Sunday, 17 February 2008
A Spinach Revelation
Cooking here is a very slipshod, imprecise, use-what´s-here kind of thing. Nothing tastes the same way twice. (And sometimes that is a good thing!) Paddy does most of our daily cooking. Once we have a functional kitchen I intend to get back into baking on a regular basis.
To make a Spinach Salad the way we do, you take a big fistful of spinach leaves per person, wash them well and pinch off the stems. (Save them for the chickens.) You can also use a big bag of the already-picked and washed spinach leaves available in the market, but be sure to wash them really well, too. No matter what the package says, you don´t know where they´ve been, do you? Dry them off, and arrange them prettily on each plate.
Take a handful of cherry tomatoes per person, wash them, and cut them each in half. Put them on the spinach. Beauty! Then take a hard-boiled egg per person (preferably this morning´s contributions from your very own Chicken Girls). Cut them up and sprinkle them on the salads.
Give each salad a sprinkle of coarse salt. This is important. If you have some basil leaves, put a few of them on now, too. And a quarter of a a sliced onion.
Then lay on the strips of roasted red pepper. We are fortunate that in Spain they make roasted red peppers in all kinds of shapes and sizes, including tiny easy-open tins with a single pepper squished down inside! (I know these are Foodie Heresy, but I never was a purist.) You can make your own roasted peppers quite easily in the oven, either by broiling them black and turning them now and then (which burns your fingers!) or baking them for a half-hour at 225ºC or 425º F. or until their skins blacken. Or you can do them outside, over a grill, which also burns your fingers. When they´re really dark and blistered and fragrant, take them off the fire and put them in a brown paper bag. Seal it shut till the peppers cool down -- this supposedly sends the flavor right into the heart of the veg., but I think it also can make a not-quite-ripe pepper go mushy inside.
When the peppers cool down take them out of the bag and slice off the stems, Strip off the skins (this isn´t hard at all) take out the seeds, and slice them into skinny strips. At this point you can put them on your salads, about six strips per salad.
You can gild the lily now and put on a couple of manzanilla olives if you have ém, or grate a bit of zuchinni squash over each plate. Play with the colors. Add texture with some sliced almonds or walnuts, but not too much.
.. Put the leftover pepper strips in a jar and cover them with olive oil, the Spanish answer to Cling Wrap. (You can put some garlic heads in to roast with the peppers, and squeeze the soft, hot, wonderful cloves into the olive oil jar too. And that, dear reader, is an excellent start to a pasta sauce.. what with some smashed-up anchovies? Hierbas de Provence? Olives? Roasted eggplant/courgette? Or sauteed zuchini? mmmmm!)
The dressing for the above-mentioned spinach salad is totally simple... Drizzle on some extra-virgin olive oil, then squeeze on some lemon juice. Some people add some sesame oil or balsamic or sherry vinegar, but I think that´s overpowering. Keep it simple. Let the vegetables and eggs speak their subtle languages.
(In America we serve spinach salads with hot bacon dressing, which is amazing and delicious, but very bad for you. It negates all the positive juju generated by the spinach. Eating American salads is a very yin/yang experience.)
I don´t think we have a photo of the spinach salad. The above photo shows some sauteed spinach and chard with hot pepper, sharing a pan with lamb chops...but the salad plates are picked clean already. This is what happens when you wait to get the camera out!