Monday, August 18, 2008

Patatas a la Riojana

Zola: Maybe a little over a year ago, I found myself in one of those terrible not-for-credit Spanish classes. If you've ever taken such a class, you know what I'm talking about. You've got the dude who is struggling to understand the concept of masculine/feminine nouns AND the chic that spent two years in Argentina and just wants to "brush up" in the same room. It's ugly. Much to my relief, my friends, Lauren & Garth, were in there, too; getting ready for their honeymoon in Spain. Here's their story. Might I just say that this recipe TASTED like Spain. It filled our little place with the SMELL of Spain. Thank you for that.

Lauren: You had just posted a plea for more contributions, which my husband Garth and I had both read, and he was opening a bottle of Rioja wine as I sliced chorizo and lamented, "I need to write something for Zola, but I just can't think of what. I wasn't really paying attention to food when I lived in Belgium; it would be great if we could send her something that we ate when we went to Spain, but ..." and then I dropped my knife and he dropped the corkscrew and we stared at each other, and then at the cookbook on the shelf -- we had already memorized the recipe; it's quite easy -- and laughed hard about how long we had overlooked this totally obvious story.

We took a vacation to Spain right after our wedding. We wanted to go somewhere neither of us had ever been, and we wanted to go somewhere with good food. We found it! We had reservations for an apartment for a week in Barcelona (which we found with your help, Zola! Thanks!), and then we had tickets to fly out of Paris several days after that, and nothing else planned for sure. After our week in Barcelona, we spent a day taking the train across the country up to Bilbao. We spent 3 nights there and then several more days in San Sebastian/Donostia before heading to Paris for 2 nights and coming back home. Bilbao was our least favorite time of the trip. It was colder than Barcelona, and somewhat rainy; I got a bit of a cold, and we were cranky, and other than the Guggenheim and some small local museums, we didn't really find that much to do.

We had heard that the restaurant at the Guggenheim was good, but unfortunately we got there just a few minutes after they closed for lunch. We wanted to go to the museum but first we really needed to eat, as it was like 2pm and I was blood-sugar-crashy. We bickered all the way back towards town from the museum, and then we bickered about the first restaurant we came to, looking at their menú del día on the chalkboard, until we realized it sounded fabulous and we were super hungry anyway.

I chose the roasted quarter chicken and fries, I believe, which was great, and a completely non-memorable starter. Garth's starter, however, was this warm, salty, just-the-right-amount-of-spicy, nourishing potato stew with chorizo. We made note of its name on the chalkboard -- patatas a la Riojana -- Potatoes, Rioja style. I googled extensively when we got back, but didn't find much that looked like what we had had, until I remembered that we have paper cookbooks, too,
such as The Basque Table, by Teresa Barrenechea. I leafed through it hopefully, and sure enough, page 90: Potato and Chorizo Stew, Rioja-style, or, patatas a la Riojana.

The recipe we use now is somewhat simplified from that described in the book, but it still tastes fabulous.

You need:

Some good olive oil
A large onion, or two small, chopped
Two hard Spanish chorizo*, removed from casing and diced -- in Seattle we buy ours at De Laurenti in Pike Place Market; for this recipe we use 1 spicy (red string) and 1 mild (white string)
Some potatoes, chopped -- the recipe in the book calls for 2.5 pounds of russets, but we just use ... whatever. For this evening's batch, we used 3 pounds, 2.2 ounces of reds ( that we harvested from the garden last week.
Hot paprika
Salt to taste (you might not need any)

Feel free to play around with the ratios to make more or less potatoey, or oniony, or meaty.

* Distinct from ground chorizo, as in South America (that's my understanding of the geographical distinction, anyway) -- Spanish chorizo is firm like a salami or similar.

Heat olive oil in a good, large, heavy-bottomed pot. Add onion and saute until soft. Add chopped chorizo and brown briefly. Add the chopped potatoes, and water to cover. Use wine (preferably Basque, like a Rioja) in place of a cup or two of water if you like, but no need to use stock; the chorizo will add plenty of flavor. Add slightly less water if you want a thicker dish, or more if you want it soupier. You can also reduce it further or get more potato starch by smashing them, if you want a thicker stew. Also, add the paprika, cayenne if you want more spicy, and salt if you need it. (It's best to add salt after you have let it simmer, though, since the liquid will concentrate as it evaporates and you might end up making it too salty if you add it before then.)

Simmer until potatoes are done.

Serve with a good crusty baguette or other bread to soak up the delicious juice.

This will last you several dinners; by the end of the pot, the liquid will have thickened a lot with the starch from the potatoes. It changes from soup to stew as it progresses, which I like a great deal.

Don't forget to drink the rest of the wine you opened to add to the stew!

Zola: Pictures coming soon! I need to put one of those beep-y key finder trackers on my effin' USB plug.


Georgia said...

I made this the other week, and it was fantastic! Simple and hearty, excellent with a glass of shiraz on a wet and cool night!

Larry Rains said...

Sounds great and the leftovers sound even better. Looks like a great winter diner!