Patatas Bravas

Three years ago, Dave and I celebrated our tenth anniversary in Barcelona. For all the traveling we had done before we met each other and then over the decade we had been together, I had never been to Spain. Now completely familiar with my night owlishness, and my inability to function (let alone speak…or be spoken to without visible annoyance) before 10 am, Dave was excited to introduce me to this country he loved and from which I probably inherited these charming characteristics. The Spanish ancestry on my mother’s side gives itself away every now and then.

As predicted, I LOVED Barcelona. Art, architecture, Spaniards walking around speaking Catalan and Spanish all day long and mistaking me for one of their own, the Med just a short walk away…and the food. Served at all the right times. Breakfast late morning, lunch late afternoon, and dinner at midnight. And then there was the perfect lull between lunch and dinner when we’d stop for tapas and a glass of wine. There were so many delicious little bites to try, and to my amazement, a favorite turned out to be potatoes. Fried potatoes. With a spicy tomato sauce for drizzling or dipping. Patatas Bravas.

We had friends over recently who love good food and wine, and as much fun as it can be to serve a long meal over several courses, I wanted something more casual but just as delicious. So with Dave as my sous chef, we set to work preparing several tapas, which gives everyone the excuse to just snack their way straight through the evening and open several wines. Trying to stay true to the idea of tapas, with some focus on traditional Catalonian tapas, Patatas Bravas made the list. But I knew it would be hard to achieve a crispy potato without the luxury of an industrial deep fryer like a restaurant would have. So, having never made these in my life, but with a vivid memory of what they tasted like overlooking the Plaça Reial, I did what I always do. I experimented on our guests. I roasted the potatoes in the morning, let them sit at room temp during the day, and then fried them right before serving. Hot and crispy potatoes paired with a homemade spicy tomato sauce and it was a taste of Barcelona right here at the kitchen table.

PatatasBravasTTP

Patatas Bravas

Recipe by Stephanie Kunstle, inspired by Barcelona and some web research

Note: serves 6 people, and this recipe will make about 6 oz. of spicy tomato sauce

Ingredients:

  • 6 medium Yukon Gold potatoes sliced into wedges
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • Good sea salt
  • Lots MORE extra virgin olive oil for frying
  • 15 oz. can whole peeled tomatoes
  • 1/2 yellow or sweet onion (I had a Walla Walla sweet on hand), chopped
  • 1/4 tsp. smoked Spanish paprika
  • 1/4 tsp. roughly ground dried chile (not completely ground, but not left as “flakes”)
  • 1/8 tsp. cayenne pepper
  • salt to taste

Preparation:

  1. Preheat oven to 400ºF.
  2. Scrub potatoes and slice into wedges, not too thin and not too thick. Just go with your gut on this one.
  3. Put the potatoes into a large ziplock bag, drizzle generously with olive oil and sea salt and shake to completely coat the potatoes.
  4. Spread the potatoes over a large baking sheet, and roast for about 45 minutes, flipping about halfway through the roasting time for even browning.
  5. Set aside to cool to room temperature.
  6. Meanwhile, add about 2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil to a small saucepan, over just medium heat. Add the chopped onion and sauté for about 5 minutes or so until softened but not browned.
  7. Add the whole peeled tomatoes and gently break them down a little with a wooden spoon. Add the paprika, chile, and cayenne. Turn heat down to medium-low and cook for about 30 minutes, stirring frequently. Much of the water from the tomatoes will cook out, but you do need to make sure the heat is low enough that the sauce can slow cook without burning and completely drying out. Just keep your eye on it and stir!
  8. I used a potato masher to fully crush the whole tomatoes, but it isn’t necessary. Add salt to taste, you know it’s just right when the sauce is just singing to you!
  9. Puree tomato mixture, checking to make sure there is enough salt. A food processor or blender will work, but if you have an immersion blender, put the sauce in a large liquid measuring cup, and use your immersion blender in this. It will be perfectly smooth.
  10. Meanwhile, in a large skillet (I used a big cast iron skillet), pour in enough extra virgin olive oil to create a depth of about an inch and 1/2. Heat over medium flame until oil is starting to move a bit on its own, but be sure it doesn’t get so hot that it smokes. Burned oil will ruin the flavor. If you aren’t sure that the oil is hot enough, just add one slice of potato to test the heat. It should start frying immediately if the oil is ready.
  11. In three batches, fry the roasted potato wedges for about 1 minute or so on each side until crispy and fully golden. Remove to a bowl lined with paper towels, and scatter with sea salt.
  12. Serve potatoes hot with the spicy tomato sauce and enjoy!

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Insalata Caprese

It’s an addiction. If you’re following on Instagram you have proof of  my total, sold-out, one-track, amore di caprese. I love delicious tomatoes, basil is one of my all time favorite herbs, and then there’s fresh buffalo’s milk mozzarella or better yet, burrata… just TALK TO ME. For as long as I’ve been cooking and eating, there’s been a lot of “insalata caprese” in my life. They began very formulaic and mundane. You know: slice of tomato, with a slice of mozzarella, topped with a basil leaf. And repeat. A little olive oil and balsamic and it’s done. Sadly, I still see these caprese stereotypes everywhere I go. Lacking in imagination and lacking in what could be even better flavor.

So, I’m sharing an Instagram shot to show you that in this case, breaking the “rules” is just prettier, tastier, and way more fun. There’s something so satisfying when you cut into a fresh round of mozzarella or burrata, so the ol’ slice and stack method is a kill-joy for you and everyone else. I also tend to prefer smaller cherry or grape sized tomatoes which have more flavor than big, round, run-of-the-mill red hothouse tomatoes. Gorgeous heirlooms in season are my exception to this rule — in this case, bigger can be better. And adding a tiny bit of acid with some fresh squeezed lemon juice just plays up all the bright flavors, and balances the heavier flavor of oregano. Yes, that’s right. Dried oregano. Very traditional and very delicious. Cannot be skipped. And finally, aside from a generous drizzle of good extra virgin olive oil, there MUST be good sea salt which creates both crunch and brings out the best in a tomato. Finally, almost never pictured is the aged balsamic vinegar. This, in my opinion, is something each person should add to their own serving of caprese. Adding it before it’s served muddies the presentation and I think it should be drizzled in the amount each person has a taste for.

It’s really that simple. So go out and find the best ingredients you can lay your hands on, and enjoy.

CapreseTrianglePlate

Insalata Caprese

Recipe by Stephanie Kunstle

Note: serves about 4 to 6 if you’re behaving yourself, but to be honest, this will often serve two of us if we make it the main part of our lunch with some rustic bread..and why not?

Fast Fact: The word “caprese” (pronounced ca-pray-say but with flourish) means from Capri. This is simply a salad named for its location of origin, the island of Capri.

Ingredients:

  • a large round of mozzarella di bufala, or burrata
  • good tomatoes, in season, preferably grown in the sun
  • plenty of fresh basil, just picked from the plant if you can get it
  • a large pinch of dried oregano
  • half a lemon
  • good extra virgin olive oil
  • 3-4 good pinches of an extra delicious salt, like maldon or fleur de sel

Preparation:

  1. Place your mozzarella or burrata on a plate or platter. Surround it with tomatoes…sliced or not, it’s up to you. If they are large, do at least chunk them to make serving easier.
  2. Arrange fresh basil leaves however you wish. Sometimes I julienne them and scatter the ribbons all over. Other times I tear the leaves, and scatter. Or I will leave them whole and create a bouquet to pull from as the caprese is served. It’s up to you. It’s your artistic interpretation of caprese.
  3. Gently squeeze the lemon over the arrangement. You don’t want tons of lemon juice, but a gentle drizzle evenly distributed.
  4. Now drizzle generously with a good extra virgin olive oil, hitting the tomatoes, cheese, and basil.
  5. Crush the dried oregano in your palm with your fingers or crush between your fingers as you lightly scatter it over the tomatoes and cheese.
  6. Finally, add your salt to the arrangement, giving an extra heavy hand to the top of the cheese for texture.
  7. Serve with a good bottle of aged balsamic (truly, this stuff can be liquid gold both in price and in flavor…and so worth it).

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Petits Gâteaux au Chocolat with Sugared Raspberries

I’ve been making these for nearly 13 years now. This is adapted from an old Martha Stewart recipe; so old, in fact, that you cannot even find it online. Shocking. It’s from a dessert cookbook from the late ’90s that I’ve used so much, the pages are falling out and it has chocolate splatters on it. Very cliché, I know, but that’s a sign of a good cookbook. And as much as one might like to poo-poo Martha, the woman has it dialed in. Her recipes are delicious, and they work. I’m pretty sure her army of staff would die if those criteria weren’t met.

The reason it’s taken me years to post the recipe is merely due to my stubbornness. I like to shoot the food I post in natural light, so late at night after a long dinner with family or friends doesn’t allow for natural light unless you live on the north pole in June. So, I give. And honestly, this is exactly how your cakes will look, in lamp light, because you’ll be eating them after a a fabulous dinner and wow-ing your guests with this show stopping dessert.

What’s nice about this dessert is that there is NO wheat flour in it. I’m all for gluten, but I know that many people are discovering that gluten is of the devil. Martha, who could care less about people’s digestive complications, created this recipe with ground almonds for the flavor, before almond “flour” even existed. Imagine my delight, when it finally dawned on me that I could stop pureeing almonds for the recipe and just grab that sack of almond flour I keep on hand. Felt like cheating, except it’s the same darn thing and a more consistent texture.

Also I should note that Martha named these “Warm Chocolate Cakes.” I wonder if her team stayed up all night trying to work that one out. When they say “no idea is a bad idea” while brain storming, we all know that’s a load of bull. These are too beautiful and too decadent to be called such a name, and so I prefer the Americanized French description of small chocolate cakes with molten ganache centers… “gâteaux” are just trés sexy. And for all the effort (yes, this one requires a bit more than the usual cake), you want a name that lives up to it’s dessert!

PetitsGâteauxauChocolat1

Petits Gâteaux au Chocolat with Sugared Raspberries

recipe adapted from Martha Stewart’s Desserts cookbook (1998): “Warm Chocolate Cakes”

Note: You will need 8, 4-5 oz. ramekins for this recipe. I suggest making the ganache cubes a day or two before you make the cakes. One less step to rush later and it only takes 5-10 minutes to do. In fact, this recipe can be prepped several days in advance: all you need to do is bake the frozen cakes before serving them and just have your raspberries, mint and cream ready.

Ingredients:

  • 14 oz. best-quality bittersweet chocolate (I shoot for around 65% or on up to 72%)
  • 6 Tbsp. heavy cream
  • 6 Tbsp. unsalted butter
  • 5 large eggs, separated
  • 10 Tbsp. sugar (I use baker’s sugar…finer than regular sugar)
  • 1/2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
  • 3/4 c ground almonds (hello, almond flour)
  • confectioner’s sugar (powdered sugar) for dusting
  • pint of raspberries
  • 1/3 c or so of white granulated sugar
  • 1 egg white
  • 2 cups heavy cream, whipped
  • mint sprigs for garnish

Preparation:

  1. Chop 2 ounces of chocolate into small pieces and place in a small bowl. Pour the cream into a small saucepan, and set over medium heat. Cook until bubbles appear around the edges. Pour the hot cream over the chocolate, and let stand 2-3 minutes; then whisk until smooth. Pour the ganache to fill (or almost fill) 8 squares of a plastic ice-cube tray. Freeze until solid.
  2. Butter 8 ramekins (that hold 4-5 oz) and place the ramekins on a baking sheet. Set aside.
  3. Melt the butter and the remaining 12 ounces of chocolate in a heat-proof bowl or the top of a double boiler over a pan of simmering water. Stir until smooth. Remove from heat, and let cool slightly.
  4. Combine the egg yolks, 6 Tbsp. sugar, and the vanilla in the bowl of an electric mixer. Beat until thick and pale yellow, about 8 minutes. Add the warm chocolate-butter mixture, and combine thoroughly. Fold in the ground almonds. Transfer mixture to a large bowl.
  5. In a clean mixer bowl (that you just washed), beat the remaining 4 Tbsp. sugar with the egg whites until stiff…VERY stiff. Just turn that mixer on and go check your email for a few minutes because you want these egg whites as stiff as they will be. Then, with a rubber spatula, fold the egg whites into the chocolate mixture.
  6. Spoon about 2 Tbsp. of batter into each ramekin. Remove the ganache cubes from the freezer (dip the bottom of the tray in hot water to release them, if necessary). Place a ganache cube in the center of each ramekin. Spoon 2-3 Tbsp. of remaining batter into the rings, covering the ganache cubes completely, using all the batter. Smooth the tops of each cake with a small knife. Freeze filled ramekins until solid, about an hour or so.
  7. Meanwhile, cover a large baking sheet with parchment paper. Beat the egg white with a fork in a small bowl or wide mouth cup. Using a pastry brush, dip the brush into the egg white and “paint” the outside of a raspberry, then immediately sprinkle all over with the white sugar. I inserted the end of a rounded tea spoon (a real tea spoon, used for tea or coffee, not the one you eat your cereal with…a tiny spoon) into the raspberry so it was on a sort of pole which made the painting and sprinkling easier because my fingers weren’t in the way. See what you have lying around that might work for a little raspberry stand. After you have painted and sprinkled, gently set the berry on the parchment paper. Repeat this with as many raspberries as you’d like to garnish your cakes with… I think 3 looks nice on each cake. After you have sugared your berries, you’ll need a cool place for them to set for an hour or two. The refrigerator works, if you have room, or just a cooler place (not near your hot oven) in the house.
  8. Heat oven to 375ºF. Remove the baking sheet from the freezer and transfer to the oven. Bake cakes until they have puffed slightly over the tops of the ramekins, 20 to 25 minutes (I bake for 25 at high altitude). Transfer baking sheet to a wire rack; let cool for 5 to 10 minutes.
  9. While cakes are baking, whip your cream so it’s soft and but not so soft it runs easily. Have your mint sprigs ready to go!
  10. Once cakes have cooled slightly, garnish with a dusting of confectioner’s sugar, a dollop (or quenelle) of whipped cream, a sprig of mint, and a few sugared raspberries and serve.

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