Monday, May 9, 2011

Tapas Night

Now I have to be honest and admit that I neither cooked this meal nor did I partake of it. I'm really quite jealous, but to be fair, I have had similar meals before at my parents'. Dad was obviously impressed with the meal as well, since he asked Mom to take a couple of pictures of it before they ravaged it.

The pig oversees all meals at my parents' house.  Also note the large, primary wine rack in the corner.
The secondary wine rack (for multiple bottles of a vintage) is downstairs.

On the black plate is a Eugene City Bakery french roll, and next to it in the white lotus bowl are meatballs in tomato sauce.  On the two black fan plates are prosciutto wrapped Tuscan-style cantaloupe and brussels sprouts (left) and anchovies with roasted red pepper on parsley that's been lightly dressed with oil and a sprinkle of Cypress flake salt (right).  In the first bowl behind the fan plates is chorizo (pre-cooked) that's been oven-roasted in red wine, followed by blanched asparagus (cut) with crispy prosciutto (left) and baby carrots in white wine, butter, honey and tarragon (right).

The two lotus bowls contain aioli (a garlic mayonnaise); one is simple garlic aioli, the other is onion and habanero aioli.  On the white sqare plate is manchego cheese topped with membrillo (quince jelly/paste).  Next to that is a dish of green olives.  Lastly there's patatas bravas--roasted baby potatoes with spicy rub (left) and a bowl of sliced cantaloupe (right).  Added after the photo was taken was a dish of marcona almonds.

The wine was Emperador de Barros, a 2009 Tempranillo from Ribera del Guadiana, Spain.  If you live in Eugene, Market of Choice carries it and it's relatively inexpensive (this is my mother's definition of "relatively inexpensive," so I would guess it's between $9 and $18--her definition tends to vary on the day).

As I said, I wasn't involved in this, but I can make some guesses as to how it was put together.  The meatballs were homemade, most likely a mixture of pork and beef.  Get some quality lean beef and mix it with ground pork (about a 70%-30% beef-pork mix), and you've got a surefire way to have delicious ground meat dishes, be they hamburgers, meatloaf, cottage pie, meatballs, or anything else.  In the past, we've experimented with mixing wagyu and pork, but it's way too moist to work with (but made the best meatloaf ever).  Ground veal also adds a lovely flavour, but that's a bit harder to come by, and some people think that eating veal is cruel.*  I am not one of those people, however (it's no more cruel than eating any other animal).

The tomato sauce is probably oven-roasted tomatoes, onions, and garlic, puréed together.  It's dead simple to make and a brilliant sauce for basically anything you might want a tomato sauce for.  Take a big Pyrex baking dish (NOT metal), and drizzle a small amount of olive oil in the bottom.  Throw a load of sliced (fairly thin) onions in the pan and toss them around a bit to coat with the oil (don't worry if you miss some).  Then halve your nice, fresh, vine-ripened, flavourful tomatoes.  This doesn't really work with store-bought, even if they say "organic" and "vine-ripened," so hit up the farmer's market or your garden to get some tomatoes with real flavour.  Lay them cut side down, cramming as many into the baking dish as you can whilst ensuring they're touching the onions.  Then add some fresh peeled whole cloves of garlic, tucking them under the tomato halves so the garlic doesn't burn.  Drizzle some more olive oil over the tomatoes, and rub it into the skins a bit so they're coated (helps them brown and makes the skins easy to remove).  Lastly sprinkle liberally with salt--I recommend Kosher, but any sea salt is good, just avoid iodized NaCl, blech!  Then roast at about 325ºF until there's bubblage (bubbles are good, caramelization is fine, burned is bad) in the bottom, and most importantly, the tomato skins are brown.  You'll know it's done when you can grab a tomato skin and easily lift it off.  When it's cool enough, pull the skins off, and purée.  It freezes beautifully, and can be seasoned as needed.  You probably won't need to add sugar to this tomato sauce!

Though homemade aioli is the best, homemade mayo is a pain to do, and some people are convinced that raw eggs will kill them (this is unlikely at best--only about 1 egg in 100 is contaminated, and the likelihood of you getting that particular one to eat raw is quite small).  Regardless, the easiest way to do make a flavoured aioli is to get good quality FULL-FAT mayo, and mix stuff in.  Cheating, yes, but a whole lot faster and those among you who may be paranoid can rest assured that mass-produced mayo includes only pasteurized eggs.  The easiest way to make garlic aioli is to take a couple of big spoonfuls of Best Foods/Hellman's (full-fat) mayo and mix it with finely diced/pressed FRESH garlic (nothing out of a jar.  If it's in a jar, it's not fresh.)  The garlic flavour will strengthen, so unless it's really weak, give it an hour or so before you decide to add more garlic.  I assume the onion-habanero aioli followed a similar principle.

I've not had the potatoes or carrots before, so I can't guess at how those were made, but the chorizo in red wine is delicious, and again, dead easy.  Take some pre-cooked, cured chorizo (you don't want fresh/raw for this) and slice it into bite-sized chunks.  Then toss it in a baking dish with some red wine, slosh it around to coat (you don't want loads of wine in the bottom of the baking dish, just a bit), and toss it in the oven (350ºF) until the wine has reduced and nicely coated the chorizo with it's flavour, and the chorizo is hot through.  Eat it with a bit of garlic aioli, and ignore how much fat you're putting into your body.  Actually, that last part is easy, because the flavour is so wonderful.

The nice thing about tapas is that they can be ridiculously simple to make, and because they're small plates, you can have a lot of different things.  If you're at a restaurant that serves tapas, it can be a great way to experiment, because you won't be getting massive amounts of it.

*Veal is cruel if you get the kind where the animal is kept in the dark and caged.  Long's Meat Market does not source their meat from places that do that.  Plus, I haven't heard of any farm that still raises veal that way, though I imagine some still do somewhere.