Paprika is a savage red, and though it might sound strange, I like a bit of savagery. I went to the Museum of Contemporary Art in downtown LA yesterday where there was a lot of visual angst on display, much of it headache-inducing. Cavernous warehouses full of ripped metal and brown swaddling, swirling red daubs and matted roadkill. The colours were rust and grey and dried blood. Nothing had a frame, the frame was no longer needed. The only room I liked was the one housing the permanent collection, the ones always there; Rothko, Willem de Kooning, Jasper Johns.
But it was a small, angry picture, the first one I saw as I entered, that held my attention. It was by Dubuffet, and it was called Le Havre. It was a map of sorts and the colours were magnificently wild and fierce. There was little attempt at verisimilitude. The painter’s quote next to it caught my eye. It said “Personally, I believe very much in values of savagery; I mean: instinct, passion, mood, violence, madness.” Cooking and food itself is nothing if not a passionate and instinctive endeavour, although it’s easy to get disconnected from this. Madness I can believe, if only through the sheer boredom and repetition of eating the same things (I am 75% avocado). Violence can be mined in the pummeling of garlic and herbs, the mashing of potatoes, the beating, the whipping, the disemboweling of cake batter*. You can feel as pent up as a boxer and as a zen as a yogi. The paprika in the photo was in a bowl, powdery like pigment, along with other spices and teas in a stall at the farmers’ market. You were allowed to lift up a spoon of it and smell, and this helped because the one above was smoky and the other paprika was not. But the colour was the reason I bought. It made me want to stick a finger in the middle. It was an angry red; savage, mad and violent. See you in the kitchen.
Just so you know, paprika is the dried and ground flesh of peppers (cayenne pepper comes from dried and ground chillis – it’s easy to get confused). The peppers are dried from the oven, sun or smoke (the best over oak fires) and used mainly in Spanish and Hungarian dishes. Paprika can be sweet, smoky or hot with a huge variation both in flavour and colour. Try not to put the powder over direct heat or it will scorch and taste bitter. It has an affinity with coriander and cumin and potatoes, as well as chickpeas and dusted over halloumi. I tried it with Jerusalem artichokes to very good effect. The roasted almonds with paprika recipe is a Spanish one and smoked paprika is recommended.
Roast almonds with paprika and rosemary
Adapted from Sam and Sam Clark, Moro
250g whole blanched almonds
2 tsps of olive oil
1 tsp of smoked sweet paprika
1½ tsps of flaky sea salt, like Maldon
2 sprigs of rosemary, chopped finely without any wood
Preheat the oven to 150C/300F. Place the almonds on a baking tray and dry-roast in the top of the oven for about 10 minutes or until starting to turn golden. Remove and stir in the olive oil, paprika, salt and rosemary. Return to the oven for around 10-15 minutes. Everything should be sizzling and fragrant. If you would like to crisp everything up a little more, give the nuts a shake in a dry frying pan/skillet at the end. Remove and cool before eating.
Jerusalem artichokes with garlic and paprika
Adapted from Nigel Slater, Real Cooking
500g Jerusalem artichokes (3 or 4 big handfuls)
Butter, about 75g
6-8 cloves of garlic
A couple of bay leaves
1 heaped tsp of paprika
Peel the artichokes and slice them into rounds. Melt the butter in a shallow pan, one which has a lid. Drop the garlic cloves, whole and unpeeled, the bay leaves and the paprika into the butter and whirl it around with a wooden spoon. Add the artichokes and cook over a moderate heat until the chokes and garlic are slightly golden. Take care not to let the butter burn. Pour in a small glug of olive oil if it looks that way. Turn the heat down so the butter is lightly bubbling, cover with a lid and cook for about ten minutes. Shake the pan as they cook. Remove the lid, turn up the heat and continue cooking until the artichokes are tender, golden and crusty. Eat with the smashed open garlic pearls.
*I know you can’t disembowel cake batter.