Food & Drink : The proof is in the prueba

The exotic — and tasty — abounds in The New Spanish Table

“Yum, yum, yum,” opined Anya von Bremzen as she put the finishing touches on Carmelita’s Green Salad with Apricots and Hazelnuts. “Always put fruit in salad; it’s my secret. You want the `crisp` texture of a vegetable (nothing “squooshy-mooshy”) but the taste of fruit.”

Von Bremzen’s Central Market class, designed to showcase her latest cookbook, The New Spanish Table, was full of such unpretentious asides. Of the Chocolate Mousse with Olive Oil and Flaky Salt she said: “I think it’s the coolest dessert you might find it weird.” If I hadn’t already been a fan from two previous books, Terrific Pacific Cookbook and Fiesta! A Celebration of Latin Hospitality, the weirdly wonderful mousse would have made me a groupie on the spot.

All the other recipes that evening, including the initially odd-sounding Strawberry and Fennel Gazpacho (a “liquid tapa”) had been sensational as well, so I naturally had to have the book (what’s one more among 300 or so?). And I’ve hardly let go of it since. Normally, I’d find Spanish Table’s graphic layout a little busy, its title typeface too mannered, the color-tinted sidebars with titles such as “Sheep Thrills” too cute, but in the course of using the book, I’ve come to think of it more like the author herself: warm and friendly.

“Ladies and gentlemen, here is one of Spain’s most definitive tapas” von Bremzen writes in the introduction to Patatas Bravas with its “fierce” tomato sauce. In this recipe, small red potatoes are partially cooked, cut in quarters (or halves, depending on size), tossed with olive oil and coarse salt, and baked on a sheet at 475 degrees until crisp. So far, nothing too special. The kicker arrives with the Salsa de Tomate Picante, a lusty tomato sauce whose bite comes from Tabasco and crushed red pepper flakes, and whose Iberian accent derives from smoky Spanish paprika — you might as well buy some right along with the book. One word of warning: The patatas are also served drizzled with allioli, a version of the garlicky Mediterranean mayonnaise, and you should not attempt to halve the recipe just because you’re running out of eggs. I managed to call the result a garlic drizzle and get away with it, but why mess with a good thing?

Another recipe with the potential for fracaso is the Salt Baked Pork in Adobo, also demonstrated at Central Market, which involves “lots of praying” said von Bremzen. She must have lit a few candles offstage, for her rendition was spectacularly good. But so was the one I made at home, for that matter. The difficult part of the recipe is the salt crust in which the marinated pork loin is baked: It’s comprised of lots of salt and very lightly beaten egg whites, and one fears it won’t cohere and/or adhere, or that it won’t bake into an adequate suit of armor. Resist the temptation to add water unless the paste simply isn’t holding together. I added just a bit, and the crust came out of the oven perfectly shell-like, with just a little weeping and sagging, but didn’t release quite as neatly as I might have liked. Not to worry: Just brush off any remaining salt. The pork likely will be juicier than any you have had before, and the adobo it’s marinated in for 6 hours or so complements it with a robe that’s rewardingly robust. Yes, there’s more paprika involved (“It’s what makes Spanish cuisine Spanish,” said von Bremzen). By the way, the butcher at Central Market was happy to tie together two smaller pork loins in order to arrive at the appropriate size.

The New Spanish Table

By Anya Von Bremzen
496 pages, $22.95

The only thing anxiety provoking about the other recipes might be finding the Spanish chorizo and serrano ham for, say, the luscious Lentil Salad with Chorizo and Jamon Crisps. The dense Spanish chorizo is much different from the loose Mexican variety (after some searching, I found it at Central Market), and Spanish ham is frowned upon by our ever-vigilant federal agencies (Central market didn’t have it). But persevere — or substitute. Aged sherry vinegar, another key ingredient, should be in your pantry at all times.

However, the Coca with Honeyed Onions and Pine Nuts required no exotic ingredients whatsoever. The beer-leavened dough for this Mediterranean pizza is extremely simple, and its topping of onion and honey, accented with currants and rosemary, is spectacular. I suspect you already have all you need to make the Sevillan Marinated Carrots: herbs, lemon, garlic red pepper flakes, and red wine vinegar. Go ahead and double the recipe, they’re that good. I can also recommend without reservation the Minted Lamb Meatballs served in a simple sauce with canned tomatoes, onions, sherry, chicken stock, and dried mint. Yum, yum, yum.

And just for the record, the chocolate mousse is also extremely easy; it’s just heated heavy cream and chopped, expensive chocolate stirred together and chilled. Your guests will gasp when you drizzle exquisite fruit-and-pepper-flavored olive oil around the plate, and shrink when you sprinkle flaky salt on top of the mousse (she likes Maldon). But the proof is in the prueba, folks. Try it.

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