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Photo by Patricia Esteve
Egg sausage—botifarra d'ou
Eggs aren’t seasonal. In fact, one of the reasons that chickens are the world’s domesticated bird of choice is because they are ceaseless layers. They will continue laying eggs until they reach a certain number, which means that if you keep removing their eggs, they will keep laying. However the egg, both as a symbol and as an ingredient, is intrinsically linked with this time of year, and has been for millennia. Most ancient civilisations, from the Egyptians to the Celts, have associated the egg with spring—its related concepts of rebirth, sustenance and growth are hard to ignore.
As with many pagan symbols, it has been absorbed into Christian rituals. Actually, the egg’s pagan associations may be why Pope Gregory banned eggs during Lent in the seventh century. Eggs were subsequently given centre stage in Easter festivities, not just because the pagan symbol of resurrection could also be applied to the story of Christ, but because devotees wanted to celebrate the re-inclusion of this tasty, uniquely nutritious and versatile ingredient in their diets.
Celebration and practicality are combined in the tradition of decorating what became the ‘Easter egg’: as eggs needed to be stored for the whole of Lent, they would be covered in wax. From coloured, wax-covered eggs being presented as gifts after the Lenten restrictions were lifted at Easter, it’s a short step to intricately painted eggs, and from there to eggs being reproduced in chocolate.
The Easter treat in Catalunya, the mona, was traditionally a sweet cake made with eggs, flour and sugar, and given to godchildren by their grandparents. The mona was decorated with eggs (hard-boiled hens’ eggs at first, and later chocolate), with one for every year of the godchild’s life. But these days the mones have evolved into vast, intricate chocolate sculptures, usually depicting the latest football, film or cartoon heroes.
The medieval Lenten egg ban meant that they became the stars of Carnival as well as Easter. A favourite Catalan Dijous Gras (Fat Thursday, the Thursday before Ash Wednesday) omelette is made with botifarra d’ou—sausage made with pork meat and egg. It’s very typical of the Empordà region, and in some places, blood is added. In Pla d’Urgell, they use fatty meat, and add salt, pepper and breadcrumbs as well as egg.
The Lenten prohibition of eggs was lifted in the 15th century, but meat continued to be banned; a grateful populace made eggs a favourite dish during this flesh-free period. One traditional Lenten recipe, the truita amb trampa (omelette with a trick/swindle), fills out the precious commodity by adding flour or breadcrumbs to the eggs. In Tarragona, this parsimoniousness is compensated for by the addition of a romesco-like sauce.
As well as Easter and Lent, eggs are associated with another religious date in Catalunya—Corpus Christi. On this day, eggs are balanced on spouts of water in public fountains, which have been decorated with colourful floral displays. The egg ‘dances’ on the water, hence the name, l’ou com balla.
How are eggs, wine and God connected? Well, in the olden days monks were the main winemakers, and they would use egg white to clarify the wine, as is still done today. This left lots of yolks with nothing to do. So the monks, obviously too drunk to be left near knives and fire, gave these yolks to the nuns to make sweets and cakes with—hence the long association between nuns and sweetmeats, a tradition famous throughout Spain.
There’s another tradition linking nuns and eggs in Spain. Brides-to-be have long taken a dozen eggs to their nearest cloistered order of Poor Clare nuns, an offering which is supposed to guarantee fine weather on their wedding day. Apparently, Doña Letizia neglected to follow this tradition before her wedding to Prince Felipe… it poured down.
Truita de Dijous Llarder: Fry 250g cansalada until it starts to soften and colour, then add 250g of botifarra blanca and botifarra negre (or botifarra d’ou, as this is the traditional Fat Thursday omelette), cut into thin round slices, and add eight garlic shoots chopped finely and some chopped parsley. Stir until the sausage starts to brown. Add eight beaten eggs and cook until the egg starts to set. For the truita de pascua (Easter omelette), 12 eggs are traditionally used with the same recipe.
Truita amb trampa: This traditionally accompanies a Lenten cod dish called the quaresma. Mix 50g flour with 100ml milk or water, getting rid of any lumps. Beat four eggs and add them to the flour mixture along with three finely chopped cloves of garlic, some finely chopped parsley and salt to taste. Heat 50ml of oil in a pan over a high heat and add the egg and flour mixture. Stir with a fork until it starts to set, then flip using a plate and cook the other side. Remove from heat and cut into triangles.
To be sure you’re buying free-range eggs look for ‘huevos camperos de gallinas al aire libre’ or ‘de gallines camperoles, criades en granges on tenen accés a l’aire lliure’ or similar. All eggs are now supposed to have a code stamped on them. The first number tells how the laying hens are kept: organic eggs have a code starting with zero and free-range eggs start with the number 1. Good brands are El Rull Can Maspons from the Vallès Oriental or Pazo de Vilane from Galicia. If you’re in the Penedès, look out for ous rossos del Penedès, laid by the rare, but prized, Gall del Penedès chickens.