Monday, June 28, 2010

Summer Salad

I am taking a break from Spain updates (though check back later to read about delicious Andalucia!) in order to celebrate the wonderful bounty of Summer produce. There's nothing I don't love about Summer: it has berries and grilling and vacations and warm, dusky evenings (if not in San Francsico, at least somewhere)... Some like to say that California has no seasons, but if that's true, then why can't it be like this all year long?

Steve and I have begun going to the Ferry Building farmer's market semi-regularly on Saturdays to buy produce, enjoy free samples, and indulge in a late-morning glass of wine. And that is where these beautiful, beautiful heirloom tomatoes came from.

I know that tomato salads have the simplest recipe in the world: Slice tomatoes. Slice mozzarella. Put on plate. Drizzle with olive oil and balsamic. Salt to taste. But for this one, I tried to implement a few tips from Jamie Oliver's repetoir, beginning with mildly dehydrating the tomatoes. That is, after the tomatoes are sliced or chopped, put them into a colander and salt generously. This adds the nice salty finish that you'll eventually want on the salad anyway, and it draws out the extra water, resulting in a more concentrated and intense tomato flavor.

I also diced and added in one mild chile pepper (the red ones I wanted were out of season; thus, I went with green), most of which was tossed with some olive oil and chopped basil and into the tomatoes. Some of the diced pepper was kept aside to garnish the mozzarella rounds.

Dish up and drizzle with balsamic... The prettiest summer salad you've ever seen!

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Madrid: Part 3

To round out this trilogy on epicurean Madrid I bring you Adventurous Appetites, a perspective on an authentic madrileno tapas tour.

In Spain, tapas are the upgraded equivalent of peanuts and pretzels at an American bar. Whenever ordering a drink, one is presented with a small plate of food-- whatever the bartender fancies to give you. In theory, each time a round of drinks is ordered, the tapas get better and better. Free tapas used to be commonplace throughout all of Spain (actually, it was signed into law by King Felipe as a way to keep the violent drunkards off the streets), but unfortunately it seems to be going the way of the siesta in many places: put out to pasture in favor of modernity. The best free tapas still exist in the southern Andalusia region of Spain (more on that to come), but in other pockets of the country as well.

For the tapas tour, we were taken in a small group on the Spanish equivalent of a pub crawl: traipsing between bars, stopping to order drinks and get free food, continuing to order more drinks and then pay for food, and finally rolling out the door to begin again at the next place.

The first bar brought us some very pungent and fuerte blue cheese and empanadas (with layered dough rather than the wrapped up packages we see over here), alongside a traditional, unsweetened cider. We dined gathered around small barrels of sherry, and all trash (toothpicks, napkins, etc.) were tossed upon the floor, as a layer of waste becomes a badge of honor for the bar at the end of a successful night.

The cider-drinking itself is something of a sport; always served by the bottle, the cider must be poured into glasses from as high as possible in order to incite the carbonation, and then the drink must be downed in a single go. The best pourers reputedly do so while gazing upon the loveliest girl or guy in the bar, but my mother had not reached that level of proficiency yet.

The second bar brought us platters of meat and cheese to eat with fingers, and the third bar treated us to ramekins of tripe with chickpeas and chicken with pineapple.

Other classics were the ratatouille with cheese and balsamic and the fried poblano chillies-- crispy, sweet, and salty, with every tenth chille shocking your mouth with fire and spice.

Our last stop, edging up on midnight, finally brought us to a sit-down dinner of delicious seafood, including a traditional boiled octopus with paprika.

Having fallen in love with the crunch of grilled octopus in Greece, the boiled version is a bit mushy for me, but paprika definitely kicks it up a notch. Salud, Madrid!

Friday, June 11, 2010

Madrid: Part 2

Most people planning a vacation to foreign lands prepare with country or city-specific guidebooks, some internet research, and a bit of brush-up on pleasantries in the local language. At least, this is how my dad prepares.

My mother, on the other hand, buys no guidebooks, does no research, and figures that her elementary Italian should be "good enough" for navigating Spain. But she did come prepared with one publication: A 2-page article ripped out from Bon Appetit Magazine titled "Chocolate Lover's Madrid." The article divides the city center into six distinct areas and lists the best chocolate spots in each sextant.

The first spot we hit up was La Plateria Bar Museo, nestled in a small plaza off of the main boulevard by the Prado, took us two days to locate. This small tapas cafe boasts an unbeatable tarta de chocolate con avellanas (dark chocolate and hazelnut torte), enticing us to persist in our quest.

The elusive torte, while nothing too revolutionary, satisfies that simple yet perfect coupling of chocolate and nuts that makes it impossible to leave a less-than-clean plate.

Our second stop on the chocolate tour was Chocolateria San Gines, nearby the central Plaza Mayor, know by all near and far for their chocolate and churros.

To my father's delight, who has quested for years to find a hot chocolate worthy of The Polar Express' simile, "like a melted chocolate bar," the chocolate here is thicker and richer than pure cream. Too intense for me to drink straight up, it's a perfect dipping sauce for those crispy churros.

A land of chocolate lovers indeed!

Monday, June 7, 2010

Madrid: Part 1

I'm back from two weeks in sunny Spain, sated on wine and good food... lots of ham, specifically. First stop on the trip: Madrid. Land of the bear and the Madrileno Tree (whimsically translated as "strawberry tree.")

Gourmet-wise, my favorite place in Madrid is the Mercado de San Miguel: the central market housed in a glass building to the side of Plaza Mayor.

It's the Spanish equivalent of the San Francisco Ferry Building, but instead of boutique shops selling olive oils and cookbooks, there are food and wine booths selling tapas and drinks.

You can get a glass of wine from the bodega with empanadas from the bread stand and take them to the tables in the center of the building, or even eat standing right at the counter if that gives you pleasure.

Or even truffles given to you on a silver platter to take away.