Sunday, March 23, 2008

Spain in a jar

So I know that Spanish food is the big thing right now, what with Ferran Adrià's molecular gastronomy making all the culinary headlines, his protégé José Andrés's cooking show on PBS pulling in the ratings, and the tapas and "small plates" craze sweeping through restaurants nationwide--even restaurants that aren't Spanish. Other than making me feel annoyed when I have to shell out $12 for a little dish of fried potatoes with mayonnaise at any number of the aforementioned spots, this trend hasn't really affected me: I've loved Spanish food for many years now.

Long before chorizo started showing up on brunch menus everywhere, I was contentedly chowing down on the Spanish-inflected foods that my babysitter Nico prepared for my brother and me when we were little. Nico's from Madrid, and she lived with my family for a year beginning when I was five. Although she could really, really screw up some pretty simple American dishes like hamburgers and pancakes (she used to use a spatula to mercilessly press down on both, squeezing all the tasty juices out of the former and rendering the latter flat and leaden), Nico was an accomplished Spanish cook. It was she that first served me revueltos, creamy, soft-cooked scrambled eggs mixed with bits of ham, cheese, vegetables, and basically anything that was left over in the fridge. I used to eat fish only if it was cooked by Nico: the crispy, golden, pan-fried fillets she served made my mother's poached salmon seem like a bad dream.

My family and I have remained very close with Nico and her family, and during my childhood we made several trips to Spain to visit them. It was during these trips that I fell completely in love with the country. I was lucky enough to be able to return recently, spending the spring semester of my junior year in Barcelona. It was there that I first made the dish I had for dinner earlier tonight: minestra.

Minestra is basically just a mix of vegetables that comes preserved in a jar. This version, which I bought at a Spanish specialty-foods store, contained peas, artichokes, mushrooms, white asparagus (mmm), carrots, and green beans. Minestra's simplicity belies its utter deliciousness. I've noticed that European jarred and canned foods are actually really tasty, unlike their American counterparts (Chef Boyardee, anyone?) I visited Paris during my freshman year, and before I left I picked up a couple of cans of cheap pâté at the supermarket, not having any idea what it would taste like, and it was fabulous.

Minestra is very easy to prepare. You just drain the veggies well and add them to a pan in which you've cooked a ton of minced garlic in some good olive oil, heat them through, then add a bit of flour, which thickens the mixture nicely. Here it is in the pan:

And here it is on the plate:



Malcolm said...

I don't know about "Spain in a jar" - it seems to me that if Spain were to be jarred there would be at least a few olives in there... but even so, these vegetables have so much flavor!

Do you know of any Spanish specialty stores in the Middletown area that might carry them?

Lauren said...

Oh hey Malcolm,

When Middletown gets its first specialty food store of any kind, I'll be sure to check their stock for minestra, and let you know.

Gideon said...

There seems to be a saucy chicken hogging my view of the minestra in the final shot. how did that camera mugger get in there, and why was its preparation not duly described?