Taste of Galicia

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Galician Black ink

Spaghetti Vongole.

Galicia is a well-known region within Spain for its abundance of seafood delicacies such as Percebes (goose-neck barnacles), Scallops, Octopus – often seen on menus around Spain in an attempt to recreate it in true Galician style (pulpo a la gallega). The list is endless and I had been looking for a reason to try some Galician clams since my trip through the region in 2007, so I thought what better way to rustle up my own version of spaghetti vongole. I arrived in the Galician province of Spain with much anticipation due to what I’d read and heard regarding the infamous cuisine in this North-Western region of the country. I had already been to the Basque country so the bar was raised high, the highest number of Michelin starred restaurants in San Sebastian compared with any other city in Spain accounted for that.

So taking a little inspiration from Rick Stein’s take on Spanish steamed clams (whilst on his tour around Spain) – with a dash of Jerez Sherry and Jamon Serrano – I decide to use some Italian Pancetta with my dish, plus tomatoes, which are noticeably sweeter as we edge closer to Summer (the cherry variety) so they work well with the salty notes. Garlic and onion sweated in the pan give plenty of depth to the sauce that will coat all of the pasta, and I like to salt my chopped tomatoes (chopped into 2 or 3 chunks) before cooking to allow some of the excess water out (this helps increase the concentration of flavour also). The Pancetta should be chopped into pieces slightly bigger than a matchstick but smaller than your little finger and fried until they turn golden and crispy. Fry the onion and garlic until it just starts to change colour: I have become quite the aficionado when it comes to onions and I can’t get enough of the Figueres variety; very typical in Catalunya and they have a much more subtle flavour than their white and red counterparts. The flavours in this dish are all quite delicate so getting the right balance is key to them complimenting one another. I used a local Catalan wine Blanc Pescador which goes great with any seafood dish, it comes from the Emporda region and is made with young grapes comparable to any of those used in Vinho verde in Portugal-a bit fruity with a slight fizz. For those of you not familiar with this wine, here in Barcelona you can find it in any Vinoteca or supermarket for around 4€ a bottle. Use this to deglaze the pan and then throw in your clams, in about 4 minutes you’ll get a whiff of the Atlantic sea as the shells open and release their juices into the pan….Delicious! You want to add the tomatoes and pasta to the clams and broth at the same time and fold everything together for about 2 minutes, just enough time for the tomatoes to start to soften. Toss in chopped herbs and enjoy.

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Every neighbourhood in Barcelona has its own market (Mercado del Barrio) and you can get your hands on fish as local as the beaches near Barceloneta and Rio de Besós.

The pasta I chose to use was one I’d acquired last year on holiday in Sicily; infused with squid ink, which does nothing more than create an amazing contrast of colour, but a good quality pasta like this one is necessary and any long variety will work well. Also remember to put your clams into a pan of cold water before you cook them, this will help remove any grit or sand (they are filter feeders). About 20 minutes should suffice.


What you’ll need.

Serves 2

250-350g of fresh clams (depending on variety/size)

50g Italian pancetta

half a small onion

8-12 cherry tomatoes

half a clove of garlic

75ml/5 tbspns of white wine

1 tbspn olive oil

2 tspn Jerez sherry vinegar

250g spaghetti or something similar (I used black pasta)

a small handful of coarsley chopped fresh Basil

a handful of finely chopped fresh Parsley

Salt

Black Pepper


1. Put the oil into hot pan and add your pancetta. Fry for about 1 or 2 minutes and then add your finely sliced onion. Keep on a medium heat until the onion turns translucent. Add the garlic and turn the heat down to let it all gently sweat for about 2 minutes. Keep stirring to avoid burning the garlic.

2. Your pasta should already be on a rolling boil by now. Add the wine to pancetta mixture to deglaze the pan on a high heat. Add the vinegar and the clams. Cover with a lid and let them steam for about 4 minutes or until all the shells have fully opened.

3. Meanwhile, run the cooked pasta under cold water, drain well and add to the clams once they are opened. Add the chopped tomatoes and fold everything gently for about 2 minutes so the tomatoes just begin to turn soft and the pasta is hot.

4. Throw on the chopped herbs. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Voila!

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Springtime in Catalunya….Calçots!!

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Braised Chicken and Shiitake

with Calçots and Young Garlic.

So you’re probably wondering what are Calçots…well to the average person who hasn’t had the pleasure of being invited to a traditional Catalan barbecue (Calçotada), they look like spring onions but slightly larger and a much more subtle taste. Here in Catalunya the season for calçots is from late January through to the middle of April-I have been a little tardy in my efforts to post this recipe. I am lucky enough to have been to two Calçotadas in my  short time thus far here in Barcelona, and the experience is nothing short of immense. The quantity of onions some people eat is quite impressive-I was sat next to a ravenous Italian at my last calçotada. I’m not sure if he had been enduring a self-imposed fasting period in the days leading up to the event or if hoovering up at a rate of five-a-minute was the done thing around here. Needless to say I was astounded and impressed in equal measures, so much so that I duly obliged and within 20 minutes surpassed his paltry 20 or so calçots. Satisfaction quickly transformed into regret as I saw the plates of lamb and sausages and blackened artichokes approaching.

 How they are cooked, is traditionally over the initial flames of a barbecue, hot enough that it completely chars the outer layer of skin on the onions to leave a sweet and tender heart ready to be dipped into a secret family recipe of Romesco sauce. This gastronomic affair calls for inhibitions to be left aside and a giant bib tucked into your shirt…it gets messy.

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So all that being said I decided to use this sweeter version of the spring onion and mix it with some Asian flavours and another seasonal produce, young Garlic. Any kind of Asian cooking grabs my interest due to how simple and quick a lot of the dishes can be and the result is almost always something worthy of a dinner party. Shiitake mushrooms are my favourite type and I especially like the dried type as soaking them beforehand can create a beautiful liquor to add to your dish during the cooking process. If you don’t have a wok don’t worry, this dish can easily be done in a normal frying pan with a lid or a casserole dish, this is one of the few Asian dishes that isn’t going to be stir-fried on stove top requiring insanely high cooking temperatures.


What you’ll need

Serves 2

8 Dried Shiitake mushooms

1 or 2 large chicken thighs de-boned and de-skinned (about 250g)

1 tbspn dark soy sauce

2 tbspns Shaoxing wine (chinese cooking wine)

1 tbspn brown sugar (palm preferably)

2 large calçots

2 young garlics

3cm piece of ginger

300ml of stock

salt 1 tspn sesame oil

2 tbspns peanut oil or sunflower oil

White rice


1. Soak the mushrooms in hot water for 20-30 minutes while prepping the other ingredients. Keep the water for cooking with and once fully soaked cut each mushroom into quarters.

2. Slice the ginger and garlic thinly and add to the preheated oil and fry for a few minutes over a medium heat until fragrant and soft. While frying, slice the chicken into small pieces. Take out the ginger and garlic and reserve. Fry the chicken until golden brown, about 5 minutes. Chop the white part of the Calçots into lengths of about 2 inches and add with the ginger and garlic to the chicken.

3. After another minute frying on a high heat you should notice small brown sticky deposits in the bottom of your pan, this is the moment to deglaze it with the cooking wine. Stir a little and add the mushrooms with their stock (about 300ml), the sugar and soy sauce. Taste and add salt as required.

4. Cover the pan with a lid and bring to the boil then reduce to a quick simmer and cook for 25 minutes or until the chicken has become tender, remember there should be enough broth to partly cover all the ingredients. Take off the lid to thicken the sauce if necessary and finely chop the green parts of the Calçots and Garlic. Serve with boiled white rice and drizzle the sesame oil over the top.

For the cheesecake lover!

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Mascarpone & Matò cheesecake

with a Balsamic & strawberry compote

I’m an addict when it comes to cheesecake, baked versions and set in the fridge overnight versions, with or without fruit, biscuit base or not, there really is a plethora of contrasting styles dividing fans of this dessert. With the growing number of street-food style events here in Barcelona one really is spoiled for choice on what seems to be a weekly basis and just as equally inspired. Having tasted so many with soggy bases or those that skate across your plate trying to escape that pesky fork, heavy fillings that sit in your stomach until the next morning and fruit toppings that overwhelm all the hard work that went into creating that beautiful creamy filling. I had good reason to create my own, albeit subjectively speaking, perfect Sunday afternoon cheesecake.

A traditional Italian recipe would use Ricotta cheese, I got my hands on some of the Catalan equivalent, Mató. Mató is normally served at breakfast here with a healthy dollop of honey, so I really hope my Catalan friends are going to enjoy this new found use for their local cheese. My objective was to create a filling that was light and fluffy but without losing the creamy texture of the cheese. I love the contrast of textures and flavours so I decided to go with the classic digestive biscuit base and strawberries are in season already here in Catalunya which go great with the cheese. I only used a small amount of Vanilla in the filling so as not to overpower the other flavours. The Balsamic vinegar adds just the right amount of acidity to really give another dimension….such a shame that it’s going to be polished off so soon! The Matò worked just as well as Ricotta would in this recipe, a great taste of Catalunya in such a versatile dessert.

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Strawberries from Maresme on the Catalan coast

Worth a quick mention is that if you want a larger amount of filling double the proportions for all but the sugar which you could increase to 150g, next time I will try this for a greater filling to base ratio, you really can’t get enough of that silky texture… After all, indulgence is allowed on the Weekend right?!


What you’ll need

10-12 portions

For the filling:

250g mascarpone cheese

250g mató cheese

100g caster sugar

1/4 vanilla pod seeds or 1/2 tsp of vanilla extract

10g corn flour

3 eggs separated

1/4 tsp salt

For the base:

200g of digestive biscuits

30g caster sugar

65g unsalted butter or ghee

For the compote:

250g of fresh strawberries

1 tbsp sugar

1-2 tbsp balsamic vinegar (to taste)


1. Firstly make sure all ingredients are at room temperature before you start, cold cheese especially could result in a lumpy filling. Drain any liquid from the two cheeses and grease the inside of your 24cm springform pan or as I did line the bottom with baking (grease-proof) paper.

2.While crushing the biscuits with a pestle and mortar melt the butter gently in a pan, afterwards add both to a mixing bowl with the sugar and mix thoroughly to combine. Press the mixture into the bottom of the baking tin.

3. Preheat the oven to 150ºC/300ºF/gas mark 4. Using a whisk beat the cheeses, sugar and cornstarch until a smooth batter forms. Add one egg yolk at a time and slowly whisk into the mixture, this will help to avoid any cracks forming while baking.

4. Scrape the vanilla seeds from the pod and add to the batter whisking in gently. In a separate bowl (preferably metal) whisk the egg whites until they form stiff peaks, by hand this took me roughly 5 minutes and here is a great visual guide to give you an idea of what you’re looking to achieve. http://www.thekitchn.com/a-visual-guide-soft-peaks-firm-115557

5. Add the egg whites to the batter mixture and using a spatula fold together in an upwards motion to keep the air in the egg whites, don’t let all that hard work go to waste!

6. Spoon the batter on to the base and even out to the sides. Place the tin in the oven and bake for around 60-70 minutes or until the surface has a nice golden colour. You can test the cake using a toothpick or thin knife and pierce the middle carefully, it should come out clean. It’s ready! Leave the oven door ajar for 20 minutes while the cake rests then take it out to cool after which you can wrap in cling-film and chill in the fridge for a minimum of 2 hours.

7. While the cake is baking dehull the strawberries and slice in halves or quarters. Add the sugar and balsamic vinegar to a pan and bring to a boil until the sugar has melted, then reduce to a simmer until the strawberries have almost fully dissolved and the sauce has become dark and syrupy. The strawberries should only have a slight texture left.

8. Once the cake has chilled fully you can add the compote so that the surface is covered thinly and to the edges. If you doubled the proportions for the filling you could also do the same with the compote, this cake is all about the right quantity of every flavour and texture, you will want to make this every weekend I can guarantee you.

Good morning Barcelona

 Pomegranate Salad and

Poached Egg

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    Eggs in the morning, or at any time of the day for that matter, are irresistible to me. Whether they’re scrambled, poached, fried or soft-boiled I’m really not that fussy. I try not to indulge on a daily basis, early morning starts attribute for the most part to such an ability for self-restraint.  Just the thought of the textures and flavours that are possible with such an ever-present member of the kitchen cupboard, it’s no wonder that breakfast is my favourite meal of the day. As for what you can partner them with, let’s just say eggs are probably the most flirtatious food you’ll find in the pantry. This morning I decided to delve into my fridge and use what was left of my Claudia Roden-inspired Bulgur salad. This dish is great on a weekend morning and will be ready in next to no time if you prepared the salad the night before (for a light dinner option). Oh! Don’t worry if you’re like me and are someone who gets bored of repeating food two days on the trot, the soft-poached egg easily does enough to justify another round of this beautiful middle-eastern workhorse.


What you’ll need

Serves 4

350g bulgur wheat (course/medium)

60ml extra virgin olive oil

Juice of 1 lemon (keep another lemon on standby)

3 tablespoons of pomegranate molasses

5 tablespoons of tomato paste

1/2 teaspoon of cayenne pepper

1 teaspoon of allspice

2 teaspoons of ground cumin

2 teaspoons of ground coriander

100g of walnuts (chopped)

15g of pine nuts

a large bunch of flat-leaf parsley (finely-chopped)

4 large free-range eggs

white wine vinegar


1. Start by very lightly rinsing the bulgur wheat under cold water and then soak 2 parts lightly salted cold water to 1 part bulgur wheat. Depending on the  coarseness of the bulgur it takes from 35 minutes to 1 hour to become tender. (boiling water would speed up this process but take care not to let it become mushy). Drain the wheat in a sieve and squeeze all the excess water out.

2. Using a large mixing bowl whisk the olive oil and molasses together with the lemon juice and tomato paste. Meanwhile, lightly toast the cumin and coriander in a pan if you have the whole seeds (I always grind these spices from fresh and toasting them just enhances the flavour and aroma). After grinding the seeds to a fine powder add and mix with the rest of the dressing.

3. Add salt and pepper to taste to the dressing mixture and molasses and lemon as needed. You are looking to have a balance between the acidity and sweetness of the ingredients. A pleasantly zesty flavour.

4. Add half of the dressing to the bulgur wheat and set aside for 5-10 minutes to absorb the flavours. In the meantime put a pan of water to boil with 2 or 3 tablespoons of white wine vinegar added. Lightly toast the pine nuts and chopped walnuts together until a slightly golden colour. Finely chop the parsley and add all the ingredients including the remaining dressing to the bulgur.

5. Once the water comes to the boil reduce the heat a little and immediately add the eggs, the water should still continue with a vigorous enough simmer to turn the eggs white within a few seconds, carefully test the eggs by spooning them out of the water and pushing your finger against the center. The egg should have a springy consistency to maintain a soft yolk, usually 2-3 minutes is enough time on a rolling boil.

Pasta for starters!

Homemade Squash Ravioli and Sage Butter

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I always envisaged the art of making homemade pasta rested entirely on the shoulders of Italian nonas with hands like shovels, kneading dough in some rustic kitchen and following a recipe that had been handed down for generations. Eschewing from this romantic stereotype, I’ve managed to roll my own pasta on a couple of occasions now, and this butternut squash ravioli dish has easily been my favourite. This works well as a starter or can be served as a lunch the next day with salad. Ravioli freezes well too, so after all that hard work save some portions for a future date.


 

1. Start with your ravioli filling by cubing the squash, place in a roasting tin, season with salt and pepper. I let this roast at about 180 degrees Celsius for around 40 minutes.

2. I follow, although roughly, the rule of thumb of 100g of flour (pasta flour) to each egg. On a work surface, make a mound of flour (400g) and break each egg into the well in the middle. Add salt and a little olive oil.

3. Knead the dough until you feel it has the right consistency, for around 10 minutes—again this isn’t an exact science, you may need to add some more flour or a little water to get the right consistency. Once happy, place the dough into a bowl and cover for 20 minutes

4. When the squash is ready—you want some colour but not too charred—take out of the oven. Place in blender with Parmesan and a touch of ricotta cheese. Once blended, check seasoning and consistency, you want it to be firm enough to hold in the ravioli mold. Take some of the remaining filling to make your puree. I did this by simply adding to a pan, adding a bit of cream.

5. For the pasta, quarter the dough and begin the process of rolling it out. Once it is thin enough, place into your machine at the highest setting and gradually work your way down; idea is to get the pasta thin enough so that it’ s just transparent. Once you’re happy with this lay out the ravioli strips (I use the back of a chair) and lightly flour your work surface.

6. Place the first strip down and add filling, giving enough space for each portion. Egg wash the bottom of the strip, add the other layer of pasta on top and separate each portion (I just used a sharp knife) and press out air pockets around the filling.

7. Once you’re happy with this, place the ravioli in heavily salted water to boil. At the same time, make a start on your sage butter sauce. (I think the trick for this is to use a fairly high-quality butter), cook down until it goes nut brown and add sage leaves to crisp up.

8. When the ravioli has risen in the water its ready. Prepare plate with a swipe of the puree, add pasta and top with sage butter sauce and some toasted walnuts for texture.