A week after a 10-day jaunt to Barcelona and Madrid, the cravings were hitting hard. Sherry, garlic, pimentón and jamón withdrawal were in full effect.
Fortunately there was a birthday to be celebrated, so we did it Spanish-style--with fat white asparagus, spritzes, almejas a la marinera, garlicky roasted potatoes, and a rack of pork from Dickson's Farmstand Meats with shallots cooked in Pedro Ximenez. For dessert, a golden cake rich with Spanish olive oil.
THE MENU // spritzes, jamón Iberico, Marcona almonds, olives and pimentos de piquillo // white and green asparagus with lemon vinaigrette and basil oil // almejas a la marinera // pork rib roast with PX shallots and salsa verde // garlicky roasted potatoes // olive oil cake with roasted strawberries and genmaicha ice cream
Aperol Spritzes are the drink del momento in Madrid. We decided our bottle of Carpano Antica would do, and set it out alongside slices of jamón Iberico, Marcona almonds, olives and piquillo peppers, sliced and tossed with olive oil and basil.
Next came asparagus, green and white, braised a la Patricia Wells, tossed with lemon and olive oil, drizzled with basil oil, and sprinkled with redbud blossoms plucked from an obliging tree on Bergen Street. A basil oil tip: If using any but the mildest young leaves, blanch the basil first (5 seconds in boiling water will do) to eliminate any bitterness.
There were almejas a la marinera, too, Long Island clams enveloped in a ruddy sauce of Spanish smoked paprika (pimentón dulce), white wine, garlic and onions (scroll down; voilà, recipe!). The dish is named for sailors, marineros, and I would consider a life as a Spanish sailor if these were promised daily. They're just that simple-but-craveable, thanks to the hefty dose of smoky pimentón.
As for those shallots, a quick brown in butter was followed by a long bath in a half-bottle's-worth of raisiny Pedro Ximenez, rosemary and thyme. They emerged from the oven sweet, aromatic and savory, lacquered with the reduced sherry. (The inspiration: An unforgettable dish of steak with pearl onions and grapes cooked in Pedro Ximenez, eaten in the heart of sherry country in 2006.)
A bite of genmaicha-honey ice cream at Van Leeuwen the day before inspired the dessert: Maialino's genius olive oil cake with roasted strawberries and said (also genius, I'd say) ice cream.
Almejas a la Marinera
Serves 4 as an appetizer
32 littleneck clams
1 bottle white wine
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 small onion, minced
4 large cloves of garlic, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon pimentón dulce (Spanish sweet smoked paprika)
1 teaspoon flour
An hour before cooking, soak the clams in water to get 'em to spit out their sand. Pour a few glugs of wine (a half-cup or so) into a large sauté pan, and turn the heat to medium-high. When it starts to simmer, add the clams and cover, peeking frequently so that you can catch them as they open. Stand with tongs at the ready so that you can snag just-opened clams and transfer them to a bowl. Pour the cooking liquid from the pan into the bowl with the clams, give the pan a quick wipe, and set it back over the heat.
Add the olive oil, onion and garlic, and sauté until the alliums soften. Pour the liquid from the clam bowl into the pan and add another half-cup of wine. Once it's bubbling vigorously, add the pimentón and flour and cook, stirring regularly, for 2 minutes or so, so the wine cooks down a bit and the flavors do their thing. Taste for seasoning (you might want to add a touch of salt), add the clams, and gently toss to coat them with the sauce. Sprinkle with a good shower of parsley and serve, preferably with glasses of sherry (Fino or Manzanilla) or a Spanish white like Albariño or Godello.