This is what it looks like
June 9, 2011 § 3 Comments
It’s all to easy to misrepresent your own kitchen and cooking on a food blog. Pictures of neatly measured nuts and grains or prettily plated cake slices belie the everyday realities of pinches and handfuls added on the fly, spatters on the wall and, moreover, disasters. It’s a fiction of the food media world in which I suddenly feel complicit. If you had been in my kitchen a couple of Friday evenings ago, this is what you would have seen. A paella pan with a single burnt spot where it had lingered over a too-small hob for too long. A can of tomatoes half-spilled on the floor. A single piece of slightly undercooked chicken thigh (oh the shame) removed from a plate and set quietly to one side. Cooking is not always, indeed rarely, neat and tidy and sometimes a single dish can become the recipient of all stored-up bad kitchen karma. For me (this time) it was a paella and perhaps a touch of overconfidence. I had had a run of good results, some of them – wait for it – without recipes, and was pretty sure I could cook a more than acceptable paella. I used to live in Spain goddammit and I knew where to buy a paella pan. What more does the eager cook need? A few things, it turned out. A diffuser for the hob to cook more than a mere three inch spot on the bottom of the 15 inch pan I had proudly carted home with visions of weekly paella parties. To have tried the recipe before and figured out better spicing and salting proportions. Having remembered that I cook really terribly when also trying to entertain people around our table which also constitutes my main prep surface and that the pinnacle of this is having friends round who had never been for dinner before, with an adorably distracting 1-and-a-half year old in tow.
One fewer glass of wine while getting the appetizers on the table would probably have helped too.
In any case you will have to wait for my paella recipe since although the end result looked pretty and was far from inedible, it certainly isn’t yet ready for publication here or anywhere else. And I really want to tell you a bit about my year in Spain, formative in so many ways, culinary and beyond. But sometimes you just have to stand up and admit that not all recipes work out, that not all stories are ready to be told, and that most kitchens are messy, unpredictable places. Still, among the chaos, there’s always bread. And so I leave you with a humble formula that is so simple as to hardly be a recipe at all: the classic Catalan bread with tomato, salt and oil. A staple on the Northeastern Iberian table this bread is never a centerpiece and yet fully deserving of this understudy moment in the spotlight. When all else fails in your kitchen – and it will at some point – rub some tomato and garlic on bread, top it with a pinch of salt that would make a cardiologist’s eyes water, drizzle oil over, and top up everyone’s glass. Things are fine as they are, mess, mistakes and all.
Pa amb tomaquet (bread with tomatoes)
Take bread of whatever kind you have around – sweet baguette is perfect but any mild-flavored loaf is fine (avoid sourdough if possible as it’s a touch too pungent here) – and cut into individual pieces. You can toast it at this point if you like, or leave it as it is depending on the freshness of the bread and your own preferences. Slice garlic cloves in half and rub the cut side on the top side of the bread. Slice tomatoes in half or quarters and rub on top of the garlicked bread so that each piece takes on the juices and some pulp of the tomatoes. The quantity of tomatoes will depend on how much juice they yield – just be sure that each piece takes on a reddish-pink tinge and some pips. Sprinkle with sea salt – and be generous. Finish each piece with a drizzle of olive oil.