When the list of Spring cookbooks was released early this year, The Basque Book was among the roster of cookbooks coming out this season. Intrigued by it, and curious, I anxiously awaited the book arrival at my doorstep.
Among the book reviews I’ve shared with you to date, The Basque Book resonates for me personally, as the cuisine and culinary traditions the book celebrates take me back to my own childhood, my family, the region that gave my mother her cooking techniques, and the cuisine I continue to pass onto my loved ones to this day.
The Basque Book brought back vivid memories of our long family meals, endless tertulias, revived the places I visited many times and traveled along near and far in the Basque country. The Basque Book brought me many emotions and nostalgia.
With classic and time-honored recipes, The Basque Book showcases the recipes Alex Raij and Eder Montero – husband and wife – prepare every day for their loyal patrons at Txikito.
“This book is the product of two people falling in love. It is the distillation of fourteen years of shared kitchen space and two lives that have been woven into a unified personal history…’
As Alex Raij recognizes, there are several cookbooks on classical Basque cuisine already available to us. Her intent, however, wasn’t to add one more:
“I wanted to create a book that would demonstrate how Eder and I as chefs interpret a cuisine and keep it current. All of the recipes are prepared as they are at the restaurant, because Txikito is based on home cooking…”
Eder’s wife, provides us with a first-person narrative from beginning to end. It is easy to perceive a woman, who has fallen in love not only with Basque food, but also with the Basque people, the Basque country, became a better cook because she cooks as Basque do, and more importantly, found love with Eder and their two young children. She writes from her heart.
In formidable detail she takes us back to her childhood and her memories of constantly dreaming that one day she would open a restaurant.
‘For as long as I can remember, I have wanted to open a restaurant…’ ‘I grew up, and opened a small restaurant in one of the biggest cities in the world. But the part that in a way, still surprises me today – in that my restaurant Txikito, is Basque.’ ‘I love all of the cuisines in Spain, but Basque food has a very specific mystique. It doesn’t hide behind strong Mediterranean flavors. Instead, it celebrates single ingredients and tastes and constantly reminds the cook that ‘simple’ doesn’t necessary mean ‘easy’.
Alex grew up in Minnesota, the daughter of Argentine parents. Eder grew up in the Basque Country, came to the US temporarily, and was the sous-chef at the restaurant where Alex applied for a job. When Alex arrived the first day at the job, Eder was sitting at the bar, wearing a suit, drinking a beer and eating a sandwich at 9:00 o’clock. Yes, that’s right, 9:00 a.m. She felt drawn to Eder in a way that she couldn’t explain.
Eder, on the other hand, had no intentions to staying in the US, New York wasn’t for him. As Alex recounts it, “He was playing hard to get, and not just with me but with the city. “…it is awesome to have a crush at work: when you want to impress somebody, you go in every day and do the best job you can. Every night, we closed at 11:30 p. we had to clean the kitchen from top to bottom. I still remember the night – Eder was standing on the plancha, scrubbing he kitchen range hood- that I realized that I had never worked so hard in my life. And that’s also when I realized that Eder was the person for me. He was someone who just made me better.”
They kept their dating a secret from everyone in the kitchen; but one February, on Valentine’s day, Eder spontaneously approached Alex holding a balloon with the Pepé Le Pew character. Eder carried it into the restaurant, and presented it to Alex, “like a rose in front of everyone.”
“the balloon was this weird thing that came out of nowhere, and that’s what Basque cuisine was for me, too. I couldn’t have predicted that balloon, or Eder, or falling in love with him and his country’s food. Sometimes in life, you find that you need exactly what needs you back. For me, those things were Eder and Basque cooking.”
From the book, I chose to prepare two recipes: a flan with wine poached cherries (given the abundance of cherries right now) and lentils with chorizo. Both are fond loving food we eat often at home.
If you have already been introduced to Basque food, or visited this wonderful region, I hope that The Basque Book will bring you a little bit closer to the cuisine that has been mostly unknown until recently, but no longer.
As the Basque say in Euskera, Eskerrik asko!
Thank you!, Alex and Eder for creating a compilation of the Basque food and recipes you wanted the world to read about, cook with, and savor near or far, from the home cooking at Txikito.
Laster arte eta Eskerrik asko!
- 1½ cups red wine
- 2½ cups sugar
- Peel of ½ lemon, in wide strips
- ½ cinnamon stick
- Pinch of kosher salt
- 2½ pound back or dark cherries pitted if you like
- 2 whole eggs
- 4 egg yolks
- Pinch of kosher salt
- ½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- 1 cup whole milk
- 1 cup Crème fraîche
- To make the cherries, in a saucepan, combine the wine, 1¾ cups sugar, lemon peel, cinnamon stick, and salt and bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring well. Turn down the heat to medium and simmer for 5 minutes, until the alcohol cooks off and the sugar is completely dissolved. Be careful not to reduce the syrup too much: this is fruit in red wine, not a conserve.
- Add half of the cherries and simmer for no more than 8 minutes, until tender but still intact. Stir in the remaining cherries off the heat. Chill the cherries, submerged in the liquid, for up 1 week.
- Line the bottom of a baking dish or a roasting pan with a kitchen towel and place 6 ramekins in the pan. To line the ramekins with caramel, in a small, heavy saucepan, melt the remaining ¾ cup sugar over medium-high heat, whisking continuously so sugar cups break up and caramelize evenly as you go. As the sugar begins to melt, turn down the heat to medium-low and continue to stir until the melted sugar is a uniform blond, about 2 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and let the sugar continue to color off the heat for 1 to 2 minutes, until is dark gold. Then, working quickly, pour the hot caramel to a depth of ¼ inch into each ramekin. As it cools, it will harden to a hard-candy-like consistency but will loosen up again when the custard is baking. Set the baking dish holding the ramekins aside.
- Preheat the oven to 300 degrees F. Place a fine-mesh strainer over a bowl and set aside. To make the flan, in a bowl, whisk together the whole eggs, egg yolks, salt, about half the sugar, and the vanilla until blended. Ina a small saucepan, combine the milk, crème fraîche, and the remaining sugar and bring to a simmer over medium heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Remove from the heat. Whisk about ½ cup of the hot milk mixture into the egg mixture to temper the eggs, then whisk in the remaining milk mixture about ½ cup at a time until all of it has been incorporated. Pass the mixture through the strainer. Divide the custard evenly among the caramel-lined molds.
- Pour boiling water into the baking dish to reach two-thirds of the way up the sides of the molds, taking care not to splash any water into the flans. Cover the top of the plan loosely with aluminum foil, making sure that steam can still escape from the side, and then very slowly and carefully move the baking dish to the oven.
- Bake for 45 to 50 minutes, opening the foil once or twice to release steam, until the flans are just set. Carefully remove the pan from the oven and then remove the flans from the plan. Let cool completely and chill well before serving.
- To unmold the flans, slide a small knife around the inside edge of each ramekin, pulling the blade gently toward you to create an air gap. Invert a shallow bowl over the mold, flip the modl and bowl, and lift off the mold. Serve each flan with ½ cup of the chilled cherries.
- 4 cups green lentils
- 1 (2-inch) chunk dry-cured chorizo or jamon end, or a combination
- ½ Spanish onion unpeeled
- 1 head garlic, unpeeled, with the top cut off to expose the cloves
- ½ carrot, peeled
- 3 lemon thyme sprigs, or 2 regular thyme sprigs
- Kosher salt
- ½ extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for finishing
- ¾ cup minced Spanish or red onion
- 1 large leek, white and light green parts only, minced
- 1 fresh bay leaf, or ½ dried bay leaf
- Kosher salt
- 1 carrot, peeled and cut into small dice
- 1 cup minded dry-cured chorizo, jakon serrano, or jamon iberico
- ½ teapoon sherry vinegar
- To make the stew, rinse the lentils and place them in a bowl. Add water just to cover and let stand for 5 minutes. Drain and discard the water. In a saucepan, combine the lentils, chorizo, onion, garlic, carrot, and thyme. Add water to cover by 3 to 4 inches, season with salt, and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Turn down the heat to a simmer that will cook the lentils and vegetables without reducing the liquid. Cook for about 15 minutes, until the lentils and vegetables are tender.
- Meanwhile, prepare the garnish. In a small saucepan, combine the oil, onion, leek, and bay leaf, season with salt, and place over medium heat. Cook, stirring often, for about 10 minutes, until the onion and leek are translucent. Do not allow them to caramelize. Add the carrot and continue to cook for 5 minutes. Add the chorizo and cook for about 1 minute, until just warmed through. Finish with a splash of vinegar.
- Remove the lentils and vegetables from the heat. Pick out the onion, carrot, garlic head, and thyme and discard the garlic and thyme. Peel the onion and place it in a blender with the carrot and some of the cooking liquid. Purred until smooth, then fold the puree into the lentils.
- This dish can be served two ways: Fold the garnish into the lentils, taste and adjust the seasoning, and serve hot, drizzled with oil. Or, for a fancier presentation, divide the garnish among warmed individual bowls, piling it in the center, and then spoon the lentils around the garnish and drizzle with the oil.
I have received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.
© Au Petit Goût. All Rights Reserved Worldwide.