Since the authors of The Gasparilla Cookbook saw fit to single out the Spanish bean soup with chorizo served up in Ybor City during the Gasparilla Pirate Festival, I thought it was probably worth making.

Spanish Bean Soup

Spanish Bean Soup with Chorizo

Spanish Bean Soup with Chorizo

1/2 pound garbanzo beans
1 tablespoon salt
1 beef bone
1 ham bone
2 quarts water
4 ounces white bacon
Pinch of paprika
1 onion
2 ounces lard
1 pound potatoes
1 pinch saffron
Salt to taste
1 Chorizo (Spanish sausage)

Soak garbanzos overnight with a tablespoon of salt in sufficient water to cover beans. When ready to cook, drain the salted water from the beans, and place them with the beef bone and ham bone in the 2 quarts of water. Cook for 45 minutes over slow fire. Fry the white bacon, with paprika and onion in the lard. Add to the beans. Also at this time add the quartered potatoes, saffron and salt to taste. When potatoes are done remove from fire and add Chorizos cut in thin slices. Serves 4.

–Columbia Restaurant, Tampa, Florida

Now, you might have observed that this soup calls for five different kinds of meat and meat products.  This necessitated a trip to my local butcher, Marconda’s Meat Market, where the butchers are always unflappable, even when a woman comes up to the counter and says, “I need a beef bone, a ham hock, some bacon, a little piece of lard, and some chorizo.”  Not even when, after asking, “What are you making?”  I replied, “Some soup.”

I’m really kicking myself for not getting a picture of the beef bone they gave me.  It was over a foot long, no lie.

When I first got the beans and the bones simmering in the stock pot, it was not a pretty sight.  When making a stock like this, you have to constantly skim the fat off the top, or it will give the broth an off flavor.  So, for the first hour, your soup doesn’t look or smell much like soup.  It looks and smells like a pot of water with a bone in it, and scum floating on top.  This is troubling, but around the second hour things start looking up.  Once you add the onion-bacon-paprika mixture and the saffron, the soup takes on a nice golden hue, and it begins to resemble something you’d actually want to eat.

As for the eating, it’s rich, hearty, and satisfying, and that’s just the bites that DON’T have a piece of chorizo in them.  With the sausage, the flavor of the soup develops a lot of very pleasing layers, satiny and spicy.

Now, The Gasparilla Cookbook warns that you have to be careful of Spanish soups, lest you find yourself unable to get past the first course.  We nearly ran into this problem, but bravely loosened our belts and soldiered on.

Harina Con Camarones

Harina Con Camarones

Harina Con Camarones

1 cup yellow corn meal
6 cups water
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, chopped
1 chili pepper, chopped
1 clove garlic, chopped
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 pound raw shrimp, peeled and deveined

Bring corn meal and water to boil.  Add salt.  Cook slowly.  Put olive oil in skillet; add onion, pepper and garlic, and saute slowly until onion is tender.  Add tomato paste and shrimp, then simmer for a short time.  Add this to the corn meal mixture and simmer over low heat until it thickens – about 1 hour.  Serves 4.  Serve in soup bowls.

— Mrs. James E. Wall

As it went into the bowls, this dish had three strikes against it:  1) It didn’t thicken up as well as I’d have liked, and looked too soupy, 2) We were already full of bean soup, and 3) I really don’t like shrimp very much.

And yet, it somehow managed to reach first on a wild pitch.  I found myself finishing off a bowl of harina con camarones and wishing I had room for seconds.  It was excellent comfort food, and entirely fitting for a Gasparilla feast.

Finally, my sister has become concerned of late that Brady and I aren’t including enough fruits and vegetables in our Junior League meals, and has started begging me to “throw a couple of carrots on the plate or something.”  So, Amy, this is for you:

Next time, I promise I'll make a veggie, too

Next time, I promise I'll make a veggie, too

I have absolutely no idea right now what I’m going to cook next week, so if you have any ideas for a region, a kind of dish, or a theme for the menu, I’m taking requests.

Advertisements

gasparilla cookbookSince 1904, the people of Tampa, Florida have celebrated the exploits of Spanish Navy admiral-turned-bloodthirsty pirate Jose Gaspar.  From 1783 to 1821, Gaspar terrorized the coast of Spanish Florida aboard the Floridablanco, capturing over 400 ships.  He put his prisoners to death, unless they happened to be beautiful women, in which case, he’d simply drop them off at Captiva Island to become part of his harem, or to await ransom payment.

In 1821, the aging Gaspar decided he was ready to retire.  However, as he and his crew were dividing their spoils, they spotted a merchant ship that looked like easy pickings, and couldn’t resist.  They advanced and were prepared to strike, when suddenly, the ship ran out its guns, hoisted the flag, and revealed itself as the US Navy pirate hunting ship, the USS Enterprise.

Yes, the USS Enterprise.

A vicious battle ensued, and when it was clear that the Floridablanco was lost, Gaspar decided he would not die at the enemy’s hands.  Instead, he wrapped the anchor chain around himself and threw himself overboard.

If this story sounds a little fishy to you, that’s probably because it was almost certainly invented by Tampa’s city leaders to drum up some travel and tourism dollars.  It worked, and to this day, the Gasparilla Pirate Fest pumps millions of dollars into the local economy.

As for Gaspar, it’s fairly likely that he never even existed, but it’s still a pretty good story.

What exactly happens during Pirate Fest?  Now, that is a story that rivals the legend of Jose Gaspar.

A pirate ship invades the City of Tampa, circa 1922.  From the University of South Florida Digital Collections.

A pirate ship invades the City of Tampa, circa 1922. From the University of South Florida Digital Collections.

While planning a simple little citywide festival, the society editor of the Tampa Tribune, Louise Frances Dodge, got the idea to incorporate Gaspar into the proceedings.  In response, a group of raucous locals formed a secret organization, Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla, and on the day of the festival, rode into Tampa on horseback and “took the city.”

It became an annual tradition.  Eventually, the Krewe commissioned a full-scale replica pirate ship, the Jose Gasparilla, so now, each year, they invade the city from the sea.  Then, they march into town, and the Mayor of Tampa gives the pirates a key to the city.  Then there’s a parade, during which many different Krewes throw beads, dubloons, and various treats into the crowd, while (according to the Wikipedia article) “shooting blank pistols from floats.”

In 1961, the Junior League of Tampa decided to style the now-legendary Gasparilla Cookbook around the annual tradition, and around the city’s traditions of Spanish, Cuban, Greek, and Italian cooking.

Ruth Beck Bakalar, editorial director of Gourmet magazine called The Gasparilla Cookbook “the most ambitious of community cookbooks.”  Ladies Home Journal said it was “delightful,” and McCall’s, “one of the nicest regional cookbooks I’ve seen.”

Arrrr.  From the University of South Florida Digital Collections

Arrrr. From the University of South Florida Digital Collections

It’s an amazing regional cookbook, written by people who truly understand the foodways of their city, and write about it well.  They lovingly describe the yard-long loaves of Cuban bread which, in the early 1900s, were home-delivered – “the deliveryman, swinging the loaf of bread like a bat would impale it on a nail hammered to the side of a customer’s house,” and the bowls of Spanish bean soup served up during the Gasparilla Festival in Ybor City, the city’s Latin Quarter (which also turns up in quite a few Hold Steady songs) – “white-aproned chefs ladle out steaming cups of bright yellow Garbanzo soup rich with beans, potatoes, and Chorizo sausage.  It’s almost unbelievable to see the curbings lines with tourists of every age and description sitting happily savoring their soup and Cuban bread.”

Though The Gasparilla Cookbook doesn’t have a recipe for Cuban bread, it does include one for the famous bean and Chorizo soup, so there was no way I could resist putting it on my menu.  And since Tampa is also known for a wide variety of seafood dishes, I decided to take on a little bit of shellfish.

At the fishmonger, I used my handy Regional Seafood Watch guide from the Monterey Bay Aquarium to select some ocean-friendly, sustainable seafood for my meal – wild-caught pink shrimp from Oregon.

I would highly recommend downloading the guide for your region – it makes seafood shopping a snap, and helps to ensure that you’re choosing seafood that isn’t overfished, or fished in ways that harm ocean ecosystems.

Next up:  I go to the butcher, and buy, like, everything.

The plan for this week’s meal from the very high-toned Nashville Seasons was a selection of the sorts of dishes that might be served at a ladies’ spring tea on the terrace of some fine old Nashville plantation-style home in the early 1960s.  And an occasion like that, my friends, calls for an aspic.

These days, you’re most likely to encounter aspic either in The Gallery of Regrettable Food, or in a former Soviet state (a couple of my friends spent time there, and independently informed me that aspic dishes were both abundant and uniformly awful).  However, for most of the 20th century, aspic dishes commonly turned up in American cookbooks and women’s magazines, until, for reasons unknown to this day, the nation collectively came to its senses.

Of the many aspic recipes featured in Nashville Seasons, this one offended my sensibilities least, and in fact, seemed like it had the potential to be both savory and refreshing.

Tomato Aspic I

Tomato Aspic with Lettuce and Droid Garnish

Tomato Aspic with Lettuce and Droid Garnish

2 packages lemon Jello
4 cups tomato juice
1/3 of a large size cucumber
1/3 of a medium onion
1/3 of a green pepper (optional)
2 cups shredded lettuce
Dash of ground red pepper to taste

Heat two cups of the tomato juice. Add to Jello and dissolve thoroughly, then add two cups of cold tomato juice. Grind cucumber, onion, green pepper, and lettuce in a meat grinder and add to tomato juice mixture. Add red pepper and pour in a large mold (or this amount will make 10 small molds). Put in refrigerator to congeal and serve with a spot of mayonnaise on a crisp lettuce leaf.

-Mrs. Robert W. Bolster

(A brief note about unmolding an aspic:  Loosen the edges of the mold with a warm knife, then plunge the mold into a bowl of warm water for 10 seconds.  It should pop right out.)

After I’d unmolded the aspic, I called Brady in to come see.  He regarded it for a moment, eyebrow raised and lips curled, before saying, “Well, it looks like the devil’s own sphincter.”  Perhaps it was this remark which impeded my enjoyment of the tomato aspic, and not the fact that it was a slippery, quivering, blood-red, and possibly sentient monstrosity, but I don’t think so.  I really cannot find words to describe the experience of eating aspic other than “unsettling.”

Into the trash it went – I called it an interesting lesson in culinary history, Brady called it grounds for divorce.

It did help matters somewhat that we had these little cocktail biscuits to serve as aspic chasers.

Sesame Seed Biscuits

Sesame Seed Biscuits

Sesame Seed Biscuit

2 cups flour
1/2 cup shortening
1/2 tsp. salt
Dash of red pepper
1 cup sharp cheese, grated
1/2 cup roasted sesame seed

Mix flour, shortening, salt, and pepper. Add cheese and roasted sesame seed. Roll on floured board very thin and cut in small round wafers. Place in biscuit pan and cook slowly in 300 degree oven for 15-20 minutes. Before removing from pan and while hot, sprinkle with salt. Makes several dozen. These may be kept in covered tin, and run into slow oven to crisp before serving. Good with cocktails.

-Mrs. John M. Ezzell

You might notice a serious omission in this recipe, namely, something to bind the dough together.  I added a few tablespoons of ice water, just enough to hold the crumbs together.  Make sure you roll them very thin, and err on the side of overbaking – they’re crispier that way.  We took the leftovers to a beer-tasting party at a friend’s house, and what do you know, they are VERY good with cocktails.  There was not a biscuit left at the end of the night.

Running a close second in sheer number to aspic dishes in Nashville Seasons are variations on the avocado salad.  This uncredited recipe featured four different suggested fillings, including one involving aspic.  I opted for chicken.

An Avocado Well-Filled

An Avocado Well-Filled

An Avocado Well-Filled

Peel and half 3 avocados, place on a bed of lettuce and fill with the following:

1 1/2 cups chopped cooked chicken
6 strips bacon, cooked and crumbled
1 hard cooked egg, grated
1 cup watercress chopped
1 tomato, peeled and chopped
2 tbsp. grated roquefort cheese
French dressing

Bind all ingredients with French dressing and pile into avocado halves.

Were this served on an episode of Top Chef, it would probably be presented to the judges as a “deconstructed Cobb salad.”  And while it would probably not win the challenge, Tom Collichio would probably admit it was tasty, if somewhat lacking in presentation.

Finally, because Brady had been rather sporting about the aspic, I let him pick the dessert, a recipe that reminded me why people don’t bake cakes from scratch anymore.

Maud S Devils Food Cake

Maud S Devils Food Cake

Maud S Devils Food Cake

2 cups sugar
1 cup milk
4 squares chocolate
4 eggs
1 1/2 sticks butter
2 cups flour
3/4 tsp. soda
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 tbsp. vanilla

Put 1 cup sugar, 1 cup milk, chocolate and 2 of the eggs in top of double boiler and cook until thick and smooth like mush. Let cool. Cream butter, add 1 cup sugar, then 2 egg yolks, one at a time. Combine flour, soda and baking powder. Add mush and flour mixture alternately to butter and sugar mixture. Add vanilla. Beat remaining 2 egg whites until stiff but not dry, and fold in. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Pour batter in two 8″ square pans, covered on the bottom with greased waxed paper. Cook for 25 minutes or until straw comes out smooth. Set pans on wire rack for 5 minutes and then turn out.

This cake is named for one of Vanderbilt’s race horses – Maud S – because the cake is so good it disappears like a race horse! It can be frozen for a month. Ice with white icing.

-Mrs. A. MacDowell Smith

This cake is a little on the dense and dry side, and I’d probably use slightly less flour next time.  Still, when you make a devil’s food layer cake for somebody, they tend to get pretty excited about it.

A head of lettuce lost its life garnishing this meal

A Meal from Nashville Seasons

And there ends the story of our Nashville garden party meal, and of my first (and last) aspic.  I need a little time to catch up this week, so I won’t be doing a new cookbook this week.  However, Brady has agreed to do a little Junior League mixology in my stead, so polish your punch bowls, and cook up some simple syrup.  One can never have too many recipes for pink cocktails.

pine-bluff-dinnerAs everyone knows, there’s nothing like chicken dinner on a Sunday.  My menu came together fairly easily – oven-fried chicken, jalapeno cornbread, and lemon chess pie were a no-brainer for Pine Bluff, Arkansas week – except for the problem of a vegetable.  I needed something green on the plate to break up all that brown and yellow, maybe some nice sugar snap peas or roasted asparagus.  Unfortunately, every single vegetable dish in Southern Accent involved bacon drippings, a cup of cheese, heavy cream, or a sugary glaze, and this plate already had plenty of those things on it.

In a vague nod to good health, I opted for oven-fried chicken over a traditional deep fried chicken, although to be honest, this had less to do with nutrition than the contributor of the fried chicken recipe.  I just did not care for her tone.

I started with dessert, in order to give the pie time to set up and cool.

Lemon Chess Pie

Lemon Chess Pie

Lemon Chess Pie

1 9-inch pie shell, unbaked
4 eggs, slightly beaten
2 cups sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
Juice of 2 lemons
Grated rind of 2 lemons
5 Tbsp. melted butter

Mix ingredients together, and pour into unbaked pie shell. Bake at 350 for 45 minutes until mixture is firm and brown on top.

-Mrs. Charles Scarbrough

Much to my surprise, Brady did not know the origins of the name “chess pie,” though to be fair, there are actually three common narratives, all of them rooted in that charming condition known as “South-mouth.”  The first is that because the pie was stored in an ice chest, it came to be known as “chest pie,” shortened by regional dialect to “chess pie.”  The second is that because of the similarity of its filling to the English treat, lemon curd, the name comes from a regionalization of “cheese pie” (though this involves a cognitive leap from curd to cheese that I find messy).  My favorite of the three has probably the weakest etymological leg to stand on, but makes up for it with sheer style.  The story goes that someone came into a diner and asked what kind of pie they had.  The waitress looked in the cooler, and seeing only a plain old custard replied, “Jes’ pie.”

Because you're worth it.

Because you're worth it.

I have strong feelings on the subject of freezer pie crust.  I’m agin’ it.  Making your own pie crust takes next to no time – I had this puppy mixed, rolled, crimped, and photographed in 10 minutes, and as I’m sure I’ve demonstrated quite clearly in previous posts, my love of cooking far outstrips my skill.  Here’s a simple recipe for a single pie crust:

1 cup of flour
pinch of salt
1/2 cup of Crisco
4-6 tablespoons ice water

Mix the flour and salt together. With a pastry cutter or a potato masher, mix in the Crisco until the dough is crumbly. Then, add about 4 tablespoons of ice water and give it a few stirs to see if that’s enough to hold the dough together. Depending on the weather, you might need more.  Once the dough forms a ball, turn it onto a floured surface and roll it out. Then put it in a pie pan and crimp the edges.

Tricks:

  • Dough Handling: The first trick to a flaky crust is the ice water. You want to keep the Crisco as cool as possible. This also means that you should try to avoid touching the dough. Basically, if you screw up the crust the first time you roll it out and it tears or something, just start over again. If you have to smoosh the dough back into a ball and roll it out again, you’ll wind up with rubbery crust.
  • Dough Rolling: Pat flour on the top of the dough and on your rolling pin. Once you’ve given it three or four rolls, lift up the edges and scoop more flour underneath the dough. That way, it won’t stick to the counter.
  • Successful Transfer to the Pie Pan: Once the dough is rolled out, wrap it once around your rolling pin. Then gently lift it up and drag it into the pan, unrolling it once you have it centered.
  • Tasty trick: If you’re making a savory pie or a quiche, substitute one tablespoon of white vinegar for the same quantity of ice water.

Anyhow, I don’t expect anyone to share my pie crust mania, but give it a try at least once.  For me.

Next up, I dispatched the jalapeno cornbread, which surely contains several times the recommended daily allowance of bacon drippings for growing boys and girls.

Jalapeno Corn Bread

Jalapeno Corn Bread (behold the almighty 'Ove' Glove in the background)

Jalapeno Corn Bread (behold the almighty 'Ove' Glove in the background)

1 1/2 cups yellow cornmeal
3 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
2 eggs
1 cup sour cream
1 cup Cheddar cheese, grated
1 (8 3/4 oz.) can cream style corn
1/4-1/2 cup chopped Jalapeno peppers
1/2 cup shortening or bacon drippings

Melt bacon drippings in a 9-inch iron skillet until very hot. During this time, sift dry ingredients in bowl. Add remaining ingredients, plus hot drippings, and mix well. Pour batter into skillet and bake at 450 for 20-25 minutes. Muffin tins may be used, filling half full, and baked 15-20 minutes. Serves 6.

-Mrs. Royce O. Johnson, Jr.

My cast iron skillet is much larger than 9 inches, so I opted to bake the cornbread in a regular round pan (though I did grease it with bacon drippings).  Also, if you wear contacts, wear latex gloves (or in a pinch, stick a sandwich bag over your hand) while you chop the jalapenos, or there will be much weeping and gnashing of teeth the next time you put in your lenses.

Oven Fried Chicken

I did not overlap!  I did not turn!

I did not overlap! I did not turn!

3/4 cup butter
1 clove garlic, minced
2 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. pepper
2 cups dry breadcrumbs
3/4 cup Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup minced parsley
1 fryer, cut up

Melt butter with garlic in it. Combine salt, pepper, crumbs, cheese, and parsley. Dip chicken pieces in butter, then in crumbs. Lay in shallow baking pan. Do not overlap! Do not turn! Bake, uncovered, at 350 for 1 hour. Serves 4.

-Mrs. Jasper Pyeatt (Searcy, Arkansas)

I’d worried that an hour in the oven would be too long, and that the chicken would be tough, but it was moist, juicy, and very flavorful.  Also, I stuck the Parmesan and parsley in the food processor before adding them to the breadcrumbs so they’d stick to the chicken better.  I learned this lesson after once making an ill-fated pecan-crusted tilapia.

And here’s our little red table laid for Sunday dinner, note the centerpiece:

Pine Bluff, Arkansas Dinner

Pine Bluff, Arkansas Dinner

Among its many admirable features, Bob Frank and John Murry’s new record is excellent dinner music, and in fact, promotes stimulating conversation, aids digestion, and takes the sting out of doing the dishes.