Catalonia is one of the few areas in Spain
where the climatic conditions favour the growth of truffles.
The black fungus, more expensive than gold, grows from December
to March in oak forests and is found in loose soil just below
the surface. Truffle hunters traditionally used pigs to sniff
out the precious delicacy, but today dogs are preferred. Most
of the produce is exported to France, but local markets are
also held. The truffle has so far resisted attempts to cultivate
it, which keeps prices high. They are used (sparingly) in both
meat and fish dishes. At the other end of the price spectrum
we find cannelloni, the popularity of which can no doubt be
traced back to the arrival of Italian cooks to Catalonia. The
cannelloni are similar to their Italian counterparts the are
found especially around Barcelona. Canalones a la Catalana is
made from ground beef and chicken pieces in a creamy sauce.
Barbecued meats are also popular, especially when cooked over
a fire of vine prunings which generates an intense heat. Towards
the Pyrenees game dishes are found, like arros amb conill (rice
with rabbit) or perdices con coles (partridge with cabbage).
To wash it all down what better than the local vintage, the
highly regarded red wine from Penedes.
Pan a la Catalana
Enter any bar in Catalonia and you will be
hard pressed not to find the 'national dish' pan a la Catalana
(Catalan bread) on the menu. This rather grand sounding name
comprises at its most basic bread, usually a firm rustic loaf,
on to which ripe tomatoes are squeezed, and is finished off
by drizzling on some oil with a sprinkling of salt. From these
simple beginnings, the pan a la catalana can be adorned with
serrano ham, one of the many local goats cheeses or salchichon
de Vic. Good quality olive oil is essential , and while Catalonia
produces only a small proportion of Spain's total production,
nevertheless it accounts for some of the best quality olive
oils. To give the meal a tangy flavour often the bread is lightly
toasted and rubbed with garlic. The tapa is often simply called
pan con tomate (bread and tomato), and while tomato is one of
the core ingredients in Spanish cooking surprisingly enough
it only arrived in Spain with the discovery by Columbus of the
Another dish held in great esteem in Catalonia
is the calçotada. This calçotada, which originates
in Tarragona is made by cooking spring calocats (a local variety
of spring onions) over an open flame. When cooked, the spring
onions char on the outside but inside are tender. They are eaten
by brushing off the outer layer of ash and dipping the vegetable
into salbitxada, a spicy sauce made from peppers, crushed almonds,
olive oil and tomato. The calçotada symbolises the coming
of Spring and every year a large festival celebrating the calcotada
is held in Valls in the province of Tarragona. Calçotada
is very popular in restaurants and often the spring onions are
served on a traditional terracota roof tile, which helps keep
the vegetables warm.
Zarzuela de marisco
Zarzuela de marisco is a term used to describe
a seafood stew containing both fish and shellfish. Often it
will contain hake or monkfish, cuttlefish, shrimp and muscles.
Adding saffron gives the broth a beautiful yellow appearance.
A popular tapa in bars is gambas al ajillo, made by frying shrimp
in oil and garlic. As in Valencia many of the seafood dishes
are served with alioli sauce made from garlic and oil with the
consistency of mayonnaise.
The is a strong tradition in the Costa Brava
of combining seafood with poultry and meat, what the Catalan's
term mar i muntanya (sea and mountain). Such combinations include
pork and muscles, tuna soup with snails, rabbit with crayfish
and chicken and lobster. Fish is also used in salads, like esqueixada
which is made with salted cod, or escalivada amb anxoves, made
with barbecued vegetables and anchovies.
If the sight of crema catalana looks familiar,
it is because of its similarity to the French creme brulee.
In fact, there are those that opinion that it was in Catalonia
that the dessert originated, but then the French always had
the better marketing men. Crema catalana is made from egg yolk,
sugar, and milk and flavoured with cinnamon and lemon rind.
The thin crispy surface is made by sprinkling on sugar, which
is caramelised traditionally with a hot iron. Another popular
way to round off a meal is postre de music (musical desert),
an assortment of dried fruits and nuts. Alternatively meto,
a local unsalted soft goat cheese, is served accompanied with
Catalan bakeries are well regarded in Spain. Traditionally many
cakes were baked to celebrate religious festivals. During lent,
bunyols, deep fried doughnuts, are baked, while Easter Monday
is traditionally celebrated with a mona de pasqua, made from
dough and the eggs that have been accumulating over the Lenten
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