[Pigging by Wilfrid: May 24, 2010]
Ay, those clams. Those beans (okay, black-eyed peas). I loved this dish. I am grateful to The Book of Tapas for suggesting it.
Regular readers will recall that I dropped by the Phaidon bookstore in SoHo recently for the launch of this encyclopaedic tapas cookbook, an event enhanced by fine snacks from Txikito's Alex Raij. The organizers were kind enough to send me a copy for review, and one way to review what is essentially a recipe collection is to start cooking from it.
I am not, however, a recipe tester, and the results here are based on dishes from the book without strictly reproducing them. Best place to start, I thought, was with a tapas standard - the tortilla. But I have made enough potato tortillas in my time, so I found myself drawn to a version with chicken liver. Simone Ortega, and her daughter Inés (authors of a substantial work on the Spanish table, 1080 Recipes), recommend a melange of chicken livers and mushrooms, but I had a non-mushroom eater as a guest. So I fried the livers alone, with chopped parsley and onion and a splash of vermouth.
The livers go in with the beaten, seasoned eggs. The bottom of the tortilla is easy to cook. If you don't have the special tortilla pan used by Spanish cooks, you might follow the standard recommendation from the Ortegas to invert your tortilla onto a plate or lid, then return it to the pan uncooked side down.* I've made a lot of mess over the years trying that trick; let me share an alternative - slip the pan under the broiler and watch it closely; the top of the tortilla will cook and set very quickly (and then it will burn, so pay attention).
The book emphasizes - rightly - that tapas can be easy to prepare at home. Nothing easier, in fact, than the sub-category of montaditos or pinchos - bread, sometimes toasted, and topped with strikingly balanced combinations of protein and garnishes. Almost always something sharp to bring out the flavor - a stuffed olive skewered to the bread maybe. In this case, the simplest combination of bread toasted with a drizzle of oil and draped with a thin slice of fresh tomato is kicked into overdrive with just one anchovy.
It's almost frustrating to serve a dish like this among a selection of tapas. In the past, I've slaved over tripe Madrid-style and fancy meatballs and fish dishes, only to have everyone ask for second helpings of toast smeared with crushed tomatoes and good oil, spread with morcilla or sobresada, or topped with a piece of tuna or slice of butifarra sausage. These snacks are irresistible. Same on this occasion: this was the hit of the day.
But for myself, I loved the clams.
Clams with beans. Disarmingly simple and inexpensive (clams ain't oysters). For store cupboard reasons, I made a significant departure from the original recipe here. Absent the appropriate beans, which I thought I had in stock, I substituted black-eyed peas. The structure of the dish remains the same. Boil the peas, then stew them in some oil and water with chopped garlic, a bunch of parsley, a bayleaf (beans will take longer); add some saffron if you have it. When they're done, bed your washed clams on top of them, cover with a lid, and wait for the steam to do its work.
That's it? Nothing else? Oh, this dish is excellent. The clams, firm and sweet, bathe the stewed peas (or beans) in their natural liquid, making them exceptionally savory. Fancy it up, of course, by adding pieces of chorizo or morcilla, but you can eat the beans by themselves - they really need nothing.
So much for my messing around. The book contains some four hundred pages of recipes, from straightforward rice dishes (as the authors say, a spoonful of paella is often served as a tapa) and salads to a range of empanadas and some very pretty terrines. José Andrés of the legendary Jaleo contributes a preface and is among a number of chefs who contribute to an appendix of guest recipes. In addition to such luminaries as Andrés and Albert Adrià, New York is represented by Alexandra Raij and Eder Montero of Txikito, of course, as well as Seamus Mullen of Boqueria.
Oh, and if you're only there for the food porn, photos are gorgeous and offered in generous quantity.
And the two sewn-in bookmarks help, believe me, when you are cooking two dishes at once.
If you are so inclined, you may support the Pink Pig in a modest way by purchasing from my Amazon "I Recommend" link. Buen apetito.
*The Ortegas' chicken liver tortilla recipe actually calls for the omelette to be folded over the chicken and liver mixture, but I made it as a classic, thick tortilla.