“I am not the same, having seen the moon shine on the other side of the world.” I love this quote; it sits in a frame on my desk. The moment I packed my bags and set foot on foreign land, I knew I would never be the same. Travel has changed me. Changed my outlook on life.  Opened my eyes. Broadened  my horizons. I think about the people I’ve met, new friends made, places I’ve seen along the way; places so beautiful you would think they only existed in dreams, my “happy place.” The incredible filoxenia (φιλοξενιά; fee-lohk-sen-YAH), which translates into “love of strangers” — a generosity of spirit [in Greek] — beckons one back.

And, of course, food that I would not have otherwise experienced if it were not for travel.  Travel has encouraged me to try new things, altered my palate, and inspired me to cook.

This meal was inspired by a trip to Northern Spain, as well as ingredients readily available right here at home — the best of both worlds. First, sauteed squid with fresh cherry tomatoes and sherry, clean and simple flavors. The great thing about squid is that it’s inexpensive, sustainable, and takes literally minutes to prepare (less than 10 minutes, including prep and cooking time). The juices from the squid combine with the sherry and tomatoes to create one tasty sauce. Don’t omit the sherry, it’s essential — look for a dry, light sherry, such as Fino or Manzanilla — insofar as imparting a hint of sweetness and minerality (salinity) to the finished dish.


Squid with Cherry Tomatoes and Sherry

1 pound squid
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
2 cloves of garlic, minced
2 scallions, thinly sliced
1 1/2 cups cherry tomatoes, sliced in half
Red pepper flakes to taste
Couple splashes of sherry (preferably Fino or Manzanilla)
Chopped parsley for garnish

Slice the bodies into ~ 1/2 inch rings. Slice large tentacle in half. Season with salt and pepper.

Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over high heat. When the oil is very hot, add the squid. Cook for about a minute or so, until the squid starts to curl up. Add the garlic and scallions, and cook for another minute. Add the tomatoes and red pepper flakes, and cook for another minute or two. Add the sherry and cook for another minute. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Top with chopped parsley and serve with toasted bread drizzled with olive oil.

Next, Escalivada — Catalan vegetables (escalivar = to cook in hot ashes). Traditionally, the vegetables are grilled, then peeled, seeded, sliced into strips, and drizzled with extra-virgin olive oil, vinegar, salt, and pepper. In lieu of grilling the vegetables, you can roast them in the oven as I have in this preparation, clean simple flavors utilizing seasonal ingredients.  While traditionally served with grilled meats, I enjoy Escalivada atop grilled, crusty bread; it also pairs nicely with grilled fish.

Escalivada (Catalan Vegetables)

1 medium eggplant
1 yellow bell pepper
2 red bell peppers
1 medium onion
6-7 small-medium tomatoes
Chopped parsley for garnish
Extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon sherry vinegar
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Brush the vegetables lightly with olive oil. Roast in the oven for 40 minutes. Remove the peppers and tomatoes, and continue roasting the eggplant and onion for an additional 20 minutes. When cool enough to handle, peel and seed the tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant. Coarsely slice the vegetables into strips. Slice the onion into thin wedges. Combine 3 tablespoons olive oil with 1 tablespoon of sherry vinegar.  Drizzle on top of the vegetables. Season with salt and pepper and chopped parsley.

I love Padron peppers. Couldn’t begin to estimate how many platefuls of pimientos de Padrón I devoured while wandering through Spain.  Usually a plate or two with lunch and/or dinner, and, on some days, even with breakfast. Padron peppers were one of the few fresh vegetables you would regularly encounter on menus in Spain.  Some Padron peppers are spicy, others not so much.

Was quite shocked and pleased to find Padron peppers at Whole Foods the other day (they had labeled them “long hot chiles”, which I suspect had scared most people off; I ended up scooping up a few bagfuls). Simply pan-fried in olive oil until nice and browned, finished with a sprinkling of coarse sea salt — perfection.

Some of my favorite things from Spain (pan-fried Pardon peppers sprinkled with coarse sea salt, spicy chorizo, and Serrano ham (jamon Iberico — with its rich nutty flavors — is even better, if you can find it)…

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