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Monday, October 29, 2007

Sweet Solitude and Caldo Verde, Tortilla Espanola and Buttermilk Panna Cotta

The morns are meeker than they were,
The nuts are getting brown;
The berry's cheek is plumper,
The rose is out of town.
The maple wears a gayer scarf,
The field a scarlet gown.
Lest I should be old-fashioned,
I'll put a trinket on.

-- Emily Dickinson, Nature 27 - Autumn

What do you do on a rainy Autumn night when your family has abandoned you and it is too wet and sloshy to go out? You cook up a storm, that's what! Last Friday, while my daughter was enjoying herself at a Halloween party, and my husband was working late, I did just that. It isn't often that I get an evening alone to do whatever I want. When I cook, there is almost always someone looking over my shoulder, smelling, tasting or offering well-meaning, but unsolicited advice. But the other night, it was just me, myself and I. Sweet solitude!

I have a little composition notebook that I keep to write down things I want to remember. You know the kind, with the black and white marbled cover? That is also where I write down ideas for my posts and recipes that I want to try. I flipped through it and decided on a recipe for Buttermilk Panna Cotta from the November issue of Bon Appetit. I had almost a full quart of buttermilk left over from the banana cake I made for WTSIM...Layered Cake. I adore panna cotta and this seemed like an excellent way to use up that buttermilk.

I was also itching to try to make a dish that I just had the night before. A few days ago, I posted about Tampa's PBS station, WEDU, doing a feature on Jaden from Jaden's Steamy Kitchen. Since I was also going to be on the show, Jaden was kind enough to invite me to the viewing party at a cute little restaurant called Martinis & Tapas. I ordered a dish called Tortilla Espanola and it was heaven on a plate! It was made with eggs, onions, potatoes and Manchego cheese, kind of like an omelet, but oh, so much better. I would liken it to an Italian frittata. Tortilla Espanola is apparently one of Spain's most commonly served dishes, showing up in cafes and tapas bars all over the country. Since I already had all of the necessary ingredients for the dish, I decided to make it too.

(Jaden and Me at Martinis & Tapas)

I rooted around my kitchen, taking stock of what else I had lurking there, to find something to make to go along with the tortilla. I found some fresh kale in the fridge that would soon be at risk if I didn't use it. I had some kielbasa hiding in there too. An idea was beginning to take form. With a little more digging, I was able to scrounge up some canned garbanzo beans and diced tomatoes, some onions and chicken broth. Bingo! Caldo Verde!

Caldo Verde is considered by many to be Portugal's national dish. I don't know if it actually is, but it is certainly one of the country's most popular ones. It is a thick soup, traditionally made with a dark green cabbage or kale, potatoes and a spicy Portuguese sausage called chourico. Now, don't give me a hard time about the kielbasa, okay. This is a very versatile soup and I have seen it made using lots of different ingredients. It was dark and rainy and I wasn't about to go out and hunt down some authentic chourico. Besides, the kielbasa was there. A bird in the hand.

The first thing I did was get into my coziest PJs and dig out one of my favorite movies of all time, Shirley Valentine. (If you've never seen it, do yourself a favor and rent it. It is a gem.) Then, I hit the kitchen. I made the Panna Cotta first, because it needed a few hours to set up. After that, I got the soup simmering, and began slicing and dicing for the Tortilla Espanola.
I found several different methods of preparation for the tortilla. Some recipes called for boiling the potatoes first, others said to slow roast them with the onions in the oven. I believe that most traditional way is to poach them in oil in a skillet. Since, I didn't want to have to deal with cleaning up a lot of oil spatters, I chose to roast them. I decided to add some Serrano ham as well, since I also had that in the fridge.
Flipping the tortilla was a tricky bit, but I was able to manage it with some careful maneuvering. One side of my tortilla got a little singed. Unfortunately, it was the top side. I didn't want to risk flipping it again and having it crack or worse, flop right onto the floor, so I left it. It didn't taste burned at all, but it didn't look so good in the pictures. To illustrate how delicious it was, I have, instead, included a photo of the empty platter after we ate it all up. (That is also why there is a pretty Autumn poem at the top of this post instead of a picture of my whole meal.) Oh well, these things happen, I guess. Sometimes you have to roll with the punches.
As I sat down to enjoy the fruits of my labor, my damp and soggy husband walked through the door. I fixed him a plate and we sat, and ate, and recounted our days. The Caldo Verde was robust, with big, bold flavors. The tortilla's crispy crust gave way to a soft egginess inside. The Manchego had a subtle sharpness that melded into the sweetness of the onion and the creaminess of the potatoes. The panna cotta was divine! The buttermilk gave it a slight hint of tanginess and a light, airy texture. It was satin and clouds.

Tortilla Espanola with Manchego and Serrano Ham
Adapted from Pretty Much Everybody

1 cup extra virgin olive oil4 russet potatoes, sliced 1/4 inch thin
1 large onion, sliced thin
coarse salt and ground black pepper to taste
6 large eggs
1 cup grated Manchego cheese
1/2 cup Serrano ham sliced into thin strips

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Grease a 13-by-9-inch roasting pan with 2 teaspoon oil.

Arrange a layer of potatoes in the pan, sprinkle with salt, and scatter with some of the onion. Drizzle with about 1/4 cup of oil. Continue to make layers with remaining potatoes and onion, using 3/4 cup of oil in all. Roast for 1 hour, loosening and turning potatoes occasionally with a metal spatula.

In a large bowl, beat the eggs until uniform in color. Season with salt.

Add the roasted potatoes, onion, cheese and ham, pressing down with the spatula so that they are covered with egg. Let sit about 10 minutes.

Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large skillet. Add the egg-potato mixture, flatten with the spatula, and reduce heat to medium-high. Shake skillet, as necessary to prevent sticking.

When the underside begins to brown, slide the omelet onto a plate. Place another plate on top of it, and flip.

Heat 1 teaspoon oil in the skillet, remove the top plate from the omelet, and slide it back into the skillet, smoothing out any rough edges with the spatula and continuing to shake the skillet. Cook until bottom side is browned and eggs are set.

Slice in wedges and serve hot or at room temperature. Serves 8 to 10 as a tapa.

Quick Caldo Verde
Adapted from Rachael Ray

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
3 medium russet potatoes, peeled and diced
2 medium onions, chopped
4 to 6 cloves garlic, chopped
2 bay leaves, fresh or dried
1 pound kale, coarsely chopped
coarse salt and pepper
1 (15-ounce) can garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed
1 (15 ounce) can diced tomatoes
1 pound diced chourico, casing removed
1 quart chicken broth

Heat oil in a deep pot over medium high heat. Add potatoes and onions, cover and cook 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Add garlic, bay leaves, and kale to the pot. Cover pot and wilt greens 2 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.

Add beans, tomatoes, chourico, and broth to the pot and bring soup to a full boil. Reduce heat back to medium and cook 15-20 minutes longer or until potatoes and kale are tender.

Buttermilk Panna Cotta
Adapted from Bon Appetit Magazine, November, 2007

2 tablespoons water
1 1/2 teaspoons unflavored gelatin
Nonstick vegetable oil spray
1 cup whipping cream
1 teaspoon finely grated lemon peel
1/2 cup sugar
2 cups buttermilk
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Assorted frozen berries (such as blackberries, blueberries, and raspberries), thawed

Pour 2 tablespoons water into small bowl; sprinkle gelatin over. Let stand until gelatin softens, about 10 minutes.

Lightly spray six 3/4-cup ramekins or or one 5-6 cup mold with nonstick spray.

Heat cream, lemon peel, and sugar in medium saucepan over medium-high heat, stirring constantly until sugar dissolves. Increase heat and bring just to low boil, stirring occasionally. Add gelatin mixture; remove from heat. Stir until gelatin dissolves. Cool mixture to lukewarm, stirring often.

Stir in buttermilk and vanilla; divide mixture among prepared ramekins.

Refrigerate panna cotta until set, about 4 hours. (DO AHEAD: Can be made 2 days ahead. Cover and keep chilled.)

Using small sharp knife, cut around panna cotta in each ramekin or mold. Place plate atop each ramekin and invert, allowing panna cotta to settle onto plate.

Top with berries and serve chilled.



Belinda said...

What a super cute picture of you and Jaden! :-)

And...what a fabulous meal you whipped up during your peaceful evening alone in the kitchen! Gosh, you are really productive when you have some time to yourself. My cowgirl hat's off to you, Susan. And I love the poem, just love it!

Unknown said...

I made this soup tonight for my family. My children, husband and mother in law all loved it. She wanted me to give her your website so she can make these dishes when she returns home. Your site will be the talk of Cairo!