Spanish summer supper
Spaniards love picnics. When weather warms up, they’ll head for the countryside with baskets of food, tablecloths and cooking apparatus. Picnics aren’t just simple sandwiches and a few deli containers; even the complex rice preparation, paella, is considered best prepared outdoors, the huge shallow round pan of ingredients simmered over a wood fire.
But Spanish picnic foods aren’t all complex or time-consuming. Here are three of my favorites, not only because they are scrumptious, but because all the preparation except grilling the kebabs is done ahead. They’re perfect not only for picnics, but also for backyard entertaining even if you’re only entertaining yourselves. And they’re just as good in air-conditioned comfort when humidity gets too oppressive!
The marinated cheeses and olives actually need to be made ahead; there’s often a jar on my kitchen counter. Montvale Schnucks’ olive bar has a black and green olive mixture (with pits) that’s particularly good for this recipe.
I use Pincho Moruno marinade year-round, often grilling kebabs or lamb chops in our fireplace. Its Middle Eastern flavor is a reminder that the Muslim Moors controlled much of Spain from 711-1492 A.D.
Spanish tortillas are only distantly related to the Mexican corn or wheat flatbreads most Americans associate with the word. In Spain a tortilla is a thick omelet with fillings incorporated into the beaten eggs. Not just picnic food, tortillas can be used as sandwich ingredients, and appropriate just about any time or place. The most common is a combination of potato and onion, found in virtually all dish Spanish tapas bars. Just using onions makes an exceptionally succulent tortilla.
MANCHEGO CHEESE MARINATED WITH HERBS AND OLIVES
• Manchego cheese
• Fresh thyme, rosemary, marjoram sprigs and bay leaves either in combination or singly
• Black olives, or a combination of black and green olives, preferably with pits
• Extra-virgin olive oil
Remove the rind from the cheese and cut it into bite-sized (about 1-inch) chunks. Place a single layer of the cheese in the bottom of a glass or other noncorrosive container. Scatter some olives into the spaces around the cheese chunks, and sprinkle a few herb sprigs on top. Place another layer of cheese cubes on top of the herb sprigs, scatter over some more olives, and sprinkle with a few more of the herb sprigs. Repeat until you have used up all the cheese, ending up with a layer of the cheese and olives on top.
Pour enough olive oil over the top so that the cheese and olives are completely submerged. Let stand for at least two days (up to five is even better) at room temperature before serving. Refrigerate after five days (if they last that long).
To serve, present the jar with toothpicks or small cocktail forks for spearing the cheese cubes and olives. Alternatively, you could strain out the cheese cubes and olives and place on a small dish. Serve with baguette slices or other rustic bread. Use the flavored olive oil for salad dressings or other preparations.
Spanish grilled kebabs with Moorish flavors
• 1-1 1/2 lb. boneless pork loin or leg of lamb
For the marinade:
• 1 tsp. dried oregano
• 1 tsp. cumin seeds
• 1/4 C. extra-virgin olive oil
• 3/4 C. chopped onion, NOT super-sweet
• 4 garlic cloves, roughly chopped (about 1 T.)
• 2 T. chopped fresh parsley, preferably flat-leafed
• 1 T. paprika, preferably smoked Spanish style, hot or sweet
• Crumbled dried red chili pepper OR pepper flakes (if you are using hot paprika you may want to eliminate this)
• 1 T. lemon juice
• Pinch of saffron threads, optional
• 1 T. minced anchovies or anchovy paste or to taste, optional
• 1 1/2 tsp. Kosher or sea salt
• Freshly ground pepper to taste
Cut the meat into one-inch cubes. Alternatively cut it into thin strips, especially if marinating for a short time. This is easiest to do if the meat is very cold or partially frozen.
Put the oregano and cumin seeds in a small skillet and heat over medium-high heat until they JUST become fragrant, just a few seconds. Immediately remove skillet from the heat.
Place cumin seeds, oregano, and the remaining marinade ingredients in the container of an electric blender or food processor. Blend until a rough purée is formed, pushing down the contents with a rubber spatula as needed. Alternatively, you can mince all the ingredients finely by hand.
Place the marinade in a large resealable plastic bag and add the meat. Remove the air from the bag and squish the meat and marinade around so that all the meat is covered with marinade. Let stand at least 2 hours and, refrigerated, up to overnight.
Thread the meat onto metal or bamboo skewers. If using bamboo, soak the skewers in hot water for at least 1 hour before using. If using thinly sliced meat, thread the lengthwise onto the skewers. If the lamb is to be cooked medium to medium rare, bunch the meat up accordion-style.
Grill the meat over hot coals until browned on the outside. Pork should be cooked through; lamb can be anywhere from medium rare to well done. Serve immediately.
Note: This marinade also is wonderful used with pork or lamb chops, or a butterflied leg of lamb.
TORTILLA DE CEBOLLAS
Spanish onion omelet
• 3 lbs. onions, NOT super-sweet, chopped
• 8 T. extra-virgin olive oil, divided
• 1 tsp. dried thyme
• 1 T. sherry vinegar, preferred, or wine vinegar
• 6 large eggs
• Kosher or sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
• Grated aged cheese such as Parmesan, Asiago, or Spanish cheese, such manchego
Chopped chives and/or chive blossoms for garnish, optional
Heat 6 tablespoons of the olive oil in a very large skillet over medium heat, add the onions, thyme and vinegar, and stir to combine them with the oil. Sprinkle with a teaspoon of salt. Cover the pan, and let the onions sweat until they are translucent, 10-15 minutes. Reduce the heat to low, cover the pan, and cook until the onions are golden and meltingly soft, about an hour.
Uncover the onions, raise the heat slightly, and continue to cook until any liquid in the skillet has evaporated, about another 15 minutes.
Remove the pan from the heat and let cool until the onions are just barely warm.
In a large bowl, beat the eggs just until combined. Add the onion mixture and season to taste with salt and pepper. Let stand for about 10 minutes.
Heat an 8- to 10-inch nonstick skillet over high heat. When hot (but not smoking) add egg mixture. Turn the heat down to low and shake the pan gently. There are three ways to complete the tortilla:
1. Stir the liquid egg mixture a few minutes. When you see it begin to solidify, flip the pan over onto a plate, then slide the plate back into the skillet. Repeat until the tortilla is cooked through. This method is the most traditional, and the trickiest.
2. After the tortilla has formed a solid mass on the underside, transfer it to a broiler under high heat. Check every couple of minutes. When the tortilla has formed a “crust” on top, stir the cooked surface into the liquid egg mixture underneath and return to the broiler. Continue until the tortilla is cooked through.
3. Follow step 2 until the tortilla’s center is creamy and almost solidified. Then flip it onto a plate or skillet of the same size and continue the process until the tortilla is completely cooked through. This has the advantage of giving the tortilla the traditional rounded edge shape without the mess and hassle of the first method.
Turn the tortilla onto a large platter and let cool to slightly warm or room temperature. Cut into wedges or squares. Garnish with the grated cheese and chives if desired.
Contact Julianne Glatz at email@example.com.