The coastal country that stretches from Barcelona in Spain to Rome in Italy is incredibly rich in cuisine precisely because it's poor in material things. The lack of money and meats and the dependence on what can be grown there have led over the years to the development of some of the healthiest fare in the world.
"Vegetables and olive oil--both very good for you--are the base for just about everything there," says Black Sheep Bistro owner-chef Rick Boufford. "Any meats are used as kind of the icing on the cake, tossed on top almost for decoration."
And those kinds of dishes are the core of the menu for the Tustin restaurant, which Boufford and wife-partner Diana have operated since 1989. (Times critic Max Jacobson says they've "written the book" on Mediterranean cuisine, but the couple modestly say all they've done is adapt the dishes for American tastes.)
Many of the dishes are what we would call meals in a pot; everything is cooked at once and served straight from the pan. The recipe featured today is a good example--a mixture of take-your-pick seafood or meat and vegetables that creates its own sauce in the cooking.
"We serve a number of variations at the restaurant," Rick Boufford says. "You can use chicken, shrimp or scallops--or anything else you'd like, for that matter.
"And when it's done, the vegetables are bright and crispy and full of flavor, colorful and very aromatic."
The process is incredibly simple. "Just cook the ingredients in order of appearance and when the meat is done, so is the dish," he says.
Boufford and his wife spent a number of years in the business--he in the kitchen, she on the management side--before opening Black Sheep Bistro. And while the food specialties of the restaurants varied, is was the Mediterranean cooking that most appealed to them.
"It's all just naturally very low-fat," he says. "You don't see a lot of creams and butter sauces for the simple reason that they didn't have refrigeration there, so those items were used almost exclusively for making cheeses.
"And also because of the lack of refrigeration, they depend on whatever is freshest--tomatoes, eggplant, onions, citrus fruits and garlic. And, of course, olives, which make the healthiest of oils."
The dish below can be made without the seafood or meat and is best, Boufford says, served over rice or pasta.
SHRIMP, SCALLOP OR CHICKEN DELIGHT
1 tablespoon olive oil
3 to 5 cloves garlic, minced
10 medium-sized shrimp or 1/2 pound scallops or chicken
2 green onions, chopped
1 red bell pepper, seeded and chopped
1 Anaheim chili pepper, seeded and chopped
1 jalapeno or other hot chili pepper
10 cherry tomatoes, chopped
1 handful cilantro (optional), chopped
In saute pan, place oil and garlic over high fire. When garlic begins to crackle, add all other ingredients, in order as above (meat, then onions, then bell pepper, etc.). Stir constantly. As tomatoes begin to cook, smash with wooden spoon (they become the sauce). When meat is done, so is the dish. Pour over rice or pasta and serve. (2 servings).