Sing to me of the men, Muse, the fishermen who in the early morning bit into fresh bacalao in the pre-dawn light before loading into their boats, of the Arabs who brought saffron in baskets and pickles in jars, of the young and of the old weaving through the streets of San Sebastian and Madrid, picking, drinking, and continuing to the next bar….
What I found was spiced up canned tuna (it involves a lot of olive oil.)
This has been a longer break than I had wanted. While my counterparts reinvented gazpacho, sangria and sometimes even ventured into cooking the most holy of Spanish dishes, the tortilla. I sat and thumbed a book that spoke to me neither of saffron, nor fishermen, nor tapas, but rather of borrowed meals. In 1080 Recipes (our spanish go-to cookbook), the best recipe I found was for ravioli.
I turned to my own memories for inspiration. I thought I had lived in Spain. How could such an intense and passionate love leave me with so few haunting tastes? I racked my brains. At 15, in a third floor apartment in the center of Salamanca, my host-mom served breaded pork and lettuce smothered in vinegar and olive oil, and drizzled with salt three times a week. Desert was always cherries. At 21, in my basement apartment in Madrid, we would make tortilla and revuelto, but mostly we just made a lot of pasta and drank cheap wine.
I tried to re-conjure those memories by looking in 1080 Recipes, but found nothing. There was a serious attempt to discover pintxos which involved a lot of Spanish Youtube videos and a lot of searching through 1080 Recipes, but the recipes did not satisfy. I couldn’t tell if the octopus was under or overcooked, either way, it was rubbery and squeaky, there was no onion in the tortilla, and the soldaditos de pavia, named after the soldiers that fought in the Pavia Battle of 1525, were mushy, devoid of flavor and something I wouldn’t will upon my worst enemy.
So I sulked, thumbed pages, and felt uninspired. Until this recipe fell on my lap on one of those days so humid that your sweat doesn’t evaporate and turning on anything (including the lights) that might make your kitchen warmer seemed like a task taken up by only the insane.
The summer is almost gone, but for the few suffocating humid days that are left, the only reasonable recipe I could find in the entire book was this one. It is not my favorite, but it will have to do. One thing is sure. If you are going to buy one foreign go-to cookbook, this is not it.
Chilled Cucumber Soup
3 Large Tablespoons Greek Yogurt
1/2 Cup Cream
1/2 Cup Fresh Parsley
1/2 Cup Fresh Mint
2 tsps Lemon Juice
Skin the cucumbers and cut into small squares. Add Greek Yogurt and Cream in blender. Blend until pureed. Add Fresh Parsley, Mint and Lemon blend for 15 seconds more.
One more thing
Luckily, in this day an age, even if your cookbook doesn’t inspire the internet can. Below are the recipes I had hoped to make:
Escalope de Lomo (sometimes called Escalope Milanese) – very similar to a Schnitzel. Milan is near the Swiss border and draws some inspiration from the germanic tradition
Ensalada Verde – the tomatoes and red onion are optional
Spanish Tortilla – don’t be intimidated by the amount of olive oil used. It’s possible to reused the olive oil afterwards.
Polbo à galega – My own hack for cooking octopus is to buy it frozen (this tenderizes the meat a little) and to boil it in vinegar.
Soldaditos de pavía – Remember that when they say cod they mean bacalao
Most importantly, don’t forget the olives!