anchovy fillets and you push one of each onto a toothpick. Yum! Or, Yuck! Who says women don't acknowledge their own weaknesses?