Friday, August 18, 2006

Feeling better...feeling like tapas

I have been feeling infinantly better since my weekend of flu and pickles (btw: the best pickle shirt ever is here) So much so that I decided to go on a bit of a mission and try cooking some traditional tapas dishes. Tapas is something I've wanted to get my head around for a while - I haven't had much exposure to Spanish cuisine, I'm embarrassed to say that in all my travels I haven't been to Europe yet.

There are a number of tapas restaurants in Sydney - I haven't been to many, the one in Manly - Alhambra Cafe and Tapas Bar has a nice selection but the prices are a little prohibitive. Not exorbitant but enough to stop you ordering all the dishes you'd like to try. They have Flamenco dancers there on Saturdays - I suppose to add to the atmosphere but it's was all a little cheesy for me.

I have been coming across chorizo a lot recently after never really eating at all. My sister and I had dinner with our partners at Whitewater not so long ago. They do a decadent tasting menu and have the most divine martinis - if you are ever in my neck of the woods I highly recommend that you eat here. But I course we had that night was seared scallops on thick slices of chorizo drizzled with a BBQ style sauce. The sweetness of the scallops was perfect with smoky sausage - the sauce was almost too much but it was drizzled so sparingly that it managed to complement both flavours well. We have also recently eaten pizza, paella and a myriad of other dishes with chorizo featuring prominently.

When it came time to decide which dishes to cook chorizo was always going to be there, but we also decided on some meatballs, a seafood dish and plenty of vegetables.

The final menu was as follows:

  • Patatas Allioli (Potatoes with garlic mayonnaise)
  • Banderilla (Tuna skewers with caper berries and olives)
  • Marinated Capsicums
  • Champinones al ajillo (Sauteed mushrooms with garlic)
  • Chickpeas with chorizo
  • Albondigas (Meatballs in spicy tomato sauce)
  • Calamares a la plancha (Squid with picada)

It sounds like a lot but most of it is quite easy to prepare - there was an awful lot of garlic in almost every dish. I'm not squeamish about garlic at all but I did pity my co-workers the next day. While all the dishes were nice, for me the standout was the chorizo and chickpeas, I am biased though, I'll just about eat chickpeas with anything and need little excuse to add them to a dish.

Chickpeas with chorizo
(adapted from A little taste of Spain - Murdoch books)

1 can of chickpeas drained and rinsed
I bay leaf
4 cloves
1 cinnamon stick
1 cup of chicken stock
2 stalks of fresh thyme
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 onion finely chopped
1 garlic clove crushed
375g chorizo sliced
1 Tbsp flat leaf parsley

The original recipes called for the soaking and cooking of dried chickpeas - I had neither the time nor inclination to do that so used a can of chickpeas and simmered them in the stock with the garlic, cloves, cinnamon and fresh time to give them extra flavour. Let them simmer till they had almost boiled dry making sure not to let them get mushy.

Heat the oil in a large frypan and add the onion and cook over a medium heat till translucent. Add the garlic and cook for another minute or so. Turn the heat up to high and add the chorizo and cook for a couple of more minutes.

Add the chickpeas and stir until heated through. Remove from heat and mix in the parsley. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

This dish can be eaten hot or at room temperature depending on your preference.

Thursday, August 10, 2006


A case of the flu over the weekend meant that I had even more time than usual on the internet to read (and drool) over the food blogs in my favorites list. It's winter here in Australia and Saturday was suitably cold and miserable. I was coughing, spluttering and thinking about cooking some warm and hearty when I came across Orangette's post about pickles and all things with vinegar.

My husband and I love just about all things pickled - we go through at least a jar of gherkins a week, standing in the kitchen after work with forks passing the jar between us while we decide what to have for dinner. It is impossible for us to eat Japanese food with out least a couple of types of Japanese pickles (tsukemono) - he prefers the bright purple eggplant variety I prefer the pickled plums (umeboshi).

Being sick I wanted something easy - not too many steps and something that wouldn't be ruined if I took a nap halfway through. I settled on bread and butter zucchini pickles from Stephanie Alexander's huge stripy bible. The fitted the bill being simple to prepare (slice and soak in brine then add vinegar) and there was built in time for a nap.

I have to admit when I first tasted them just as they were made I wasn't overly impressed, they were nice, vinergary and sweet but nothing special. When I took them out of the fridge two days later to have a forkful while I waited for meat to defrost for dinner it was an entirely different experience. Crunchy and tart but with a lovely pungent mustard flavour perfect for cold meat sandwiches and hotdogs.

Bread and butter zucchini pickles
(from Stephanie Alexander's The cooks companion)

The original recipe makes 1 litre of pickle, not having enough jars for that amount I halved the recipe. I've put the full recipe here as some of the measurements get tricky halved (I'm no good at fractions) and they are so good and easy next time I'll make a full batch. They keep for 2 months in the fridge.

1kg small zucchini sliced
3 onions finely sliced
1/2 cup salt

3 cups white-wine vinegar
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 Tbsp yellow mustard seeds
1 tsp dry mustard
2 tsp ground tumeric

Toss the zucchini and onions with the salt in a non-reactive bowl and cover with water. Let the vegetables soak in the brine solution for 1 hour, then rinse well and drain in a colander. I rinsed them 4-3 times - they were really salty. Return to the bowl.
Combine the remaining ingredients in a saucepan and stir over a gentle heat till the sugar has dissolved. Bring to a boil and pour over zucchini. Leave to cool.
The recipe says use at once or pack into sterilized jars and refrigerate. I highly recommend not using then right away and letting the flavour develop at least overnight - if not a couple of days.