Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Taberna de Haro, Clementines & Passion

The time to get fresh clementines will soon be over so buy them now if you wish to enjoy them.

The clementine is a type of mandarin orange that acquired its name around 1902, from Father Clement Rodier, a French missionary, who either found or accidentally created the clementines in his garden at an Algerian orphanage. There are some though who believe clementines may have existed in China for centuries before that.

Whatever the case, clementines soon after spread to Spain and commercial production began around 1925. Spain has since become the world's largest producer and exporter of clementines. Though clementines have been in the U.S. since around 1914, it was not until about the late 1990s that they became popular. In 1997, a harsh winter in Florida destroyed much of the orange production so people sought alternatives, and clementines became one of their significant choices.

Clementines are small, sweet, generally seedless, and peel very easily. Plus, they are very nutritious, an excellent "fast food" as Chef Deborah Hansen says. They are only available though from November to March, the best being found in December and January. Because of this limited time period, they are sometimes known as "Christmas Oranges."

Last week, I had a wonderful opportunity to taste some delicious recipes made from clementines. Clementines From Spain, in a joint promotion with Chef Deborah Hansen of Taberna de Haro, invited several local bloggers to Taberna to experience a special lunch of three recipes using clementines. The other bloggers included Rachel of Fork It Over, Boston and Susie & Chelsea of We Are Not Martha. I know all three of them and it was fun to hang with them again.

Taberna de Haro is an authentic Spanish restaurant in Brookline, serving many different tapas as well as entrees. Chef Hansen lived in Spain for eight years and her goal with Taberna is to provide very traditional Spanish cuisine, from all over the country. She states Spanish cuisine is usually traditional, robust and natural. It embraces seasonality and local sourcing, which is very important to Chef Hansen as well.

Chef Hansen stated that you "mess with Mother Nature" by eating outside of seasonality and locality, and that you would be healthier if you followed the Spanish example. Though she only changes the main menu twice a year, each week she has new seasonal specials. She tries to purchase local ingredients when possible, such as her beef which comes from River Rock Farm.

Taberna possesses an incredible and lengthy Spanish wine list, with easily over 200 choices. I found many of my favorite Spanish wines on the list, as well as plenty of others I have never tasted before and which I want to sample. Prices were generally good, with the more expensive wines having the least amount of mark-up. Chef Hansen holds a weekly wine tasting on Wednesday evenings, a sampling of 4-5 wines with food. Each month there is a different theme and seating is limited. Sounds like an excellent way to learn more about Spanish wine.

It would have been very easy for Chef Hansen to have prepared everything ahead of time, and just served us the dishes. But she did not that. Instead, she prepared most everything in front of us, giving us an up close and personal look at her culinary skills. That was exciting, elevating this event beyond the usual. As she prepared each dish, she told us about what she was doing, encouraging us to ask questions.

The first dish she began to prepare was Tuna Tartar, and you can see her above chopping up the fresh tuna. As she stated, citrus is important when preparing tartar as it helps kills germs and gives balance to the dish. She also believes adding alcohol to the tartar, in this case sweet vermouth, helps to kill germs and adds a nice flavor. Spanish onions, which are sweet, and giant capers were also added to the tartar.

The finished dish is above, and I very much enjoyed it, especially considering how much I love tuna. It was a very well balanced dish, with a nice blend of flavors and textures. Nothing overwhelmed at the expense of the other ingredients. The clementines added some nice citrus flavors to the raw tuna, as well as to the watercress. I ate a couple helpings of this dish and everyone else present seemed to enjoy it very much too.

Chef Hansen also prepared an Escarole Salad, which we actually ate first though it was the last dish prepared. This was a seasonal salad, using frisee, escarole and watercress. It also include pomegranate, olives, onions and clementines. Salads are very important in Spanish cuisine and this type of salad is traditionally made with oranges, Chef Hansen just substituting the clementines. A vinaigrette was poured over the salad, and a fair amount was used. In Spain, there is always dressing left over in your bowl after eating your salad, and you simply dip bread into the remaining dressing. I support doing that!

The finished salad looked very fresh and bright, and was a fine way to begin our lunch. It was light and flavorful, blending salty, sweet and bitter. Another well balanced dish, further indicative of Chef Hansen's talent, even with a simple salad.

For dessert, Chef Hansen prepared a Brazo Gitano, which is a basically a Génoise cake, slathered with whipped cream, and made into a roll. Clementines were added to each element of the dessert. There were some in the cake, the whipped cream, in the sauce, and atop the dessert. In Spain, few people bake desserts, instead buying their pastries at the local store. So this type of dessert is not something Chef Hansen usually makes at her restaurant, and she enjoyed the chance to prepare something different, a new challenge for her culinary skills.

I was a little concerned that this dish might be overwhelmed by all of the clementines. Some fruits, such as lemons, can be overkill when used too much. But, when I finally tasted the Brazo Gitano, it was absolutely delicious, and the clementines did not overwhelm. They were prominent, but it was still a balanced dessert, with delicious sweet cream and a light Génoise. I had a second piece, as did almost everyone else. All you have to do is look at it, and you might start salivating.

While dining on such fine food, it calls out for wine, especially Spanish wine. Chef Hansen did not disappoint, selecting the 2008 Berroia Bizkaiko Txakolina. I love Txakoli and had never tasted this particular one before so I was excited. The Berroia, which is produced by Bodegas Berroja, is a blend of 90% Hondarribi Zuri, 6% Folle Blanche and 4% Riesling. It sees no oak and has an alcohol content of 12%. I really enjoyed it, with its tartness and slight effervescence. It had plenty of acidity, making it a good food match, and flavors of apple with hints of minerality. An excellent wine, and a good choice for Spanish tapas.

What most impressed me about Chef Hansen was her passion: for cooking, for Spain, for its cuisine and wines. Spending a couple hours with her as she cooked and then dined and chatted with us, gave me some insight into her. Enough to note her obvious passion. That passion was evident in other ways as well, from the delicious dishes she prepared to the extensive Spanish wine list. It has been far too long since I dined at Taberna, and I certainly need to return there again soon.

As for those clementines, I'll be snacking on them during the next month. And then looking forward to their return next fall.

Taberna de Haro
999 Beacon Street
Brookline MA 02446
Phone: 617-277-8272

Taberna de Haro on Urbanspoon


Gabriella Opaz said...

It's funny you mention that salads are important part of Spanish cuisine, because I would argue just the opposite actually. I would agree that you can find a salad on just about any menu, but your choices generally narrow down to three types: mixed green (consisting mostly of iceburg lettuce), Russian Salad (chockfull of mayonnaise) and a tuna salad. Sadly, this country can't pride itself on innovation in salad preparation, but it can stand tall remaining consistent to its traditional roots :)

Richard Auffrey said...

Hi Gabriella:
That is interesting. Chef Hansen stated the salads were important. Could it be they are more important in some regions of Spain than others?