Catalan Cooking: peasant food at it’s best

Living in the mountains, as he does, our friend has the exact opposite method of cooking of mine.

We are two, and I usually cook for two, or two plus planned leftovers…. for two.

He is one and he usually cooks for an army.

He has one tall refrigerator with no freezer; one tall freezer and one chest freezer.

Getting down the mountain for fresh produce is not always an
option.  So, when he buys fresh, he buys a lot and cooks it all within
a few days, making curries and soups and stews to fill his freezers and
augment his dry stores of rices, pastas and beans.

I have few photos – neither the ambiance or his kitchen are
conducive to photos – we were eating, drinking and talking – not
thinking about blogs, but this is what he made while we were there:

Escudella.  This is a Catalan dish, heartier than a soup but
with more broth than a stew.  It had whole pieces of chicken in it, on
the bone with skin, as well as white sausage and blood sausage,
chickpeas, carrots, onions, turnips, leeks, cabbage, and I didn't ask
what else. He had made a huge kettle (12 litres maybe) a day or two earlier, fed some neighbors as well as us and froze the rest.

Samfaina.  Also a Catalan dish, very similar to Ratatouille. 
Catalan cooking experts would argue that it is the precursor to
Ratatouille as is the Catalan language is to the dialect of Provence. 
It's a simple dish of courgette (zucchini,) aubergine (eggplant),
onions, garlic and tomatoes.  He had about 3 litres left to go in the freezer.

Escalivada.  A Catalan staple, this is roasted red peppers
and aubergine (eggplant).  He roasts the vegetables in the front of his
wood-stove.  When the skins are properly black, he peels them, tears
the tender veg into strips, layers them in a dish and drizzles with
good olive oil. This doesn't get frozen but eaten at every meal until gone.

Escalivada 

Escalivada is served on Tomato Bread, another Catalan staple.

Tomato Bread 

Tomato Bread: Toast a piece of good, country bread.  When done, rub it vigorously
with a split clove of raw garlic.  Cut a small tomato (the special
kind, for tomato bread) in half and rub well over the bread, squeezing
slightly.  Drizzle with olive oil, salt if you like and eat, either as
is or piled high with Escalivada, anchovies optional.

Tomato bread is eaten with every meal and on it's own as a snack.  If you buy a baguette sandwich, you will discover that the interior has been smeared with garlic and tomato before the sandwich is made.

I made the much more boring Christmas dinner consisting of a Roast
Capon, Mashed Potatoes with Leeks and Brussels Sprouts with Chestnuts
and Mushrooms.

I decided not to stuff the bird, but, instead filled the cavity with
2 well-pricked lemons and some sprigs of rosemary.  I put a paste of
butter, Dijon mustard, rosemary and paprika under the skin and basted
it with white wine.

We were pleased.

It was tender, moist, and the gravy was (IMHO) fantastic!

Our friend promptly divided up the leftovers into freezer containers….

Leaving me no hope of having one of my favorite breakfasts the next morning: a slice (or 2) of bread smothered in hot gravy.

I had to have Tomato Bread with Escalivada instead.

And stinky cheese.

Poor me.

10 thoughts on “Catalan Cooking: peasant food at it’s best”

  1. “I had to have Tomato Bread with Escalivada instead.
    And stinky cheese.”
    Oh you poor thing, to have to suffer like that.
    I am loving your slice of life stories. Of course, i will probably never get to your friends place, but i do love hearing how other people live.
    Excellent post

  2. Katie, It sounds like you had a wonderful time. Happy New Year and I look forward to following your progress on the house and life in 2010.

  3. Year on the Grill – I did skip the anchovies for breakfast…. Thanks for the kind words.
    Penny, we had a lovely, relaxing break, not it’s back to work.
    Zoomie, they were good – and it’s nice to have someone else cook

  4. Wow! These recipes sound wonderful….tomato bread? How delicious is that? Got to try!!! Sounds like you had a wonderful time….Ohh would so love to see that part of the world, thanks for sharing, Ina from the Westcoast. PS: The Coq Au Vin was to die for!!

  5. Escalivada sounds like summer on toast in this cold winter climate. I wonder if it can be preserved.

  6. Ina, I’m so glad the Coq au Vin was good ;-)) We had a lovely time…..
    BorderPundit, I think preserving would take away the freshly roasted flavor – and, for him it’s a winter dish as he doesn’t have a fire in his stove in summer – and doesn’t do ‘outdoor’ cooking. Spain has enough warm areas that good veg is available almost all year.

  7. Thanks Katie for the description of Catalan dishes: they all sound wonderful. After my adventure with picada, I am eager to explore this cuisine further.

  8. Val, it was lovely – and Happy New Year to you!
    Simona, I really enjoy almost all Catalan food – but I love lots of garlic, tomato and olive oil so it’s perfect for me. And beans….

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