Wednesday, July 28, 2010

A Mix of Cultural Flavors ~

Summertime brings forth so many amazing fresh fruits and veggies that we really have no excuse for not eating well right now, and enjoying the flavors that nature has so generously given to us. I've been frequenting my local farmer's market that's close to my house, every Saturday morning when I'm in town. Last Saturday, I loaded up on some delicious peaches, baby tomatoes, zucchini, kale, you name it...and I love how Mother Nature considered all of us Celiacs when she was creating these foods that taste perfect straight out of the ground/garden or picked from a tree...just as she intended.

Recently, I've realized that I tend to cook foods that I have eaten and learned about while traveling abroad and have then become favorites of mine over time. Another thing I have realized about myself, I rarely use recipes. I should dust off some of these amazing cookbooks that are lining the top shelf in my kitchen and put them to use more often, so now I have another project to add to my never ending, "To-do" list. If I had the luxury of being independently can guess where you would find me most of the time...yes, in my sweet kitchen cooking away and creating delicious (I hope) meals for all of my friends and loved ones. In the meantime, I do my best to always try new dishes that come to mind or heart, remembering along the way, tastes from some of my favorite cultures and stops on the map.

In another part of my adult life, I used to spend a lot of time in Italy - what an amazing country. Just say the word "Italy" to most avid travelers and they start drooling and going on and on about a favorite restaurant they dined in, or a villa they stayed at and...the pasta, of course. I have a very fond memory of the last real pasta dish that I ate (full of gluten) before surrendering to my new life as a Celiac. It was in September of 2000 - I was staying at a friend's villa she owns and runs with her family, Villa di Piazzano in Cortona, a most magical location on this earth. My friend and her mother prepared the most delicious, authentic and special meal for my birthday. I can still smell and taste the ravioli with walnut sauce they handmade for me. At that moment, I was keenly aware that dish would be the final authentic, Italian, gluten-filled ravioli I would ever eat...let's just say, I scrapped every morsel off of my plate that night.

The other evening as I was assessing all of the fresh veggies in my fridge, I decided to create a lovely Insalata Caprese, a true favorite of mine and garnish it with the basil I'm growing, along with a fabulous fig-vinegar.

It's the perfect summer dish filled with such robust old-world flavors, grown close at hand and locally. Pair it with a crisp bottle of Pinot Grigio, some additional antipasti, and you have a lovely dinner to share or eat all by yourself!

Jumping across the Mediterranean, here's truly my favorite dish/meal that I literally live on whenever I'm in Spain or the Basque Country, Tortilla Espanola. Mmmmmmm

Last night, I was thoroughly inspired to cook up my own Tortilla because earlier in the day I had been influenced by all the social media chatting taking place about this week/weekend's Jaialdi celebration in Boise, ID. Jaialdi in Euskera (Basque language) means "party time" and boy won't it be. Every five years, thousands of us Bascos ascend upon the city of Boise to celebrate in grand style for five days of eating, drinking, dancing, socializing and oh yeah, there's some cultural activities going on, as well. Bar Gernika in Boise has rockin' Tortilla and I really can't wait to sink my teeth into a large pie-shaped piece...pieces throughout the last night's dish was just getting me geared up for my staple that I shall be eating for the next few days, along with several...many Kalimotxos...and really, how great is it that "Kalimotxo" has it's own Wikipedia address?!

The Tortilla that I created last night was traditional in the sense that it included potato, onion and eggs, but I spruced it up a bit with some fresh zucchini slices, chorizo slices and Basque cheese. When it fluffs up in the pan, you can't help but start snapping photos. I use a great tortilla pan that I purchased from the La Tienda...William Sonoma carries one, as well...but mine was much more economical and works like a charm over and over again. If you are so inspired to pick one up for yourself, I promise you will not be disappointed. It makes the flipping of the tortilla a dream and if you have every tried to flip with a flat plate on the bottom, over the sink, fearing running eggness dripping all over your kitchen or suffering from 3rd degree burns, this is the pan for you.

On our last trip to visit family and friends in Euskadi (Basque Country), daily trips to the bar on the beach in San Sebastian for our Tortilla fix were quite common, and having to say "agur" (goodbye) to that little ritual and assimilate back in to my present life, was a bit challenging. Though we can recreate amazing dishes or simple peasant food we've tasted in far off lands, I think the missing ingredients of culture that can rarely be emulated is the fresh, salty ocean air, or the echo-ing of clanking silverware and dishes being washed down a cobblestone alley somewhere in Toscana...or perhaps, it's really just that they grow amazing tomatoes across the Pond.

Insalata Caprese

Serves 2-4

- 3 Heirloom tomatoes - medium size, sliced

- 2 Cups chopped
red leaf lettuce

- 1/2 Large avocado, sliced

- Fresh Basil leaves

- 1/2 Cup of fresh mozzarella cheese (small ball-size)

- 3 Tbsp. Olive oil

- 4 Tbsp. Fig vinegar

- Salt and pepper to taste

Chop lettuce and place in a narrow strip down center of serving plate. Slice all tomatoes and layer them on top of the lettuce. Layer avocado slices on top of tomatoes, garnish with fresh Basil. Place mozzarella around plate as desired. Drizzle olive oil and fig vinegar over the salad. Salt and pepper to taste.


Tortilla Espanola (con queso y chorizo)
Serves 4

- 5 large eggs

- 2 large potatoes, peeled and thinly sliced

- 3 to 4 tablespoons olive oil

- 1 onion, peeled and finely chopped

- 2 Chorizo (sausages) medium sliced

- 1 Small zucchini, thinly sliced (optional)

- 2-4 oz. of sliced Basque or Spanish cheese (white)


Crack the eggs into a bowl. Whisk with a fork and add a pinch of salt. Heat some oil in a frying pan (not one with a heavy base as this will prove to be a hindrance when preparing to do the flip). This is why the tortilla pan is great. Add the potato and fry for a couple of minutes. Add the onion and saute together until onions become translucent.

When the potato starts to brown a little on the edges and is mashed up with the onion in a lumpy fashion then add the zucchini (optional)and eggs. Make sure the potato and onions are fully submerged by the eggs. Poke the potato to allow some of the egg to seep into the mashed mixture. Layer the cheese on top of the dish, lightly submerging the cheese into the egg mixture.

Cover pan and fry this gently on a low heat. While cooking shake the pan to loosen the tortilla from the base and tidy the edges up with a wooden spoon. Do not over cook. The middle is meant to remain runny and gooey...well, sort of.

The egg will start setting, as this happens place a plate over the pan, a large enough plate to cover the pan substantially, and with a quick coordinated movement of both wrists, flip the tortilla over onto the plate and slide back into the pan to cook the underside. If you are using a tortilla pan, simply secure the top lid to the bottom, hold handle firmly and flip in a quick motion. Keep shaking the pan lightly so the tortilla does not stick to the bottom.

Once it feels firm on the edges and soft in the middle (after about 2 minutes) then slide the tortilla back onto the plate. For the brave heart you can do the flip again if you wish. Let the tortilla rest for about 5 to 10 minutes before serving. Cut into cake slices or cubes.

Janaritu! Coma!

If you have any favorite cultural dishes that are meaningful to heart and belly, please send them my way. I would love to post some other dishes to share.

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