The recipes that I love are simple in technique but sophisticated in flavor and presentation. Just because a dish has few ingredients, it does not make it plebeian or rustic. On the contrary, great ingredients are a must as all the good flavor comes from them. Simple cooking techniques and great presentation elevate basic ingredients into elegant meals.
I often serve eggs for mid-week suppers or as a first course during winter months, and I adore them as a main course for winter lunches. They remind me of dinners in the country, where the main meal is at lunchtime and suppers are lighter fare. One of my favorite dinners is Huevos de la Casa, which, literally translated, means ‘eggs from home’. It is one the dishes that I make first when we come home from a long trip. Buy fresh organic eggs whenever possible; they will have a vibrant yolk and seem to cook faster than others. What’s more, organic eggs are not as large as their non-organic counterparts, but their flavor is more intense. Another one is Huevos a la Flamenca, which has its origins in Aranjuez, a town outside Madrid that used to be the King’s summer retreat.
Fish is a necessary ingredient in our diets, but that’s not the only reason I love it. It’s just plain simple to prepare if you buy the freshest fish available. Lemon and herbs are classic combinations, and a few drops of olive oil all the necessary additions. Finding an independent, knowledgeable fishmonger is the best route to fantastic fish; a top-notch one will only sell you the freshest catch. These dishes require little cooking—just a light brush with herb-infused olive oil or lemon brings out the best in any fish. Cooking fish, however, makes the whole house smell, (sorry, but it is true) and it is quite an unpleasant odor! Think about this when cooking for a crowd. Light scented candles around the entranceway and living room before guests arrive to assuage the smell of the fish.
I also turn to the kind of meat dishes that are predominantly hands-off, so that I can do all the other things associated with a party. Lighting candles, setting the table, preparing accompanying dishes and putting the children to bed all must be done before guests arrive, which is why I rarely make any labor-intense meat dish or one that needs heavy last-minute preparation! My favorite ones need little attention from me and actually improve if left in the oven for longer than specified in the recipe. Chili, shepherd’s pie, and hearty winter stews that take hours of non-attention time come to mind.
Perhaps the most exciting feature of my recipes is that they are truly guidelines—you should approach them as inspiration and feel free to improvise as you see fit. Substituting ingredients is fine—I encourage it— if you want to put your own stamp on a recipe and call them your own!
Huevos a la Flamenca
Make this dish with early spring vegetables. If you like, add baby artichokes, green beans, pearl onions and even lima beans. It is a colorful and delicious dish perfect for a mid-week supper. I like serving it in a cazuela (Spanish style casserole) in keeping with its rustic characteristics, but any oven to table dish works.
Serves 4 as a main course, 6 as a first course
1 pound thick bacon, diced
1 pound chorizo, finely sliced
4 tablespoons olive oil
1 small onion, diced
1 garlic clove, peeled and sliced
1 16-ounce can diced tomatoes
10 asparagus tips, each about 3 inches long
1pound fresh or frozen small peas
1/2 cup homemade beef stock,
6 large eggs
salt and fresh ground pepper
In a frying pan over medium heat, fry the bacon and the chorizo until all the fat is released and both are crispy. Drain on paper towels and set aside.
Preheat the oven to 400°F. In an earthenware cazuela or stove-to-oven dish, heat the olive oil over medium-low heat. Add the onions and garlic and saute until transparent and soft. Drain about half the liquid from the diced tomatoes and add to the onion mixture. Add the asparagus and simmer until some of the liquid evaporates. Add the peas and stir to combine. Add the broth and simmer for 5 minutes. Using tongs, arrange the asparagus spears decoratively in the dish.
Using a large spoon, make 8 evenly spaced indentations in the tomato mixture. Crack an egg into each indentation and season with the salt and pepper. Scatter the bacon and chorizo over and bake until the eggs are cooked to your liking. I prefer that they are set, which is about 12 to 15 minutes. If you are making this in a cazuela, you may cook the eggs on the stovetop, just cover the cazuela to speed the process. Serve hot and bubbly. ■