Tag Archives: Spanish

Romesco-inspired Shrimp Pasta and a Contest

19 Mar

I don’t usually get too excited about jarred or packaged food products. That’s not to say we don’t use them in our kitchen. As much as I’d always like to make my own pesto, or cook and puree my own tomatoes for sauce, the logistics of finding the time and the fresh ingredients needed for these things is not always possible. And so, we keep some jarred, tinned or otherwise packaged products on hand in our kitchen out of pure necessity. Once in a while, we’ve been so happy with the taste and versatility of these kinds of ingredients that we’ve written about them here.

When our friend Mary Luz Mejia of Sizzling Communications mentioned a couple weeks ago that Food Network celeb Christine Cushing was adding a new product to her line of food items and that she could get us a sample to try, I was initially reluctant. In this case, that reluctance came mostly from knowing what the product was – roasted peppers in a jar. I’ve had jarred roasted peppers many times before, and they’re fine in a pinch but generally all taste the same. Usually they’re marinated and packed in a ton of oil so they keep longer, which strips out a lot of the roasted flavour of the peppers.

Christine Cushing's Latest Discovery

But when I read that this version contained only fire-roasted and slow cooked red Shepherd peppers “a splash” of Greek extra-virgin olive oil, white wine vinegar and sea salt, I was intrigued enough to agree to try a jar. Frankly, I’m really happy I did. There’s really no way I can write this without sounding like I’m being paid to shill for Christine Cushing (trust me, I’m not), but I was a little bit blown away when I first tasted the product, straight off a spoon. The jar is full of roasted and cooked down peppers – almost the consistency of a puree or spread – and really only contains a splash of oil, so that it’s barely detectable. The flavour of fire-roasted peppers really comes through, and there’s no garlic or anything else in there to distract from that taste.

Right now, as the photo above suggests, Christine doesn’t have a name for this product, and she’s looking for one. You can suggest a name on ChristineCushing.com between now and March 31. The name Christine chooses from all entries will end up on the label, and the person who suggested the name will win a year’s supply of Christine Cushing’s Greek extra virgin olive oil, pasta sauces, her “latest discovery” red peppers, and her cookbooks signed personally for the winner.

When Jenny tasted these peppers, her first thought was, “I could probably just eat this entire jar on its own, with a spoon.” Her second thought was that they would be great in a pasta inspired by Spain’s famous romesco sauce, which traditionally includes small sweet red peppers called ñora, nuts, stale bread (or toast) to provide bulk, garlic, olive oil and sometimes tomato. It’s often served with seafood. We ran with this idea and created a pasta that combined the sweet and earthy flavour of the peppers with sweet shrimps, peppery arugula and the crunch of toasted almonds. It came together quickly and easily, and tasted fresh and amazing.

Shrimp and arugula cooking

Romesco-inspired Pasta with Shrimp and Arugula

1 jar of Christine Cushing’s red peppers
1 large handful of slivered almonds
A couple of handfuls of arugula
1 clove of garlic, minced
2 TBS red wine vinegar
A pinch of cayenne
12 medium-sized (21-30 count) shrimp

Toast almonds in a dry pan over medium-low heat, stirring constantly until brown and fragrant-smelling. Set aside in a bowl.

Cook pasta – short noodles work best with this sauce, but long would be fine too – and drain, but don’t shake off too much water (it’ll help the sauce come together later).

Peel shrimp, and add to a pan on medium heat with a splash of olive oil, pinch of cayenne and minced garlic. Cook a couple minutes per side until garlic begins to release its scent and shrimp start to change colour. Add red wine vinegar and stir for a few seconds.

Lower heat to medium-low. Stir in jarred red peppers; we ended up using about 2/3 of the jar we had (after eating the other 1/3 on a spoon). Add handfuls of arugula, stirring as you add it in. The arugula will wilt down like spinach, so continue adding handfuls until you end up with an amount of wilted greens that you’re happy with; we used about half of a medium-sized container of arugula.

Add drained pasta and toasted almonds, toss everything together and plate. To up the Spanish-inspired quotient a bit more, I finished each plate of pasta with some grated aged Manchego cheese and a drizzle of good Spanish olive oil.

Peppers jar

Full Moon Feast = Food Porn

13 May

Jenny and I were at an amazing dinner on April 28 – the night of the full moon – to celebrate Full Moon and other great Spanish olive oils represented by the Olivar Corp.

As you can probably tell by looking at that date and looking at today’s date, I’ve been meaning to post about this for a while and just haven’t gotten around to it. While I could have just let this go without a post, the night – featuring food creations from Toronto chefs Luis Valenzuela of Torito Tapas Bar, Jose Hadad of Frida Restaurant and Lola Csullog-Fernandez of Pimenton – was just so full of great Spanish dishes that I thought it deserved a little showcase here.

Here’s a look at what we ate, for all the food porn aficionados out there.

First course was Ensalada de Corazones from chef Jose Hadad of Frida: artichoke hearts, hearts of palm, oven-dried cherry tomatoes dressed in Full Moon olive oil with vanilla-balsamic vinegar and fresh lavender sprigs. This was a simple, clean-tasting way to start the meal, and a great way to showcase the flavour of the oil. The dish was paired with Bodegas Julian Chivite Gran Feudo Rosado 2008 (Tempranillo, Grenache and Merlot blend).

Next, we had Gazpacho Dauro “dos texturas” from chef Luis Valenzuela of Torito, which was gazpacho presented two ways: as a shooter of gooseberry gazpacho and a gelee of traditional gazpacho with Rincon de la Subbetica olive oil. Paired with Bodegas Gomez & Rial Alargo Albarino 2007 (Albarino). As someone who’s always just thought of gazpacho as cold tomato soup, refreshing but not terribly exciting, I appreciated the new and unique forms of this traditional Spanish dish.

Then we were served Kokotxas al Pil-Pil from chef Hadad: cod tongues with Spanish paprika, poached in Rincon de la Subbetica, with lemon balm and radish cress salad, and oven-crisped baguette with garlic confit. This dish was a big hit. The tongues were poached in the olive oil and added their own gellied texture, to create an almost stew-like velvety sauce. I’ve never had cod tongues, and sadly I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to track them down in Toronto for my own use (indeed, I was told, the chef has his own ‘secret’ source for this rare ingredient).  This dish was paired with Miguel Torres S.A. Organic Nerola 2008 (Xarel-lo/Garnacha Blanc).

At the half-way point of the meal, we had a palate cleanser of Dauro Olive Oil Sorbet served in a citrus ice bowl from chef Valenzuela. I make olive oil ice cream quite a bit, so I was excited when I saw this on the menu. It was obviously not as creamy or rich as an ice cream, but the light milky consistency really let the olive oil shine through.

The next course was my personal favorite of the night. Chipirone Rellenos de Jamon Iberico con Vinagreta de Parqueoliva y su Tinta from chef Lola Csullog-Fernandez of Pimenton: baby cuttlefish stuffed with Iberico ham, featuring Parqueoliva olive oil and squid ink vinaigrette. The cuttlefish had the texture and flavour of grilled calamari, and the smoky taste of the Iberico was a perfect complement. Paired with Bodega Cerro de la Barca Monte Pozuelo 2007 (Cabernet Sauvignon/Tempranillo).

The next dish, again from chef Valenzuela, was Parque Cerdo con Fresas, Manzana y Espuma de Ajo Bianco: pork belly poached in Parqueoliva, served with a dried strawberry and apple cornucopia cone and garlic foam. I never turn down the chance to eat pork belly, so I was definitely waiting for this dish. Poaching the meat gave it a crispy texture and intense flavour, which paired well with the light garlic flavour of the foam. If there was one misstep over the course of the meal, it was probably the ‘cornucopia cone,’ which consisted of julienned apple slices wrapped in a cone of dried strawberry fruit leather. An interesting presentation, but a bit challenging to eat. This was paired with Gran Clot del Oms 2003 (Cabernet Sauvignon).

Though we barely had room for anything else at that point (something that rarely happens to me), we all managed to find extra space in our stomachs once we tasted the amazing dessert of Torrijas con Reduccion de PX y Arbequina y un Chupito de Leche Merengada from chef Csullog. This was a sort of sweet Spanish French toast, with red wine baguette soaked in Pedro Ximenez sherry and Gasull olive oil, and served with a milky merinigue granite and Arbequina olives (yes, olives on a dessert plate!). There were a lot of different elements in this dish, but it all went together magically to create an amazing dessert I’m going to need to taste again at some point in the not-too-distant future. We had this with Bodegas Toro Albala Don PX Pedro Ximenez 2005, a great unfiltered sherry.

It was certainly a feast, and show the talents of three great Toronto chefs, as well as the talents of the team at Sizzling Communications who managed to pull the whole thing together so well.

Tasting Olive Oil

26 Mar

Most of us know about the health benefits of olive oil: good quality extra-virgin olive oil is a source of antioxidants and nutrients such as vitamins E, A and K; it’s rich in monounsaturated (or “good”) fats; and diets which prominently feature olive oil have been found to lower blood pressure and blood sugar levels.

But while many North Americans have taken a page from the Mediterranean handbook and introduced olive oil into their diets, not all olive oil is created equal. Like wine, different olive oils have very different flavour profiles, depending on factors such as the types of olives used, the terroir of an olive grove and the production methods used.

Being half Italian, I’ve grown up with olive oil as an essential part of my diet. But it wasn’t until a couple years ago that I was first introduced to the idea of tasting olive oil to appreciate the unique qualities of different products. Since then, I’ve been an olive oil aficionado, particularly of Spanish oils, which are arguably among the most flavorful. So when an invitation came to attend a tasting event showcasing new Spanish olive oils, courtesy of Mary Luz Mejia at Sizzling Communications, I jumped at the chance.

The event took place at Pimenton, a Toronto food store focused on products from Spain. Our guide, Delores Smith of The Olivar Corp., led us through a tasting of five different olive oils. Truly an expert in the topic, Delores shared some interesting bits of wisdom about tasting and appreciating olive oil:

  • To enjoy the full range of aromas and flavours in an olive oil, it’s important to ensure it is at the appropriate temperature (approximately room temperature). We did this by pouring a small amount into a cup, then holding the cup between our hands for a couple minutes.
  • Many good quality olive oils will leave a peppery finish in the back of your throat. This is evidence of high antioxidant levels in the oil.
  • Olive oils can range from very light yellow to green in appearance. Colour, however, has no bearing on the taste of a particular oil
  • Just as wines can evoke certain taste comparisons – berry, spice or chocolate in red, for example – olive oils have their own common taste profiles, including citrus, herbs, tomato and banana.

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