Yesterday, The Finch came up with a whole bunch of suggestions for recipes. I can only assume they’re doing a theme dinner of some kind, but I sadly don’t have the time to just throw myself into the kitchen and experiment on doing all of those dishes (don’t forget, I don’t just conjecture – I experiment and make all these foods, and I only have so much room for leftovers). Between the relative simplicity of the dish and the many avenues I could take it, though, I decided that I could come up with a fun recipe for a hamburger inspired by Don Quixote. Well, I may have also listened to some Toad the Wet Sprocket while coming up with this burger, but that still makes thematic sense (ask someone who was a teen during the 90′s if you don’t).
First, I knew that the burger would have to be on toasted rustic bread – pain rustique, pane rustico, whatever you want to call it. Given the rustic setting of most of Don Quixote, it really was the only bread that would do. I personally would lightly toast it on the stovetop in a light amount of olive oil – you want to give it a bit of crunch and not sponge off all of the toppings, but you don’t want to turn it into a solid piece of toast.
For the burger itself, I actually recommend ground lamb, mixed with minced garlic. The La Mancha region, home of Quixote, is known for its sheep and goats, and it’s not the best terrain for cattle. Sure, you can use beef, if that’s all you have available, but lamb makes a terrific burger, and it fits the theme besides. As for the garlic, garlic mixed in with meat is almost too easy, but Don Quixote was famously once nearly knocked over by a girl’s incredibly garlicky breath – can’t ignore its place in the book.
Now, for toppings, I thought long and hard both about the culinary traditions of Spain and the original story. I’m going to keep the toppings relatively simple at three, but they’re all very potent and more than enough for a great burger.
The first topping is Spanish ham. Spain has some of the best ham in the world, which has been famous for millennia. Seriously, look it up – Romans were praising Iberian ham well over 2000 years ago. If you want to make a burger that truly calls to mind anything about Spain, including one of its great literary contributions to the global canon, you have to have it. Plus, to make the bad pun, there were few hams in literature larger than Don Quixote himself. I personally would select jamon serrano, which is my personal favorite amongst Spanish hams, but jamon iberico is an excellent choice and would make a fine addition as well.
The second topping is Mahon cheese. Spain is not known for its cheeses, and it honestly doesn’t produce nearly as many as its two neighbors, France and Italy. My personal take is that you have to be that damned good in order to make it as a cheesemaker in Spain, because I think Spain has some of the best cheeses in the world. Technically speaking, Manchego should be the cheese to put on this burger (seeing as the name basically is “from La Mancha”), and keep in mind that I think Manchego is an excellent cheese. That said, it does not melt very well for purposes of a hamburger. Meanwhile, Mahon, from a small Spanish island in the Mediterranean, is an incredible cheese with a flavor that blends well with nearly everything and it melts just beautifully (I admit, I love Mahon and try to use it as much as possible). Of course, if you want, you can compromise with some shavings of Manchego with plenty of Mahon – the two blend very well.
The final topping is a tomato jam, preferably a smoked tomato jam. This isn’t merely a fancy way of saying ketchup. A good smoked tomato jam is an incredible rustic flavor that goes with meats very well. On top of that, it’s easy to overlook just how well Spanish cuisine uses tomatoes. In fact, the only Mother Sauce (of the originals, anyhow) that uses tomatoes at all is called “espagnole” (although there are arguments on precisely why). It enhances the various flavors here without covering them up.
Also, related to the last post, I picked up the materials to make the champagne butternut squash soup, and that’s going to be made on Tuesday. Here’s hoping it works out.