Saturday, January 13, 2018


By the time the clouds cleared, the snow covering the mountaintops had washed away. But, hoo boy, was it ever cold! I definitely needed some comforting hot soup. What’s better than garlic soup to chase the chill of a January day?

Comforting soup for a winter day. This Andalusian garlic soup has egg and strips of ham added to the slices of fried bread and garlicky broth.  Oranges, green onions and olives accompany the soup.

This is maimones, the Andalusian version of garlic soup. At its most basic, it consists of frying garlic in olive oil, adding a quantity of stale bread, water and salt. Boiled a few minutes until the bread begins to soak up the liquid, the thick soup warms the body and fills the belly.

This is poor folk's food, a way to feed a family or a gang of jornaleros, day laborers, working in the olive groves, vineyards or wheat fields. Before there were packaged baby foods, maimones was an infant’s first solid food, easy to mash to a pap.

Basics for garlic soup: virgin olive oil, dense-crumbed country bread, garlic and eggs.

The garlic soup belongs to a category of poor-folk’s soups in which the principal ingredients are bread and olive oil. There are dozens of variations on the theme, some with wild asparagus or the addition of a tomato sofrito, a spoonful of pimentón (paprika), a squeeze of sour orange juice, crushed almonds or pieces of salt cod. Eggs and chopped ham are typical additions.

My rendition is a souped-up version—I’ve used home-made chicken stock instead of water. But, the flavor and substance come from good virgin olive oil (I finished the olive picking with 55 liters of oil!) and lots of garlic.

Day-old country bread with a dense crumb is best. Use whole-grain, if you like. The sliced bread is first fried in oil, then added to the soup to soak up some of the liquid. The eggs are stirred into the hot soup creating lacy strands. Alternatively, one egg per person can be poached in the soup and ladled out with a slotted spoon and placed on top of the fried bread in individual soup bowls.

Campesino-style, maimones is accompanied by oranges, olives and green onions. In the summer, peeled cucumber sticks, melon or grapes are the sides. You slurp up some soup, then take a bite of the accompaniment. Or, you could make an orange-onion-olive salad to go with the soup.

Hot soup with egg is ladled over the strips of fried bread. Alternatively, the bread is added right to the soup pot. The bread sops up some of the savory soup.

Alternate spoonfuls of soup with a bite of green onion or orange.

Soup is nourishing, comforting.

Andalusian Garlic Soup

If you don't use well-seasoned chicken stock or ham-bone broth, be sure to add plenty of salt to the water. Pepper or hot chile is not customary, but who's to say it wouldn't amp up the flavor of plain water?

Serves 4.

8 ounces firm country bread (6-8 slices)
½ cup olive oil
1 ½ ounces thinly sliced serrano ham
4 cloves garlic, sliced crosswise
¼ cup finely chopped onion
8 cups chicken stock, ham-bone broth or water
2 eggs
Sprigs of mint
Oranges, olives, green onions to accompany

Fry strips of bread.
Cut the bread into strips, removing crusts, if desired. Heat half the oil in a skillet and fry the bread in two batches, turning to brown both sides. Add additional oil as needed. Reserve the fried bread.

Add remaining oil to the skillet. Put in the sliced ham. Turn the slices once, but don’t let them crisp. Remove and slice into strips. Reserve.

Fry sliced garlic till golden.

Add the sliced garlic and fry it until lightly golden. Skim it out and reserve. Add the chopped onion and sauté until softened, without browning, 4 minutes.

Place the stock, broth or water in a soup pot and bring to a boil. Add most of the garlic to the pot (save a few slices to garnish the soup) with the onions and oil from the skillet. Season with salt to taste. Cook 15 minutes.

Divide the strips of fried bread between four soup bowls or place it all in a tureen.

Stir the eggs together in a small bowl. Bring the soup to a rolling boil, then remove it from the heat. Stir the eggs into the hot soup. Immediately ladle the soup over the fried bread in the bowls. Garnish the soup with reserved strips of fried ham and reserved slices of fried garlic. Add a sprig of mint immediately before serving. Serve the soup accompanied by wedges of orange, olives and onions.

Variation: add spinach to the soup and poach an egg in the hot broth.

More rustic peasant soups, based on bread and olive oil:

And, some more comforting soups for wintry days:

An accompaniment to the maimones:

Saturday, January 6, 2018


I received a lovely gift from my friend Charlotte, who’s just returned from a week in Barcelona. Knowing my interest in all things gastronomic, she selected several Catalan cheeses and sausages to bring me. So, coincidentally, I am featuring the food of Cataluña for the second week in a row. But, no politics this time!

Clockwise from top left: Garrotxa goat's milk cheese; Formatge Neu, bull blanc, a type of butifarra sausage, butifarra de huevo, a pork and egg sausage, and, in the center, mató, a soft, creamy cheese. Hazelnuts also come from Cataluña.

There are three cheeses, Garrotxa, a goat’s milk cheese; Formatge Neu, a soft cow’s milk cheese, and mató, a creamy fresh cheese, and two types of sausage, botifarra d’ou or butifarra de huevo, and bull blanc. Both are cooked pork sausages that can be consumed without additional cooking, though they are best grilled. (A must alongside fire-roasted calçots, green onions.)  The bull blanc differs from regular white butifarra in that it is stuffed in a larger casing, while the one with eggs has a yellowish color.

Catalan sausages can be found in shops everywhere in Spain. However, the cheeses are not so widely distributed. Artisanal cheese making in Cataluña had almost disappeared until the early 1980s, when back-to-the-farm "hippies" began experimenting with traditional methods. Both the Garrotxa and Neu date from that renaissance. Garrotxa (a town north of Barcelona in Girona province) is firm, creamy, nutty (hazelnut) with a slight tang. Ripened for two months, the cheese forms a grey mold on the rind. The cheese is delicious on its own, with wine, diced into salad, grilled, melted. The Neu is soft, somewhat like Brie, and has a white mold rind. The mató is like solid whipped cream. An unsalted fresh cheese, it is usually served as dessert.

Here are some of the dishes I made using these ingredients.

Coca--a flatbread with toppings. This one has sautéed onions and three kinds of mushrooms and sliced bull blanc, a version of butifarra sausage.

Salad with black-eyed peas, green beans and diced Garrotxa cheese.

Spiced pears in cava with mató fresh cheese and hazelnuts.

Catalan Flatbread with Mushrooms and Butifarra Sausage
Coca de Recapte amb Botifarra

Make it a meal or call it a snack, flatbread with mushroom and sausage topping is sure to be a hit.

Unlike pizza, coca doesn't have melted cheese on it. Serve it hot out of the oven or room temperature.

The coca (plural is coques in Catalan or cocas in Spanish) is sort of a cross between pizza and focaccia. Made from bread dough, the coca is usually served room temperature, rather than hot from the oven. Barcelona bake shops sell it in huge slabs or in tiny, individual coques. Unlike pizza, coca rarely has cheese. The toppings can be a simple as a few strips of red pepper and olives or as replete as the coca de recapte, provisioned with “everything in the cupboard”. Sliced butifarra sausage is a traditional addition.

Use two or more varieties of mushrooms for the topping of this coca, wild ones if they are available. Some give off a lot of moisture, so take longer cooking than ordinary white mushrooms. I used white mushrooms, portobellos and oyster.

Bull blanc is a cooked pork sausage.

Any type of butifarra sausage works. I used the bull blanc.

Use any ready-to-bake pizza dough, home-made or store-bought. (A recipe for coca dough is here.)

Dough for 1 pizza
3 tablespoons olive oil + more for drizzling on top
1 cup chopped onion
1/3 cup chopped red bell pepper
3 cloves garlic, chopped
5 cups sliced mushrooms (about 1 pound)
Salt and pepper
Sprigs of thyme
6 ounces butifarra sausage, sliced

Roll or press out dough to make a rough rectangle (about 14 X 9 inches). Place on a lightly oiled sheet pan.

Preheat oven to 400ºF (200ºC).

Heat the oil in a skillet and sauté the onion slowly until it begins to brown, about 10 minutes. Add the red pepper, garlic and mushrooms and sauté until mushrooms are cooked, 10 minutes. Season with salt, pepper and thyme.

Spread the onion-mushroom mixture on top of the pizza dough. Tuck the slices of sausage into the topping.

Bake until the edges of the dough are browned, 20 to 25 minutes.

Serve hot or room temperature.

Bean, Black-Eyed Pea and Garrotxa Cheese Salad
Amanida de Mongets i Formatage Garrotxa

If possible, use a Catalan Arbequina variety olive oil to dress this salad.

Serves 4

Garrotxa--smooth, mild goat cheese.
½ cup cooked and drained black-eyed peas
1 cup cooked green beans, cut in short lengths
¼ cup chopped radish
¼ cup chopped celery
¼ cup chopped scallions
6 ounces Garroxta cheese, diced (1 1/3 cups)
Salt and pepper
2 tablespoons chopped parsley or carrot tops
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon Sherry vinegar
Salad greens such as cress or rucola
2 tablespoons toasted pine nuts

In a bowl combine the black-eyed peas, beans, radish, celery, scallions and cheese. Season with salt and pepper. Add parsley, oil, and vinegar.

Serve the salad with salad greens. Top with pine nuts.

Honey with Fresh Cheese
Mel i Mató

Classic way to serve mató fresh cheese--with honey and walnuts.

Place a dollop of mató fresh cheese on a plate, bowl or in a glass. Top with a spoonful of honey. Add walnuts.

Pears in Cava with Fresh Cheese
Peres amb Cava i Mató

Pears spiced with cinnamon and cardomom are cooked in cava (sparkling wine).

Cava is sparkling wine made by the traditional Champenoise method. Cataluña is not the only region where cava is produced, but it is the most extensive. The Catalan grape varieties, Macabeo, Parellada and Xarel•lo, give this bubbly a lovely flowery scent that combines nicely with sweet spices and fruit.

These poached pears can be made with “flat” cava, as the bubbles will cook away in any case. If you use a semi-seco cava, you will not need to add additional sugar. Use white wine if cava is not available. Cook pears until they are soft, but not falling apart, anywhere from 5 to 15 minutes.

Serves 4.

2-3 large firm-ripe pears (1 ¾ pounds)
Lemon juice
2-3 cups cava
Strip of orange zest
2-inch cinnamon stick
4 cardamom pods
2 tablespoons sugar
Mató fresh cheese
Toasted hazelnuts, coarsely chopped

Peel and core the pears. Cut them in quarters or sixths, depending on their size. Place in a bowl and sprinkle with lemon juice.

Place the cava in a pan with the zest, cinnamon, cardamom and sugar. Bring to a boil, then let the syrup bubble 5 minutes. Add the pears and cook until they can be easily pierced with a skewer.

Remove the pears with a slotted spoon. Cook the remaining syrup 5 minutes more. Let it cool before pouring over the pears.

Serve the pears with the mató fresh cheese and sprinkled with hazelnuts.

More about Catalan foods:

Saturday, December 30, 2017


A unity dish--in Cataluña, everybody eats canelones during the holidays.

My homage to Cataluña is, as you might expect, a culinary one. I joined with millions of Catalans the day after Christmas in eating canelones. Yep, filled pasta tubes, a traditional Catalan dish for the day of San Esteban, December 26. 

Dinner might be the only thing the Catalans can agree on. Whether you’re an independista or not, speak catalan or castellano, canelones are on the menu.

Cataluña-Catalunya-Catalonia (the region of northeast Spain encompassing the provinces of Barcelona, Girona, Lleida and Tarragona) declared itself an independent republic back in October, following a referendum (illegal, according to the national constitution) in which a majority (with only 43 percent voter participation) voted to secede from the kingdom of Spain.

The declaration of independence precipitated a constitutional crisis. The central government in Madrid, which had tried to prevent the referendum, invoked an article of the constitution that allowed it to impose direct rule over Cataluña and call for new elections.

The elections took place right before Christmas, December 21. Voter turn-out was an amazing 82 percent. But, to the distress of the central government’s ruling party, the independistas still hold a slim majority (the three separatist parties won 70 seats in the Catalan Parlament; the combined unionist parties that want Cataluña to remain part of Spain won 65).

What happens next is unclear. Spaniards all—including the Catalans—are occupied with holiday festivities, so the crisis has somewhat receded. (The holiday does not wind down until January 6, el día de los Reyes Magos.) Then we shall see. Meanwhile, have another serving of canelones.

Canelones (canelons in Catalan) became popular in Cataluña in the 19th century. The filling originally was made with leftover cooked meat, poultry and sausage from the escudella i carn d’olla, the grand one-pot meal traditionally served on Christmas day (the Catalan version of cocido).

Pasta squares are rolled around a filling of three kinds of meat, then topped with béchamel sauce and grated cheese. Instead of truffles, I've added cloves of black garlic.

Not just for San Esteban day, serve these cannelloni any time.

Cannelloni, Catalan Style
Canelones al Estilo Catalan

Packaged Spanish or Catalan canelones are flat sheets (placas) of dry pasta, somewhat like lasagne. Two well-known brands are El Pavo and Gallo. After cooking (or soaking, in the case of pre-cooked pasta), the sheets are rolled around the filling. (If using ready-made cannelloni tubes, do not cook them before filling.)

The cannelloni can be filled and rolled and the béchamel sauce prepared in advance. Place the filled cannelloni in the oven dish with sauce, without adding the grated cheese, and refrigerate. Bring to room temperature before adding cheese and baking the pasta.

Restaurant versions of Catalan canelones often are finished with shaved black truffles. I had no truffles, but studded the sauce with cloves of black garlic. 

Should you have more of the meat-chicken filling than you need to fill the cannelloni, spread it on toast, add a pickled onion and call it pâté.

Serves 4 to 6.

3 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup finely chopped onion
2 cloves garlic, chopped
6 ounces ground pork
6 ounces ground veal
6 ounces chicken breast, diced
2 chicken livers, cut in pieces
Freshly ground black pepper
3 tablespoons brandy or medium Sherry
Tomato sauce
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
¼ - ½ cup chicken stock

Packet of dry cannelloni pasta (20 sheets or tubes)

Béchamel sauce (recipe follows)
3 ounces grated cheese
Truffles (optional)
Pimentón (paprika), optional

Veal, pork and chicken cooks with brandy.
Heat the oil in a skillet and sauté the onion and garlic on medium heat until softened, 3 minutes. Add the pork and veal and continue sautéing 5 minutes. Add the diced chicken and sauté 5 minutes. Add the liver and sauté 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Add the brandy and cook 3 minutes more. Stir in the parsley and 1 tablespoon of tomato sauce.

Grind this mixture in a food processor. Place in a bowl and add chicken stock a few tablespoons at a time to make a smooth mixture that is moist, but stiff enough to be shaped into logs. 

Cook squares of pasta, skim out and place on kitchen towel.

Cook the cannelloni sheets according to package directions. (Add them one by one to a large pan of boiling, salted water. Cook 6 minutes. Remove them one by one with a skimmer and place them in a single layer on a dampened kitchen towel. Cover with another damp towel.)

Preheat oven to 375ºF (190ºC).

Roll the pasta around a log of the meat filling.

Lightly oil an oven-safe gratin dish. Spread some of the béchamel sauce in the bottom of the dish. Working with one sheet of pasta at a time, place a log of the meat filling on it and roll the pasta around the filling. Place the filled pasta roll in the dish. Continue, using all of the pasta squares.

Nap the cannelloni with remaining béchamel sauce. If desired, make squiggles of tomato sauce on top of the rows. Stud with truffles, if using. Sprinkle grated cheese over the top. Sprinkle with pimentón, if desired.

Bake the dish of cannelloni until sauce is bubbling and cheese is melted, about 15 minutes. Turn the broiler/gratin on high. Place the dish under the broiler until cheese is golden-brown, 2 to 4 minutes. (Watch carefully so top doesn’t burn.)

Béchamel Sauce
Salsa Bechamel

If making the sauce in advance of using with the cannelloni, cover the surface with plastic wrap and refrigerate. Heat the sauce slightly and whisk it smooth before spreading in the oven dish for cannelloni.

4 tablespoons olive oil
4 tablespoons flour
3 cups milk
1 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Grated fresh nutmeg

Heat the oil in a saucepan. Stir in the flour. Cook it on medium heat, stirring, for 3 minutes. Do not let the flour brown. Whisk in the milk. Continue stirring or whisking until the sauce thickens. Season with salt, pepper and nutmeg. Cook the sauce 10 minutes.

For some background information about the Catalan political situation, read this article by journalist Lisa Abend: