My Montanha & My Soup

My Montanha & My Soup

I arrived Monday afternoon in Bourg d’Oueil after a long but pleasant trip. My Pyrenean home is closer to Spain than to Paris and I am not kidding: it takes 15 minutes by car to reach the Spanish border and about 8 hours to reach Paris!  My travels began Sunday at 1:30 p.m. from our Brooklyn home and I finally reached Bourg d’Oueil on Monday at 3:30 p.m. local time or 9 a.m. Brooklyn time. After taking two planes, two buses, and two car rides I reached our little house in the village at the far end of the Valley. As my intention was to cook a soup on a live fire, the priority was to light the fire.

I had planned to get some veggies in town before my last climb up to the mountains. I arrived too late to get to the market, so my only option was the local supermarket. The offerings where pretty sad and I couldn’t come to terms with buying any of these mass produced veggies. I placed a call to my good friends Joseph & Paulette asking them if they had anything left in their Bourg d’Oueil garden. They had already winterized the garden but had plenty of veggies in their Luchon garden. Not to worry, said Paulette, Joseph will bring me leeks, celery, potatoes, chards, carrots & onions later on. Great! I can always count on them. I did hit the cheese counter and was pleased to be able to get a couple of local cheeses.


The most delightful part of the trip is the 17 kms climb from Luchon to Bourg d’Oueil. Despite the weather forecast there was neither rain nor snow but a slightly overcast sky that let me have a partial view of my mountains. Driving through the villages triggers images: In Benqué Dessus et Benqué Dessous,  it is Jules’ face, the Fournier’s house, and the cromlecs above them. Before Saint Paul d’Oueil,  the sign for Saccourvielle brings up my friend Emingo, who makes the best goat cheese I ever had, and Mme Labry, a writer who was my French teacher in high school. In Mayrègne,  I look at the old “kiosque” where I use to go eat crêpes in the summer as a child; I also think of the recently deceased mayor who was key on having me perform the Bi-Contimental Chowder/ La Garbure Continentale in the Valley.  Then comes Caubous, Cirès, and at this point I can’t think of anything else than trying to get a glimpse of the Peirahitta (my totem!)  that sits at the pass of Pierefite. And finally I reach Bourg d’Oueil the very last village at the end of the valley. I park the car and start schlepping my stuff to the house. It is almost impossible to reach the house by car, the street is so narrow,  evidence if need be that this place was not build for car traffic!



After a quick tour of the house, I lit the fire — we are at 1400m or 4600 feet  here, so the air is nippy on this November afternoon. Once the fire was going strong I started opening my stuff, got my art supplies out, opened a bottle of wine, got the cheese out and waited for Joseph et Paulette who brought the veggies at around 5:30 p.m. — they had added a jar of duck fat and one of honey, all home produced. While the soup was cooking I worked at a drawing that includes some attempts at writing in Gascon.
And then, accompanied by the sound of the stream running under the house, the crackle of the fire and the occasional ringing of the church bell, I savored my soup. The flavors are indescribable. They call on all my senses and the experience is totally gastoorgasmic!

So here is my soup:
2 generous spoons of duck fat
1 onion
2 small leeks
3 carrots
1 branch of celery
3 leafs of chard
Salt & fresh ground pepper
Grated brebis cheese

Sauté all the vegetables in order in the duck fat then add water and let cook until done. The soup is even better the next day, and of course feel free to add other veggies like beans, turnips, cabbage….

Now can you smell? Just try:

Keep the Ink! Cook it…II!

Keep the Ink! Cook it…II!

The previous post showed  how to clean  squids while saving their precious ink to make the wonderful recipe Calamares in su Tinta,  Calamars à l’Encre or Squid in their own Ink. But first let me share some sweet family history about this dish.

When we first moved to this country in 1987, my son Joseph was 6. When he started school we were told there was a cantina where the kids could buy their lunches. At first we were all eager to blend in so we decided to go with it. First day of school, and little Joseph comes home appalled reporting that there was no lunch served, only pizza and hot dogs! AND kids who brought their own lunches had peanut & jelly sandwiches —to this day I don’t think he would consider eating one unless truly starved. We then decided to pack him a real lunch, and that didn’t include sandwiches, that was picnic food, he was used to French public schools ,then family style, sit down three course meal! So I purchased a thermos box and packed him a hot lunch for many years. His favorite one was to take to school: squid in their own ink — needless to say not a popular item to trade lunch! It is still one of his favorite dishes and he actually did partake of this batch. Alors, voilà la recipe for Joseph Mastantuono and for poet Jonathan Skinner who asked for it.

Calamars à l’Encre

5 lbs of squids cleaned, ink sacks set aside
1 medium chopped onion
1 peeled & seeded tomato
4 cloves of garlic chopped fine
1/2 bottle of red wine —French Languedoc or Spanish—
1/3 cup of  Spanish Brandy
3 tablespoons Arrowroot flour ( or two of regular flour)
1/2 cup of chopped parsley for garnish

– Cut the cleaned and drained squid cones into rings —  I don’t cut the tentacles though some people do and I cut the rings about 1 inch thick.

-Warm a skillet with 3 tablespoons of olive oil, add the onions, cook gently until slightly golden.

-Meanwhile prepare your ink:

with a pestle (or the back of a spoon) apply pressure to the sacks to force the ink through the mesh of the strainer. Pour the red wine over the sacks in the strainer and keep working until you have extracted the ink from the bags. Save.

-Add the cut & dried squid to the skillet, mix well with the onions. Once the squid start getting opaque and stiffen add the Brandy and flambé safely (if you don’t flambé is not a big deal). Mix well.

– Add garlic, tomato & mix well.

-Add ink with wine, mix well.

-Sprinkle the three table spoons of arrowroot on top. Mix very well.

-Add more wine, if needed, so that liquid covers squid to 3/4.

-Bring to a gentle boil, then turn it down to a simmer and cook for 30 minutes or so. Your squid have to be very tender.

I like serving it with saffron rice, but white rice is good too.
Bon Appétit! And please report if you make it.



Clean your Squid! Keep the Ink! — I

Clean your Squid! Keep the Ink! — I

Yes, you can buy clean squid but then you are depriving yourself of what will give you one of the most exquisite dishes: Calamare en su Tinta or Squid in its own ink. You can also buy the ink in a little plastic bag and make the sauce from that… but it ain’t the same, trust me. Most of the time it gets too black and too strong. If you use what comes with the creatures you will cook, it is always the perfect amount. Yes! Cleaning squid can be tedious and time consuming, so why not have a  squid cleaning party? I am providing you all with the necessary info to do it yourself. Below, there is a video, though I am also including a step-by-step with pictures.

1- Make sure you buy very fresh squid. I do not like to use the frozen squids for this purpose. I am lucky enough to have fresh ones available at the Bay Ridge Green Market. I order them a few days in advance and request very fresh ones. Susana —who works for Glen at American Seafood stand— is always eager to please her customers. She also shares great Peruvian recipes that I still need to try. Let’s begin the cleaning process:

Cleaning Squids

1- Grasp the tail section firmly in your hand and grab the head section below the eyes as shown in the picture. Pull gently but firmly in order to detach the inside as deep as possible.


Cleaning

2- Find the silvery ink bag located in the inner section of what you pull from the squid. Gently lift it, detach it and save it in a stainer.


Cleaning Squids

3- Turn the tentacles upside down and apply pressure between the eyes in order to pop out the beak


Cleaning

4- Hold the head part of the squid below the eyes and with a sharp knife cut  the tentacles below the eyes, being careful not to cut into the eyes. Rinse and place into a colander (the tentacles, not the eyes…)


Cleaning Squids

5- From the edge of the body part remove the pen shaped spine that looks like plastic. They can be saved to make fun collage projects with kids.


Cleaning

6- Peel the reddish outer membrane away, remove & discard. You can also peel the fins & also save them. Wash the body, squeeze to make sure nothing left inside. If you are very picky you can turn the inside out to make sure it is very clean — I don’t do that. Once clean, reserve in the colander with the tentacles.

Now the video: Don’t have great expectation — Miles shot it with my very low end camera, so that’s the best we could do. I think it will help. Watch it a couple of time before you try working the squid, it will help and give you confidence. At first you might break an ink bag or two, not a big deal, just clean up in between. Next post will be the recipe for the Calamari in the Ink, but once the cleaning is done it’s a breeze. O! One more thing:  5lbs  of  squid for 10 people should do it.

Tchakchouka

Tchakchouka

I assisted Pierre in making Tchakchouka, a dish he remembers from his time in Algeria. It is a kind of ratatouille — but to me it is the better dish. The recipe appears in many Mediterranean traditions. I have found Algerian, Jewish, Tunisian,  Moroccan & Kabile recipes, all have pretty much the same ingredients with variations of meat or eggs — at times coming close to the famous huevos rancheros! We made two versions: one with eggs and another without, which we served with lamb chops.  You can eat tchakchouka hot, luke-warm or cold, as you prefer, or as the weather suggests. You will not regret the effort and can make big batches of this super delicious fragrant summer dish. Don’t wait, make yours now!

Tchakchouka

Tchouchouka

Ingredients:
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, sliced thin
2-3 garlic cloves, minced
3 tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and diced
2-3 green & red peppers,  roasted, peeled & sliced
1 cup of water
Paprika, ground coriander seeds
Fresh coriander & parsley chopped
Salt & pepper, to taste
4 eggs (optional)

Recipe:

*Roast the peppers over your stove. When charred wrap them in newspaper. Wait until they cool off & then peel them, discard seeds, cut lengthwise into thin strips.

*Dip tomatoes in boiling water for one minute. Remove & cool, then peel, seed & dice.

* Heat the oil over a medium flame in a deep skillet. Stir in the paprika & ground coriander seeds and let cook slightly to color the oil, about 10-15 seconds.

* Add the onions, sauté until onions are translucent and wilted but not browned, about 4 minutes; add garlic, cook for another minute or so.

* Add tomatoes and bring to a rapid simmer. Add peppers, parsley & fresh coriander, water and salt and pepper. Reduce heat to low, and simmer, covered, for about 15-20 minutes. Add more water as needed.

* If you want to add eggs, form four small indentations in the simmering peppers to hold the eggs. Crack eggs, one by one, into a small bowl and slip each egg from the bowl into an indentation.

* Cover and simmer another 10 minutes or so until eggs are cooked through.
Voilà! & enjoy!

Tchakchouka


Sangría Brava!

Sangría Brava!

In order to fully support Spain during the The World Cup Final I decided to make sangría. It was very  à propos as we were invited to the home of Spanish friends and neighbors. They had made a delicious buffet of empanadas, calamari, arroz negro (black rice, made with sepia ink), chorizo, queso manchego. They had decorated their entire living room red & gold & I think my sangría matched the intensity of the event!

Most sangría recipes call for sweetening ingredients—sugar, honey, ginger ale, seven up…etc. These ingredients are the main reason why sangría hang-overs are dreadful. I worked out a recipe that requires none of the above and and will save you from a terrible headache. I usually drink the first round straight, then I add a few ice cubes and if I sense it is going to be a long drinking stretch I cut it with  seltzer  — always in my glass never in the main container. Needless to say,  this is a sangría con conjones! —meaning strong— so use in moderation, not like I did, though no headache this morning!

Recipe:
4 bottles of wine (Tempranillo)
1 cup Cointreau
1/2 cup Spiced rum (I add a vanilla bean to the bottle)
1/2 cup Spanish brandy
3 oranges
1 Lemon
2  apples
4 peaches
Marinate overnight in the fridge

I marinate the fruits overnight which means that they will loose they original color but will have flavored the wine that much more! Salud!

Viva España & congrats to “La Roja” for a beautiful World Cup!