Growing up in New Jersey, Katie Button was a serious student, going on to earn a master’s degree in biomedical engineering and entering a PhD program. But while she had a head for science, she soon discovered her heart was in the kitchen.
A big break came when she was chosen for a prestigious internship at Spain’s famous “El Bulli.” That gave her the training and confidence to open the Spanish-themed “Curate” in Asheville, North Carolina -- a top spot for tapas. Nearby, she also opened “Nightbell,” a small-plate restaurant focusing on American favorites.
Here are some of Button’s signature dishes from her cookbook, “Cúrate: Authentic Spanish Food from an American Kitchen.”
Sautéed Bread Crumbs with Cauliflower and Brussels Sprouts
Serves 4 to 6 as a small plate
1⁄2 cup raisins
1⁄2 large (3-pound) cauliflower
1⁄4 cup plus 5 teaspoons blended oil, divided
1 pound Brussels sprouts, trimmed and cut in halves
One 5-inch piece baguette, crusts removed, cut into 1⁄4-inch dice (1 cup)
2 large garlic cloves, minced
1. Position racks In the upper and lower thirds of the oven and preheat to 400°F. Put the raisins in a small microwave-safe bowl and add enough water to cover by 1 inch. Microwave for 1 minute, then let stand in the hot water until very plumped and tender. Drain well.
2. Cut the cauliflower florets o the stalks; discard the stalks. Cut the florets into 1⁄4- to 1⁄2-inch pieces. You want to use all of the florets, even the crumbs. You should end up with 2 cups.
3. Line 2 half-sheet pans with foil. Toss the cauliflower with 3 teaspoons oil and 1⁄4 teaspoon salt on one pan. Spread in a single layer. Repeat with the Brussels sprouts on the other pan with2 teaspoons oil and 1⁄4 teaspoon salt. Turn all the sprouts cut-sides down. Place the Brussels sprouts on the lower oven rack and the cauliflower on the upper rack. Roast until tender and dark golden brown, about 30 minutes.
4. Place a paper towel-lined plate and slotted spoon next to the stovetop. Heat the remaining 1⁄4 cup oil in a large cast-iron or other heavy skillet over high heat until hot. When you drop a bread cube in, it should sizzle immediately. Add the bread cubes and spread in an even layer. Toss in the oil to evenly coat, then sprinkle with 1⁄4 teaspoon salt. Cook, tossing frequently, until golden brown on most sides and crispy, about 3 minutes. Transfer to the paper towel-lined plate with the slotted spoon to drain.
5. Return the skillet to medium-high heat. There should still be a thin lm of oil in the bot- tom of the pan. Add the garlic and cook, stirring, until fragrant and just starting to turn golden brown, about 1 minute. Don’t let the garlic burn.
6. Lift the foil with the sprouts and cauliflower to dump them into the skillet. Add the raisins and bread cubes. Cook, stirring, until well mixed, about 1 minute. Remove from the heat and zest half of the lemon on top. Toss once more and season with 1⁄4 teaspoon salt. Taste and add more salt if you’d like.
Spanish potato, onion and egg tortilla
Serves 4 as a man dish or 6 to 8 as a small plate
10 large eggs
2 cups blended oil, divided
1½ pounds medium Yukon gold potatoes (about 4), peeled and cut into ¹⁄₁₆ -inch slices, divided
1 large yellow onion, cut into ¹⁄₁₆-inch slices, divided
1. Whisk the eggs in a large bowl until the yolks and whites are incorporated. Heat the oil in a 10-inch-round, 2-inch-deep well-seasoned cast-iron or nonstick skillet over high heat. When the oil is hot, add half of the potatoes.
2. Flip the potatoes on the bottom to prevent them from browning. Reduce the heat to medium and cover with lid. Cook until a thin-bladed knife slides through the potatoes easily, 8 to 10 minutes. Use a slotted spoon to transfer the potatoes to the eggs, and stir in 1½ teaspoons salt. Repeat with the remaining potatoes, adding another 1½ teaspoons salt to the eggs when you add the second potato batch.
3. Pour off and reserve the oil. While the oil in the skillet is still hot, add the onion and 1 teaspoon salt. Cook, uncovered and stirring frequently, until the onions are extremely soft, 10 to 15 minutes. If they seem like they may burn, lower the heat. Transfer to the bowl with the eggs and potatoes. Stir until everything is well combined.
4. Return 2 tablespoons reserved oil to the skillet and reduce the heat to medium-low. Add the egg mixture and spread in an even layer. Cook until the underside is nice and golden, about 10 minutes. If the bottom starts to brown too much before the center starts to set, lower the heat. If the bottom isn’t turning golden even as the egg sets, raise the heat for a minute or two to get some color. Remove from the heat.
5. Loosen the sides of the egg mixture from the skillet by sliding a silicone spatula between the set egg and edge of the pan. You’re going to flip the tortilla now. Put on oven mitts and center a large cutting board or flat plate over the pan. Grab the sides of the pan and the cutting board together and flip them, then set them down on the counter. Lift off the pan and put it back on the burner. Carefully slide the tortilla back into the skillet with the pretty golden side facing up. Turn the heat to medium.
6. Run a silicone spatula around the edge of the tortilla, tucking in the edge and rounding it, so it looks pretty again. Cook until the underside is golden, 8 to 10 minutes, adjusting the heat as needed. The timing is going to vary. You can press it with your finger to test for doneness; it should have some give on top and not be super squishy. I never get the same tortillas at home every time. Sometimes I’ll hit that perfect runny moment, when the outside is set, but the very center stays wet. Other times, it will be set all the way though. It’s delicious either way.
7. Carefully slide the tortilla out of the pan onto a serving dish. Cool for 1 hour at room temperature. Tortilla Española is best served at room temperature.
Espinacas a la Catalana
Wilted spinach with pine nuts, raisins and apple
Serves 4 to 6 as a small plate
3⁄4 cup pine nuts
6 tablespoons blended oil, divided
1⁄4 cup raisins, preferably Flame raisins
1 lemon, halved
1 small or 1⁄2 large sweet-tart apple, preferably Honeycrisp
1⁄4 cup minced shallot
1⁄2 cup dry sherry wine
1 pound baby spinach
Preheat the oven to 350°f. Spread the pine nuts on a half-sheet pan and toast until golden brown, 8 to 10 minutes. Cool completely on the pan.
Transfer 1⁄2-cup pine nuts to a food processor or blender and add 2 tablespoons oil and a pinch of salt. Puree until smooth, scraping the bowl occasionally. Drizzle half on a serving platter; reserve the remaining for serving.
Squeeze the juice of 1/2 lemon into a medium bowl. Squeeze 2 teaspoons juice from the other half into a small bowl and reserve the juice and lemon rinds.
Peel, core, and dice the apple and add to the medium bowl with the lemon juice, then add enough cold water to cover. Put the raisins in a small microwave-safe bowl and add enough water to cover by 1 inch. Microwave for 1 minute, then let stand in the hot water until very plumped and tender. Drain the apple and raisins well.
Heat 4 tablespoons oil in a large, deep skillet over medium-high heat. Add the drained raisins and apple and remaining 1⁄4-cup pine nuts. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the apple just begins to soften, 1 to 2 minutes. Add the shallot and cook, stirring, until soft, about 1 minute.
Add the sherry, reserved 2 teaspoons lemon juice, and 1 teaspoon salt and bring to simmer. Add as much spinach as will t in your pan and toss with tongs as it wilts. As the spinach wilts, keep adding more until all of it has been added. This will take a couple of minutes altogether. You just want the spinach to wilt, not to cook any further. Quickly toss the spinach with all of the sauce and fruit and pine nuts.
Immediately spoon the spinach mixture on top of the pine-nut puree and top with the remaining reserved pine nut puree. Zest half of the reserved lemon rind on top and serve immediately.
Filete de Ternera a la Brasa
Grilled space-rubbed hanger steak
1 tablespoon pimentón (sweet smoked paprika)
1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1⁄2 teaspoon ground allspice
1⁄4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Pinch cayenne pepper
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
11⁄2 pounds hanger steak
Prepare a charcoal griIll for direct cooking over medium heat with the top and bottom vents open. While the grill heats, let the steak stand at room temperature. Stir the pimentón, cocoa powder, cumin, allspice, cinnamon, and cayenne in a small bowl until well mixed.
Sprinkle 11⁄2 teaspoons salt all over the steak, then season with pepper. Rub the spice mixture all over the steak to evenly coat.
Put the steak on the grate over the medium-hot coals and cover. Grill until the bottom is browned and releases easily from the grate, 4 to 5 minutes. Flip the steak, cover, and cook until the other side is browned, 4 to 5 minutes more. I like my steak medium-rare. When I press it, it has the same resistance as when I press the skin between my thumb and index finger when I open my palm.
Transfer to a cutting board and let rest for 5 minutes. Slice against the grain and serve with any accumulated juices.
Flan de Huevo
Serves 8 to 12
2½ cups sugar, divided
3 cups whole milk
2 strips lemon zest, removed with a vegetable peeler
⅛ teaspoon salt
6 large eggs
2 large egg yolks
1. Preheat the oven to 325°F. Place a 9- by 5- by 4-inch loaf pan inside a 9- by 13-inch baking dish or pan. Bring a large kettle or pot of water to a boil.
2. Stir 1 cup sugar and ¼ cup water in a medium saucepan over medium heat until well combined. Cook, without stirring but brushing and sugar crystals off the sides of the pan with a wet pastry brush, until deep amber in color. Swirl the pan occasionally to caramelize evenly. Immediately pour into the loaf pan and tilt the pan to evenly coat the bottom and a few inches up the sides.
3. Bring the milk, lemon zest, salt, and ¾ cup sugar to a simmer in a large saucepan. Meanwhile, whisk the eggs and yolks with the remaining ¾ cup sugar in a large bowl. Continue whisking while adding the hot milk mixture in a slow, steady stream. Strain through a fine-mesh sieve into a 2-quart liquid measuring cup or bowl with a spout. Skim any foam on the surface. Pour into the caramel-lined pan. The mixture will come all the way to the top. Very carefully place the dish in the oven, then carefully pour the boiling water into the dish so that it comes halfway up the sides of the loaf pan.
4. Bake until just set, but still slightly wobbly in the center, about 1 hour and 5 minutes. Carefully remove the flan from the water and cool on a wire rack for 30 minutes. Refrigerate uncovered until cold and set, at least 8 hours or up to 3 days.
5. To unmold, run a sharp knife around the edges. Center a serving plate on top of the pan and carefully and quickly flip the pan and plate together. Lift off the pan and let the caramel run all over the top.
The perfect gin & tonic
Ice (four or five large cocktail ice cubes)
6-inch strip lemon peel
1. Chill the glass by filling it to the brim with ice and letting it sit until cold. We like to use a large balloon-shaped glass, such as a brandy glass.
2. Remove a 6-inch strip of lemon peel with a sharp paring knife or vegetable peeler, curving around the fruit as needed to get it in a single strip. If there’s any white pith left on the back of the peel, shave it off with the knife.
3. Toss out the ice in the glass.
4. Squeeze the lemon peel over the glass so that the citrus oils spray into the glass. Then run the peel around the rim.
5. Fill the glass halfway with ice, preferably with four or five large cocktail ice cubes. Add the gin, then pour in chilled tonic over a spoon, so that it doesn’t foam up. (We use 11⁄2 ounces gin to 4 ounces tonic, then adjust to taste.) Stir once or twice, but don’t over-stir or you’ll lose the bubbles and the aromatics.
6. Drop the lemon peel in the glass and enjoy!