It is to be hoped that the little dears are learning more in school than that Columbus Day is all about appliance and mattress sales. Indeed, he is credited with "discovering" America, which was, you might agree, a rather momentous achievement, albeit unintentional. Oh sure, the Vikings are purported to have gotten here first, but they didn't stay. And another Italian, Amerigo Vespucci, got to have his name emblazoned on our dollar bills. But it is Christopher Columbus who "found" these shores and decided to colonize them, for good or ill.
And while the wily Genovese dared to traverse uncharted waters in search of a cash crop, it was King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella, rulers of Castile, Spain, who provided the financial backing for the venture. And even though their logos weren't emblazoned on the Nina, Pinta, or Santa Maria (a la M&T Bank Stadium), they deserve credit for their farsightedness.
Ergo, in their honor, as well as that of Signore Columbus, we whip up a dinner of Spanish origins, planned to feed eight of our closest compadres. It features ingredients from the Old World and the New. Our menu is fairly simple, although a couple of the recipes are a bit complex, namely because they have a number of ingredients.
We begin with Salt Cod Fritters that you'll accompany with store-bought dunks, such as tartar sauce, seafood sauce, and/or perhaps an artichoke dip. Of course, you'll be serving Spanish wines – red, white, even sangria, throughout.
Our main course is a perennial favorite of mine — Paella. This upscale version of Arroz con pollo, is begun on top of the stove, then finished in the oven. To go with, we suggest you toss together a mixed-green salad, topped with mild goat cheese and toasted almond slivers, then drizzled with a homemade tarragon vinaigrette.
Our dessert — Coconut Crème Brulee — is a take on the classic flan. Cinnamon spiced coffee and some almond cookies can accompany.
Salt cod fritters
We use yeast for our batter, here, making our fritters akin to beignets. Other ingredients you might not have on hand include whole milk, evaporated milk and cake flour. And salt cod, of course, which was in wide use (no refrigeration) in Mediterranean countries during Columbus's time.
You should be able to find salt cod at an Italian or Latino specialty store. If not, head for a deli and pick out six or seven of the plumpest smoked whitefish you can find. If using these for the fritters, skin and bone them after poaching.
Note: You can soak the salt out of the cod the night before, then put together the fritter batter the morning of and refrigerate. Be sure to bring the batter to room temperature for 1 hour before frying.
1 cup finely cubed dried salt cod or 7 or 8 plump smoked whitefish
8 cups water
1 3/4 cup whole milk
2 large garlic cloves, peeled, crushed
1 bay leaf
2 teaspoons olive oil
1/2 cup finely minced Vidalia onion