The cooler weather (crystalline and perfect in these parts lately) combined with the explosive home stretch for the garden—the damn peppers always hit their stride right before the frost—can be inspiring to the point of madness, especially when the farmers’ market throws in even more treats like mushrooms and fish. To wit: yesterday, when as a result of all the bounty I thought it would be a good idea to make tapas. You know, six different dishes, in an attempt to duplicate that wonderful restaurant experience of having a table crowded with plates, all boasting varying colors, textures, and tastes that showcase the best of the season. And the nightshade-heavy late summer bounty positively screams Spain.
Leaving aside the utter wreck this meal made of my kitchen, I’ll focus instead on the fun part. I pulled the grate out of a burner and charred a passel of Jimmy Nardello peppers, put them in a covered bowl to steam for a bit, then slipped off the skins and used a butter knife to scrape out the seeds and membranes. I dressed the resulting strips with olive oil, sherry vinegar, and capers, and put them on oiled and garlicked baguette toast. I could eat roasted peppers pretty much every day.
“Moroccan carrots” are popular around here, so I made a batch. Cut into coins, sautéed for a bit in oil, then dressed with spices (5-spice, cumin, and pepper this time) and finished in a glaze of vinegar and honey or maple syrup, they don’t last long once they hit the table. I like to garnish them with some parsley at the end, but here I used chives instead.
My trusty foraging friend at the weekly market had some lovely chicken-of-the-woods, so I brought it home, cut it into batons, and sautéed it in butter before pouring in the last of the first jar (they go so fast) of smoked salsa to finish it adobo style. Chicken mushrooms take really well to this sort of saucy preparation. I like the deep green of winter savory leaves, and they also play well with mushrooms, so I threw some in for contrast.
The oven made the rest of the dishes. We had an elephantine zucchini to work through, so I gut off a big section, seeded it, and sliced the rest into fat C shapes. These got layered in a gratin dish and lavishly anointed with a quick béchamel to which I added a glug of grilled chicken stock for extra depth. I would have thrown some cheese on top but there wasn’t any ready. This was a little more wintery, and really hit the comfort food spot.
Milo dug up a bunch of purple potatoes in the afternoon, so I cut them up and roasted them along with oil, rosemary, and a head of garlic divided but not peeled so the skins would offer some protection from the heat. Once they were ready, I set the garlic aside while I made a quick dressing in the spirit of patatas bravas, that wondrous tapa that constituted at least fifty percent of my diet when I traveled to Spain as a vegetarian years ago. This was mayonnaise, a dab of the new ketchup, and sriracha, with lots of sherry vinegar to thin it down to an appropriate viscosity. I squeezed the soft, caramelized garlic into the pile of spuds and tossed it all together. A lovely combination of crispy and creamy, and a serious contender for the best potato salad ever.
Last, a sea bream from the local no-waste indoor fish farm that I wrote about here. The operation has expanded dramatically in the last couple of years, and it’s an interesting business. This fish tasted better than the last one I had from them, before they expanded into the larger tanks and the more sophisticated water filtration system. This guy was pulled from the water in the morning and on our plate by dinner, which is their biggest selling point.
I tucked a knob of butter, two sliced cloves of garlic, and a sprig of thyme into the cavity, then wrapped it in foil and put it in the oven with the other things. Normally I use parchment, but we were out.
It fit perfectly on one of the first plates I made after moving up here. It looked very Japanese, but tasted entirely Mediterranean.
This was a lot of work, but sometimes I just need to cook for a while until my head clears. The family were certainly impressed when they came in to eat, and there is simply no denying the inherent superiority of the many small plates school of eating. No plate fatigue, lots of variety, and not coincidentally a whole lot of vegetables. The dirty dishes were a pain in the ass, but I relaxed for a bit after dinner and recovered enough to get them done before bed.