Monday, March 11, 2013

Menestra: More Friends--More Spanish Cooking!

My friend, Alice, came to visit me from Seattle for a few days!  We had so much fun running around town, trying different restaurants and shopping for bargains!  Alice is a wonderful, creative cook and we've had many years of fun planning meals for our families and cooking together, so of course, that had to be part of her visit, too!  
Since it's spring in south Texas, and we were planning to go to the Farmer's Markets in the area, we decided a seasonal dish that incorporated spring veggies was definitely in order.  After some thought, I remembered this Spanish recipe that is mostly vegetables, but flavored with a generous bit of pancetta, Menestra!  While Ben's not a fan of vegetarian cuisine, I knew the addition of pancetta would make it all better, so we decided to give it a try!
Well, it turned out to be a beautiful, absolutely scrumptious dish that we all loved!  There is an interesting step where the sauteed onions are pureed with the parsley and a bit of wine.  This makes a kind of paste that adds a super amount of flavor and a "not soupy" consistency to the dish itself.  So, it's not like vegetable soup at all, it's not really a stew, it's well, Menestra!  The veggie preparations are a bit labor intensive, but that's what makes this a really fun recipe to cook with a friend.  I'm noticing this is a pattern with many Spanish dishes and a lovely, tasty practice it is!  This makes a lot, but left-overs are super good if you have any!  

Spanish Menestra (serves 6)
1 Tbl. olive oil
8 oz. pancetta, diced 
1 onion, chopped
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
6 Tbl. chopped flat parsley
3/4 cup dry white wine or French vermouth
1.25 cups chicken stock
5 oz. green beans, ends removed and cut into short lengths
7 oz. young carrots, peeled, cut in half crosswise and lengthwise
6 small new potatoes, scrubbed
cut off kernels of one corn cob (frozen will do)
2 cups peas (fresh if possible, but frozen will do)
small handful of snow peas, ends removed
salt and pepper
2 hard boiled eggs, chopped

In a Dutch oven, or other large pot, heat the oil and cook the pancetta until it is crispy (add a bit more oil if necessary).  Remove the pancetta to a plate.  Saute the onion in the pot until it is soft, add the garlic and cook a few more minutes.  
Puree the onion mixture, 2 Tbl. parsley, and about 2-3 Tbl. of the wine in a food processor until it is a smooth paste.
Bring another pot of salted water to a boil and add the potatoes.  Cook until they are almost done, then add the carrots and cook 5 minutes and drain the carrots and potatoes.  The potatoes and carrots should be cooked through.  They will cook a bit more later also.
Return the pancetta back to the big pot.  Add the chicken stock, green beans, corn, and peas.  Lay the snow peas on top of the mixture.  Half cover the pot and allow to simmer 10 minutes, until everything is just cooked through.  Add the carrots and potatoes, the rest of the wine, and the onion puree.  Mix everything together gently and heat for 5 or 10 more minutes.  Taste for seasoning.
Sprinkle the chopped egg and the rest of the parsley over the top and serve from the casserole with crusty bread.  Be sure to spoon some of the tasty sauce over each serving!

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