Photo by Patricia Esteve
Bread with tomato home
Traditional Catalan cuisine: pa amb tomaquet. Done properly, the bread should be rubbed with not just tomato but also garlic, then drizzled with olive oil
Nowadays we are all being urged to eat more local food. Although the concept of ‘food miles’ has been somewhat criticised as a measure of sustainability, there are other considerations that make eating locally a sound choice for conscientious eaters. “Eating is an agricultural act,” American farmer and writer Wendell Berry once wrote. His idea was that eaters should see themselves as an integral part of the chain of food production and, to that end, should familiarise themselves as much as possible with the production process of the food they eat. One of the ways he suggested we do this was: “Learn the origins of the food you buy, and buy the food that is produced closest to your home. The locally produced food supply is the most secure, freshest and the easiest for local consumers to know about and to influence.”
Food and agriculture is an intrinsic part of any culture, and this is particularly true in Catalunya, with its political, economic and social history reflected in its cuisine; dishes and products vanish and reappear, echoing the movements of people between city and country, industry and agriculture. To try and prevent any more disappearances, European governments are giving recognition to their nations’ gastronomic heritages with two certificate schemes.
The European DOP (Denomination Origin Protected; in Catalan—Denominacion d’Origen Protegida) and PGI (Protected Geographical Indication; or Indicacions Geogràfiques Protegides; or IGP) certifications recognise the cultural significance of certain special food products. It highlights their unique characters, which are the result of a close relationship between the product, the environment and local human skills—herding, fishing, farming, etc.—resulting in foodstuffs of distinctive quality and historic and cultural significance.
So why not explore the unique agricultural treasures that Catalunya has to offer? Invite friends round for a DOP/IGP dinner—there are plenty of products fit for every course, from the hors d’oeuvres to the sobretaula. You can find out more information about Catalunya’s DOP and IGP products in a guide produced jointly by the Generalitat’s Departament d’Agricultura, Alimentació i Acció Rural and Fundació Alicia, available at www.alicia.cat.
Llonganissa de Vic IGP and Oli de l’Empordà DOP
There’s evidence that sausage curing has been going on in the Plana de Vic since the fourth century CE. The geographical properties of this valley have a direct influence on the production of llonganissa: a wide channel from the Pyrenees to the coast, flanked by the mountains of Montseny and the Collsuspina, its relatively high altitude and cool but gentle breezes, the lesser influence of the warmer, moist Mediterranean air plus cold winters all make it ideal for charcuterie making. Select pieces of lean pork and bacon fat are mixed, seasoned with salt and pepper, stuffed into natural skins and cured for a minimum of 45 days in assecadors (drying-rooms), where the sausage skins obtain their natural white bloom.
The olive oils of the Empordà are some of the most complex in Catalunya. The local varieties of olive (argudell, corivell and Llei de Cadaqués) are used, along with some arbequina, to make fine, aromatic oils with a good balance between fruit, spice and bitter flavours, and with aromas suggestive of almonds, tomato, anis, fennel and artichoke.
To serve: Simply make some pa amb tomàquet sprinkled with Empordà olive oil and top with slices of llonganissa de Vic to accompany pre-dinner drinks.
Mongeta del Ganxet Vallès-Maresme
These small, white, shiny, kidney-shaped beans were once little thought of, grown only for smallholders’ personal consumption. But their firm, floury, flavour-soaking texture and delicate skins have made this bean a favourite with contemporary Catalan gastronomes. They’re delicious straight from the pot with a splash of extra virgin olive oil and are a traditional accompaniment to botifarra a la brasa, as well as a vital ingredient in many stews and soups. Grown in the Vallès Occidental, Vallès Oriental, some parts of Maresme and la Selva, they have to conform to limits of weight in order to be considered authentic, and even the amount of the beans’ curve is regulated.
To serve: ‘Empedrat’ salad of Ganxet beans with bonito tuna
Blend 300g of cooked Ganxet mongetes with water to make a smooth paste. Season with salt, pepper and white wine vinegar. Peel, deseed and quarter eight plum tomatoes and finely slice eight spring onions. Meanwhile hard boil six quail eggs and then quarter them. On a plate arrange the eggs, tomatoes and spring onions, along with a can of bonito in oil, and another 300g cooked mongetes. Drizzle the bean purée, dot with black olive paté and dress with extra virgin olive oil. Sprinkle with chopped chives.
Pera de Lleida
Lleida is famous for its fruit, and its voluptuous, juicy pears grown in Pla d’Urgell, Les Garrigues, La Noguera, El Segrà and Urgell are the stars. Three varieties are grown: llimonera (which are in season in July), blanquilla and conferens. Sweet, succulent and fragrant, they don’t keep long so need to be eaten soon after purchase. They make a good contrast with the fat in cheese, or add a sharp fruitiness when added in compote form to allioli. But one of their classic roles in Catalan cuisine is in a casserole with duck or goose.
To serve: Duck with Lleida Pears
Brown a seasoned duck cut into pieces with a little oil in a casserole. Pour off the excess fat. Set the duck aside. In the same casserole sweat two diced onions, two chopped carrots and two chopped leeks until golden. Add two peeled and diced tomatoes to make a sofregit. Add a glass of brandy, turn the heat high and reduce the sauce. Put the duck back in to the casserole, add a bunch of mixed herbs and water to cover, bring to the boil and then turn the heat low and leave to simmer. Peel and core four Lleida DOP pears, cut into quarters, dip in flour and brown in a frying pan with a little oil. Add the pears to the casserole when the meat is tender and leave on a low heat, letting the pears soak up the flavours of the casserole juices. A few minutes before you’re ready to serve, season and add a picada made of two cloves of garlic, a handful of almonds and two carquinyoli biscuits. Stir and transfer to a warm serving dish.
This light version of torró (in Castilian, turrón) has been made in Agramunt in Urgell for centuries (it was first documented in 1741). A paste of honey, negretes (hazlenuts) or almonds, sugar and egg white, sandwiched by two wafers of pa d’àngel, it’s a favourite sobretaula (literally on the table) treat to nibble while knocking back the brandy or moscatell. The regulations state there must be a minimum of 46 or 60 percent nut content, depending on whether the torró is classified Extra or Supreme.
To serve: Cream with Torró and Raspberries
Although torró d’Agramunt is traditionally a Christmas treat, it’s available all year round and is actually a great sweet option in hotter months. Here it’s broken and sprinkled over raspberries and cream—almost like a Catalan version of Eton Mess.
Clean and hull 300g strawberries then freeze. Whip 400g fresh cream (it should be very cold). Make a syrup with the strawberries and 150g sugar by stirring over a low heat. Break up 150g of torró. On each plate put a spoonful of the strawberry syrup, then some whipped cream, then a scattering of the torró. Sprinkle 125g raspberries around the plates and top with a fine grating of lemon zest.
The DOP and IGP Regulatory Bodies:
Torró d’Agramunt: Tel. 973 39 17 32; www.igp-torrodagramunt.com
Pera de Lleida: Tel. 973 22 01 49; www.peralleida.com
Mongetes de Ganxet Vallès-Maresme: Tel. 607 536 941; firstname.lastname@example.org
Llonganissa de Vic: Tel. 93 268 4263; www.salchichonvic.com
Oli de l’Emporda: Tel. 972 51 40 96; email@example.com