On a chilly night in Asheville, N.C., my husband and I walked up to a restaurant with an amber glow. Inside the cozy Cúrate, the crowd buzzed with people high on jamon. The restaurant's name translates to "cure yourself," and though nothing ailed us as we celebrated our first anniversary, dinner at Katie Button's restaurant seemed to feed us more than just food.
Like her restaurant, Button's cookbook, Cúrate: Authentic Spanish Food From an American Kitchen, is approachable and transportive.
The promise of the cookbook is Spanish food from an American perspective, and Button is an excellent voice for this point of view. She grew up in South Carolina eating boiled peanuts and pulled pork and later went on to study chemical and biomolecular engineering at Cornell before transitioning to a career in food.
She worked with lauded Spanish chef José Andrés at one of his restaurants in Washington, D.C., where she met her Spanish husband, Félix Meana, who is from the Costa Brava area that was home to the famed elBulli restaurant. Both Meana and Button worked with Ferran Adria at what was regarded as the world's best restaurant; Button worked in the kitchen, and Meana in front of house. (Both Andrés and Adria wrote forewords for this cookbook.) The couple eventually returned to North Carolina to open a restaurant under Button's family-owned hospitality group. They have since opened a second restaurant, Nightbell, which focuses on local Appalachian ingredients offered in small-plate form.
In the way that Button interprets Spanish food through a Southern lens — country ham can take the place of jamon in a chickpea stew, and her banderillas, or cocktail skewers, hold pickled okra next to traditional olives and anchovies — she applies the studiousness and attention to detail expected of her path from an interest in neuroscience to translating restaurant recipes for a home kitchen.
At Cúrate, she uses a siphon to create an airy mayonnaise sauce that cloaks thick spears of white asparagus. Her recipe in the cookbook calls for the whisk attachment of an electric stand mixer to whip air into the mayonnaise and create a similarly light sauce. For an artichoke salad, store-bought sweet potato chips stand in for the restaurant version's sunchokes, which are sliced thinly with a mandoline and fried. The effect is the same: earthy flavor, crunchy texture.
Her Frozen Meringue With Candied Almonds and Grand Marnier is destined to find a spot on my Christmas dinner menu, and it's another recipe that displays Button's masterful use of texture to make a good recipe a great one: Marcona almonds provide crunch in the clouds of pillowy meringue.
Sprinkled throughout the book are small steps that help amp flavor — things that hadn't occurred to me but I'm grateful for learning from Button, like how bits of olives are fried and mixed in with toasted bread crumbs and rosemary for a flavorful flourish on lamb chops.
There are more involved cooking projects in the book, like recipes for making sausage, but the home cook with limited hours in the kitchen is always on her mind. Croquetas are rolled ahead of time and stored in the freezer, ready to fry any time.
Glimpses of Button's time in Spain are woven into generous headnotes, and Button often offers wine pairings to go with her dishes. Txakoli, a slightly sparkling white wine native to the Basque region of northern Spain, is a natural pairing for brandada, a salt cod and olive oil spread. Dry muscatel is right with almond and garlic soup. In a photo of her Spanish mother-in-law's beer-braised chicken, there's a growler from Wicked Weed Brewing, a nod to Asheville's rich craft beer scene.
After that trip to North Carolina earlier this year, my husband and I began planning a trip to Spain. Every time I turn to this cookbook for inspiration, memories of Asheville get mixed up with San Sebastián and Barcelona, which is just fine. I'm thinking Button would like that.
Ileana Morales Valentine can be reached at [email protected]