Warming Up The Olympics And Dinner

HAPPY EATER

February 16, 1992|By ROB KASPER

New York -- This week I got ready for the Summer Olympics. I ate as though I were in sunny Spain.

I knew I was out of season. It was mid-February. The Winter Games were underway in Albertville, France. The Summer Games wouldn't start in Barcelona, Spain, until late July.

But in the food I eat and the Olympics I watch, I prefer warm over cold.

It is my upbringing. I was taught just as you eat food when it is hot, so, too, you stay inside and warm when the ground outside is frozen. As I have watched athletes compete in the televised coverage of the Winter Olympics, I have been shaking my head with disbelief.

When I see skiers out in the howling wind and falling snow, I wonder, "Why don't these people put a roof over their heads and some soup in their bellies?" Likewise, when I see skaters crash to the ice, I want to tell them that if they would only wait a few months, they could frolic in thawed water. It is much softer. Besides, God gave us ice to use in drinks, as cubes.

So when I got wind of a warm-up lunch for the Summer Olympics being held at a Spanish restaurant, Eldorado Petit, in New York, I was there in two shakes of the paprika jar.

As soon as I walked in, I drank some dark Spanish coffee laced with sweetened milk. Then I spoke with Penelope Casas, author of "Foods and Wines of Spain" (1982; Knopf). She provided the recipes for the lunch. These dishes, she said, could also be served at home as folks gather round the television to watch the Olympics -- the warm ones.

We talked about Spanish cucumbers and rabbits. Sea cucumbers are fish and are served in Barcelona restaurants. As she described it, the sliced seafood cucumber seemed to resemble slices of the backyard vegetables. I missed those cucumbers when I was in Barcelona last summer. But I had eaten some magnificent grilled rabbit.

This lunch was put on by the National Livestock and Meat Board, so rabbit was not on the menu. Instead I ate chorizo, a pork sausage flavored with pepper and garlic, wrapped in cabbage fTC leaves. Then I had rolls of marinated beef filled with pimento, Spanish green olives, pickled eggplant, green onions, olives, parsley and cooked eggs.

Next I ate spinach salad with bits of smoked ham, covered with a remarkable sherry vinaigrette. This ham, called jamon serrano, is widely available in Spain, but in the United States sometimes the Spanish grumble that they have to substitute Italian style prosciutto.

I learned that because sherry has a high (18 percent) alcohol content, it is sipped as an aperitif accompanied by little morsels of food. These are called tapas. Spaniards customarily gather twice a day, around 1 p.m. and then between 8 p.m. and 10 p.m., to sip sherry and eat these little bites of food. While Americans tend to regard eating tapas as a meal in itself, the Spanish, Ms. Casas said, have bigger appetites. They treat tapas as appetizers leading up to the main event, the big meal.

The lunch dish I found most useful was the Spanish-style bean and sausage stew. It contained virtually all the ingredients -- garlic, olive oil, paprika, red pepper, smoked ham, and chorizo -- that, according to Ms. Casas, were important in Catalan cuisine, the food of the area around Barcelona. And on a cold winter day this Spanish stew reminded me that warmer times were a-coming.

Spanish-style bean and sausage stew

Serves 8.

1 pound dried white beans

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 large onion, chopped

1/4 pound piece of slab bacon, cut into pieces

2 cloves garlic, chopped

1/4 pound smoked ham or prosciutto, cut into 1/4 -inch pieces

5 cups water

3/4 pound chorizo (or pepperoni) cut into 1/2 -inch pieces

1 tablespoon paprika

2 sprigs parsley

2 bay leaves

1 small tomato, chopped

1/2 teaspoon ground cumin

salt and red pepper to taste

Soak beans 6 to 8 hours at room temperature in large, deep pot covered with 2 inches cold water. Drain beans. Dry pot.

Heat oil in pot and saute onion, bacon and garlic over medium heat until onion is wilted. Cut ham into pieces and put in pot. Add beans, 5 cups water, chorizo, paprika, parsley and bay leaves. Bring to a boil, cover, reduce heat and simmer 45 minutes. Add tomato, cumin, salt, pepper, and cook 15 to 25 minutes more, until beans are tender. Skim fat. Remove from heat and let stand, covered, 5 minutes before serving. Serve with crusty bread.

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