It's an excellent time for fruit, and some slippery fish
If you’re getting bored with strawberries already, July sees the arrival of an even brighter red fruit with a delicious sweet-sour flavour it's impossible to tire of. The raspberry (frambuesa in Castellano, gerd in Catalan) is found on market stalls from now till October. Most of the examples on sale will come from Huelva, Asturias or Cáceres, though the local Maresme raspberries, like their strawberry cousins, are the most prized by Catalans.
Look for undamaged, brightly coloured berries, avoiding soggy or mouldy specimens. When raspberries are at their optimum maturity, at their sweetest, they separate easily from their stalks, so ones without hulls are more likely to be ripe. But this means they'll also be even more delicate, so take care not to squash them and store them properly: in a single layer on top of a piece of paper towel in a sealed moisture-proof container in the fridge. Kept in this way they'll be in good condition for three days. When you want to eat them, don't wash them, just wipe gently with a damp paper towel.
Personally I can eat them by the handful straight from the punnet, but some people prefer a foil for their soft flesh and sweet-sharp aromatic flavour. They’re great with rich dark chocolate cakes and mousses and crunchy crisp meringues. And if you do get some squidgy ones, don't worry—blend with sugar and sieve out the seeds for a quick coulis, or blend with olive oil, lemon juice and black pepper for a sauce that goes perfectly with game. Kirsten Foster
PEACHES AND CHERRIES
Local specialities in season this month are the fruits of hardship—the préssecs (peaches) d’Ordal from the Penedès wine-growing region, for instance. The local chalky, unirrigated soil produces peaches that often look smaller and less appealing than their water-fed counterparts. But don’t be fooled by appearances, they have an unmatched fragrance and flavour.
Harvested between the beginning of June and the end of August, the peaches are picked at their peak. If you can’t travel to the Penedès to buy them, ask for them at specialist fruit stalls such as Soley Roser in the Boqueria market.
We have an agricultural tragedy to thank for some of the best cherries in Catalunya. When the 19th-century phylloxera plague killed off most of the country’s vines, some enterprising farmers turned to cherries as an alternative crop, especially in the Baix Llobregat. Jaume Montmany Cartró did just this in 1895. Over a hundred years later, his family still farm their land in Torrelles de Llobregat, but recently they’ve started farming using ecological and biodynamic principles. According to their website, www.fruitsmontmany.es, this year has been kind to the cherry trees, which have benefited from a protective cold winter and recent rains. The cherished Montmany cherries can be ordered direct from the company by calling 93 689 0492. Kirsten Foster
The eel is a curious creature that comes with a unique set of myths ranging from Romans keeping them as pets and feeding them on live slaves, to a proclivity for mating with land and air creatures as well as their own. What we know for sure is that they spawn in the Sargasso Sea and then swim thousands of miles to the rivers of Europe and North America to feed for a decade or so, before turning around and making the journey back again.
Many get caught along the way, and Basque and Galician cooks use them frequently, particularly the little elvers fried in oil. But anguiles, as they’re called in Catalan, also feature heavily in regional dishes closer to home such as those from the Albufera of Valencia and the Delta de l’Ebre: all i pebre de anguila (a piquant sauce of guindilla peppers, garlic, pimentón, orange peel and almonds), anguila amb suc (stewed in sauce) and xapadillo (dried then barbecued) are the easiest to find.
Eels are considered a delicacy in many places. In France they are stewed in a red-wine sauce and eaten as a matelote among other traditional preparations. The Germans and the Dutch love them smoked, and in Japan nearly 200 million pounds are eaten annually. The great English food writer, Jane Grigson, wrote: “I love eel. Sometimes I think it is my favourite fish. It is delicate but rich...”
River eels can grow to more than a metre long and are up there with blue fish as a super-food. Rich in omega 3, vitamins B1 and B2, phosphorous, zinc and potassium, it comes as no surprise to learn they are now available in capsule form. But the best way I’ve eaten them was at the hands of Martin Berasategui, one of San Sebastian’s multi-starred chefs who smokes his eel so that it’s soft as butter, and serves it on top of a slice each of grilled foie gras and caramelised apple.