There are chefs whose creativity springs from spontaneity. You know the type: a dash of this, a dash of that, no measuring, all eyeballing. And then there are chefs like Katie Button who, with a background in chemical and biochemical engineering, is both meticulous and assiduous about making a plan and getting the smallest details just right.
Button, whose capacity to absorb knowledge and to learn quickly has been praised by chefs including Albert Adrìa, didn’t go to culinary school. She cut her teeth in kitchens at El Bulli and at her own family-run restaurant, the renowned tapas bar Cúrate, in Asheville, North Carolina.
Now, five years after opening Cúrate, Button has released her first cookbook, “Cúrate: Authentic Spanish Food From an American Kitchen” (Flatiron Books).
In developing “Cúrate,” Button looked for recipes that were “traditional, classic, tasted delicious, but also didn’t have so many steps that it would be so overwhelming,” she said in a phone interview. Indeed, she recounts in the cookbook how the extravagant amount of time spent on certain dishes was a point of pride for some Spanish cooks.
The recipes range from easy meals that can be whipped up in 10 minutes, such as the classic tomato and tuna salad, to more complicated “projects,” as Button calls them. “Sometimes I want something that’s going to challenge me,” she added.
For those familiar with her restaurant, Button emphasizes that the cookbook isn’t a collection of tapas recipes only. “In Spain, they don’t cook tapas at home, you don’t make eight things. You [have tapas] in a bar or restaurant, that’s what they’re for. At home you make one or two dishes, to be enjoyed by friends or family.”
There are classics like paella, tortilla with eggs and potatoes, shrimp with garlic, and then some lesser-known specialties of different regions.
For example, Button features Ajo Blanco, a chilled almond and garlic soup from the south of Spain, to which she adds her own twist: cut green grapes. “That combination of a cold almond garlic soup with the sweetness of cut grapes is a match made in heaven. I like to add crab in it. It’s absolutely to die for,” she said.
And then there’s another traditional recipe, from Málaga: the Fried Eggplant with Honey and Rosemary. The sweet-savory golden disks are typically served with cane syrup, but Button likes to serve them with honey for depth of flavor. “In Asheville, we have a lot of great honey,” she said. (See the recipe below.)
Although some people might associate Spanish cuisine with beaches and sunshine, there is no lack of recipes for a more fall-inspired dinner party. Button recommends the recipes for Braised Oxtail and the chickpea and collard greens stew—a dish that surprised her with its similarities to the American South’s version.
For dessert, try the classic flan (see the recipe below). “The ratio of egg to cream ended up being perfect. It’s super-tender and delicious,” Button said. Or there is also the Tarta de Santiago, an almond cake that Button added her own touch to by drizzling brandy and syrup over it. “I think it makes it super-moist and delicious, so why not? … It’s something that warms you up, that you can have for dessert and have the next day for breakfast on a chilly morning.”
See Button’s recipes below, excerpted from “Cúrate: Authentic Spanish Food From an American Kitchen”:
- Roasted Beet Salad with Candied Orange, Manchego, and Marcona Almonds (Ensalada de Remolacha)
- Fried Eggplant With Honey and Rosemary (Berenjenas Fritas)
- Egg Flan (Flan de Huevo)
Roasted Beet Salad with Candied Orange, Manchego, and Marcona Almonds (Ensalada de Remolacha)
This salad may not be traditional, but it celebrates the autumnal beets using Spanish ingredients. Manchego cheese and salty roasted Marcona almonds go so well with earthy beets. Oranges start rolling into stores in the fall, but aren’t quite at the height of sweetness yet, so I candy them to match the orange vinaigrette. Most people don’t think they’ll hit a winning combination of red wine with salad, but a Rioja or Mencia tastes wonderful with this dish.
8 as a small plate
For the Salad
- 3 medium beets (1 pound), preferably 1 each red, gold, Chioggia
- 3 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil, separated
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1 orange, peel and pith removed, segments cut out
- 4 segments Candied Oranges, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
- 2 ounces aged Manchego cheese, shaved with a vegetable peeler
- 1/2 cup coarsely chopped roasted and salted Marcona almonds
- 1 (5-ounce) package mixed greens
For the Orange Vinaigrette
- 1 orange
- 1 1/2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
- 1/2 teaspoon minced shallot
- 1/2 teaspoon honey
- 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
- 2 1/2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
To make the salad, preheat the oven to 400 F.
Peel and cut the beets into 1-inch chunks, keeping the colors separate on different large sheets of foil. Toss each pile of beets with 1 teaspoon oil and a pinch each of salt and pepper. Wrap each mound of beets in the foil to create packets. Place the packets on a half-sheet pan and roast until the beets are tender, 40 to 50 minutes. Unwrap and cool to room temperature.
While the beets roast, make the vinaigrette: Zest one-quarter of the orange into a large bowl, then squeeze in 1 1/2 tablespoons orange juice. Whisk in the lemon juice, shallot, honey, and salt. Slowly pour in the oil in a steady stream while whisking vigorously.
Add the cooled beets, orange segments, candied orange, cheese, almonds, and greens to the bowl with the vinaigrette. Gently toss with your hands until well-mixed. Season to taste with salt and pepper and serve immediately.
Sevilla is famous for its oranges, which are tart and ideal for preserves. This recipe is my nod to those oranges, but can be used with any variety. These easy candied oranges use the whole fruit, not just the peel. That saves you the hassle of scraping off the pith and gives you the benefit of luscious fruit in each bite with the chewy rind. They keep well in the fridge and are delicious with both savory and sweet dishes. They’re good with ice cream and can find a place on a cheese plate, too, along with crackers and nuts.
1 1/2 cups
- 3 oranges, preferrably unwaxed organic
- 1 cup sugar
- 1/4 cup white wine vinegar
- 2 whole cloves
- 1 cinnamon stick
Trim off just enough of the tops and bottoms of the oranges to expose the segments. Following the divisions between the segments, cut the oranges from top to bottom into wedges, leaving the rind attached.
Put the orange wedges in a medium saucepan and add enough cold water to cover; bring to a simmer. Simmer, stirring occasionally, for 1 hour.
Strain the oranges through a sieve, return to the same saucepan, and add the sugar, vinegar, cloves, cinnamon, and 3 tablespoons water. Bring to a simmer and simmer gently, stirring occasionally, until the rinds are translucent, about 1 hour 15 minutes. Remove from the heat and cool at room temperature.
Transfer to an airtight jar or container and refrigerate for up to 2 months.
Fried Eggplant With Honey and Rosemary (Berenjenas Fritas)
Traditionally, this Andalusian dish is served with cane syrup, but I think honey has a more complex flavor. Throughout Spain, there’s a range of honey as varied as the landscape. Any type accents the salty crisp shell of these eggplant rounds. My personal touch here is the rosemary leaves, which bridge the savory bite of eggplant with the sweetness of honey. The salty-sweet crunch of this dish makes it the ideal appetizer to any summer or early fall meal.
4 as a small plate
- 2 to 3 cups whole milk
- 1 medium eggplant
- 2 to 3 cups vegetable oil
- 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
- 1/4 cup pure honey
- 1 rosemary sprig
- Kosher salt
Pour the milk into a medium bowl. Trim the top and bottom of the eggplant, then peel. Cut the eggplant into 3/8-inch-thick slices. As you slice the eggplant, put the slices into the bowl with the milk. You should get about 12 slices, but it’s fine to have more or less. The milk should cover the eggplant. If it doesn’t, add more. Weigh down the eggplant with a heavy plate that fits snugly over the bowl to keep the eggplant submerged. Cover with plastic wrap and soak overnight in the refrigerator.
When ready to cook, fill a large skillet with the vegetable oil. It should be about 1/2 inch deep; if not, add more. Heat the oil over medium heat until an instant-read thermometer registers 350 F. A pinch of flour should sizzle when it hits the oil.
Spread the flour on a plate. Drain the eggplant. Dredge a slice in the flour and tap off the excess. Carefully drop into the hot oil. Repeat with more eggplant slices, being careful to not crowd the pan. Fry, turning once, until golden brown, 2 to 3 minutes per side. The eggplant shouldn’t get too dark; reduce the heat if needed. Transfer to a wire rack to drain and immediately sprinkle with salt and drizzle with honey. Repeat with the remaining eggplant and flour.
Arrange the eggplant on a serving plate. Top each piece with 2 to 3 rosemary leaves. Serve immediately.
Egg Flan (Flan de Huevo)
Flan is the classic Spanish dessert found all over the country. This recipe is unadulterated because I love the pure, simple flavor of eggs with milk and sugar. I add just a bit of lemon peel to give the custard more complexity and a bright citrus note.
8 to 12
- 2 1/2 cups sugar, divided
- 3 cups whole milk
- 2 strips lemon zest, removed with a vege table peeler
- 1/8 teaspoon salt
- 6 large eggs
- 2 large egg yolks
Preheat the oven to 325°F. Place a 9- by 5- by 4-inch loaf pan inside a 9- by 13-inch baking dish or pan. Bring a large kettle or pot of water to a boil.
Stir 1 cup sugar and 2 tablespoons water in a medium saucepan over medium heat un – til well-combined. Cook, without stirring but brushing and sugar crystals off the sides of the pan with a wet pastry brush, until deep amber in color. Swirl the pan occasionally to caramelize evenly. Immediately pour into the loaf pan and tilt the pan to evenly coat the bottom and a few inches up the sides.
Bring the milk, lemon zest, salt, and ¾ cup sugar to a simmer in a large saucepan. Meanwhile, whisk the eggs and yolks with the remaining ¾ cup sugar in a large bowl. Continue whisking while adding the hot milk mixture in a slow, steady stream. Strain through a fine-mesh sieve into a 2-quart liquid measuring cup or bowl with a spout. Skim any foam on the surface. Pour into the caramel-lined pan. The mixture will come all the way to the top. Very carefully place the dish in the oven, then carefully pour the boiling water into the dish so that it comes halfway up the sides of the loaf pan.
Bake until just set, but still slightly wobbly in the center, about 1 hour and 5 minutes.
Carefully remove the flan from the water and cool on a wire rack for 30 minutes. Refrigerate uncovered until cold and set, at least 8 hours or up to 3 days.
To unmold, run a sharp knife around the edges. Center a serving plate on top of the pan and carefully and quickly flip the pan and plate together. Lift off the pan and let the caramel run all over the top.
Recipes excerpted from the book “CÚRATE” by Katie Button with Genevieve Ko. Copyright © 2016 by Katie Button with Genevieve Ko. Reprinted with permission from Flatiron Books. All rights reserved. Photography by Evan Sung.