Thursday, August 5, 2010

Catalonia on a Plate

I am a real foodie. I love food, eating out and cooking for friends. Now while I have often been found whinging lamenting about the lack of my British favourites such as a lovely mature Cheddar Cheese or Marmite, I do love the local cuisine, so here is part 1 of my guide to some of Catalonia's finest dishes, or as I like to call it, Catalan Scran.

I have to start with seafood, we live on the coast and I regularly buy the produce that comes from the mussel farms scattered along the Ebro Delta nearby .  But I particularly like these little fellas - Razor Clams or Navalles as they are called locally. Not for the faint hearted but if you love mussels and bi-valves then give these a go, they are superb.

Really easy to cook, just put on a griddle hinge side down for a minute until they open up, then with a splash of olive oil and a squeeze of lemon they are good to go.  You do need to cut out the sack about halfway down when you eat them as this can be quite gritty and unpleasant.

Sticking with seafood and one of my all time favourite dishes are Chipirones (or calamarsets in Catalan).  Baby squid deep fried in batter.  Think Calamari but a thousand times better, please don't let the look of them put you off.  Again a squeeze of lemon is mandatory.

Sometimes however, a simple hunk of bread is all you need for a good starter or snack.  Throw in some tomatoes, (ideally tomàquets de penjar, although these are stupidly expensive) extra virgin olive oil and some good sea salt and you have Pa amb Tomáquets, simply mush your tomato into the bread, drizzle with oil and sprinkle with salt.  Alternatively, some fine allioil (wonderfully garlicky mayonnaise) slathered thickly on a piece of bread, especially when it's been grilled on the BBQ is very morish.  You should however, ensure that all your dining companions also partake, unless of course you like being unpopular.

Another simple rustic food staple is Romesco sauce.  Originating right here in Tarragona, it's a wonderful blend of red peppers, almonds, garlic and olive oil. Usually accompanied with fish but early each year it's sold by the bucket load to go with Calçots.  These look like overgrown spring onions, they are usually bbq'd over wood and then wrapped in newspaper to steam.  You then peel away the charred outer edges and dip them in your Romesco sauce.  Messy but delicious.

 Photo credit - Carlos Lorenzo

More Catalan food delights for you next time.