Thursday, April 29, 2010


I am inundated with fava beans! I’ve just picked enough to fill a laundry basket and will spend a good hour shelling them.

It’s been a bumper crop of favas this year. Weeks ago, the first tender beans were such a delight—they can be cooked pods and all. After that, it was a pleasure to pick and shell a double handful of them to add to a soup or stew or to scramble with eggs. But now, I’ve got to blanch and freeze what I can’t eat. The Spanish saying is Las habas de abril, para mi; las de mayo, para el caballo. April’s favas for me, those in May, for the horse. So, time is running out for me and my favas—and I haven’t got a horse.

Although they somewhat resemble lima beans, fava beans (also called broad beans, habas in Spanish) are not related to limas or to green beans, haricots, pinto or canellini beans, all which come from the New World. Favas, related to peas, were known to the ancients of the Old World. Like peas, they are wonderfully sweet if you can get them just minutes after picking, before the natural sugars convert to starch.

Fava beans grow in many regions of Spain, raised for animal forage as well as human food. When they are very small and very fresh, favas can be cooked unpodded, con calzónes, “in their breeches.” Larger ones must be shelled. The best are called “baby”—really small and tender ones, a springtime treat when stewed in olive oil with garlic.

You will see recipes that direct you to remove the beans’ outer skins. But, in Spanish home cooking, this procedure is rarely followed. Unless the favas are really big and mature, the skins are perfectly edible. But, if you prefer a more “refined” bean dish, just parboil the favas about 3 minutes and drain. Use the tip of a knife to cut a little slit in the outer skin, then squeeze the bean gently to pop out the inner bean (which is very green and in two halves).

Another way to deal with the skins is to cook the favas in boiling water until tender, then puree them in a blender. Press the puree through a sieve.  Season with olive oil, salt and pepper and chopped herbs. The bean purée is delicious as a side dish with roast meats, sausages, poultry.  Chopped mint or sprigs of green fennel are a good garnish for fava dishes. The Catalans add a dash of anisette liqueur to the cooking beans.

Two pounds of favas in their shells will produce about 10 ounces shelled beans, or 1 ¾ to 2 cups of beans. Wear an old shirt or apron when shelling them, as moisture splattering from the pods leaves dark stains. Cook favas in stainless, earthenware or glass, never aluminum, which turns them dark.

Fava Bean Salad
Ensalada de Habas

I first tasted this salad at a restaurant in Valencia and included a recipe for it in my book, MY KITCHEN IN SPAIN (the cookbook has the same title as this blog). Much later, in reading Colman Andrews’ CATALAN CUISINE, I learned that the salad was original to a famous Catalan chef, Josep Mercader.

Crisp iceberg lettuce gives the salad a welcome crunch.

Serves 6.

4 sprigs fresh mint
3 cups small shelled fava beans (1    pound shelled beans)
¼  cup extra virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons Sherry vinegar
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
4 cups shredded iceberg lettuce
2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint
¼  cup julienne-cut serrano ham
finely chopped scallion (optional)

Bring 5 cups of water to a boil. Put in the sprigs of mint, cover, and let the mint infuse for 30 minutes. Discard the mint.

Add salt to the water and bring to a boil. Add the fava beans and cook them for 2 minutes. Drain and refresh in cold water.

In a bowl combine the oil, vinegar and mustard. Add the beans. Cover and let them marinate at least 1 hour.

Immediately before serving spread the lettuce on a serving platter. Stir the chopped mint into the beans. Spread the beans on top of the lettuce. Scatter the ham strips and scallion on top. 

Chocos con Habas
Cuttlefish with Broad Beans

This is a popular dish in Huelva, Cádiz and Sevilla—cuttlefish or squid stewed in a savory sauce with fava beans.  If baby cuttlefish, chopitos, are used, they are cooked whole, releasing their ink into the sauce for real depth of flavor. Large cuttlefish is thick and meaty and needs slow simmering. Squid will cook in half the time.

Use chopped fresh mint, fennel, oregano or cilantro to finish the dish.

Makes 8 tapas or 2 main course servings.

1 ½ pounds cleaned cuttlefish or squid
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
1 ounce pancetta or serrano ham, chopped
1 clove garlic, chopped
1 tomato, peeled and chopped
1 tablespoon pimentón (paprika)
½ cup white wine
Salt and pepper
10 ounces shelled fava beans
Chopped fresh herbs to serve

Cut the cuttlefish into 1-inch chunks or the squid into rings.

Heat the oil in a cazuela (what’s a cazuela? find out here ) or skillet and add the onion, ham and garlic. Sauté on medium heat until the onions begin to brown, 10 minutes. Add the tomato and stir in the pimentón. Add the wine, salt and pepper and the pieces of cuttlefish. Cook, covered, until cuttlefish is very tender, about 45 minutes (Squid needs about 30 minutes).

While cuttlefish is cooking, blanch the fava beans in boiling water for 3 minutes and drain. Add the beans to the cuttlefish and cook, uncovered, 10 minutes more. Serve hot, sprinkled with herbs.

Friday, April 23, 2010


Thick slabs of grilled bread, tomatoes, cloves of garlic, extra virgin olive oil, a rough wooden board—this was the starting point for almost every meal I ate in Barcelona, the makings of pa amb tomàquet, simply, bread with tomato.

The bread has substance, but it’s not a dense-crumbed loaf. We cut the tomatoes in half and scrubbed them onto the bread. “Start on the crisp outside edges of the bread,” said my dining coach, a Catalan native. “That starts to break up the tomato so the pulp is released.”  Garlic is optional, but almost everybody at the table rubbed the toasted slices with cut garlic as well. Then the crowning glory, plenty of extra virgin olive oil, preferably a fruity Arbequina oil from Catalonia.

We were dining at a rustico restaurant called La Parra (the grapevine), so the bread and tomato were presented for us to prepare ourselves. In some restaurants and tapa bars, the toast comes already spread with tomato and oil.

We proceeded through several more seasonal and traditional foods. Spring marks the end of the calçots season, so I was lucky to be able to sample this traditional Catalan party food. Calçots are chunky spring onions with long green tops that are grilled over grapevine prunings until the outer skins are charred and blackened. One of my dinner companions showed me how to eat them: use your fingers to pinch off the root end and peel back the charred layers. Hold the onion by the green tail and dip the white part into romesco or alioli sauce, tip back your head and chomp off bites of the onion. Tasty. A Catalan friend later told me that you shouldn’t eat calçots at night, as eating too many causes gasiness. 

Next followed escalibada, a mixed grill of peppers, onions and eggplant dressed with olive oil; whole artichokes; morels in cream as well as a sauté of mixed wild mushrooms. Then, a massive chuletón, “chop” of Charlolais beef, grilled to rare perfection and sliced off the bone. All this was washed down with a fine red from the MontSant wine district. I passed on the desserts, coffee, brandy that followed. What a feast! 
Taverna La Parra; Joanot Martorell, 3; Barcelona. Tel.: 933 325 134.

One evening, too early for dinner, we stopped for a bite, a tapa, at Dos Palillos—two chopsticks—a small Asian-Catalan bar-restaurant a couple blocks off La Rambla. Albert Raurich is the chef. He spent 11 years working with Ferran Adrià at El Bulli, before branching out on his own. The Vietnamese rice paper roll filled with shattery-crisp fried chicken skin was sensational. 
Dos Palillos; Elisabets, 9; Barcelona. Tel.: 933 040 513.

Right on the beach, in the fishermen’s barrio of La Barceloneta, is Restaurant Can Majó serving—what else?—fabulous seafood as well as rice dishes such as paella. Here, the pan catalán, toasted bread, arrived at the table already spread with tomato and olive oil. One dinner companion, Jeffrey Steingarten, who knows what’s good (he is food critic for Vogue and author of The Man Who Ate Everything), asked for some anchovies in olive oil to top the toasts. Perfect.  

Four of us shared plates of shrimp (peel ‘em yourself, suck the heads); griddled razor clams (my favorite), and tiny wedge-shell clams marinera style, with olive oil, garlic and parsley.

Then we split an order of shellfish paella and another of arros negre, black rice, served with garlicky alioli sauce. Seafood stock gives the rice enormous depth of flavor. (Purists tell me that you don’t eat rice at night either, but, hey, how often do I get to Barcelona?) I did skip the mandarin mousse for dessert. We finished with an elegant cava, Kripta Gran Reserva from Agustí Torelló. 
Restaurant Can Majó; Almirall Aixada, 23, La Barceloneta, Barcelona. Tel.: 932 215 455.

I had my doubts about a restaurant at the top of a tower. But, in chef Oscar Manresa’s tower, Restaurant Torre d’Alta Mar, not only were the views amazing, but so was the food. The restaurant is situated atop a cable-car pylon (during daylight hours, red cable cars swing across the water to the Montjuic mountain), with 360º views of the old harbor, open seas and the city of Barcelona. By day the sun sparkles on the water; by night, lights twinkle all around. (Smokers, take note—it’s a long way down for a cigarette.)

We started with cava—Catalan bubbly being the perfect pre- or post-prandial drink—to accompany crunchy, cheesy breadsticks and gorgonzola with membrillo, quince paste. The multiple-course tasting menu that followed showed Chef Oscar’s wit and skill in transforming traditional Catalan dishes into fresh, contemporary ones. A case in point: coca de recapte. Coca is a flat bread with sweet or savory (often sausage) toppings, the Catalan version of pizza. This rendition was a shatteringly-crisp wafer heaped with micro-greens (at long last, salad!), Garrotxa goat’s cheese, and summer truffle.

We continued with scallops with artichoke, potato, asparagus, parmesan and ibérico ham; creamy rice with shrimp, punctuated by morsels of tangy-sweet confit of sun-dried tomatoes; and hake (“rich man’s cod,” said Jeffrey Steingarten) with artichokes, beans and mushroom broth. The main dish was succulent loin of baby goat rolled around a stuffing of foie gras, wild mushrooms and truffle. (Jeffrey had the chef drawing pictures of a goat, in order to pinpoint the cut of the meat.)

I couldn’t resist sampling the version of crema catalana, custard with burnt-sugar topping.  Chef Oscar turned it upside down, with a caramel gelée under the creamy custard and a streusel topping for crunch. And, more cava to finish a festive dinner.
Restaurant Torre d’Alta Mar; Psg. Joan de Borbó 88, Barcelona. Tel.: 932 210 007.

On my last day in Barcelona, friends took me for breakfast to Granja M. Viader, just a few steps from the great Boqueria market (read about the market here). Hot chocolate thick enough to stand a spoon in; hand-whipped cream from the owner’s dairy farm (granja is farm); mel i mató, honey and fresh cheese, plus luscious-looking pastries were some of the tempting choices.
Granja M. Viader; Xuclà, 4-6, Barcelona. Tel.: 933 183 486.

And, a last lunch—at Casa Alfonso, a brasserie sort of restaurant. More Catalan toasts, then salad with croquettes and, my favorite dish, artichokes, sliced and fried crisp with nothing but coarse salt. Wonderful finale before returning to southern Spain.

Casa Alfonso; Roger de Lluria, 6, Barcelona. Tel.: 933 019 783.

Pan Catalán
Catalan Toasts

The Catalans call this pa amb tomàquet, but elsewhere in Spain it’s known as “Catalan toasts.” Serve it for breakfast with café con leche or as a tapa with wine. At its best, the toasts are prepared individually—the bread toasted over a wood fire, then rubbed with a cut tomato to impregnate it with the juices. But if you’re serving a party, toast the bread under the broiler and prepare the tomato pulp in advance.

Serves 8.

8 thick slices country bread
2 ripe tomatoes
2 cloves garlic, cut in half
extra virgin olive oil
thinly sliced serrano or ibérico ham (optional)
anchovies in olive oil (optional)

Toast the bread under a broiler, over a wood fire or in the toaster. Cut the tomato in half crosswise and grate it coarsely, discarding the skin. Rub each toast with a cut clove of garlic and spread the tomato pulp on top. Drizzle each with  oil. Arrange sliced ham or anchovies on top. Serve immediately.

Monday, April 19, 2010


No wonder I gained a few pounds! In the space of three days visiting Barcelona’s Alimentaria, one of the world’s biggest food trade fairs (94,500 square meters of exhibition space, with 4000 companies showing their wares, attended by about 140,500 professionals), I probably tasted 40 different cheeses (with accompanying bread); 10 different olive oils (bread for dipping); lashings of ibérico ham (with bread, of course); as well as myriad tapas, nibbles, snacks, small bites, amuse gueles. 

Here are some tasting notes.

Olive Oil

I received an overview of Catalan olive oils at a cata, a tasting, directed by expert Agustí Romero. Four different Catalan oils demonstrated how olive variety, terroir and growing conditions determine the sensory values of the oil.

Iberolei, of DOP Baix Ebre-Montsià, is a coupage of Morruda, Sevillenca and Farga olives (no Arbequina!) from the southern part of Catalonia near the Ebro river delta, a Mediterranean climate and zone of millenial olives trees. This is a fresh, slightly sweet, aromatic oil.

Antara, from DOP Siurana, of Arbequina olives has a distinct almond taste and a nice balance of sweet and bitter. Olive trees are intergrown with hazelnut trees in this region of Tarragona. Olives from coastal plains and highlands are combined to make the oil.

Olicatessen is another Arbequina oil, this one organically grown from the inland Les Garrigues region, where rough topography and extreme weather contrasts produce an exceptionally fruity oil, slightly spicy with hints of green almond.

Oli de Pau is made from the Argudell variety, grown in the northern region of PDO Oli de L’Empordá, where hundred-year-old trees and a very modern extraction plant contribute. The oil is sweet at first taste, then bitter, herbal and intense.

At another tasting, this of “boutique” extra virgin oils created by Josep Ros, a former radio and TV personality, who is director of Jade, I learned that one sense not used in olive oil evaluation is visual—blue-tinted cups are used, so that the oil’s color and transparency do not predispose its olfactory and taste sensations. One of the four oils, Mil-ènium, made from ripe Farga olives, had a  tomato leaf aroma and a subtle banana flavor. Famed chocolatier, Oriol Balaguer, used the oil to create a sensational bon-bon, a cream center of oil emulsion encased in melt-in-the-mouth chocolate.

Olive oil seems to have an affinity for chocolate, for the combination turned up elsewhere. At the stand of Agroles, which produces the superb range of Romanico brand oils, including an organic one, I discovered olive oil and chocolate soap. Looks good enough to eat! I did taste their marvelous marcona almonds fried in extra virgin olive oil.

Flavored olive oils are definitely a trend. The well-known producer, Pons, makes a range of flavor-infused oils, some with herbs, garlic, smoked pimentón, white truffle. The orange citric oil, of 60 % Arbequina olive and 40% orange, made me crave a plate of fresh asparagus to drizzle it on.


Tucked into the vast hall where individual producers and regions exhibited their products was an invitation-only stand called SPAIN, LAND OF 100 CHEESES, where guests could sample from a “buffet” of cheeses (actually 136) from every region of the country.  On one day I attended a special tasting of Asturian cheeses and, the following day, of cheeses from Catalonia.

“Asturias is a paradise of artisanal cheese,” said Gerry Dawes, an American gastronomy writer, who recently spent a week in that northern region visiting  small producers (see his blog here here ). Gerry suggested sipping white or rosé wine with cheese, as the slight acidity points up cheese flavors, which would be lost with a complex red.

We sampled a buttery cow’s milk cheese (“let it dissolve in the mouth, like a caramel,” said Gerry); a crumbly sheep’s milk cheese; a nutty, cured goat’s milk cheese; the unusual Afuega ‘l Pitu (sort of stinky, but good), and the wonderful mild Gamoneu, blue veined with a mushroomy aroma. (The better-known Cabrales, a blue with bite, was in a take-home sample pack.) All are commercialized by Marino Gonzalez of COASA, a firm specializing in the farmhouse cheeses of Asturias.

The cheeses of Catalonia are not so well-known, possibly because until about 10 years ago they were not widely commercialized. Some, in fact, had almost disappeared from production. Now, they are making a come-back. Garrotxa seems to be leading the pack. I once wrote that Manchego (sheep’s milk cheese from La Mancha) is the new Gruyère—a pleasing cheese that’s perfect for snacks, sandwiches, salads, cooking, anytime. Maybe Garrotxa is the new Manchego. A goat’s milk cheese (but nothing like chêvre), it is firm, creamy, nutty (hazelnut) with a slight tang. Ripened for two months, the cheese forms a mold on the rind. It’s delicious on its own, with wine, diced into salad, grilled, melted. 

I also sampled a creamy blue made from goat’s milk, Blau de l’Avi Ton; a soft goat’s cheese coated with black pepper, Mas El Garet; mild ricotta-type soft cheese, Recuit de Fonteta, and El Cremós d’Alba, a runny cheese with a distinctive bitter flavor from the vegetable coagulant (somewhat like the famous Torta de Casar from Extremadura).

Most unusual of the Catalan cheeses: Tupí Muntanyola, a caramel-colored cheese of spreading consistency. Made of shredded cheese packed into pots (tupí) and allowed to ferment, it is flavored with sweet anisette and olive oil. It was curiously grainy and subtly sweet.

Ibérico Ham

I joined a posse in search of the best  ibérico ham. We tasted our way from DO Dehesa de Extremadura to DO Jamón de Huelva to DO Los Pedroches. At the Pedroches stand, master slicer Clemente Gómez gave us a guided tour, slicing pieces from the shank, hip and rump. They were as different as if cut from different hams. Clemente said he liked best the fibrous cuts from the shank because they are most flavorful. I love it all, though the Pedroches ham was declared winner of the ham mano a mano

Small Bites

Date and walnut bars by Paiarrop from Valencia.

At the innovation gallery: OutOx, a soft drink to reduce level of alcohol in the blood; merengue in a spray can; fleur de sel with spices; La Amarilla de Ronda olive oil in Philippe Starck designer bottles; soy puddings; vegan cheese.

Just add shellfish—kits for preparing paella, arroz negro (black rice) and fideua (pasta paella) contain seasoned broth and rice or noodles, by Chef Munné, Barcelona.

Paella frozen in individual portions (good flavor—even had smoke aroma!) and, better than a frozen Mars bar, chocolate-covered foie gras on a stick. More frozen bite-sized tapas from ExQuisitarium (Lleida).

Bull blanc, a peppery Catalan sausage, delicious on tiny rolls flecked with sesame and nuts. 

Many thanks to my hosts, Prodeca, Catalan export promoters, and in particular to Rosalba Arrufat, Jordi Vila and Susanna Barquín.

Saturday, April 10, 2010


Can you imagine life before potatoes? Unless your origin is, perhaps, Peruvian, there was such a time--hardly 500 years ago--when potatoes didn’t exist. No fries. No jacket potatoes. No mashed. No potatoes. Not in Ireland. Nowhere in Europe. Not in India, nor China. Not in North America.

It wasn’t until some 40 years after Columbus set sail from Spain that potatoes found their way to the Old World and, much later, back to the New World.

The potato is native to the high Andes regions, where the Indians were eating it as early as 3000 BC, although it was unknown through the rest of South and North America. It was “discovered” in Ecuador by one of Francisco Pizarro’s band of explorers, and brought  to Spain in 1534.

The potato was cultivated as a curiosity in monasteries, but, at first, hardly anyone dared eat it’s tuberous root. Related to poisonous nightshade, the potato was believed to be dangerous and, because it’s not mentioned in the Bible, ungodly. Nevertheless, potato eating spread widely in Europe amongst hungry people, who discovered the tuber easy to grow on poor soil. In Spain it soon displaced other starches such as dried chestnuts as sturdy addition to lentil and garbanzo stews.

It wasn’t until the famine of 1770, when Antoine Parmentier in France won a prize for a study showing how the potato could be the solution to famine, that the potato really gained culinary ground. Parmentier launched a heavy-duty public relations campaign promoting the potato.

There’s no record explaining how the potato got to Ireland, although some stories say it arrived there around 1586, possibly from ships of the Spanish Armada wrecked on the Irish coast. Much later it was Irish settlers who carried potatoes to North America. So, from the New World (South America) to the old, Spain, and back to the new.

In Spain potatoes are, after bread, the most favored food-stuff. Patatas fritas, Spanish fries, preferably fried in olive oil, are a standard side with the Spanish meal and, of course, potatoes are the essential ingredient for a Spanish tortilla.

While potato dishes are to be found in every region of Spain, the Canary Islands, the stopping-off point between the New World and continental Spain, are a veritable Garden of Eden of potatoes, with many heritage varieties still grown. .

Read my story about “wrinkly potatoes,” papas arrugadas, from the Canary Islands in this week’s LOS ANGELES TIMES food pages. Cooking in heavily salted water wrinkles the potato skins and leaves them with a light crusting of salt. They are delicious served with baked or grilled fish and Canary Island mojo sauces. (Click HERE for the story and follow the links for recipes.)

Here is a recipe for a potato dish from La Rioja, in northern Spain. A robust Rioja crianza, a red wine with a little time on oak, would go nicely with the potatoes.

Potatoes, La Rioja Style
Patatas a la Riojana

La Rioja cooks say you shouldn’t cut the potatoes with a knife, but rather cut them slightly, then break them into pieces. The rough broken surface releases more potato starch, which is what thickens the cooking liquid.

This dish can be served, instead of soup, as a starter or main dish.

Serves 4.

3 pounds mature baking potatoes, such as russets
¼ cup olive oil
1 onion, chopped
1 small green pepper, cut in 1-inch pieces
1 tablespoon pimentón (paprika)
pinch of cayenne
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon salt
2 cups water
12 ounces chorizo sausage links, sliced

Peel the potatoes and cut and snap them into chunks of about 1 ½ -inch.

Heat the oil in a cazuela or heavy skillet and sauté the onion until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the potatoes and turn them in the oil for another 5 minutes. Add the green pepper, pimentón, cayenne, bay leaf, salt and water. Bring to a boil, then lower heat so potatoes cook gently for 10 minutes.

Add the chorizo to the potatoes and continue to cook for another 25 minutes, or until the potatoes are tender.

Let the dish rest for 10 minutes before serving. The cooking liquid should be thickened to a sauce consistency.

Saturday, April 3, 2010


Fresh produce at the Boquería market in Barcelona.

Mountains of strawberries, heaps of artichokes, oceans of escarole, rafts of olives. Shrimp in every size and color. Lobsters waving their feelers. Snails oozing out of string bags. Glistening tuna, stacks of salt cod. Barcelona’s Boqueria market stuns the senses.

As I wandered through the crowded market, which is situated just steps off La Rambla, even my olfactory senses were aroused. Near the meat stalls, the sweet smell of freshly-butchered spring lamb permeated the air. At the stand of mushroom seller Llorenç Petràs, the earthy fragrance of damp forest wafted through the air. Aroma of nectar from the fruit stalls, where fresh juices were being pressed. The sharp smell of vinegar and brine prickled the taste buds at the stalls selling olives (more than a dozen varieties!), pickles and capers.

Aroma of garlic and shrimp sizzling in olive oil drew me to the bar of El Quim de la Boqueria, situated right in the middle of the sprawling market. Here we enjoyed a late breakfast with pink cava (bubbly) and a variety of small plates. Quim Marquez opened the bar in 1987 with only five stools. As his popular market cooking attracted attention of locals and visitors from abroad, he eventually expanded to 18 stools.

Some of the dishes we sampled: chunks of lightly-grilled tuna with a soy and balsamic glaze; tiny fried fish served with a fried egg, to be quickly broken up into the fish; savory shrimp sautéed with garlic, red chili flakes and, according to Quim, a reduction of cava; winey, briny cockles, and, my favorite, crisply-fried sliced artichoke hearts. 

Crisp-fried artichokes with cava at a market bar.

I met another Quim at the market—Quim Marqués, chef/proprietor of the renowned restaurant, Suquet de L’Almirall, on the old port in the Barceloneta district (Passeig Joan de Borbó, 65). The restaurant specializes in seafood and rice dishes.

Today Quim was bagging spindly wild asparagus, baby fava beans and spring morels. I asked him how he was going to prepare them.
Chef Quim Marqués buys favas, asparagus.

“Sautéed with shrimp,” he said. “Anything else added?” I asked. “No, good things like these don’t need anything more.” (See the recipe below.) Quim’s sister has a kitchenwares stall at the back of the Boqueria, where I bought a copy of his cookbook, La Cocina de la Barcelona Marinera (Barcelona’s Seaboard Cuisine), by Quim Marqués.

I marvelled at the exquisite selection of fresh fish and shellfish on sale at the Boqueria—and also at the extravagant prices!

But, according to Susanna Barquín i Castany, a Catalan novelist who used to live near the market (she now works for Prodeca, the Catalan export promotion board, and was one of my Barcelona guides), the Boqueria is really two markets—an up-market where chefs and the well-to-do shop, where shrimp costs more than € 25/ kilo (2.2 pounds), and the people’s market, where working-class folk can find good produce at reasonable cost. She said that fresh fish that doesn’t sell on the first day moves to another stall for sale at a lower price, and, on the following day, prices are slashed yet again.

The downside of being a visitor to the Boqueria is not having a nearby kitchen. (Market-cuisine cooking classes on Thursdays; to reserve: 93 412 1315.) But, as I was returning to southern Spain by air, I bought a few ingredients that I wouldn’t find in my own local markets: morels and chanterelles; mongetes, small dried white beans; bull blanc, a spicy cooked white sausage; tiny Arbequina salt-cured olives.


This is my adaptation of the dish that Quim Marqués told me he was making one spring day at his restaurant Suquet de L’Almirall. I bought the morels at the same stall he did at the Boqueria and brought them back to southern Spain. I substituted thin cultivated asparagus for the wild. I picked the baby fava beans (also called broad beans) from my garden (more on those in future posts). Regrettably, I used frozen shrimp instead of those glistening-fresh ones I saw in Barcelona. Nevertheless, this was a brilliant dish, quick to prepare, full of seasonal flavor. My own addition—snippets of wild fennel fronds, as much for the aroma of springtime as for flavor.

I took notice that everywhere in Barcelona—for different tapa dishes, in paella rice—shrimp invariably was cooked with the heads left on, the bodies peeled. The roe in the heads contributes enormous flavor. It can be sucked from the shells or mashed into rice or sauce.

Serve this as a starter or light luncheon dish.

Serves 2.

8 large shrimp, bodies peeled,
      heads left intact
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil,
       preferably Arbequina
6 ounces shelled small fava beans
6 ounces chopped green asparagus
2 scallions, chopped
1 ounce morels, cleaned and sliced
salt and freshly ground black pepper
fresh fennel to garnish (optional)

Heat the oil in a skillet and sauté the shrimp in a single layer. Turn them to cook both sides. Remove the shrimp and set aside.

Add the fava beans, asparagus, scallions and morels to the pan. Sauté on a medium heat until favas and asparagus are crisp-tender, about 7 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Return the shrimp to the skillet and reheat.

Serve garnished with sprigs of fennel, if desired.

Sauté of shrimp, morels and fava beans.

Friday, April 2, 2010


This is Semana Santa, Holy Week, which precedes the joyous feast of Easter. In Catholic Spain, many people observe the Lenten period by abstaining from meat. In that sense, this holiday is a fast rather than a feast, but it, too, is celebrated with special foods, in particular, bacalao, salt cod. On the streets of cities and villages, Holy Week brings massive religious processions and fervent demonstrations of faith. 

Many years ago I lived several miles from town in an old mill house that had no electricity and no running water. To get my hair washed and dried, I went weekly to the village beauty shop, run by María. This was one of my best sources for recipes because, along with local gossip, the talk amongst the village ladies was invariably of food--what to serve for the next meal. While I waited my turn, I gathered recipes.

On one occasion, a week before Semana Santa, the place was jammed with many women waiting for a perm and color. Holy Week marks one of the three occasions of the year when every woman in town and country must have a new hair-do and color job. (The other two are the village feria and Christmas, which also signal housewives to get busy white-washing their house facades). I sat down, fully prepared to wait at least two hours.

María rushed over to me, proudly displaying a wig. The color was dark chestnut, the color of choice for local women in those days (now, blond and copper are just as common), and the hair was curled in lovely long ringlets. A dozen women crowded around to ooh and ah. What was so special?

De la Virgen de los Dolores,” María said. The wig had been removed from the church’s image of the Virgin of the Sorrows, the life-size statue of the grieving Mother of Christ, with her jeweled tear-drops, which would be borne in the processions on Good Friday, and taken to the local beauty shop for restyling. Obviously no Andalusian woman, holy or otherwise, would dare walk in the procession without having her hair done!

The transubstantiation of dry salt cod
It was in a tapa bar during village processions that I first tasted bacalao, dry salt cod. It was delicious cooked in several ways, in a sauce and also batter-fried.

In the days before refrigeration and rapid means of transportation, fresh fish rarely was available to people who lived far inland from fishing ports. So during the Lenten period, when the Church required abstinence from meat, bacalao became an important part of the diet. Even in my village, so close to the sea, where people ate fresh seafood every day, bacalao was the choice for viernes santo, Good Friday.

I think it must be the mystery of the transubstantiation of bacalao, from a texture like cardboard and a smell like dirty socks, into a soft, snowy-white fish, that makes it appropriate to the season.

Though I enjoy eating bacalao in tapa bars, I rarely cook it at home. Except today. If it’s Good Friday, it’s got to be bacalao.

Because I recently returned from a trip to Barcelona (more about that in future posts), this year I’ve selected a Catalan recipe, bacalao a la llauna. A llauna is a shallow oven pan in which the cod finishes cooking. The cod is often served with tiny white beans, called mongetes, similar to navy beans. I brought some of those back from Barcelona. Once cooked (ok, not being very abstinent, I threw a chunk of pancetta into the pot), I dressed them with Arbequina olive oil from DO Siurana in Catalonia and the sauce from the cod. The garnish is of crisp-fried leeks (slice them crosswise, separate into rings, toss with flour and fry in olive oil).


Start this recipe at least 24 hours before you intend to serve it. Select thick, center-cut pieces of salt cod, about 6 ounces per person. Trim away any fins and bones, but leave the skin. Rinse in running water and place the pieces of cod in a bowl. Cover with fresh water. Cover and refrigerate. Soak the cod for 24 to 36 hours (longer time for thicker pieces), changing the water 3 or 4 times.

Drain the cod and squeeze out excess water. Pat dry on paper towels.Use a boning knife to cut away any fins and bones.

Serves 4.

1 ½ pounds salt cod, cut in
      4 to 8 pieces, soaked for 24 hours
flour for dusting the cod
1/3 cup olive oil, preferably Catalan
4 cloves garlic, sliced crosswise
2 ½ tablespoons pimentón (paprika)
½ cup white wine
salt and freshly ground black pepper
chopped parsley
cooked beans (optional)
fried leeks (optional)

Preheat oven to 350ºF (180ºC).

Dredge pieces of cod in flour and pat off excess. Heat the oil in a skillet on medium heat. Fry the pieces of cod on all sides until lightly browned. Remove them and set aside.

Strain the oil into a clean skillet (in order to eliminate flour bits). Heat the oil and sauté the sliced garlic until very lightly golden. Remove the skillet from the heat and stir in the pimentón. Add the wine, salt and pepper. Return to the heat and simmer 3 minutes.

Lightly oil a shallow oven pan. Place the pieces of cod in it, skin-side down. Spoon the sauce over the top and sprinkle with parsley. Bake until the fish flakes easily, about 10 minutes.

Serve immediately, accompanied, if desired, by cooked beans and fried leeks.

Post tasting notes: I’m supposed to be the expert! But, my rendition of this recipe—tasted after I made the photograph—was not great. The bacalao was way too salty. The thick pieces needed another 24 hours soaking. Plus, I think I would cover the llauna oven pan with foil to keep the moisture in during baking. It really should be moist and flaky and mine wasn’t. But, maybe I need to cook bacalao more than once a year!