Sunday, December 31, 2006

Tapas: Tomates Asados con Ajos y Tomillo (Roasted Tomatoes with Garlic and Thyme) and Patatas Aïoli (Baby Potatoes with Aïoli)

The first time I had tapas was in a restaurant in Addison.  You sat at a small table, crunched next to everyone else, and listened to flamenco guitar as you ate.  The night was almost magical, but unfortunately my body decided it didn't like something I ate, so I never went back.  The restaurant has since closed (coincidence??).  Needless to say, I've been a little hesitant to try tapas again.

Tapas are basically the ultimate appetizers.  You order a bunch of little dishes and pick through the selection as you sip your sangria.  It makes for great chatting food, and you can tell that it was made for slow eating.  Normally the tapas are pretty balanced: not too many fried dishes, not too much meat, not too much salt.  But since you pick your poison, you can go whole hog however you would like.

For my re-entry into the world of tapas, I decided to go easy and make a couple of vegetarian dishes.  Roasted tomatoes sounded fabulous, and since I'm a potato girl, I went with potatoes in a garlic mayonnaise.  Not too much work, and both of the dishes boasted flavor that was way above what I expected from such simple preparations.  Maybe next time I'll get more adventurous with some squid in its own ink or blood sausage?

Tomates Asados con Ajos y Tomillo (Roasted Tomatoes with Garlic and Thyme)
From Tapas: Traditional and Contemporary Tapas Dishes

8 deep red plum tomatoes
3 fresh thyme sprigs, plus extra to garnish
12 garlic cloves, unpeeled
Generous ¼ cup olive oil
Salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 425°F/220°C.  Cut the tomatoes in half lengthwise and arrange, cut side up, in a single layer in a large, ovenproof dish.  Tuck the thyme sprigs and garlic cloves between them.

Drizzle the olive oil all over the tomatoes and season to taste with pepper.  Bake in the preheated oven for 40-45 minutes, or until the tomatoes are softened and beginning to char slightly around the edges.

Remove and discard the thyme sprigs.  Season the tomatoes to taste with salt and pepper.  Garnish with the extra thyme sprigs and serve hot or warm.  Squeeze the pulp from the garlic over the tomatoes at the table.

Serves 6

Patatas Aïoli (Baby Potatoes with Aïoli)

1 pound baby new potatoes
1 tablespoon chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

1 large egg yolk, at room temperature
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar or lemon juice
2 large garlic cloves, peeled
5 tablespoons Spanish extra-virgin olive oil
5 tablespoons corn oil
Salt and pepper

To make the Aïoli, place the egg yolk, vinegar, garlic, and salt and pepper to taste in a food processor fitted with a metal blade and blend together.  With the motor still running, very slowly add the olive oil, then the corn oil, drop by drop at first, then, when it begins to thicken, in a slow, steady stream until the sauce is thick and smooth.  Alternatively, use a bowl and whisk to make the Aïoli.  For this recipe the Aïoli should be quite thin to coat the potatoes.  To ensure this, blend in 1 tablespoon of water to form the consistency of sauce.

To prepare the potatoes, cut them in half or fourths to make bite-size pieces.  If they are very small you can leave them whole.  Place the potatoes in a large pan of cold salted water and bring to a boil.  Reduce the heat and simmer for 7 minutes, or until just tender.  Drain well, then transfer to a large bowl.

While the potatoes are still warm, pour over the Aïoli sauce and gently toss the potatoes in it.  Adding the sauce to the potatoes while they are still warm will help them to absorb the garlic flavor.  Let stand for 20 minutes so that the potatoes marinate in the sauce.

Transfer the potatoes with Aïoli to a warmed serving dish.  Sprinkle over the parsley and salt to taste and serve warm.  Alternatively, the dish can be prepared ahead and stored in the refrigerator, but return it to room temperature before serving.

Serves 6-8

Sunday, December 24, 2006 Sushi Rice

My favorite food ever?  Easy, it's sushi.  I love everything about this food.  Its delicious flavors, soft slightly-sweet rice, fresh fish, crunchy toppings...  I wish I had three stomachs to fill with sushi.  Not sure my bank account could keep up, but still.  And now I've learned how to make sushi, which makes life so much easier.  And delicious.

Philadelphia Roll: smoked salmon, cream cheese, cucumber strips
Eel Roll: broiled freshwater eel (unagi), avocado, cucumber strips, eel sauce on top
Spicy Tuna Roll: raw sushi-grade tuna, cucumber, sriracha sauce on top

Sushi Rice

Pre-prepare a vinegar-water solution called tezu. Mix together 1 cup of water, 2 tablespoons of rice vinegar, and 1 teaspoon of salt. Set aside.

2 cups raw sushi rice (short or medium grain)
2 cups plus 2 tablespoons water
4 tablespoons rice vinegar
2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon granulated sugar
1 teaspoon salt

Wash the rice several times until the water is clear. Move to a colander and drain for an hour. Transfer the rice to a heavy pot or electric rice cooker and add the measured water. Make sure there is a tight-fitting lid and bring to a boil. Simmer over low heat allowing the rice to steam for 15 minutes more with the cover on at all times. Now remove from the heat, remove the lid momentarily to stretch a clean tea towel over the pot and replace the cover. Let it remain covered and without heat to finish steaming for another 15 minutes. Meanwhile, mix the rice vinegar, sugar and salt together in a small saucepan. While stirring, heat the mixture until the sugar dissolves. Set aside the mixture to cool to room temperature. After the rice has steamed properly, take a wooden spatula or spoon and cut and fold the rice. Do not use beating or stirring motions as you want to avoid smashing the grains.

Dampen a cloth using the pre-prepared tezu and rub the insides of a bowl. The traditional bowl to use is the flat-bottomed wooden sushi oke or hangiri. The wood absorbs excess moisture and the large surface allows the rice to cool more quickly and evenly. Put the hot rice into the bowl and quickly add the seasoned rice vinegar solution. Mix with the same cutting and folding motion. After mixing, fan the hot rice mixture in order to remove moisture as well as to cool it. This should take about 10 minutes. The rice grains will have a nice sheen. The result will be ideal sushi rice with a slightly chewy consistency and just a touch of stickiness.

The rice is not to be refrigerated and should be used within an hour after preparation. Keep the rice covered with a clean cloth and at room temperature until you are ready to make your rolls.

Enough rice for 4 sushi rolls