There are many lenses through which one can view world cultures. One, of course, is the lens of a camera. In his terrific book How Soccer Explains the World: An Unlikely Theory of Globalization, Franklin Foer goes quite some distance toward showing that the sport of soccer provides another such lens, and a subtly accurate one at that. But there are many others possible: politics, art, music and many others. While we will touch on many of those in this blog, our primary foci will be cuisine and that aforementioned camera lens.
One example of the power of cuisine as a lens on culture took place on our second night in Sanxenxo (pronounced as if it were spelled “San Jenjo”), a small town in Southern Galicia as close to the Portuguese border as San Diego is to the Mexican border. Other than the city of Santiago de Campostella, one of the most important pilgrimage destinations in Christendom, Galicia is best known as Spain’s fishing port. There is a greater variety – and higher quality – of shellfish in Galicia than just about anywhere else in Europe, much less Spain.
That night – my birthday dinner – we went to La Taberna de Rotillo, a one star restaurant in the Hotel Rotillo at Sanxenxo’s harbor. My appetizer was a Revuelto of Clams and Mushrooms. Revueltos are a class of scrambled egg dishes — elevated with extra virgin olive oil — that are popular throughout Spain as tapas or appetizers. Common pairings with the eggs are seafood, mushrooms (particularly wild mushrooms) and asparagus.
It took one very brief taste of that Revuelto dish on that night for me to gain a window on Galicia. That Revuelto whispered about the traditional poverty of the region. Not the crushing poverty of the third world, perhaps, but the poverty that comes from living in a remote region that has largely been bypassed by the economic winds of modern Europe. That Revuelto dish spoke about how to make something special out of even the most simple of ingredients; about the alchemy of the traditional Spanish kitchen.
But that Revuelto spoke about something else too. It spoke about how that same alchemy could work to take the spectacular beauty of Galicia’s shellfish – and, by extension, of Galicia itself — and frame it in such a way as to make it a gem, a treasure.
Standing, as I do, twenty miles north of Mexico – rather than Portugal – my Revuelto will, necessarily, be somewhat different from Rotillo’s. But perhaps, if I listen carefully, it will still whisper to me about Galicia.
Revuelto of Clams and Mushrooms with Tomato Confit
For the Tomato Confit:
- 12 Roma tomatoes
- ¼ tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 3-4 sprigs of fresh thyme
- Salt and Pepper to taste
For the Revuelto:
- 1 pound of small hard shelled clams (such as manila or littleneck clams), live and in their shells
- 10 button mushrooms
- 1 onion, finely chopped
- 8 eggs
- 4 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
- 1 teaspoon of Spanish paprika (sweet, hot or smoked)
- Kosher salt
For the Garnish:
- Italian parsley finely chopped
- Make the Tomato Confit. Bring a kettle of water to a boil Meanwhile, with a sharp paring knifre cut out and discard the stems of each tomato and score the opposite (pointed) end. Place the tomatoes in a large bowl. Pour the boiling water over the tomatoes and let them sit there until the skin peels easily – about fifteen to twenty seconds. Drain the tomatoes and cover with ice. Peel the tomatoes (once they are cooled) and cut them in quarters. Place them in a small saucepan with the thyme, the olive oil and the salt and pepper. Bring them to an ever-so-brief boil over high heat and then reduce the heat to a simmer. Simmer the tomatoes until they have completely lost their texture (for about one hour).
- Prepare the “Filling” Ingredients. Steam the clams and remove them from their shells. Brush and stem the button mushrooms. Quarter the caps of the mushrooms and cut the stems in half.
- Prepare the Eggs for the Revuelto. Add the paprika to the eggs and, beating, drizzle half the olive oil into the eggs.
- Prepare the Revuelto. Put the remaining olive oil in a sauté pan over medium-high heat and stir to coat. Add the onions and cook until the just begin to turn translucent. Add the clams, mushroom and garlic and cook until the mushrooms begin to lose their texture. Add the egg mixture to the pan and, stirring constantly cook until the eggs are broken up but still loose.
- Serve the Revuelto. Serve the Revuelto in a row on the plate with a small mound of the tomato confit (to be incorporated to taste), with the Revuelto garnished with Italian parsley.