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Scorpion fishA scorpion fish, the family to which 'el cabracho' belongs.
Fruit and fish are the main favourites on Barcelona's market stalls this month.
Life really is a bowl of cherries in June. Catalunya’s abundance of this lovely stone fruit came about as a kind of agricultural Plan B after a 19th-century plague of phylloxera destroyed so many of the grape vines. These days many of the popular varieties are bred in line with the growing trend for larger, darker and sweeter cherries, consequently ousting the old indigenous varieties such as the Bord.
In the market, look out for a cherry that has the stem still attached and is heavy for its size, meaning that it will have plenty of juice and be fleshy and sweet. Tart cherries should be firm, plump, and bright scarlet. Avoid cherries that are hard, small and lighter in colour because they were probably picked before they were ripe. Also avoid soft or sticky cherries with a dull cast and puckered skin since they are probably overripe and will cause fruits in the bowl to rot too.
Since cherries are delicate and easily bruised, store them in a wide, shallow bowl to help distribute the weight. Cover loosely with a clean tea towel to allow for air circulation and keep them from drying out. As with all berries, do not wash them until you are ready to use them and store them in the coldest part of your refrigerator—remember that cherries can decay more in one hour at room temperature than they can in 24 hours at 0ºC.
Apart from eating the delicious red fruit straight from the bowl, other simple ways to enjoy them include poached cherries as a topping for ice cream or cheesecake, or pitted, halved and then lightly pushed into the top of a basic sponge cake or coca mixture before baking. --NF
June’s temperament is embodied by the early figs, brevas (figaflor in Catalan), which should be appearing on the stalls from now till late July. The cool green skin of earliest varieties reflect the still fresh mornings; its aromatic, blushing pink flesh suggests sultry sunsets. Most examples sold here come from the Levante: Valencia, Murcia and Alicante. The most popular varieties are the Goina and the Colar. The latter is rated more highly for its larger, plumper size and shape. The skin colour can range from green to dark purple, depending on species and maturity. For once, broken skins and signs of over-ripeness are what you should be looking for: wrinkles and bursting flesh show the fruit is at its melt-in-the-mouth best. Avoid ones that look so ripe they're rotten, though, as well as anything flattened and dried out or with hard and unyielding flesh. For a quick dessert make a simple sugar syrup by boiling two parts sugar with one part water. Remove from the heat and add the juice of an orange and a lime to taste. Leave to cool then pour over slices of breva. --TS
At a time when we all need to be thinking about eating more sustainable fish and seafood, it pays to look for the ugly stuff at the market. The cabracho belongs to the family of scorpion fish and is a devilish-looking creature of scaly, fire-red skin and spines. Catalans call it the diable del mar (sea devil) and most people ignore it.
In fact, it’s the same fish as the French rascasse, so crucial in the flavouring of traditional Marseille bouillabaisse, and although the flesh is full of bones, the meat itself is deeply flavoured, not too greasy and rich in B-vitamins. If you can bear picking it over, it’s worth the effort served simply grilled on its own, but otherwise it’s an excellent base for numerous Catalan fish stocks, soups and the famed suquet (fish stew).
For a very simple sopa de peix (fish soup) for four, make a sofregit of two large chopped onions and five or six chopped tomatoes fried down gently in olive oil in a terracotta casserole. When it’s thick and dark (almost the same colour as the casserole) add a kilo of cleaned cabracho, roughly chopped and gutted, but include the skin and bones. Add a bay leaf, cover with water and simmer gently for 30-40 minutes. Strain it, bring it back to the boil and add a cup of rice and a picada (by pounding together a sprig of parsley, two cloves of garlic, a handful of hazelnuts and almonds, half a slice of fried bread and a splash of oil). Cook until the rice is tender and the soup thick and hearty. --TS
The great thing about the arrival of summer is the sudden abundance of exotica in the markets. Not just peaches, mangoes and other obviously tropical fruits, but the emergence of herbs and spices that you don’t usually see. Perifollo in Castilian, cerfull in Catalan (chervil in English) is one of those great aromatics that is relatively common in Northern European countries—in France it is a crucial element of the fines herbes combination—but cooks have been shy at embracing it here. In fact, its flavour and aroma should be pleasing to the Spanish palette given its relative sweetness and aromas of anise that make it a perfect partner to fish dishes, eggs and poultry.
It was first cultivated by the Romans who used it more medicinally than for culinary purposes. It was a particularly popular aide to pregnant women who would bathe in an infusion of it, though to what end is unclear. It was also administered as a blood purifier and mixed with vinegar as a cure for hiccups. More romantically it is also supposed to make you feel happier, younger and wittier, which is the way I like to remember it.
Try it whisked into an omelette for supper, accompanied by a glass of wine: blend together three eggs with fork, a pinch of salt and a grind of black pepper. Throw in a handful of roughly chopped chervil (stalks removed). Meanwhile, melt down a knob of butter in a frying pan until it is frothing. Pour in the eggs and when nearly solidified fold in half, or quarters, and serve immediately. --TS