The Flavour of the Origins

 

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Yes, it’s been a long time and it’s a long story but…

A few months ago I asked my mate Simpson to write about menu’s del dia for Spanish Sauce, but he declined saying he was no longer a menu man. Although it seems I have been living here forever, when I first arrived I met Simpson and he turned my menu del dia hobby into a passion. The menu del dia is the fixed-price lunchtime menu offered by eateries all over Spain. If you are on any sort of a budget you HAVE to take advantage, but this great institution comes in all shapes, sizes and flavours and Simpson is blessed with a veritable Sherlock Holmesian ability to sniff out the worthy ones from amongst the flotsam and jetsam of midday culinary offerings.

Now me and Simpson bicker constantly about everything, but I’m not the only menu lover who takes note when the maestro allows us mere mortals to share The Knowledge. There are many of us who are happy to traipse from one side of Barcelona to another when the man announces that “today is Thursday and toca codillos al horno in the Najera.”Don’t get in our way, because we have appetite and are going to get there By Any Means Necessary.

Beacuse another of Simpson’s abillities is Instant Menu Memory – you can consult him on where to get the best lentejas on a Monday, where the best portions are served and the best place to go depending on where you are. He led me on a merry trail around BCN as my midriff widened and plans were hatched to somehow fund a project called “Pinchen and Simpson Eat Spain”.

Yesterday, out of the blue as is his wont, he called and asked if I was interested in a piece for this blog. It arrived at 1:57 this morning and I read it on the iPhone in bed. As I started putting the post together I checked out the restaurant on Google and realised that it was the kind of place that I would have dismissed instantly, the kind of place that only my trust in Simpson would make me eat in. It is with great pleasure then that I present what will hopefully be the first of many posts by the menu Man. Bugger the Michelin Guide, this is the Simpson guide:

Look, this might take a while………..
Is this a review for a restaurant, a way of eating, how to choose an eaterie…..? Nationalism & cookery, discuss!

This is a tricky time of the year to select what to buy, what to knock up, where to eat and indeed what to choose once you get there.
Autumn, the fall, great time for ingredients and even greater time for getting into a quandry with a sweaty menu in your mitts.
It’s the middle of one season, but it’s unseasonable weather………. do i go hot, do i go cold, is it time to opt for soups, or are salad days back again?
You tell me, ‘cos i don’t know.      

There we were, perusing the menus placed outside Barcelona’s eateries, i was already rueing my – is it conservative or liberal? – choice of layers (when it’s warm & you’ve put on too many, i mean) which didn’t exactly endear me to any of the places that had soups, habas a la Catalana (broad-beans in a sauce and a winter staple in my book) and salads all vying for a place in the list of starters.

Is there not a halfway house? That is to say, some autumnal or spring dishes which could help get punters out of said menu quandry.

There are plenty of seasonal ingedients that abound at the minute: squash, pumpkin, sweet-potato, chestnuts. But do they make it onto a bog-standard Barcelonan menu? Do they buggery. You see, that’s what i want, a bog-standard 10-12 euro menu with seasonal stuff that’s good and plentiful, at the moment, and reasonably-priced.

Then, right in the ultra-touristy and uber-trendy Borne i clapped eyes on a place that i’ve seen reviewed somewhere, no-smoking inside – buttons were already getting pressed – and on its list of seasonal starters was a pumpkin & date soup. La Llavor dels Origens was packed, but there was table available in 5-10 minutes, and the waitress whose accent was heavy French was friendly.
That gave my pregnant lunching-companion and i time to visit the church opposite – her choice not mine – but it was shut –  the priest’s choice not ours, i bet he was tucking into something seasonal as well. This actually played into our hands as while walking around we picked up a summer food-magazine placed outside by the restaurant for people to take, and clocked that there are two sections to the place. (One of them where they keep the bottles, and very nice it looked too).

We were seated in the part which looks out onto the Passeig del Borne and the church, more natural light but the decor was no great shakes. That hardly mattered as the place-mats contain details of the seasonal dishes while the magazine is in fact a menu containing all of the information you might require about their food, drinks and Catalan cuisine en general.

All dishes are well-described, with information on its origin and ingredients, with much, much more besides. If only more places could do such a thing, it would certainly make solo-dining a less boring experience. As the “Tardor” edition was their 11th number, at four editions per calendar-year, that tells me even with my sketchy mathematical knowledge that “Origens” (it’s the biggest word of the name printed on the mag’s frontpage) is one season off its third birthday.
Another foible i have – it’s a long list as anyone who has eaten out with me can attest – is where starters end and main courses begin. I’m a man who likes to mix & match; and again the place obliges so that all dishes are more-or-less the same size and are served, at least in our case, at the same time.      

This is what we had:
She: A spinach-dish (medieval) with bacon, raisins, pinenuts, cottage-cheese and almond-dust; A stuffed-apple of minced pork and beef, lemon-peel, sugar, cinnamon, a touch of egg and a “carquinyoli” biscuit-powder (Empordà).
He/i: Vegetable-stuffed aubergine (general Catalan); lamb in honey & rosemary sauce. i was also pleased that my favourite local-beer (A K Damm) is stocked, i cannot comment on the wines but a lot of variety was stocked and there is a mound of info on them in the magazine.

My companion’s apple dish was one of the best things i’ve ever eaten and consequently was tithed extensively by my greedy fork & remnants of bread. i told the waitress so, who told the Head-Chef which resulted in a conversation via the serving-hatch, which i am wont to do when so moved – i even moaned about my main dish, that it lacked a little something! That little something was probably just of simple solution like being hotter or just more, or maybe it was just that i was sore as SHE had got the best dish.

Total price, 35 euros, and i shall recommend it to anyone who is trapped in the tourist-hinterland of the gothic quarter. i like the idea of a place espousing local traditions and dishes in the nightmare of the false ethnic, cod pizza & pasta and ubiquitous Basque tapas-bars that abound wherever tourist and his & her money abound.  

Give me nationalism over that any time, at least it has a connection to the soil and its food. 

 

  

 

 

 

 

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Faves a la Catalana

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This is Mediterranean cooking at its simple best. Fresh, seasonal ingredients and good quality olive oil – nothing more, nothing less. This is the meatless version of the classical Catalan dish that I usually make. The traditional dish usually has slices of botifarra (Catalan blood sausage) and maybe botifarra blanca (white Catalan sausage). The most important thing about this recipe, and all seasonal cooking, is that the ingredients are as fresh as possible.

Ingredients

500g broad beans (preferably in their pods)
small onion
2 cloves of garlic
2 ripe tomotoes
sprig of fresh mint
sprig of fresh thyme
half a bay leaf
glass of anis
salt & black pepper

Shell the broad beans (if you’ve got kids, get them to do this and they are more likely to eat the dish). Finely chop the onion and slOOwly sweat in a heavy-bottomed frying pan with the diced garlic. Add the herbs and then the tomatoes – without skin or pips (to remove the skin, make a cross in the bottom of the tomatoes, put them in boiling water and in water with ice cubes. The skin will then come off easily.)

When the liquid from the tomotoes has evaporated, add the beans, a little water and the anis. Season and cook over a low heat for about 20 minutes. If using sausage, add after 15 minutes and cook around 5 minutes .

Serve with bread to mop up the juices.

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Eat the Bikini

This post was inspired by Ben at Notes from Spain who wrote about what he calls “the humble sandwich mixto” – check it out here

In Catalunya this staple of bar-hoppers and niños is known as a Bikini – apparently named after the legendary Barcelona club of the same name, as this was the sandwich of choice of punters filling the bars around the club. Ana happens to make a mean Bik, so we decided to share her recipe.

Remember that this is a cheap bar snack and therefore best made of processed crap that normally wouldn’t get a look-in here, but it just can’t be done any other way (I admit that while I can take the plastic cheese, I do need some real ham, however).

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(sorry about the quality of the photos but it’s the best we could do with a hungry 5 year old desperate for his favourite snack)

Ingredients

Sliced white bread (generically known as pan Bimbo)
Margarine
Processed cheese slices
Ham (jamon dulce or york not serrano)

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Start assembling the Bikini – top a slice of bread with the ham and then the cheese & cover with another slice of bread.

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Spread margarine over the top, and then place margarine side down in a hot frying pan or skillet.

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Press down with a spatula, then carefully spread margarine over the top (mind you don’t burn your fingers), cooking over a medium flame.
Lift the sandwich up and inspect the bottom – if it is done to your satisfaction, flip it over and get the margarine side down in the pan.
Press down with the spatula again.

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When cooked to perfection, wash the Bikini down with favourite brew (or Estrella if you don’t have your favourite brew to hand). If you leave out the ham, this could be a great vegetarian snack too.

Thanks again for the inspiration Ben!

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calçot sauce recipe

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Calçots are a member of the onion family, typically grown around the town of Valls in Catalunya, At this time of the year the calçotada is a typical event in which family and friends get together to celebrate this glorious vegetable. Around 25 calçots per person are slowly grilled on a barbecue; when they are soft, the outer charred layers are peeled off and the white part is dipped in a romesco sauce and then bitten off the green part and eaten. A calçotada is a messy business and the participants usually wear bibs and traditionally swill wine from the typical Catalan drinking vessel, the porró.

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As you can see, calçots are usually cooked on a barbecue/grill. First clean off the outer layers and then grill them slowly to let all of that sweet taste flow.

You need to get on with your sauce before lighting up the fire and then let it sit. This recipe is by Carme Vidal who was born and brought up in Valls and it’s the best one I’ve ever tried. Remember that the quantities are for a large group and adjust them accordingly.

Ingredients:


1 mature tomato per person.
100 grams of toasted almonds for each 3 people
1 entire bulb of garlic for each 2 people.
1 “nyora”(type of dried pepper) for each 2 people.
1 litre of olive oil for each 10 people.
A little parsley, vinegar, salt, a small chili (optional)

Blacken the tomatoes and garlic over the flames (not embers), make sure that the flame isn’t too “live” as they need to be cooked.
Scald the “nyoras”in boiling water .
Crush or blend the almonds with the parsley and the chili (if you want a spicy sauce). Then mix in the peeled tomatoes and garlic and the pulp of the nyoras (discarding the seeds). The sauce is made by slowly stirring in the olive oil. Add salt and vinegar to taste.

If you can’t find nyoras, Janet Mendel, in her book “Cooking in Spain”, suggests substituting them with paprika . This sauce is fantastic with any type of grilled vegetables, meat, poultry or fish. It is an important part of the Xato salad.

When the calçots are ready, peel off the charred outer layers and dip into the sauce and eat. Slurping and stains are expected. The calçotada is such an important tradition in Catalunya that most of the political parties were obliged to partake as part of their general election campaigns last weekend, with the socialist party even sporting campaign bibs…

salsa from Valls

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Pa amb tomàquet

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Ingredientes:
Pan de payés cortado a rebanadas gruesas
Tomates maduros
Aceite de oliva y Sal

Lavar y cortar los tomates por la mitad. Es imprescindible que los tomates estén bastante maduros para que saquen todo su jugo. Frotar una rebanada con el tomate y echar un chorrito de aceite y una pizca de sal. Un consejo el pan que sea del día anterior. Si se quiere que quede más crujiente se puede tostar. Sobretodo que el aceite sea de oliva de la mejor calidad, a mi me gusta mucho el de la aceituna arbequina, y ahora Bon profit

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