The Flavor of Spain, No Passport Required

Each month, Tasting Table’s Monthly Editions explores a single topic from a variety of delicious angles. Our June 2012 issue, Spain, digs deep into chefs’, winemakers’--and smart eaters’--latest culinary obsession.

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  • Chef Ryan Poli didn’t grow up eating ajo blanco. “We ate Chicken & Stars,” he says.

    So his shallow bowl of silken garlic-almond soup, topped with Marcona almonds, pickled grapes and planxa-seared scallops, is, in his words, an interpretation.

    Having spent his formative years in Spanish kitchens, Poli is well equipped to be liberal with authenticity. And his new restaurants, Tavernita and the adjacent Barcito, do precisely that, with a menu that nods in one bite to both Spain’s modern kitchens (alta cocina) and its classic tapas bars.

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    In anticipation of opening the two restaurants last year, Poli ate his way through Spain’s great food cities. Evidence of the trip is on his menu: potatoes with fried eggs and chorizo, inspired by huevos estrellados in Madrid; classic prawns a la planxa; and a litany of bread-mounted pintxos at Barcito.

    Almonds are one of the Spanish pantry staples he uses with dexterity. Spain is the world’s second-largest producer of the nut, and he showcases this legacy in sauces, soups and garnishes--and as a pimentón-flecked bar snack.

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    Poli’s romesco recipe comes with serious Spanish pedigree: He lifted it from the mother of the Roca brothers, who run the three-Michelin-starred El Celler de Can Roca in Girona, Spain. According to her recipe, he fries almonds, hazelnuts, bread and garlic in olive oil until the nuts are toasted, the bread crisp and the garlic soft.

    The trio is blended with piquillo peppers, red wine vinegar, olive oil and--in an arguably gratuitous tweak from Joan Roca--tomato powder, for an acidic, tomato-y kick, says Poli (click here to see the recipe).

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    At Tavernita and Barcito, Poli spoons this nutty orange sauce over beef-and-pork meatballs, and uses it as a base for a pintxo of escalivada (roasted, marinated vegetables) and Caña de Cabra goat cheese, drizzled with punchy Castillo de Canena olive oil made from Picual olives ($32 for 17 ounces; click here to buy).

    In Catalunya, romesco’s region of origin, the sauce is served with seafood and roasted vegetables, and it plays a supporting role to the famed spring calçot, a type of wild green onion.

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    Blanched almonds form the base of ajo blanco, the marvelously simple soup considered to be the grandfather of gazpacho. Thought to be a culinary artifact of the Islamic Moors who conquered the Iberian Peninsula in 711, its origin predates the arrival of tomatoes in Spain by more than half a century.

    Poli blends the chopped almonds with water-softened bread and garlic to form a dense paste; water, olive oil and a touch of vinegar relax it into a soup.

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    In Andalucía, ajo blanco is a typical summertime dish, served chilled with garnishes of grapes and melon.

    At Tavernita, it’s a sauce, pooled below seared scallops and scattered with its deconstructed ingredients--chopped Marcona almonds and toasted bread--and the soup’s traditional grape garnish, here quick-pickled in red wine vinegar and sugar (click here to see the recipe).

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    Ryan Poli’s Shopping List

    Marcona Almonds ($37 for 2 pounds; click here to buy)
    Pimentón ($16 for 3 tins; click here to buy)
    Tomato Powder ($4.50 for 3.5 ounces; click here to buy)
    Castillo de Canena Olive Oil ($32 for 17 ounces; click here to buy)

  • SENT JUNE 27, 2012


    The Spanish Pantry: Bonito del Norte

    Why canned tuna should be the star of your summer

    We know that chefs Eder Montero and Alex Raij have chops. The husband-and-wife team established a reputation for serving excellent Spanish cuisine at their first two New York City...

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  • SENT JUNE 25, 2012


    Three of a Kind

    Spain's favorite drink, made better

    The gin and tonic is the unofficial cocktail of Spain. However, since the British are credited with creating the drink, it follows that they are also updating it. With the launch...

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  • SENT JUNE 22, 2012


    Mineral Deposits

    Albariño finds a home on California's Central Coast

    If we know Albariño at all, most of us know it as a Spanish wine. But there's a less-known spate of bottles with American provenance. The Albariño grape has become a...

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  • SENT JUNE 19, 2012


    How Near, How Far

    Viridian Farms specializes in Spanish produce

    Bumper stickers and conscientious eaters alike advise to "eat locally, think globally." But when we're thinking about Spanish cuisine, eating locally can be quite a challenge. So...

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  • SENT JUNE 15, 2012


    The Spanish Pantry: Salt Cod

    Katie Button walks us through bacalao

    Most chefs wouldn't touch seafood that was older than a week, but Katie Button doesn't balk at a mature fish.  At Curaté, her tapas restaurant in Asheville, North...

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  • SENT JUNE 14, 2012


    Northern Realm

    Drive along Spain's uppermost border

    Food-minded tourists flock to Spain's metropolises, Madrid and Barcelona, for a taste of the country's cuisine. No disrespect to those cities, but we'd argue for a different path....

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