09 September 2010

9 September - California; Santa Maria de la Cabeza; Puchero

Today is the memorial of Blessed Maria Torribia  (died c. 1175) also known as Saint Mary of the Head (Santa Maria de la Cabeza), wife of Saint Isidore the Laborer  (San Isidro Labrador).  Her unusual name comes from the use of her relic - her head, conserved in a reliquary -  in intercessions to relieve drought.

The couple lived in Torrelaguna, near Madrid, where Isidore was a farm laborer, and were known for their piety and charitable works.  Maria was beatified in 1697.

The Bear Flag

Today in 1850, California was admitted as the 31st state in the Union, after spending a small amount of time as a republic.

California had an amazing diversity of cooking traditions, even before it became a state, as people from all over the world flooded in to try and strike it rich in the Mother Lode, and found that selling and serving food to those who had "come to see the elephant" was often more profitable than squatting in a river for endless hours, swirling sand in a pan.

This year I am mixing an Old World recipe with New World ingredients, and honoring Santa Maria de la Cabeza and the diversity of California's agricultural produce, by making PUCHERO.

Hard on the heels of a Dagwood sandwich (September 8) comes another recipe which adds everything but the kitchen sink, and you may well wonder if the cook is supposed to clean out the larder and vegetable bin for one meal.  From its origins in Spain (the name means stew-pot), it traveled to all parts of the Spanish-speaking world, adapting to local tastes and available ingredients, even including fruit such as pears and pineapples.

And it is good, especially on the second day.

(8 servings, plus some for the following day's lunch)

You will need a large kettle for this.
Start with 1 cup chick-peas or garbanzo beans and 4 quarts of water. Either soak the legumes overnight OR cover with water, bring to a boil, and boil for 2 minutes.  Cover and let stand for 1 hour.

To the pot add:
2 lbs beef short ribs or stew beef
1 lb lean fresh pork, diced, and/or 1 ham hock.  Bring to a boil over high heat.  Reduce heat; cover and simmer for 1 hour.

Then add to the pot:
1 chicken (about 3 lbs), cut up
1/2 lb chorizo or hot Italian sausage
1 beef marrowbone (optional)
2 large onions, sliced, and 8 small white onions
4 carrots, scrubbed and halved
2 garlic cloves, minced.  Cover and simmer for another hour or until the meat is tender.

Then add to the pot:
2 teaspoons salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1 lb yellow squash, peeled and sliced and/or 8 small zucchini, halved lengthwise
4 tomatoes, quartered
1 large green pepper, chopped and/or 1 can whole kernel corn
4 - 6 leeks, cleaned and cut up.
4 stalks celery, cut in 1/2 inch pieces
4 turnips, peeled and halved.  Cook for 30 - 40 minutes or until vegetables are almost done.

Then add to the pot:
1 small head of cabbage, cut into 8 wedges.  Cover and cook for 10 to 15 minutes or until cabbage is tender/crisp.

Either serve from the pot as a stew, or arrange meat and vegetables on a platter (or a couple of platters, one of meat and one of vegetables); strain the broth and serve it as a first course, with side garnishes of chopped parsley, chopped onions, cilantro, diced avocado, and lime wedges.  If there isn't enough liquid, add chicken broth and heat.

Accompanied, of course, by a California wine.  Nothing else will do.

And please note: you don't have to use ALL the meats or vegetables.  You can get along quite well with boiled beef and chick-peas, onions, garlic, and whatever vegetables you have on hand - tomatoes, corn, squash - canned or not.  It can be seasoned with tomato sauce or tomato paste, ground cumin and dried oregano.  The choices are really yours.

Diverse.  Just like Californians.