I have spent too much of my adult life trapped in this faux-Buddhist state of thou shalt clean thy own messes; it’s good for you, I reasoned. Cleaning should be a Zen experience. Please, stop laughing. Quit it.
Needless to say, at some point between work and more work, errands and, I don’t know, waking up on Saturday mornings with a desire to leave the apartment and not scrub the edges of it, our little penthouse turned into a place we were not exactly proud of. And when you are as obsessive as I am, this is a very bad thing. I’d look around the apartment before I left each morning and sigh; this is not what I wanted for us, and come home too tired to do anything but sigh at it again.
Let me tell you, if you have a Jocelyn, and by that I mean a friend who has been nagging you for years to use her awesome, amazing cleaning lady, listen to her. Because forget Buddha; I will now worship at the altar of a spotless apartment. I am a whole new me! A real weight has been lifted, and with no nagging sense that there is something we always have to do, that will never, ever get done, and what’s the point, lets just watch Top Chef… we are free to do the things that we really want to do, which turn out to be moronic things like marveling over the fact that I think she polished the vacuum cleaner. And the light switch panels. Thank god they don’t just dole out free time to people who use it wisely.
Anyway, the best way I can think of sharing my new-found clean slate with you is to cop to some recipes I’ve been holding back for a few weeks, both from that cookbook you will never hear the end of, The New Spanish Table. The first called my name from the first time I cracked the book open: Gazpacho salad. Seriously, it’s like Spanish panzanella, with all of the flavors of gazpacho but none of that cold soup-ness. (Yes, a staunch aversion to cold soups are yet another one of my food oddities.) Something happens when those cumin seeds hit the croutons, and weeks later, I’m still craving that flavor combination.
The second is a lentil salad for people who are thinking, lentils? In a salad? How dreadfully healthy! Well, this lentil salad is has your name all over it, because it’s lentil to chorizo ratio is practically one-to-one. (Honestly, it’s not very pretty but you won’t care once you try it.) And really, is there anything more you need to know?
Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go back to admiring our spotless nest. It’s so clean, I think it echoes.
Elsewhere: I bet you’re so sick of hearing about me, me, me, right? Oh, you’re not? Well, then. The lovely Ganda has interviewed me for her Friday “You Are What You Eat” column. Yes, I thought she only did important people, too! Nonetheless, come over to find out what is always in our fridge; stay for the quince-pear butter. Thanks, Ganda!
Adapted from The New Spanish Table
2 1/2 cups cubed day-old dense country bread (1-inch cubes)
2 medium-size garlic cloves, chopped
1 large pinch of coarse salt (Kosher or sea)
1 small pinch of cumin seeds
3 tablespoons sherry vinegar, preferably aged, or best-quality red wine vinegar, or more to taste
1/3 cup fragrant extra-virgin olive oil
1 2/3 pounds very ripe but firm tomatoes, cut into 3/4-inch cubes
2 small Kirby (pickling) cucumbers, cored, seeded and diced
1/2 cup finely chopped white onion
1/2 cup seedless green grapes, cut in half
About 1/2 cup slivered fresh mint or basil (optional)
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
2. Arrange the bread cubes in a single layer on a large rimmed baking sheet and bake until they are just beginning to turn golden, 8 to 10 minutes, stirring once. Lead the bread cubes cool.
3. Place the garlic, salt, and cumin in a mortar and, using a pestle, mash them into a paste. Add the vinegar and olive oil and whisk to mix.
4. Place the toasted bread and the tomatoes, cucumbers, Italian pepper, onion, grapes, and mint, if using, in a large bowl and toss to mix. Add the dressing to the salad and toss to combine well. Let the salad stand for 5 to 10 minutes before serving to allow the bread to soak up the dressing.
Lentil Salad with Chorizo and Jamon Crisps
The New Spanish Table
Serves 4 to 6
1 small onion
3 medium-size garlic cloves, peeled
3 fresh flat-leaf parsley sprigs, plus 1/4 cup chopped parsley
1 bay leaf
1 cup green or brown lentils (see Note)
Extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 pound sweet Spanish-style chorizo sausage, diced medium-fine
2 ounces thinly sliced serrano ham or proscuitto
2 tablespoon sherry vinegar, preferably aged (we, of course, used more)
1 tablespoon best-quality red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon chicken stock or broth, or water
1 teaspoon honey
Coarse salt (kosher or sea) and freshly ground black pepper
3 medium-size firm tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped
1/4 cup finely slices scallions, both white and green parts
1. Place the onion, garlic, parsley sprigs, and bay leaf in a double layer of cheesecloth and tie it shut.
2. Place the lentils in a medium-size saucepan and add enough cold water to cover them by 3 inches. Bring to a boil over high heat. Skim the foam off thoroughly, add the cheesecloth bag, and reduce the heat to medium low. Simmer until the lentils are tender, 15 to 18 minutes. Drain the lentils. (If you are making the lentils ahead, toss them with a little olive oil. They will keep for up to 2 days, covered, in the refrigerator. Let them come to room temperature before continuing with the recipe.)
3. Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in medium-size skillet over medium-high heat. Add the chorizo and cook, stirring, until nicely browned and beginning to crisp, about 5 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the chorizo to paper towels to drain and keep warm.
4. Pour olive oil to a depth of 1/2 inch in a small skillet and heat over medium heat until almost smoking. Add the ham slices, one at a time, and cook until shriveled and crisp about 30 seconds, transferring the cooked slices to paper towels to drain. (Deb warning: This step made our apartment very smoky. Proceed with caution. If you really want to skip this, you could crisp it in the oven instead, on parchment-lined baking sheets.)
5. Place 3 tablespoons olive oil, the sherry vinegar, red wine vinegar, chicken stock, and honey in a small microwave-safe bowl and stir to mix. Microwave on high power for 30 seconds, then season the vinaigrette with salt and pepper to taste.
6. Place the drained lentils, chorizo, tomatoes, chopped parsley, scallions and warm vinaigrette in a large bowl and toss to mix. Crumble the crisp ham slices into medium-size pieces, toss some with the salad, scatter rest on top, and serve.
Note: If you are using Spanish pardinas, they will need to soak overnight before being cooked. Goya brand pardinas do not need to be soaked, despite what it says on the package.