Spanish food combines influences of old and new


Spanish cooking might not be the best known of the world' cuisines, but it was one of the first to combine the food influences of the old and new worlds: Fruits and spices brought by the Moors from the Middle East; vegetables introduced from the Americas by the Spanish conquistadors.

Food writer Pepita Aris traces this history in "Recipes From a Spanish Village" (Simon & Schuster, $24.95). Local ingredients, simply cooked, tell the colorful tale of the country's regional cuisine.

Unlike the foods of Italy and France, she says, Spanish food -- with a couple of famous exceptions -- is surprisingly undiscovered even within Europe. One reason for this is that Spanish cooking is largely a regional affair. What ties it together is a common thread of unpretentiousness.

"The recipes are suggested by the flavors, textures and colors of the ingredients themselves," Aris says, "and are not distorted by decoration or artifice in any ways."

The Spanish also like only one food on a plate. She calls this a "relief from the tyranny of having to make lots of dishes for each main course." It also promotes a sequence of salads and other dishes, which many cooks find easier to serve.

The book includes an in-depth look at a Spanish pantry and handsome photographic illustrations.

Colorful baked eggs

1/4 cup olive oil

1 large onion, chopped

2 garlic cloves, finely chopped

1/4 pound chorizo or fresh spicy sausage, sliced, or smoked ham, cubed

2 sweet red or green peppers, chopped

3/4 pound ripe tomatoes, without skin or seeds, or 1 1/2 cups canned tomatoes with juice

1 to 2 tablespoons dry sherry

3/4 cup shelled peas

1/4 pound green beans, snapped in short lengths

8 extra-large eggs

Pinch of cayenne

Salt to taste

Heat the oven to 350 degrees and warm a shallow casserole or baking dish. Heat the oil in a skillet and soften the onion slowly. Add the garlic and push to the sides of the pan, then fry the sausage or ham until colored, then remove it. Add the sweet peppers and chopped tomato to the pan and let them cook and reduce, stirring occasionally. Add some sherry if the mixture seems dry. Meanwhile, cook the peas and beans until tender and add them to the mixture.

Transfer the vegetable mixture to the casserole and distribute the sausage or ham. Swirl the eggs together with a fork without overmixing, then season them well with cayenne and salt. Pour over the vegetables and meat and bake in the oven about 10 to 15 minutes, until the eggs are just set. Makes four servings.

Rice With Sherry

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 onion, chopped

2 garlic cloves, finely chopped

2 cups medium-grain rice, washed

1 cup medium-dry sherry

1 quart chicken stock, hot

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Pinch of cayenne

Heat the oil in a paella pan or shallow flameproof casserole and fry the onion until soft and golden, adding the garlic near the end. Add the rice and turn it in the oil for a minute or so. Add most of the sherry and let it bubble.

Sample the stock, adding salt, pepper and cayenne as needed, dTC so that the seasoning is very lively. Add to the rice, bring to the simmering point, then turn down the heat. Cook 20 minutes without stirring. Turn off the heat, sprinkle with the remaining sherry and cover with a lid. Let the rice steam gently 10 minutes, to absorb the last drops of liquid. Makes four servings.

Chicken with Almonds 25 blanched almonds

1/4 cup olive oil

2 garlic cloves, finely chopped

1 thick slice of bread without crust

3-pound chicken, cut up, without wing tips

Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

5 saffron strands

1/2 cup chicken stock

1/2 cup dry white wine

1 bay leaf, crumbled

4 sprigs fresh thyme

1 tablespoon parsley, chopped extremely fine

Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg

Pinch of powdered clove

1 teaspoon lemon juice

Toast the almonds in a low oven, about 300 degrees, shaking the pan occasionally, until they are very lightly browned and give off a pleasant smell.

Heat the oil in a wide, shallow flameproof casserole, frying the garlic and removing it before the oil gets too hot. Over high heat, fry the bread quickly on both sides, then reserve it with the garlic.

Season the chicken pieces well with the salt and pepper and fry them in the casserole, turning until golden on all sides, about 20 minutes. Remove the chicken from the pot and drain off any excess oil. Dissolve the saffron in a cup with two tablespoons of hot stock, then add the remaining stock, with the wine, to the pot, stirring to deglaze the bottom. Return the chicken to the pot, add the bay leaf and thyme and cover. Cook gently 10 minutes.

Make the sauce by grinding the toasted almonds in a small blender, then add the bread in pieces, the garlic, parsley, saffron liquid, nutmeg and clove and reduce to an aromatic puree. Stir this into the chicken juices, with the lemon juice, and sere. Makes four servings.

Orange Caramel Custard 1 1/4 cups granulated sugar

2 tablespoons water

2 to 3 large oranges, enough to make 7/8 cups juice

7 extra-large egg yolks

1 extra-large egg

Heat oven to 325 degrees and arrange six ramekins -- one-third-cup capacity -- in a small roasting pan. Put one-quarter-cup sugar in a small pan with two tablespoons of water to make the caramel and heat gently, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Let it boil until it turns light brown and smells of caramel, then remove it immediately from the heat. Quickly pour about one tablespoonful into the bottom of each ramekin, turning it to coat the bottom and a little of the sides.

Grate the zest from one orange on your finest grater, then use a little of the remaining sugar to mop up the shreds and the orange oil from the grater. Put the yolks and whole egg in a bowl and beat lightly with a wooden spoon to combine them. Bring the orange juice and remaining sugar to the boiling point, stirring to dissolve the sugar, then turn down the heat and boil for two minutes.

Pour the hot juice onto the yolks, stirring, then strain. Divide the mixture between the ramekins in the pan (they won't be quite full). Pour boiling water around them, to come two-thirds of the way up the sides of the ramekins. Bake 30 minutes, remove the pan from the oven and leave the ramekins in the water until cool enough to handle, then chill. Serve the custards unmolded, with a little of their caramel syrup spooned around them. Makes six servings.

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