The World is a Kitchen

 

Cooking Your Way Through a Culture — Stories, Recipes, and Resources

Edited by Michele Anna Jordan and Susan Brady

From the casual cook to the seasoned traveler to the serious gourmand, The World Is a Kitchen inspires its readers to experience food in a new way, exploring new lands, new cultures, and new cuisines. Chefs, travel writers, and dedicated foodies share their unique experiences, transporting readers into kitchens in Morocco, Italy, Belize, Cypress, Kenya, Vietnam, and elsewhere around the world, revealing the diverse traditions of other countries through their cuisine.

Explore the gastronomic side of travel through these stories, trying the hard-won and treasured recipes as you go along, and then get ready to plan your own adventure.

Mincing Garlic

A lesson in food, a lesson in self.

You might wonder, as do I, just how I ended up somewhere in the mountains of Catalonia trying not to cry. This Spanish town and the circuitous route by which I arrived in it are, at the moment, a proverbial blur.

Let me be more specific. I am visiting a small cooking school and homestay inn called Catacurian. It has three rooms for students, a beautiful dining room and garden, and a kitchen that made it into an article in a Spanish magazine praising it as one of the ten best kitchens in the world. I like it because it is small, modest and efficient, every inch designed for both beauty and function.

I have just finished mincing garlic, an activity I should have declined given my state of sleep deprivation. But I can mince garlic in my sleep, I think to myself, and so I accept the assignment from the diminutive and feisty proprietor, Alicia Juanpere. I finish my task quickly.

As I walk to the sink to wash my hands, I hear her thick Catalan accent. “You have not done a very good job,” she announces crossly from across the room. Under normal circumstances, I would have accepted the tease and simply laughed.

Instead, I want to cry. I want to slap her and walk out. Tiredness is like that; proportion is a fast victim.

I have just completed a round of cooking classes at home. I am in my teacher’s frame of mind, yet suddenly I am a student, feeling small and mildly ashamed. I would never humiliate a student, ever, or anyone in a jet-lagged stupor like mine. I cannot focus on the humor. I can only pretend to take it calmly.

“Would you like it smaller?” I ask.

“Yes, please, make it smaller,” she says.

I wash the knife that has grown sticky with the juice of the garlic and return to mincing, reducing the already small bits of garlic to something very close to a puree.

Juanpere makes no further assessment of my kitchen handiwork. She gives me other tasks — making a bouquet garni, slicing and peeling tiny green garlic, making the picado, a mixture of crushed garlic, hazelnuts, and almonds that is essential to many Catalan dishes — and soon brings me a stool, instructing me to sit as I work. It is apparent how exhausted — and likely, how close to tears — I am.

We continue to cook the ficandó, a traditional Catalan stew, and soon we are drinking cava — the low-alcohol sparkling wine of the region, a delicious bubbly balm I could drink around the clock—and eating small grilled chiles drizzled with local olive oil and coarse, solar-dried sea salt from France.

I watch as a fellow student completes her task, peeling, seeding, and dicing tomatoes. If she were my student, I think to myself, I would show her how to do it properly. She is cutting the tomatoes incorrectly — through the poles instead of the equators so that only a portion of the seeds and gel come out — and chopping them into chunks that are too large.

The student, a precisely manicured woman who appears to be in her early seventies, looks immensely pleased with herself. I can tell by a subtle sideways glance in my direction that she is competitive.

Juanpere says nothing. I take another long sip of cava.

A sweet man from New York fries the veal he has floured. A tall, gray-haired man from Sacramento cleans wild mushrooms with a brush. The student of the tomatoes moves on to parsley.

At a moment when everyone’s attention is elsewhere, Juanpere discreetly picks up the bowl of chopped tomatoes and hands them to a woman from Washington, D.C., who has been staying at Catacurian for a week.

“Chop them into smaller pieces,” she all but whispers.

I am the only other person who hears.

I know there is both wisdom and humor in all that she has done, but I am too tired to quite put my finger on it. Later, when we are all sitting around the dinner table sipping more cava and savoring our stew, she and I chat and I am simply happy to sense that she doesn’t think I’m a fool in the kitchen.

Juanpere was a dancer for many years, I learn, first as a student of classical ballet and modern dance and later as a teacher, with her own school in Barcelona. She gave it up when she turned forty and two years ago bought an old house in the village of El Masroig, where she spent summers as a child.

She and her husband, Jonathan Perret, remodeled the building with its ancient pine beams, creating one of the most charming and diminutive cooking schools I have seen, with a gorgeous cellar and tasting room in the basement. People come here from all over the world to enjoy Juanpere’s classic Catalan cuisine, based on the recipes she learned at her grandmother’s and mother’s sides.

She is charming, intelligent, complex, and kind. I forgive her the garlic comment, yet still, as I drag my tired self out into the dark night, now heavy with rain, I can’t help but wonder what it was about me that made the admonition about my mincing technique acceptable yet silenced her when it came to the clumsy tomatoes.

I still have a lot to learn, I think to myself, even if how to mince garlic is not one of those things.

Michelle Anna Jordan

 

 

Michele Anna Jordan is the author of numerous cookbooks, including San Francisco Seafood, The New Cook’s Tour of Sonoma, Williams-Sonoma Complete Pasta Book, and many more.

Ficandó
Serves 6 to 8

1/3 cup picado (see recipe below)
2 1/2 to 3 pounds boneless veal, cut into randomly- sized slices
Kosher Salt or sel gris
1 cup flour
4 tablespoons olive oil plus 3 tablespoon lard
3 shallots, thinly sliced lengthwise
1 onion, thinly sliced lengthwise
3/4 cup dry vermouth or white wine
2 or 3 tomatoes, peeled, seeded and minced (about 1 cup)
3 cups veal or beef stock
Bouquet garni of 1 bay leaf, 3 thyme sprigs, 1 3-inch celery stalk 1-inch leek, white part only, wrapped and tied with kitchen twine
4 garlic cloves, minced
3/4 pound golden chanterelles

First, made the picado as directed below and set it aside.
Season the meat all over with salt and dredge it in flour, shaking off excess but being certain the meat is thoroughly coated. In a large pot or a traditional Spanish casuela set over a ring on top of a burner turned to medium high heat, heat 3 tablespoons of the olive oil with the lard. When the mixture is hot, saute the shallots and onion until limp.

Season with salt, add the meat and pour in the vermouth or white wine. Cook until the vermouth or wine is nearly completely evaporated. Stir in the tomatoes and beef stock and add the bouquet garni. Simmer, uncovered, until the meat is very tender, about 1 hour. Add the picado and cook until the juices have thickened, about 15 to 20 minutes.

When the ficandó is nearly done, pour the remaining olive oil in a saute pan set over medium heat, add the garlic and saute 15 seconds. Add the mushrooms, season with salt and saute, stirring frequently, until the mushrooms are limp. If they remain firm, add a splash of vermouth or white wine, cover the pan and cook for 3 minutes. Season with salt and stir into the stew.

Picado
Makes about 1/3 cup

2 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
Pinch of salt
1/4 cup hazelnuts, toasted and peeled
1/4 cup almonds, toasted and peeled

Put the crushed garlic in a mortar or other hand grinder, add a generous pinch of salt and crush the garlic to a paste. Add the nuts and use the pestle to crush each one. After the nuts are crushed, continue to grind the mixture until it forms a nearly smooth uniform paste. Set aside until ready to use.

Copyright (c) 2006 by Michele Anna Jordan.

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