I am Portuguese and of Catholic extraction. Therefore, my Christmas dinner must be boiled dry codfish, eggs, potatoes and kale, with plenty of olive oil with garlic. There is no way around it, I am afraid. It is been like this for centuries and everybody just keeps up with the tradition.
When I was a kiddie my Mother once tried to a bacalhau conventual [convent style codfish], just to try something new. When the dinner came to the table, an outcry of biblical proportions followed and Christmas was almost cancelled. Everyone survived the trauma, but my Mother never a tried it again. After 3 decades my Father still mentions the infamous year we had baked codfish for dinner. Outrageous – after that, only anarchy could have descended to the civilized world.
This year, I staid in Zurich for Christmas. And when not in Rome … I almost made a point of departing from the usual traditions. Well, sort of… It is still codfish, but fresh. Not boiled, but baked with Serrano ham. And, for a complete departure from the tradition, the recipe was found on a book meant for british dieters. But, please, I beg you, don’t let my family know about it. It will be our little secret.
Roasted codfish with Serrano ham and peppers (adapted from Dave Myers and Si King’s The Hairy Dieters: How to Love Food and Lose Weight)
- 1 red pepper deseeded and cut into thin stripes
- 1 yellow pepper deseed and cut into thin stripes
- 2 courgettes cut into 2cm slices
- 1 medium red onion cut into thin wedges
- 1 teaspoon olive oil
- 4 thick skinless fresh codfish fillets (about 150g each. A big chunk will also work)
- 4 slices of Serrano ham or any thinly sliced cured ham
- 10g dry white breadcrumbs
- 10g of parmesan cheesed finely grated
- A handfull of parley leafs, finely chopped
- Salt and pepper to taste
1. Preheat the oven to 220oC. Put the peppers, courgettes and onion in a large baking tray and drizzle them with olive oil. Season with a little salt and plenty of black pepper and toss everything until the vegetables are coated with olive oil. Roast for 20mun until softened and lightly charred.
2. Mix the bread crumbs with the cheese and parsley. Reserve.
3. Pat the codfish dry on kitchen paper and remove the bones with a pair of tweezers. Season with a generous amount of pepper. No need to add any salt – the Serrano ham has already plenty of salt on its own. Wrap the each fillet with a slice of ham, making sure they are closed.
4. Take the baking tray out of the oven and make space for the codfish and ham. A few gaps will be suffice. Place the fish on the tray and scatter the Parmesan mix all over the fish and vegetables. In case you worry about soaking the vegetables: the codfish will be sealed inside the Serrano ham and cook on its own juices.
5. Put the tray back in the over for another 12-15min or until the fish is cooked, the ham crisped and the breadcrumbs are lightly browned.
6. Serve immediately.
This is where the rest of the ham ended up… A delicious combination of flavors with a sophisticated touch, ideal for Summer.
Serrano ham with melon mousse (adapted from the Inés and Simone Ortega’s Book of Tapas)
- 3 gelatin leaves
- 3 halved small melons, seeds removed (it works best with cantaloupe)
- 1 cup (=250 mL) of whipped cream
- 12 thin slices of cured ham
- Salt and pepper
1. Follow the instructions of the box to prepare the gelatin leaves.
2. Scope out of the flesh of the melon with a spoon and put them skins in the fridge. Make sure you don’t break brea skins as you will need them to plate this dish.
3. Puree the melon flesh in a blender, until you don’t see any chunks of fruit.
4.Put a small amount of the melon puree in a small pan. Warm it through over a low heat. Fish out the gelatin leaves from the water, and add to the warm melon. Stir well until it dissolves. Fold in the remaining puree and let it cool.
5.Fold the whipped cream in the gelatin-melon mix. Season with salt and pepper.
6. Poor the mixture into the melon shells and put it back into the refrigerator until it is solid.
7. When you are about to serve it, put the ham slices on top. Be careful not to let the melon go warm.
In Spain, we take cured ham seriously. Very seriously, as a matter of fact. But, when I posted my ex-Mother-in-law’s take on Iberian ham and tomato bread a couple of weeks back, I was far from image the Spanish Association of Selected Swine and Pure Iberian Breeders would get in touch with me via twitter. “Do you like ham! But, which one do you like? “, the asked me in less than 140 characters. In case I didn’t know my cured ham, they pointed me to a documentary about everything you always wanted to know about Jamón ibérico and never dared to ask. From the different types of pig to the state of industry during the recession and the grades of cured ham, everything is in there.
Even if you don’t share a passion of ham, it is worthwhile taking the time to watch. And, hopefully not be fouled again by some labels we see at the food shops in this part of the world.
A curious detail: if you check the English entry of Wikipedia for trivia, you will learn saltimbocca are popular in southern Switzerland, Italy, Spain and Greece; if you check the German entry, you will find out they are a delicacy typical of the Rome area. I haven’t been to Rome yet, but I would not be surprised if the native never heard about it or you were served something totally different when you asked for them.
In any case, M. – a German – was kind enough to drive me through the complexities of the making of saltimbocca. I managed to reproduce it the day after without much effort. In the background, risotto alla milanese, courtesy of M.
- As many veal cutlets or scallops as you need
- As many slices of cured ham as you have slices of veal (if you want to be very precise, it has to be prosciutto. In my case, it had to be jamón)
- As many slices of fresh sages as you have slices of veal.
- Olive oil
- Wooden toothpick
Flatten the cutlets if needed. Lay them a clean surface, then put on top of each a slice of prosciutto and top it with the leaf of sage. Affix the prosciutto to the veal with a toothpick.
Heat the olive oil in a skillet and sauté the cutlets until done. Don’t put too many of them on the skillet, otherwise they will be boiled. You will need to allow more time on the veal side than the prosciutto side. Season to taste and serve them risotto alla milanese.
Fly-in-fly-out to Barcelona… A little less than 11 hours in town, which allowed to fit in enough time to do my thing, touch the Mediterranean and buy proper ham at the airport free shop. And, by proper ham, I mean jamón ibérico de bellota [acorn Iberian ham], the dark red meat marbled with veins of fat which only the free range black Iberian pigs who feast on acorns can have. It is only the finest of cured hams and is considered one of the best delicacies in the world. Well, let’s make it clear – it actually is. I have seen otherwise serious gown up almost shed a tear when they tasted. As M. eloquently put it “the kind of thing that makes worthwhile years of studying just to be able to afford it”. And, if I may add, instrumental to cope with endless hours of corporate drama.
In any case, once the precious ham was acquired, carefully transported into Switzerland and put to rest in the fridge, I still had to figure out how to serve it. It was not just a question of dropping it in a hot plate… This ham deserved the best ingredient to compliment its nutty rich flavor and bring the best out of it. Since I had just been in Barcelona, it seemed totally logical to serve it with tomato bread, a combination of flavors made in heaven, known in Catalonia as pa amb tomàquet. It is said to be the most popular dish of their cuisine, and you may find different versions and lines of thought. Toasted or fresh bread? Garlic, or no garlic? Rub the tomato or use a pre-made mixture? Grate the tomato or puree it? I just avoided all the metaphysical question by resorting to my ex-Spanish Mother-in-Law strong recommendations.
Iberian ham and tomato bread (pa amb tomàquet amb pernil, Pan con tomate y jamón)
- Finely sliced cured ham
- 1 garlic teeth, peeled and cut in half
- Slices of toasted rustic bread
- Tomatoes (I used cherry tomatoes, as they taste of something. When in Spain, I would have probably used regular grape tomatoes.
- Olive oil to taste
1. Grate the tomatoes into a bowl.
1. Toast the bread for a few minutes, until is warm and slightly crusty
2. Rub with the half garlic.
4. Drizzle with olive oil
5.Spread the grated tomato paste to taste
6. Put the ham slices on top
Another MaMafalda Pinto Leite’s Cozinha Para Quem Não Tem Tempo [Cooking for those who have no time]. It is quick, easy and a spectacular combination of flavors. I was a bit too slow, but the author probably only set up the alarm clock once she got all the ingredients prepared. Still, it is worthwhile doing it.
Fish wrapped in ham with crushed peas and warm tomatoes
- 4 rosemary springs
- 4 white fish firm fillets (I used fresh cod)
- 4 prosciutto or jamón slices
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 leek cut in slices (only the white parts)
- 2 tomatoes finely chopped
- 2 cups of frozen peas
- 1/2 of vegetable or chicken stock
- 2 tablespoons chopped minth
- Salt and pepper to taste
Put the rosemary springs on top of each fish fillet. Pepper it. Wrap each fillet with one ham slice.
Heat half the olive oil in a frying pan in medium-high heat. When it is hot, put the fish in, and cook for 4 minutes or until it is done. Transfer to a plate and cover with foil to keep warm. Fold the tomato into the same frying pan and cook for about 1 minute or until it is warm.
In the meanwhile, heat the other half of the olive oil in a medium size sauce pan. When it is pipping hot, fold in the sliced leeks and sauté until they are soft. Poor in the stock and let it boil. Then, add the peas and bring to boil for about 6min. When ready, add the mint, salt and pepper to taste. Crush the peas.
Serve the fish together with the tomato and the crushed peas.