Thursday, January 12, 2012

Snacking State-by-State: Nevada II - Basque in the glow of oven fried potatoes

In the 19th century, Nevada saw pioneers searching for gold and silver.  Settlers came not just from all over the East, South and Midwest but from other countries.  Among those settlers were the US's first documented Basque settlers, coming to work in the mines and bringing with them their own food traditions from Basque Country.

Official Name: State of Nevada
State Nicknames: The Silver State; The Sagebrush State
Admission to the US:  October 31, 1864 (#36)
Capital: Carson City (2nd largest)
Other Important Cities: Las Vegas (largest), Henderson (2nd largest), Reno (4th largst), Sparks (5th lagest)
 West, Rocky Mountains, Great Basin, Southwest; Mountain (US Census)
RAFT NationsPinyon NutChile Pepper
Bordered by: Oregon & Idaho (north), Utah (east), Arizona (southeast), California (south and west)
Official State Foods and Edible Things: desert bighorn sheep (mammal - though generally not hunted); single-leaf pinyon (tree - for the pine nuts); Lahontan cutthroat trout (fish - whose low numbers are currently being replenished)
Some Famous and Typical Foods: Native American and frontier foods, specificalyl Native foods typical of Great Basin peoples (including pine nuts); Basque cuisine; buffets and Vegas-style excess (in Las Vegas)

One of the earliest Basque settlements in the United States was the town of Winnemucca, in the northern part of the state.  Accorcding to A travel guide to Basque America by Nancy Zubiri, Basque settled all around southeastern Oregon and northern Nevada.  Few of those communities went on to flourish; Winnemucca was an exception.
Many of the newcomers were transplants from the smaller towns.  Located on the banks of the Humboldt River, Winnemucca was supported primarily by farming and ranching.  Several mines of gold, silver, copper, and tungsten brought many immigrants to the region.  But in surrounding Humboldt Colunty towns the mostly wide-open ranges with adequate greenery were an attractive starting point for Basques hoping to establish their own sheep band. [Zubiri 2006:292]
Today, Zubiri notes, Winnemucca and nearby Elko mostly thrive on tourist dollars.  Even with Interstate 80 funneling most traffic between San Francisco and Salt Lake City, people still stop in the cities - especially in the summer, when business for the Basque restaurants spikes, and when the Basque Festivals take place [Zubiri 2006:292-293].

I am familiar with several world cuisines, either in passing or through a more thorough investigation.  I must confess that Basque is not among them.  Among the sheepherder's breads - a mammoth loaf of bread cooked in a Dutch oven - and lamb stews (see this link from NPR for these recipes), I also found links to garlic soups and Basque potatoes.  There are various versions of both the soup and the potato (try Buber's Basque Recipe Page for more).  The recipe I went with is on the Daily Dish website, a blog of low sodium and salt-free recipes.  The author, Christy Ellingsworth, did what I am about to do: take photos of the cooking process (hers are prettier than mine).  I did add a little sprinkle of salt (hers is intentionally salt-free).

The Recipe: Basque Potatoes

For Ellingsworth's version of Basque potoatoes you will need:

* potatoes (for a potato dish?  Seriously, I got about a pound of reds.  This one calls for Russets though I've seen others that call for red or Yukon gold.  The red ones worked well, and are cheap)
* garlic (had it)
* dried parsley, rosemary and thyme (have them, though I need to replenish the thyme)
* paprika, cayenne pepper and freshly ground black pepper (yup, have those too)
* olive oil (same)

Peel and cut up your potatoes.  I did mine in large chunks, as per the recipe.  However, you could just cube them as well.  Adjust the cooking times accordingly.

Ellingsworth says to bust out that mortar and pestle and get to grinding up your garlic.  Oh, if I had a mano and metate, I'd grind garlic in the morn...

Throw the garlic and herbs and spices into an oven-proof pan (when in doubt, stick with cast-iron) filled with olive oil, and heat for a few seconds.

Quickly add the taters and coat.

Adjust the cayenne to taste.

Next, cover the pan with aluminum foil, and place in a preheated 375°F oven for about 15 minutes.

Uncover, stir, and put in for another half hour or so.

The garlic wound up being hard and very browned, but you won't be eating it in this case.  The potatoes are the star here, in this simple, spicy potato dish.  The garlic and rosemary left a pretty subtle flavor, I think - surprising to me, since these are not things that usually impart a mild anything.  This is a good, quick introduction to Basque cuisine (says the guy who knows next to nothing about Basque cuisine).  Perhaps I should tackle that garlic soup?


Detterick-Piñeda, Cynthia.  "Piñon Cakes - Pine Nut Cakes How To Make Pine Nut Cakes".  WhatsCookingAmerica.Net, date unknown.  Copyright WhatsCookingAmerica.Net 2011.

Elllingsworth, Christy.  "Basque potatoes".  The Daily Dish, posted January 4, 2011.

I4Vegas.Com.  "Popular Las Vegas Drinks". Date unknown.  Copyright I4Vegas.Com 1999-2011. 

The Modern Mixologist (  "Cable Car: Tony's Signature Cocktail".  Date unknown.  Copyright The Modern Mixologist, 2007.

PineNut.Com.  "History of Pine Nuts & The People of the Great Basin". PineNut.Com, date unknown. Copyright PineNut.Com 1998-2011.

Schneider, Deborah.  "Mexican Mojito".  Leite's Culinaria (LeitesCulinaria.Com), posted May 5, 2010. 

Zubir, Nancy.  A travel guide to Basque America: families, feasts, and festivals.  University of Nevada Press: Reno, NV, 2006.  Also partially available on Google Books.

Some information also obtained from Wikipedia's "Nevada" page and other pages, and the Food Timeline State Foods link to "Nevada".


Aboutbc said...

Regars from the Basque Country

John said...

Thanks for the link back. I hope the recipe I found was as close to what someone would actually recognize as "Basque" as possible!

Aboutbc said...

We are pleased to reference your post. The Basque gastronoía is different and you have epnezado so shallow, we encourage you to deepen it. Only give satisfaction

Christy said...

Hi John,

Great job on the Basque Potatoes and thanks so much for linking back!

All the best,

The Daily Dish