If you have ever eaten a menú del dia in Catalunya, you will have undoubtedly seen macarrons on offer as a starter. The pasta dish is a popular option here, although the quality of it can vary immensely from place to place. In order to make a perfect plate of macarrons you have to ensure you get the basic element just right. This means that the onion (ceba in Catalan, cebolla in Castilian), one of the star players in Mediterranean cooking despite its Asian origins, has to be cooked to perfection, by making a sofregit. The sofregit is held in high esteem in Catalan cooking—it is mentioned in books dating from medieval times—and is the base flavour for a lot of recipes. While it comes in different forms, the basic ingredient is onion and it often contains tomato and other vegetables. The recipe below uses a simple method of preparation; according to the cookbook La bona cuina Catalana (Good Catalan Cooking), many Catalan recipes use this same formula—i.e. take an onion, peel and chop it, then sauté until golden brown to make a sofregit.
The word sofregir means to lightly fry in English, and the trick to making a good one is to cook the onions until they reach a golden colour or are nearly translucent. You can do this in about 15 to 20 minutes, using lots of olive oil and a low heat but some restaurants have been known to take up to an hour to prepare their sofregit, while others can spend more than two days getting it to match their requirements—but this is something only the truly dedicated cook should attempt!
Ingredients (for four people)
- 350g macarrons
- 1 laurel leaf
- 100ml oil
- 200g onion (1 large onion)
- 400g ripe tomatoes (3 ripe tomatoes)
- 100g minced beef
- 100g lean minced pork
- 250ml white wine (1 glass)
- 15g garlic (2 cloves)
- 1 small bunch parsley
- 100ml of the water used to boil pasta
- 50mg grated cheese
- Salt and pepper
Boil the macarrons in a large pot of water with some salt and the laurel. When they’re cooked (about 10 minutes), put a cup (about 100ml) of the boiling water to one side, then strain the pasta and cool it down quickly.
Peel and finely cut the onion, then peel the tomatoes and cut them into cubes. In a pan, heat the oil, then slowly cook the onion for 15 minutes to make your sofregit. Add the beef and pork, turn up the heat and stir a couple of times to brown it. Pour in the white wine and let it evaporate (around five minutes). Turn the heat back down and add the chopped tomato. Let it all cook for another 10 minutes.
Next, crush the garlic, parsley and pepper in a mortar, add the water from the macarrons and mix all together to make a paste (picada), then put it into the pan. Let everything cook together for 10 minutes over a low heat, until the sauce is consistent.
To finish, heat up your grill and put the macarrons in a baking tray that can go in the oven. Cover the cooked pasta with the meat sauce and sprinkle the grated cheese on top. Put under the heated grill for a couple of minutes to brown. Serve immediately.
First published March 2009.