Gambas al ajillo

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Last weekend, my dear friend Maggie and I got together to cook, eat, drink wine and reminisce about our recent trip to Spain and Portugal. Last September, the two of us rented a Smart car and drove from Madrid to Rioja, San Sebastian and Leon before heading due west to Guimaeres and Porto, Portugal, and then finishing the trip in Salamanca and our beloved Madrid.

Maggie, muy jovial (como siempre), at the Mercado de San Miguel

Maggie, muy jovial (como siempre), at the Mercado de San Miguel in Madrid, Spain

Looking down on beautiful San Sebastian

Looking down on bella San Sebastian, Spain

The perfect lunch in an overcast Salamanca

The perfect lunch in an overcast Salamanca, Spain

Tasting porto at Ferreira port cellar, Porto, Portugal

Tasting porto at Ferreira port cellar, Porto, Portugal

Pinxos de anchoa, San Sebastian

Pinxos de anchoa, San Sebastian

Dinner outside on the streets of Leon, Spain

Dinner outside on the streets of Leon, Spain

Rainy Porto, Portugal

Rainy Porto, Portugal

Vinas de la Rioja, Spain

Vinas de la Rioja, Spain

Jamon the Smart car ready to leave rainy Guimaeres, Portugal

Jamon the Smart car ready to leave rainy Guimaeres, Portugal

Sunset, Querida Madrid

Sunset, Querida Madrid

As the wine flowed, more and more Spanish snuck into the conversation while we pored over photos, snacked on pan con tomate (crusty bread smeared with tomato), and made tortilla espanola (Spanish omelet) and quick gambas al ajillo (garlicky shrimp in olive oil).

Mira! Cut the potatoes in little, bite-sized cubes asi.”

Asi?

Si.

“Hee-MAHR-es? Guee-mare-es? Dios mio, we visited the damn town and still don’t know how to pronounce it?” (Full disclosure: We never really learned much Portuguese aside from desculpe, which means “sorry.”)

Pues, anchoas are NOT boquerones, right? Isn’t that what Judith (pronounced Hoo-DEET, the name of the friend we made at a corner bar in Madrid) said?” (We think boquerones refers only to vinegar-cured, Spanish white anchovies.)

“Remember how Madre (the nickname we gave the brusque, pushy proprietor of our crappy San Sebastian hotel) eventually warmed to us because we are so jovial y amable?”

Pues, si, we are.”

Later joined by the Mister, who initiated a marvelous game of Scattergories, the three of us sat up eating, drinking y charlando till probably 3 am, but Maggie and I never achieved our original goal of making a photo album.

Oh well. La proxima vez, no?

This beautiful dish of shrimp, sliced garlic, parsley and olive oil cooks in the time it takes you to open a bottle of rose, which is great if you look up and realize it is 10 pm, you’re a couple bottles of wine in, and the Mister is threatening to order a pizza because all you’ve served so far is lots of pan con tomate.

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Gambas al ajillo

Ingredients

    1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
    1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
    3 large cloves garlic, sliced
    1/4 cup torn fresh parsley leaves (plus a handful more for garnish)
    1 pound medium shrimp, peeled and deveined (I left the tails on for easy grabbing)
    Salt, to taste
    Crusty bread, for serving

Method: Heat the olive oil in a large, heavy-bottomed skillet over medium heat until it slides easily around the pan. Add the red pepper flakes, garlic and parsley and cook for about 10 seconds.

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Crank the heat to high and add the shrimp and a sprinkling of salt.

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Cook, tossing a few times, until they’re pink and starting to curl, about 3 minutes. Spoon the shrimp and garlicky oil into a big shallow bowl, top with fresh parsley and serve with crusty bread for sopping.

Sriracha-stir fried cauliflower

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Isn’t cauliflower the best? I have been going a little nuts with it lately–putting it in all kinds of pasta dishes, chopping it up and adding it raw to salads, roasting it and topping it with Parmesan, pureeing it into soup, even scrambling it with eggs–because everything is good with eggs.

But then I saw Ree Drummond make a quick stir fry of cauliflower with Sriracha, lime juice and soy sauce and became instantly jealous I hadn’t thought of it first. So I’m sharing it with you now, in case you don’t also watch Food Network cooking show reruns while riding a stationary bike in your bedroom.

This dish is incredibly easy, except for the cutting up the cauliflower part. I feel like a lot of cookbooks and food blogs fail to acknowledge what a pain in the ass it is to cut broccoli or cauliflower into tiny florets. Many of them gloss over that part by simply listing tiny florets as an already-ready ingredient…as in, “1 head cauliflower, cut into tiny florets”.

But in a dish like this where the total time post-chopping is about 5 minutes, I have to mention what a pain in the ass cutting up the cauliflower is, otherwise I’d be misleading you.

To do it, I like to first cut the head in half. Then I break it down into more manageably sized “trees” by sawing off their stems near the top; then I break those down again with my fingers until I end up with little bite-size florets. (I keep some of the more tender stem pieces and save the rest to make soup or cauliflower ragu, both of which are also great ways to use those outer leaves.)

OK? Now you can relax. The rest will take you almost no time at all, and it will taste like all the very best food adjectives: charred (almost meaty), tangy, salty and hot.

FYI, I’ve tried making this in a few different pans and have found that a cast iron skillet is the best for getting a really good char on the cauliflower.

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Sriracha-stir fried cauliflower
adapted from Ree Drummond

Ingredients

    1 tablespoon grapeseed oil
    1 head cauliflower, cut into tiny florets (see above)
    1 shallot or small onion, minced
    2 tablespoons soy sauce
    Juice of 1 lemon
    1 heaping tablespoon Sriracha
    Fresh cilantro leaves or chopped green onion, for garnish

Method: Heat the oil in a cast iron skillet over medium high, and add the cauliflower and onion. Cook, turning every few minutes, until the florets have softened and charred on all sides. Add the soy sauce and lemon and toss to coat.

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Cook for another minute, then turn off the heat and squirt in the Sriracha. Toss the cauliflower to ensure every floret is coated. Pile into a bowl and garnish with cilantro leaves or green onion.