Eating seasonally may sometimes seem restrictive. But nature often provides just what your body—and your mind—needs at certain times of year. As the shortest day of the year approaches, this month’s bounty includes foodstuffs that are just the thing to bolster flesh and spirit during winter. Green leafy vegetables such as cabbage, swiss chard and brussel sprouts pep up the body’s levels of vital vitamins and minerals. Sun-bright citrus fruits such as oranges and mandarins don’t just nourish the body, they also cheer the soul. They’re a welcome echo of sunny days, their skins and fragrant flesh invoking long-lost memories of the summer. The glowing seeds of the pomegranate bring light to a salad of escarole lettuce and fennel. Chucking back handfuls of the last blueberries of the season gives a great vitamin and antioxidant boost. The ritual of roasting chestnuts is another comforting treat to guard against the encroaching gloom of winter.
Though you may think of December as a turkey month, it’s not the only bird available this month. You’ll also see richly-plumed wild game in market stalls such as Avinova in the Boqueria market. Wild partridge is a lean meat (most of the fat is under the skin and easily removed), rich in iron and easily digested protein. Choose firm, fat, round specimens and stew in a pot with leeks, carrots and fennel. A splash of wine in the pot will also help keep the winter blues at bay—and if some falls in your glass at the same time, think of it as a tonic. KF
It’s one of those vegetables that on the one hand is quite exotic, yet on the other seems to go by unnoticed. Even now when you can generally find most things you want at any time of year, fennel still requires a bit of hunting down. It prefers cooler conditions and you tend to see more of it in the winter months. The mild aniseed flavour of the leaves and stalks, while not to everyone’s taste, lends itself well to Spanish and Catalan dishes.
Slice a whole fennel bulb very thinly, scatter with parmesan shaving and drizzle with olive oil and balsamic vinegar for a lively starter. It’s also great simply roasted in the oven with a glass of white wine, or stock poured over it, and served as a side dish to baked fish.
To turn it into something festive, this fennel and apple compote is simple and delicious. Put a handful of sultanas in a pan with a glass of sherry. Bring to the boil then set aside for 15 minutes. Melt a spoonful of butter in another pan and sauté 12 small peeled shallots until golden. Add two fennel bulbs and two green apples cut into eighths and cook for another 15 minutes until caramelised. Stir in the sultanas and sherry, add a teaspoon of lemon juice and one of sugar and cook until the fennel and apples are tender and the sauce is glossy. It goes brilliantly with roast pork, chicken or goose. TS
With so much emphasis now on what we put in our bellies—local, organic, non-GM (genetically modified), biodynamic—it’s a good time to explore alternative options to the meat in supermarkets, much of which is so unimaginative anyway. Luckily, Catalan markets offer a truly great mix of farmed and wild fowl, which can jazz up a roast dinner as a real treat.
Wild partridge (perdiz in Castilian, perdiu in Catalan) comes into season in October and finishes in January, and is particularly good if you’re not keen on conventional red meat. In fact, it has a higher iron content than either lamb or beef and the meat is deeply flavourful without being too gamey. You’ll see a lot of it hanging in the butchers at this time of year still in full plume (ask them to prepare it for you), and it’s a brilliant alternative to the traditional Christmas bird, especially if your gathering is small. I generally work on the basis of a half bird per person, and literally just season it well with salt and pepper and throw it in the oven at 180ºC for about 30 minutes.
For something a little bit festive, and with a distinctly Catalan flavour, rub the bird in plenty of butter and season well with salt and pepper. Peel and core two large, firm pears and cut into thick wedges. Arrange in the bottom of a small baking tray or casserole with a couple of sprigs of thyme and place the partridge on top. Add a glass of moscatel and roast at 220ºC for 30 minutes. Serve with roast potatoes or a heap of mash, some green beans and the pan juices on the side. TS