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After a long winter of knobbly root vegetables, March brings a huge explosion of leafiness, colour and variety to the market stalls, from baby courgettes and fiery pink radishes to chicory, tiny sweet carrots, asparagus and watercress.
The first sweet peas from Llavaneres start to appear, and by the end of the month it’s time to celebrate the Festa del Pèsol de Sant Andreu de Llavaneres. The top dish here is pèsols ofegats (stewed peas), a simple recipe of fresh peas, onions, garlic shoots, fresh mint, a few drops of anisette, and many recipes call for bacon to be thrown into the pot too.
Super-food watercress (créixens in Catalan or berros in Castilian) is also at its best in early spring. Once known as ‘scurvy grass’, it is packed with vitamin C along with iodine, iron, magnesium and zinc, and was used to treat anything from anaemia to infertility, although that might be stretching things a little. In the stalls, look for crisp, dark-green leaves with no sign of wilting. Eat on the day of purchase if you can, or put the stems in water and refrigerate to keep for another 24 hours.
March is also the time to find spring bolets (wild mushrooms) in the mountains after the winter snows have melted. Look out in the markets for múrgoles or the charcoal-coloured carboneres (also known as marçots), along with the delicate, thin-stemmed cama-secs (or carreretes) and dumpy little moixernons. One of the favoured ways to eat these locally is to throw them into a pan of scrambled eggs or simply eat them lightly pan-fried in olive oil with lashings of garlic. --NF
The huge popularity and relative cheapness of mussels makes them available year-round in Spain, but March means Galician mexillon (Gallego), musclos (Catalan) or mejillones (Spanish) are in season. They are a particularly meaty variety with creamy, orange-coloured flesh and perfect for cooking, though if you get them super fresh they can also be good raw with a squeeze of lemon juice and drop of Tabasco. Aside from the popular tapa of tigres (scattered with breadcrumbs, garlic and grilled on the shell), I think the best way of eating them is to pile them up in a big casserole with a steaming broth—be it white wine and herbs, tomatoes and garlic or something more exotic like Thai coconut, then roll up your sleeves and dig in.
This fabulous recipe is kindly provided by El Atril (Carders 23; Tel. 93 310 1220):
Chimay mussels (Serves two)—Get a large pan nice and hot, and throw in two large handfuls of mussels (approximately 30 mussels). Shake it around a bit and add 1/2 leek (finely chopped) and two cloves garlic (minced). Keep the heat on high and leave it to sweat for 30 seconds or so. Add a splash of olive oil, stir and let it sweat another 30 seconds. Add two tablespoons of caldo pescado (fish stock; Aneto do a good one), 1/2 bottle Chimay beer, two large globs butter and a pinch of chilli flakes. Cover and reduce for 10 minutes, stirring now and then so the mussels stay moist. Just before serving throw in a handful of parsley, a squeeze of lemon juice, stir and serve.
Fun Fact: the word ‘mussel’ comes from the Greek mus meaning mouse, as in ‘sea mouse’. --TS
In these days of concern of over the technologisation of food, when consumers seem to want evermore ‘natural’ food, it’s easy to forget that one of the biggest genetic modifiers is nature itself. One example of natural genetic modification is the citrus fruit the ortanique (Citrus x nobilis), which gets its name from a blend of the words orange, tangerine and unique. The fruit is believed to be a spontaneous cross between the tangerine and the sweet orange. It was first spotted in a Jamaican market in the early 1900s and was brought to Spain in the Seventies. It’s a very juicy, seedless fruit, sweet with a good balance of acidity. You can find it in the markets from February to April. A highly aromatic fruit, it has high levels of oils in its skin. It takes after its orange dad, more than its tangerine mum, in size and difficulty of peeling. Another citrus in the markets this month is the navel orange, Lane Late. It’s one of the best oranges for flavour—neither too sweet nor too tart. One of the healthiest type of oranges can also be found on the stalls in March—taronja sanguina (blood orange). Its rich red pulp is a sign of the fruit’s high beta-carotene and antocianine content, antioxidants that are believed to be beneficial to health.
If you can’t get out to the market there’s no need to miss out on this great source of vitamin C. You can get your citrus fruits online direct from the growers at www.soyagricultora.com, www.mondalironda.com and www.lamejornaranja.com. --KF