It's the hottest month of year and nobody wants to each much. Luckily, there's good fruit and seafood around, and the end of the month sees tasty veg coming into season
August is a berry good month. Nature’s timing is perfect: producing juicy, thirst-quenching raspberries (frambuesa/gerd), blackberries (mora), red, white and black currants (grosella in Castilian / riba in Catalan) and grapes (uva/raim), just when we’re in most need of such rehydrating refreshment.
Mora signifies both the blackberry and the mulberry in Spanish and Catalan. But sometimes the bush-grown blackberry is called zarzamora, to distinguish it. Whatever they’re called, you’ll find punnets of the wild variety (the cultivated aren’t so sweet) at specialist stalls, such as Petras at the back of the Boqueria. Choose shiny, deep purple-black specimens and keep in the fridge (unwashed) for up to three days. They’re a great source of fibre, vitamin C and potassium.
Red, black and even white currants can be found, again at more specialist stalls, throughout August. These small, spherical berries grow in rows along a stalk, somewhat like grapes. Although most often used as a garnish, they shouldn’t be dismissed as mere decor. Redcurrants, especially, are great munched by the handful, or mixed with other berries, yoghurt and oat flakes for a healthy breakfast. Like blackberries, they’re low in calories and rich in Vitamin C, potassium and antioxidants. Kirsten Foster
SALSAFINS DE GIRONA
Coming into season towards the end of August with a fairly short growing period of around 120 days, salsify—the tuber that looks like a twig—is a true autumnal treat. Traditionally grown in southern European countries it’s one of the products that you really need to hunt down, which is ironic considering its generally believed to have spread to the rest of Europe from Spain. Weekly markets in towns of the Alt and Baix Empordà, Garrotxa, Girona, Pla de l’Estany and Selva are your best hope.
Once you’ve got your hands on some though, salsify, a member of the sunflower family, has a generously earthy taste. Some compare it to oysters—hence it’s moniker, the black oyster plant—though it is perhaps more accurate to describe it as a sweetish, nutty yet mild-tasting turnip with a creamy texture. When buying it check that it feels very firm to the touch, it shouldn’t be at all flabby, and it can be stored in the fridge for up to 10 days.
You need to peel off the tough black skin either before or after boiling it. The flesh should then be immersed in water with a few drops of vinegar or lemon juice to prevent it from discolouring. At its most simple you can serve salsify with a simple hollandaise sauce or even béchamel, dipped as you might asparagus. Or wrap it in jamón Iberico and roast, tossed in olive oil. It also goes exceptionally well with strong-tasting cheeses such as aged manchego, gorgonzola and parmesan. Tara Stevens
Ever since a friend told me that octopuses build rock gardens under the sea, I’ve felt a bit strange about eating cephalopods. I’m not keen on the tradition of beating them to death against the rocks to tenderise the flesh. The fact that it has now been proven they have sophisticated brains—some say their intelligence equals that of a dog—makes me even more squeamish. To a point…
A wooden platter of pulpo gallego is one of the truly great ways of eating it and one of the easiest: boil it, chop it, throw on some pimentón. The trick is all in the cooking of it and Mediterranean countries generally seem to have it down to a fine art, whether it’s slow-cooking octopuses in red wine, thyme and rosemary as they do in Greece, or flash-grilling little pulpitos with olive oil, garlic and parsley here in Spain.
For something different I like Patience Gray’s Italian ‘Polpo in Umido’ from her book Honey from a Weed. Buy a ready prepared, medium-sized octopus, uncooked. Chop into bite-sized pieces, then place in a pan with a good glug of olive oil, a couple of cloves of garlic, a handful each of wild fennel fronds and coriander leaves, a tablespoon of coriander seeds, 2-3 quartered tomatoes, and one sliced hot chilli pepper. Sizzle, add a glass of white wine (or anis), a glass of water and a tablespoon of vinegar. Simmer rapidly for 15 minutes or until the octopus is tender, but no longer than that. Cool in the liquid, strain and serve with a cold glass of manzanilla. Tara Stevens