Saturday, February 02, 2008

Basque Cook Book

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Cooking with flair

By Phyllis Stein-Novack
January 31, 2008

During a Book and The Cook dinner at Fork in the late 1990s, I met chef Teresa Barrenechea, the owner of Marichu in New York City. I looked forward to tasting her cuisine because she is from the Basque region in the north of Spain and I had never tasted dishes from that area.

We automatically think of gazpacho and paella, two of Spain’s most famous creations prepared all over the United States. Tapas have been a big craze here for the past few years. People who live in Spain would not dream of making a dinner from little dishes. They enjoy tapas with a glass of sherry in the late afternoon and usually eat dinner at about 10 p.m.

Barrenechea’s book, “The Basque Table: Passionate Home Cooking from One of Europe’s Great Regional Cuisines,” is the perfect primer for those who want to become familiar with and cook the foods of Basque.

The region is nestled in the Bay of Biscay so fish and shellfish play a prominent part. The mountains and valleys afford fine grazing land for sheep. Duck also is a favorite.

Several weeks ago, I roasted duck for Edward, cousin Carl and me. I simply sprinkled it with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper. It was delicious. I recently came across Barrenechea’s recipe. She uses tart apples and I can’t wait to try it.

Here are recipes from her cookbook:

Roasted Duck (Pato Asado)


~ 1 4-pound duck
~ Salt
~ 1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon of olive oil
~ 2 medium onions, chopped
~ 2 carrots, sliced
~ 3 firm tart apples such as Granny Smith or Fuji, peeled, cored and cut into 6 wedges
~ 10 dates
~ 1 cup of white wine


Lightly sprinkle the duck inside and out with the salt. Using a small sharp knife, make several slits in the skin to release the fat during roasting.

In a flame-proof casserole, heat the oil over high. Add the duck and cook for about 15 minutes, turning several times, until golden on all sides.

Reduce the heat to medium, add the onions and carrots, and cover. Cook for about 15 minutes, until the onions soften. Add the apples and dates and mix well. Continue cooking, covered, over medium-low for about 15 minutes, until the apples and carrots start to soften. Add the wine, cover, and cook for about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent burning.

Lift the duck from the casserole dish and carve.

Heat the remaining contents of the pan and serve as a sauce.

Serves four.

Note from Phyllis: Purée the fruits and vegetables in a blender if you want a creamy sauce for the duck.

* * *

Homestyle Roasted Potatoes (Patatas Panaderas)


~ 4 large potatoes, peeled and cut crosswise 1/8-inch thick
~ 2 red onions, cut into thin strips or rings
~ 1/4 cup of olive oil
~ Salt
~ Ground white pepper, optional


Preheat the oven to 500 degrees.

In a 9-by-13-inch baking dish, combine all of the ingredients and toss well. Cover with foil and bake for 30 minutes, or until the potatoes are fork-tender and slightly crisp around the edges.

Serve immediately.

Serves eight to 10.

* * *

Baked Mushrooms (Setas al Horno)


~ 1 pound of medium shiitake mushrooms, wiped clean and stemmed
~ 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons of olive oil
~ 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons of flat-leaf parsley, minced
~ 1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon of garlic, minced
~ Salt, to taste


Preheat the oven to 500 degrees.

Lightly rub a shallow baking pan with some oil. Arrange the mushrooms in the pan.

In a small bowl, whisk the oil, parsley and garlic together. Season with the salt. Spoon some onto each mushroom.

Bake for about 10 minutes or until the mushrooms are softened and lightly browned.

Serve immediately.

Serves four to six.

Note from Phyllis: Barrenechea says in the Basque Country, this dish is often a first course with bread fried in olive oil, but she likes to serve it as a side dish, as well.

* * *

Pears with Red Rioja Wine


~ 4 large firm pears, such as Bosc or Bartlett, peeled, halved lengthwise and cored
~ 4 cups of red Rioja wine
~ 2/3 cup of sugar
~ 1 cinnamon stick
~ 2 tablespoons of strawberry or raspberry preserves


In a saucepan just large enough to hold them comfortably, combine the pears with the wine, sugar and cinnamon. Bring the contents to a boil over high heat. Reduce to low and cook for about 30 minutes. The pears should be fork tender. When done, lift them from the pan and set aside to cool.

Discard the cinnamon stick. Add the preserves to the pan and boil for about five minutes, stirring constantly, until the preserves melt and the sauce is smooth.

Serve two pear halves on each plate and spoon the sauce over them.

Serves four.

Note from Phyllis: Deep red fragrant Florida strawberries are now in season. Place the strawberries in a food processor for a coulis to serve with the pears.

Now that Phillys is so interested in Basque cuisine maybe she should try and learn more about Basque history so she can begin to understand why gazpacho and paella have nothing to do with the Basque Country. That way maybe she will stop referring to Euskal Herria as a "region" of Spain.

.... ... .

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