There's only one way to keep food traditions alive, and that is by cooking. I was taken in by the following quote from Rustica: A Return to Spanish Home Cooking: "we cooks are simply the vehicles for these dishes to take shape. Without us they would simply remain ideas or words on a page--so whenever we cook these recipes, we invoke the idea of the food itself." This is the latest book from Frank Camorra of which I received a review copy. The goal of the book is to preserve the traditional dishes of Spain where the food ranges from simple, resourceful cooking to postmodernist art on a plate. Camorra set out to gather simple dishes that are "the foundations of Spanish food" and that still fit with the way people eat today. The recipes are mostly from home cooks with a few tapas or pintxos usually found in bars. The chapters are organized by topic or region, and my favorite was Las Huertas or The Kitchen Gardens. Huertas are found all across Spain, and they are small plots where families can grow most of their own food. There are simple vegetable dishes like Green Beans with Garlic Confit and Summer Chickpea Cream with Ripe Tomatoes along with heartier stews as well as desserts like the Red and White Cherries with Fresh Goat's Curd Ice Cream. The other chapters cover dishes with jamon, recipes for preserving vegetables, fish, and fruit, coastal specialties, Basque cooking, cooking over fire with wood or coals, and the Moorish legacy of food from Andalusia. Throughout each section, along with the beautiful photos, there are stories about cooks, markets, ingredients, traditions and more that help to paint the picture of all that Spanish food is.
To get cooking, I started with Las Huertas chapter and a dish that's intended to stretch a special ingredient for several people to enjoy. That special ingredient in this case is a wild mushroom known as trompetas de la muerte, and by cooking the mushrooms with rice you end up with a generous-size paella of sorts. Of course, I wasn't able to find this exact type of mushroom, and really wild mushrooms aren't that easy to come by here, but I did bring home some locally cultivated oyster mushrooms and shitakes. I also just happened to have some Bomba rice in the pantry, and this was a perfect time to use it. The dish is prepared like paella by first cooking onion, garlic, and herbs with saffron before adding some wine and then tomatoes. I used canned, diced tomatoes rather than the fresh ones that would have been flavorless right now. Next, some stock was added followed by the rice. In a separate pan, the mushrooms were sauteed with more garlic and some parsley. After the rice was cooked until tender, the mushrooms were added to it, and it was left to sit for a few minutes before serving.
The rice picked up all the flavors from the onion, garlic, wine, and saffron, and even though the mushrooms I used weren't specially foraged wild ones, they were still a great match with the rice. I'm easy to please with the saffron, pimenton, seafood, and sherry that are all a part of Spanish food. And, I'm happy to keep cooking to help continue food traditions.
Arroz con trompetas de la muerte (Rice with wild mushrooms)
Recipe re-printed with publisher's permission from Rustica: A Return to Spanish Home Cooking.
When you have something good and you want to share it around, but there’s not enough for a big piece for everyone, the Spanish answer is to put it in a soup or a rice dish. Time and time again, right across Spain, there are rice dishes that somehow champion the guest ingredient without detracting from the integrity of the rice. The champion in this case is a wild mushroom called trompetas de la muerte (trumpets of death). These mushrooms are so named not because they herald the demise of the ingestor but because they are black and look like little trumpets!
extra virgin olive oil
a pinch of saffron threads
1 large white onion, finely sliced
2 teaspoons coarse sea salt
4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1 teaspoon thyme leaves
3 bay leaves
1 1/8 cups white wine such as verdelho
4 ripe tomatoes, peeled and puréed
6 1/2 cups chicken stock
1 1/4 cups Calasparra rice
2 tablespoons butter
a handful of roughly chopped parsley
9 oz fresh trompetas de la muerte (if unavailable, use sliced chanterelle, shiitake, or oyster or other wild mushrooms)
Heat half of the olive oil in a perol or frying pan over mediumhigh heat. Add the saffron and stir for 30 seconds, then add the onion and 1/2 teaspoon of the sea salt and cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add half of the sliced garlic cloves, all of the thyme and bay leaves and cook, stirring occasionally, for another 5 minutes, or until the garlic is soft.
Increase the heat to high, then add the wine and boil for 2 minutes. Reduce the heat to medium, add the tomatoes and cook for 10 minutes, or until the tomatoes have reduced and thickened. Add the stock and bring to a boil, then stir in the rice and remaining 1 1/2 teaspoons sea salt. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer very gently, stirring occasionally, for 20 minutes.
Meanwhile, heat the butter and the remaining olive oil in a frying pan over medium heat. Add the remaining sliced garlic and the parsley and sauté for 2 to 3 minutes, or until the garlic is lightly browned. Add the mushrooms, season to taste and sauté for 5 minutes, or until tender.
When the rice has been cooking for 20 minutes and is tender, stir in the mushrooms. Remove from the heat and allow to stand for 10 minutes before serving.