Sunday, March 16, 2014

Time-Life: Spain and Portugal

The Spain and Portugal volume of Time-Life Foods of the World was a much more satisfying read than the Quintet of Cuisines. The writer Peter S. Feibleman actually lived in Spain, knew the people, and could write great descriptions of landscapes and cultural events. I think I'd like to read some of his other books, such as his biography of Lillian Hellman, with whom he had a long friendship.

I found the recipes I tried less successful, whether it's because they were simplified too much or whether the food itself is less appealing, or perhaps just poor technique on my part.

I've been to Andalusia and had wonderful home-cooked meals with fresh produce at a lovely B&B (Villa Matilde near Anjar), but I found eating in restaurants frustrating. Oily, mass-produced paella, monotonous salads of iceberg lettuce, tomatoes, boiled eggs, tuna, and ham. The overwhelming emphasis on meat, the lack of vegetarian meals, or even vegetables that were not served in oil, made lunches particularly unappealing. It's hot, you want a light lunch and the only vegetable choice is that same old salad! The consequences of mass tourism, perhaps. However, I do remember a delicious supper of sea bass baked in salt in Malaga, and I loved Seville and would like to go back there.

Anyway, back to this book. In general, they call for at least 2 times as much olive oil as I would use, and I cut the amounts whenever I thought it appropriate. Ingredients are simple with very few extra flavourings beyond salt and pepper. In some case, I adapted a couple by adding some hot peppers to give them a bit more kick.

I've not provided the recipes, but will be happy to post if anyone wants them.


From Spain, I made:
  • Truchas a la Navarra (Marinated trout with red wine and herbs. This was tasty, but I found the choice of red wine odd and the resulting sauce yielded an unappealing color. If I make it again, I will use white wine.
  • Spinach with pine nuts and almonds. I didn't have pine nuts and have grown tired of the flavour, so I just used almonds. I really liked this dish and will put it into rotation. The nuts provide a crunchy contrast to the soft spinach, and the garlic and serrano ham add depth and umami.
  • Pollo a chilindron (Sauteed chicken with peppers, tomatoes, and olives. This was very good, although I did add some red pepper to give it a bit of a kick.
  • Ternera a la Sevillana (Sauteed veal with sherry and green olives). I enjoyed the sofrito at the heart of this dish, but it rather overwhelms the delicate veal scallops. The sauce is a mixture of onions, garlic, olives, tomatoes, mushrooms, and ground almonds. The olives are quite dominant and I think this would work very well with pasta. In fact, it reminded me of past putenesca. 


From Portugal, I made the Bolinhos de Bacalhau (Salt cod fish cakes, with parsely, coriander, and mint).

Salted cod is apparently the national fish of Portugal. Traditionally, that cod came from the Grand Banks of Newfoundland. I remember the early 70s when Canada started enforcing a 200 mile offshore limit to prevent the factory fishing boats from Spain, Portugal and other countries from fishing these waters dry, and then Canada's own mismanagement which led to the total collapse of the cod fishery in the 1980s. Thirty years on and the cod has still not recovered.

The only bacalhau I could find was actually salted Alaskan pollock and I think it does not require as long a soak as the original cod. However, the fish cakes it produced were very tasty. I made half a recipe and served with a poached egg.

If you just finely flake the fish, I found the cakes fell apart when you tried to term them. So after trying one, I briefly processed the mixture in a food processor. The resulting patties looked more like the ones in the book and stayed together better when frying.

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