How good the Spaniards are at summer cooking. Think of the iced soups and chilled "sangria" red wine punch. Think of little dishes of olives, marinated shrimps and other tapas hors d'oeuvres, of paella fragrantly steaming on an outdoor grill. What is more, many such dishes need almost no cooking. Often they can be made ahead, leaving the kitchen cool for serving.
The following iced cucumber soup is a version of the gazpacho that I found, not in Spain, but just over the border in France, with its sizeable Arab population from Algeria. The soup is flavored and thickened, Arab-style, with yogurt but Spanish influence had added a generous injection of garlic. As accompaniment, dare I suggest garlic bread? Hardly Spanish, but how delicious!
Paella is the ideal dish for an outdoor grill, for it smells as good as it looks. It comes in many guises, with a variety of ingredients added to the basic rice. My recipe includes just about everything, so it is up to you to mix and match as you please.
Seafood adds to the glamor, but also to the expense, so plain fish and squid are the economical choice. Chicken can be omitted altogether if you prefer. However the rice, onion, peppers, chorizo, saffron and some kind of fish are indispensable, with an alluring crown of mussels or clams on top.
To finish, a delicate tart combines two of Spain's best ingredients, almonds and citrus fruit. Lemon almond tart is one of those deceptively simple recipes that always turns out perfectly. The tart can be baked ahead and, like so many recipes containing nuts, it matures if kept a day or two.
So popular is sangria that it has become almost a cliche'. However, made as it should be with a hearty dry Spanish red wine, fresh orange juice, orange liqueur and a minimum of fruit slices, its appealing freshness can hardly fail.
Timetable As the length of schedule suggests, this is a simple meal requiring little preparation time.
Up to 3 days ahead: Make lemon pie and store in an airtight container.
Up to 2 days ahead: Drain yogurt for soup.
Up to 1 day ahead: Make soup and refrigerate. Make and chill sangria. Chill white wine.
Up to 2 hours before serving: Prepare paella. Set the table.
Thirty minutes before serving: Cook paella.
Ten minutes before serving: Transfer pie to a platter. Spoon soup into bowls and add decoration. Add soda and fruit to sangria.
ICED CUCUMBER SOUP WITH CHIVES OR MINT (10 servings)
Deep green shiny skin on a cucumber shows it has been waxed; peel it before using.
1 quart plain yogurt
Salt and pepper to taste
5 tablespoons walnut pieces
3 cloves garlic, crushed
2 tablespoons wine vinegar, more to taste
3 tablespoons chopped fresh chives or mint
1/4 cup olive oil
3/4 cup ice water, more if needed
1 tablespoon more chopped chives or 10 sprigs mint (for decoration)
Put yogurt in a strainer lined with cheesecloth and leave overnight to drain in the refrigerator.
Wipe cucumbers and peel them if they are waxed. Cut them in half lengthwise and scoop out seeds with a teaspoon. Slice them, sprinkle with salt and leave 30 minutes to draw out juices. Drain them and rinse thoroughly.
Pure'e the cucumbers, a little at a time, in a blender or food processor with the walnuts, garlic, vinegar and yogurt. Work them briefly or more thoroughly, depending whether you like a coarse or fine-textured soup.
Put pure'e in a bowl and stir in chives or mint and olive oil. Taste the soup for seasoning, cover and chill at least 3 hours, or up to 24 hours. Thin the soup with ice water to the consistency you prefer. Serve it very cold, adding an ice cube to each bowl and topping it with chives or a mint sprig.
PAELLA (10 servings)
Chile pepper is optional in paella -- not traditional, but very much in the current mode.
3 pounds mussels or clams
3/4 cup olive oil
3 pounds chicken thighs or legs
3 onions, chopped
1 green bell pepper, cored, seeded and cut in strips
1 red bell pepper, cored, seeded and cut in strips
1 chile pepper, cored, seeded and chopped (optional)
4 cups rice
1 1/2 quarts chicken stock or water, more if needed
Large pinch saffron, soaked in 3 to 4 tablespoons boiling water
Salt and pepper to taste
1 pound cleaned squid, sliced
1 pound raw smoked ham, cut in strips
1 pound chorizo sausage, thinly sliced
1 1/2 pounds tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped
1 pound cod or haddock fillets, cut in strips
1 1/2 pounds raw unpeeled shrimp
Wash mussels or clams under cold water and discard any open ones that do not close when tapped. Heat half the oil in a shallow, flame-proof pan, add chicken pieces and brown on all sides over medium heat, allow 10 to 12 minutes so they are half cooked.
Take out chicken, add remaining oil and cook onions, peppers and chilies until soft but not brown. Add rice to pan and cook, stirring, until grains are transparent and oil is absorbed. Add stock or water, saffron, salt and pepper.
Add remaining ingredients in the following order, pushing them well down into the rice: browned chicken, squid, smoked ham, chorizo, tomatoes, fish and shrimp. Paella can be refrigerated up to 2 hours provided the stock or water was cool when other ingredients were added.
To finish: bring liquid to a boil fairly rapidly on top of the stove or on an outdoor barbecue and cook for 25 to 30 minutes until all liquid has been absorbed and the rice is tender. Stir from time to time, especially when the paella starts cooking, and add more stock or water if liquid evaporates before the rice is cooked. After 10 minutes' cooking, set mussels or clams on top of paella. Keep paella warm over very low heat for 5 to 10 minutes so flavors blend before serving.
LEMON ALMOND TART (10 servings)
Before squeezing a lemon, roll it on the work surface with your palm to help extract the juice.
3/4 cup sugar
Grated rind and juice of 2 lemons
2/3 cup unsalted butter, melted
1 1/4 cups ground almonds
12-inch baked shell of sweet pie pastry (recipe below)
1 lemon, cut in 10 very thin slices including peel
Confectioners' sugar (for sprinkling)
Heat a baking sheet in a 325-degree oven while preparing the ingredients.
For the filling: beat eggs and sugar until light and thick enough to leave a ribbon trail when the whisk is lifted. Stir in the lemon zest and juice, followed by the melted butter and ground almonds. Pour filling into pie shell.
Set tart in oven on the baking sheet and bake 10 minutes at 325 degrees until filling is set on top. Arrange lemon slices on top and continue baking 15 to 20 minutes until filling is golden brown and set. Note: It will shrink slightly on cooling. The tart can be kept 2 to 3 days in an airtight container. Just before serving, sprinkle it with confectioners' sugar.
SWEET PASTRY PIE SHELL (Makes a 12-inch pie shell to serve 8 to 10)
Wonderful filled with fresh berries topped with red currant jelly glaze.
2 cups flour, more if needed
1/2 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup sugar
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
3 egg yolks
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
Sift flour with salt onto work surface and make a large well in the center. Add sugar, butter, egg, egg yolks and vanilla to well and work with the fingertips of one hand until well mixed. With a pastry scraper or metal spatula, draw in flour and work with both hands to make coarse crumbs. If the crumbs are sticky, add a little more flour. Press dough together in a ball.
Knead dough, pushing it away with the heel of your hand and gathering it up with the scraper, 1 to 2 minutes, until it is smooth and pliable. Wrap it and chill 30 minutes.
Butter a 12-inch pie pan with a removable base. Roll out dough, line the pan and chill 15 minutes or until firm. Line pie shell with waxed paper filled with rice or dried beans, pressing paper well into corners. Bake at 375 degrees for 15 minutes or until dough is firm and starts to brown. Remove paper and beans and continue baking 10 to 15 minutes until dough is brown and crisp.
SANGRIA (10 servings)
Choose a dry red wine for sangria.
3 bottles (9 cups, approximately) red wine
1/2 cup orange juice
1/2 cup Grand Mariner or other orange liqueur
1 tablespoon sugar, or to taste
1 quart club soda
1 orange, sliced
1 lemon, sliced
1 peach, sliced
In a pitcher mix wine, orange juice and liqueur with sugar to taste. Chill several hours, or overnight.
Chill the club soda.
Just before serving, stir in club soda, orange, lemon and peach slices. Serve poured over ice cubes.