MAY 1, 2018

Notes on Cucina Espanola

“But just as it’s impossible to talk of a single cocina espanola (Spanish Cuisine), it’s impossible to talk about a single, nationwide cocido. Cocido can be defined only in regional terms, each with its distinct accent…”   – Spain: Recipes and Traditions from the Verdant Hills of the Basque Country to the Coastal Waters of Andalucua, by Jeff Koehler


With a much anticipated trip to Spain upcoming in a couple of months, it feels like it is time to turn attention back onto the wonderfully comprehensive cookbook Spain by Jeff Koehler. With lines that read like the following, from an introductory page dedicated to Tapas and Appetizers, it’s hard to resist the visions of lively and bright restaurants as well as small kitchens that line along the avenues of Salamanca and Madrid, two cities we hope to visit: “In those bars, with a small glass of local, spritely white wine called Txakoli (or equally small glass of beer called zurito), you generally pay by the number of toothpicks on your plate at the end. In the 1980’s and 1990’s, these were miniature showcases for the culinary creativity of la nueva cocina vaca (New Basque Cooking), that led the wave of avant-garde Spanish culinary expression.”

Now, it is always a trick to take cooking inspiration from a country that you have not yet visited, but on the other hand what better way to get to know that country than to learn their cuisine alongside as many bits and pieces of their language as you can. And so, for starters, I tried a nice Catalan Flatbread with roasted red peppers last night as a kick-off and, as eating the final result, could most certainly see how this encounter with tapas could forge a new way of seeing happy hour!

Simply delicious naan.

I looked at the picture first, and then quickly scanned the ingredients suggested, going off of the advice that more often than not a flatbread tapas will include ingredients found in the kitchen and has no real restrictions. I picked up some Naan bread, roasted red peppers, a thin zucchini and some olives and anchovies. I already had a tomato at home along with a secret ingredient that I decided to line over the top at the end.

We have a built-in stove top grill on our oven and so, for the first time in a long time, I fired that up to crisp the naan bread on both sides, took them out and sent a few strong drizzles of olive oil over one side and began to line the surface with semi-diced fire roasted red bell peppers, zucchini wheels, and some cubed tomatoes. I tossed some quartered olives over that and then anchovies relatively sparingly (a brilliant addition, but no need to overwhelm everything else with the potent saltiness).

The flatbread looked colorful at this point, but also dry and I didn’t trust that the olive oil was enough. I remembered that I had some ricotta cheese left over in the refrigerator and decided that I wouldn’t likely go wrong with a few tossed clumps of white cheese for texture and creamy contrast. I broiled until brow over the top, but then baked to in order to tenderize the vegetables a bit more, took it out, cut each naan into quarters, and it was a surprisingly rich and even at times sweet (naan bread) flavor and texture. No doubt that the singing star here ended up a contrast between the zingy anchovies and olives versus the depth of the soaked red bell peppers, the ricotta adding a depth of variety, all in all a very nice companion to a zurito or two.