Chicken with Samfaina

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Many years ago my husband and I flew to Madrid, Spain, rented a car, and made our way around the northeastern regions of Spain. We then drove over the Pyrenees into France, visited my sister and husband in the town where they live part-time, and then made our way back to Madrid.

During the first leg of our adventure, we stayed at a hotel in Catalonia, called the Parador de Cardona. If you’re not familiar with paradors, they are government-run hotels that were once castles, monasteries or fortresses. They get revamped with modern conveniences, but the structure is the same.

Here are a few photos this particular parador.

We drove up to the hotel, which was harrowing enough because we had to maneuver the car on the steepest driveway in the world, barely wide enough for the little rental car, but we finally made it. This photo from the website shows how high up the parador actually is from the village of Cardona.

When we asked to check in, the pretty young woman said something to us. No comprehension. My husband and I just stared at each other. We had a split-second conversation that went like this:

“Hey, you know Spanish.”
“Well you know French.”

Well let me tell you, neither of us recognized one damn word she said, or anyone else said during our stay. So do not believe anyone that the Catalon language is a mixture of French and Spanish. It is not.

But our stay was spectacular, and you really felt like you were living in a different century. We discovered Arbequin olives at this hotel, which mostly grow in Catalonia, and were generously served with cocktails and wine.

Back home, I decided to buy a Catalonian cookbook and the one I chose was Catalon Cuisine, by Colman Andrews, published in 1988.

The recipe I chose to make first from the cookbook is Roast Chicken in Samfaina. Samfaina is, according to the author, “a kind of baroque sofregit.” Okay. But then he writes that it’s virtually identical to the ratatouille of the Cote d’Azur, but also that samfaina is “the most important, unique and incorruptible dish which Catalan cuisine has brought to gastronomy.” I’m confused.

Wherever its origin, the samfaina must be prepared first.

Samfaina
Makes 6-8 cups

2/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 1/2 pounds onions, halved, thinly sliced
1 1/2 pound Japanese eggplant, skin on, cut into 1” cubes
1 pound zucchini, skin on, cut into 1/2 – 1” cubes
8 medium tomatoes, seeded and grated
1 1/2 pounds red bell peppers, roasted, peeled, cut into strips
Salt and pepper

Heat the oil in a cassola or Dutch oven and add the garlic, onions, eggplant, and zucchini. Stir well so that all vegetables are coated with oil.


Cover the pan and cook for 10 minutes on low heat. Uncover and turn heat up slightly, cooking until the liquid has evaporated. Stir occasionally.

Add the tomatoes and peppers, reduce heat, and simmer uncovered until the liquid has again evaporated and the vegetables are very soft.


Season to taste.

Roast Chicken with Samfaina
Pollastre Rostit amb Samfaina

1 – 4-5 pound roasting chicken
Olive oil
Salt and pepper
5 cups samfaina

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Cut the chicken into 6 or 8 serving pieces, rub all surfaces well with olive oil, and season with salt and pepper. Then roast skin side up for 1 – 1 1/2 hours, or until the skin is golden-brown, and the juices run clear when a thigh is pierced with a fork.

Remove the chicken from the roasting pan, and set aside, keeping it warm. Pour off any excess fat, then deglaze the roasting pan with a few tablespoons of water. (I used some white wine.)

Add the samfaina to the pan, and stir well; then add chicken, and simmer briefly until heated through.

I’m not going to tell my mother this, but I’ve had ratatouille, and samfaina is better. Why? I have no idea. My tomatoes were really ripe perhaps.

The samfaina was actually sweet, in a good way.

This is a spectacular dish. Not terribly pretty, but comforting, hearty, and flavorful. I will be making this again!

Chorizo and Scallop Skewers

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My mother gave me the cookbook Charcuterie for my birthday. She knows me so well!
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The book is mostly recipes, but also contains a chapter on making charcuterie from scratch. I’m in awe of people who make prosciutto and pancetta, but I live in too humid of a region in the U.S. to hang hams in my basement.

The recipes are wonderful, mostly focusing on Spanish, French, and Italian cured meats. The first recipe that caught my attention was a simple skewer of scallops and chorizo. Simple yet total perfection!

If you can’t get your hands on Spanish chorizo, check out my favorite website, La Tienda, for chorizo and all other Spanish foods. If you scroll through chorizo, and you will discover so many different varieties – some for slicing, some for cooking, some for grilling.

The recipe in the book just referred to cubes of chorizo, but I got carried away and purchased Ibérico de Bellota Butifarra Sausage because it intrigued me.

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It is sausage made from Iberian pigs, which are supposedly fed acorns as babies. This raw sausage wasn’t quite firm enough to cube, and not red like authentic chorizo, but it was really good!

When we were in Spain many years, my husband and I would order both jamon Serrano and Ibérico (similar to Prosciutto) and we could not tell the difference. Maybe they just knew we were Americans and didn’t bother giving us the real stuff, I don’t know! But we gave up after a few tries, and stuck to the fabulous but much less expensive Serrano.

In any case, in spite of not having used real chorizo, these scallop and sausage skewers were wonderful. I will paraphrase the recipe from Charcuterie because it’s so simple.

Chorizo and Scallop Skewers

12 – 1″ cubes chorizo or firm spicy sausage
12 scallops, approximately the same size
Olive oil
Ground paprika
Coarsely ground pepper

Heat a small amount of oil in a cast-iron or other heavy skillet. Brown the cubes or slices of sausage on all sides, then lower the heat and cook thoroughly. Place them on paper towels to drain.

Using the same fat from the olive oil and sausage, sear the scallops in the hot oil, then lower the heat to cook through. Place the scallops on paper towels to drain.

Let the chorizo and scallops cool, then skewer them together, with the scallop first, followed by the chorizo.
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Sprinkle on a generous amount of paprika and ground pepper.


I used a mixed peppercorn combination.
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These hors d’oeuvres are best served warm. They could be prepared ahead of time if they were gently re-heated so as not to overcook the scallops and dry out the chorizo or sausage.
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I will definitely be making these again with real chorizo, but I can really see the scallop pairing with just about any kind of sausage!

note: For a handy comparison chart on Spanish vs. Mexican chorizo, check out this website.

Fruit Cheese

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So what is fruit cheese? It’s a terrible name, really, but that is exactly what it’s called in this book:

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Karen Solomon is the author.

The fruit cheese is really a fruit paste. It’s similar to the wonderful quince paste or membrillo that’s served alongside Manchego on a Spanish cheese platter. Except that my paste ended up a somewhat different texture to membrillo. Nonetheless, it’s worth making this fruit cheese at least once. There’s no effort involved to speak of, it just takes a few days to complete.

Here’s what I did; the ingredients are slightly adapted from the original recipe:

Apple-Pomegranate-Plum Fruit Cheese

1 1/2 pounds apples
1/3 cup dried pomegranate seeds
1/3 cup diced dried plums

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1/2 cup water
3/4 cup white sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt

Peel and core the apples. Cut them up and place them in a tall pot. Add the pomegranate seeds and diced plums.
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Then add the water, sugar, and salt.
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Cover the pot and bring the mixture to a boil. Simmer the fruit for about 20 minutes.

Using a potato masher, mash up the apples.
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Do this as often as you can to get a nice mush. The fruit has to be fairly smooth. And now that I think of it, I could have used an immersion blender. But I think I had it in my mind that I wanted to see the pomegranate and plum part of this fruit cheese.
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It’s kind of a tedious process, but keep after it. Then continue cooking over the lowest possible heat to remove as much liquid as possible, with the lid off.
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Line a jelly roll pan with parchment paper, and pour the fruit mixture on top. Smooth it out; it should be about 3/8″ in thickness evenly.
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Let the fruit paste sit on the parchment paper overnight. It should be a little dried out. I peeled the paste from the paper and you can tell the paper is wet.
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Then place a cooling rack on top of a cookie sheet, and place the fruit paste and the paper on which it’s laying on top of the rack. Place everything in a 200 degree oven for 3 hours. Leave the oven door ajar.

The fruit won’t look any different. Let it cool, then let it sit overnight once again. It should be mostly dry.
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At the point where the fruit cheese’s liquid has mostly all evaporated, but the paste hasn’t been allowed to over-dry, wrap it up in parchment paper and store it in the refrigerator. Supposedly it’s good even after 6 months.
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The only problem with this recipe, is that there are no accompanying photos. I really wasn’t sure how to serve this slab of fruit paste. Membrillo comes in many forms, from rectangular flats to thicker pie-shapes, so I guess it really doesn’t matter. The point is that the fruit paste is really good with cheese.

Just for fun, I decided to use a little scalloped cookie cutter to cut out the fruit cheese.
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For my company, I paired the fruit cheese with triple creme Cambozola – one of my favorite bleu cheeses. I must say, it was a fabulous combination.

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verdict: I probably won’t make this again, especially with membrillo so readily available anymore. And there are other fruit varieties out there as well. If you have young kids at home, this is a fun way to make what is essentially the equivalent to a fruit roll-up, however. Especially with cheap apples in season.

Romesco Sauce

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My brain is old. At least, that’s my excuse. Or maybe my brain is just full of food-related trivia. Because occasionally I come across a culinary term or food name and I can’t, for the life of me, remember what the heck it is.

But Romesco is one of those I remember. But it’s only because of a trick, not because it’s more significant in any way.

You see, I can remember Ro-mesco, because it reminds me to think of Ro-asted red bell peppers. And that’s exactly what this sauce is. The base, at least, is roasted red bell peppers. It’s extremely easy to make. In fact, you can use jarred roasted red bell peppers instead of roasting your own.

But the taste? It’s to me, the best flavor ever of anything that doesn’t contain cheese. And that’s saying a lot. If you’ve never made Romesco sauce before, it’s high time you did. You will slather this beautiful red sauce on anything, including yourself, if you run out of breads and meats. It’s just heavenly.

Besides the red bell pepper flavor, the sauce includes almonds, garlic, paprika, and cayenne. It’s Spanish in origin. And similar to a pesto, it all comes together with some olive oil. Only a food processor or blender is needed to make this. In 5 minutes tops you will get the opportunity to smell and taste heaven. Promise.

Romesco Sauce
This recipe makes about 12 ounces

1 – 8 ounce jar of roasted red bell peppers
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1/2 cup chopped almonds
2 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
1/4 cup tomato puree
1/3 cup coarsely chopped parsley
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
2 teaspoons hot paprika
1/2 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper, depending on your taste
1/2 teaspoon salt

Drain the red bell peppers before you begin.
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Have all of the other ingredients ready to go.
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Place the drained red bell peppers in a jar of a food processor. Add the almonds, garlic, tomato puree, parsley, and red wine vinegar. Then add the hot paprika, cayenne pepper, and salt.
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Begin processing. The mixture will be very coarse at first.
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Continue processing, adding the olive oil a little at a time. It is also important to wipe down the sides of the jar with a spatula.
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After all of the oil has been added, process until the sauce is smooth. There will be some texture to it, but it will still be a smooth sauce.
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At this point, it is ready to use.
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I chose to make a Mediterranean-inspired lunch using the Romesco spread on a flatbread, and with grilled shrimp placed on top.

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I also added some buratta and fresh cilantro; I was out of goat cheese – shame on me.

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I bet you’re already thinking about all the ways you can use this sauce. It’s exquisite, isn’t it?!!

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Fortunately, Romesco sauces freezes well. Otherwise, plan to use it before a couple of weeks if you store it in the refrigerator.
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And thank you daughters for my cute labels!