Your Connection to Fresh-Pressed Olive Oil Around the Globe
December 14 , 2007
Olive Oil, Tomatoes, Bread:
A Cordoban Interpretation
for Your Hoilday Table
By Nancy Loseke
There are some situations in life that begin with adversity but that end well, eventually earning space on your mental shelf of fond memories.
I had one of those experiences in Cordoba, Spain, where my business partner, TJ Robinson, and I were scouting for fresh-pressed olive oil.
We had just arrived in this gorgeous and ancient city, found our hotel, and thirsty and starved--we hadn’t had any pig parts or olive oil since we left Seville--made our way across the moat that supposedly protected our hotel from undesirables, mainly sunning lizards.
Our destination was close, a restaurant that had been recommended to us by the hotel staff. It was a short walk down a cobbled street. TJ was heartened by the Spanish hams hanging from the rafters, little white plastic cups strategically positioned underneath them to catch the drippings.
We occupied a sunny outside table and waited for a waiter. And waited. TJ caught up on phone calls. I read the menu five or ten times, then fidgeted.
But while waiting to be served, we noticed beautiful vignettes around us.
Two absurdly gorgeous blond-haired boys in white linen shorts and blue button-down collar shirts--the boys appeared to be about four years old--played nearby. They looked to be the photogenic spawn of unreported trysts between Jude Law and the late Princess Diana.
I noticed other children were playing “hackysack” near the fountain with a ripe orange that had fallen from a nearby tree. Its citrusy scent wafted to our table.
Meanwhile, a partying party of ten dressed in traditional Spanish garb occupied a table just a few meters away from us. I internally huffed that all hope of snagging a waiter now was probably lost.
Having had so much time to study the menu, I knew exactly what I wanted:|
A glass of white wine, eggs scrambled with tender shoots of asparagus, and something called “salmorejo” (sal-mo-RAY-ho). Finally, a waiter appeared at our table.
The wine was forgettable, the eggs were alright, but the salmorejo a kind of thick, smooth gazpacho that’s a Cordoban specialty, sponsored one of my most memorable food moments. And it was made with such humble ingredients: olive oil, tomatoes, garlic, bread, vinegar, and salt and pepper. Its arrival becalmed the table.
It had the luscious texture and unctuous mouthfeel of mayonnaise, the color of salmon, and a consistency that straddled soup and dip. It was garnished with wedges of hard-boiled egg and diced jamon (Spanish ham). We had spoons, but the salmorejo was so good, it beckoned us to shamelessly eat it with our fingers. And I think I did that--dragged a finger through its sexy, silky topography as if it were whipped cream.
“What do you think? Is there mayonnaise in it?” I asked TJ.
“Maybe. Certainly olive oil.” TJ replied.
“Definitely. It’s so rich! I love this stuff!”
I loved it so much, I ordered salmorejo again a couple of hours later at a tapas bar.
This time, the salmorejo was served with batons of French-fried eggplant.
The combination was so exquisite, I hated to leave when it was time to go to dinner. I imagined the salmorejo with crab legs, with lobster, with yucca fries, onion rings, calamari, crudités, and fried frog legs. I had to have the recipe.
Later in the week, one of our friends, Isabel Alameda oilvares from Castillo de Canena olive Juice S.L., graciously shared a recipe for her version of this Cordoban specialty.
Back at home in the US, I made it before I’d completely unpacked my suitcase.
I have made it again and again since, adjusting its consistency to suit myself with bread and olive oil. In the summer months, I prefer salmorejo served as a soup: It’s killer when made with ripe August tomatoes.
In the winter, I use great canned tomatoes. I’ll make a thicker, dip-like version on the table for the hoildays. Perhaps I’ll even splurge--’tis the season!-- on a jar of the marvelous Italian Piennolo Vine Tomatoes that are harvested near Mt. Vesuvius and just in at www.gustiamo.com.
Some recipes are, by their very nature, intuitive. This is one of those recipes. Aim for a texture (controlled by bread and olive oil) that’s the consistency of mayonnaise. Use fresh-pressed olive oil for the best flavor.
2 to 2 1/2 pounds of fresh tomatoes, peeled and seeded (or substitute a good brand of canned tomatoes)
2 cloves of garlic, peeled
1 cup good-quality tomato juice (I like the brand “Sacramento”)
1 to 2 tablespoons of Spanish sherry vinegar
One loaf of day-old bread, crusts removed (you might not need all of it)
1/2 to 1 cup fresh-pressed extra-virgin olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper
Two hard-boiled eggs, quartered
2 ounces Spanish ham (jamon), diced
In a blender jar, combine the tomatoes, garlic, tomato juice, and vinegar. Blend until the mixture is smooth. Gradually add the bread and the olive oil until you achieve a smooth, mayonnaise-like texture. Add salt and pepper to taste. Add more vinegar or seasoning if required. Chill. To serve, transfer to an attractive bowl and top with the eggs and ham. Then take a bow worthy of a triumphant matador. Makes about 3 to 4 cups.
Buy bottled water after you’ve passed through security and before you board your plane. It will help you stay hydrated on long flights and make you less dependent on the vagaries of in-flight service.
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