Catalunya and Tapas galore

For the past couple of weeks, I have been in Catalunya, joined by himself for the last week. At this point I think I am a bit Tapas out, all of these wonderful sharing plates, I think one tends to over-ndulge just a tad, and not to mention the wine. Had no idea that the local wine was so more-ish, but it certainly is!

Girls On Tour ( golf that is ) indulged themselves in the local food. One of the Tapas which was served, was Snails, and I thought that these were in fact sea snails, so Winkles. However, apparently not but more in the form of Petit Gris, small snails. In the town of Leila, in the centre of Catalunya there is every May a festival (L’Aplec del Caragol) dedicated to Snails, which unites 12,000+ “Snail Clubs“! One way of serving them is “a la Catalana”a typical tapas where they are served in a thick, sauce of tomatoes with finely chopped onion, red peppers, almonds or pine nuts, chopped ham or pancetta, and chorizo with paprika. For me they were indeed very tasty, though a bit fiddly, but I think that the majority of the girls were less than impressed. This was the one and only time that Snails were on the menu!

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One Tapas which appeared more or less on a daily basis was “Pa amb Tomàquet” , Catalan tomato bread. This obviously can be made with sough dough or baguette, but in Catalunya it is made with, what is called Crystal Bread, similar to banquette but has more water. A very simple snack to make

Toast the bread over open flame, if possible, but just toast will do.

  1. Rub over the surface of the bread some garlic, obviously can be omitted for non garlic lovers.
  2. Slice a tomato in half and rub it liberally across the bread, shredding the pulp in the process, until just the tomato skin remains.
  3. Drizzle generously with olive oil.
  4. Season with salt.


Consequently, we ate copious amounts of ham, tomato bread, mussels, sardines, cod and prawns and drank equally copious amounts of Spanish wines. One dinner my starter was Mozzarella di Bufala Campana . Absolutely delicious, would choose it again, and another was fresh fois gras.

If I had known it to be so wonderful, I would have chosen it for both starter and main ! All of our restaurants were a bit of a shot in the dark, I was choosing them for a group of 16, boys and girls, with different tastes, a non drinker ( she was easy ) , a non fish eater ( more difficult, lots of fishy stuff on all of the menus) one who was gluten free and allergic to garlic, one who really only like his roast dinners, and the list goes on.

Nonetheless the less, we ate in two very good restaurants in Girona, twice in our hotel, which worked out well and once which really was pot luck, but Mallorquines turned up trumps. With no set menu available, they served the 16 of us perfectly, starters all came together as did the mains. This is the home of the Fois Gras and 8 of us chose it ! Umm Umm!

Four of us, had tried months ago to have a reservation at El Celler dan Roca, a three Michelin starred restaurant in Girona. All to no avail. Not wishing to give up entirely, himself and I tried the restaurants own ice cream shop. Worth the trip, no not really, only 6 flavours, and those not very exciting.

Himself and I moved onto Barcelona, did the usual tourist viewings of everything Gaudí.

We also of course visited the market, which is of course to my mind a wonderful place, and after touring La Rambla, looking at more Gaudí buildings and Miró tiles in the middle of the pavement, we returned there to have  dinner.We chose quiet by chance Bar BOQUERIA, which our Catalan friend subsequently told us, it was the best.

Service was fast, cooked to order and with a smile and a joke. we shared the Squid to start, and then I chose their Speciality, Fish and Chips, Their way. Now Fish and Chips would be for me, if I were the condemned man, my last meal, but it would be equally awful, to be condemned and to have something that was covered in a slimy batter, soggy chips and everything greasy. So this was a real test and it WAS Perfect. a selection of fish, Whitebait, small sardines, a small flat fish, chunks of cod in crispy panko crumbs and Chips to die for. Perfect! Himself chose the giant prawns, and for once I did not have food Envy!

The bar was full and the chefs were kept busy. someone had the octopus, which was beautifully arranged.

The following day we dined with our Catalan friend and his American wife, who were in Brussels with us a lifetime ago. Once again we had the tapas and then himself chose the Oxtail. I have often cooked him Oxtail, but this was a notch above my rendition, served beautifully on a bed of creamy mashed potatoes, so I can see that next time I cook it, he will expect mine to also look like this.IMG_1979 2



Bacalhau ( Salt Cod, to you and me)

I think I am correct in saying that to the average English man, the word Salt Cod, is not something that we would relish and I have to admit that until our very recent trip to Portugal, I had not eaten it nor even tried it, almost to the point of avoiding it. Even Himself who prides himself on trying everything that is different on a menu, had not even tried it.

And so it was, when we visited the market in Porto, which had been held in a wonderful Neo Classical Building in the city centre since 1914. However, unfortunately on our visit, the merchants had been rehoused in the basement of a shopping centre nearby, as the building was in a deplorable state. The mayor of Porto had the idea of simply demolishing the structure, but such an outcry ensued that plans were changed to basically renovating but with such a major undertaking, it was necessary to move everyone out. Shame for us as the basement of a shopping centre just didn’t hack it for me ( lover of markets)!

However, there were several vendors, selling Salt Cod. What I hadn’t appreciated was that there are different qualities of Salt Cod, and why not, but it had never crossed my mind. Often, it is yellow (a sign of progressing rancidity) or excessively dry and thin. Look for the thickest filets as these are by far the best. The vendor told me exactly what to do to reconstitute the fish and then vacuum packed it for me.

Packed in my suitcase and ready for London.

Once home I set to, to create my Salt Cod dish. Salt cod croquettes.

First it is necessary to soak the fish in water, in the refrigerator for 4 days, changing the water daily. Drain and pat dry, transfer the fish to a baking tray, and place skin side down, lightly sprinkle some olive oil over the top and bake at 200C/Gas6 for about 10 minutes. Remove and allow to cool.

Remove the skin and then flake the fish, being sure to remove any bones.

Using equal quantities of potatoes, boil and mash them, add some chopped chives or spring onions along with some lemon zest and Salt! Yes, Salt, even as it is preserved in salt, the salt has been washed out in the soaking and so it is important to add seasoning, otherwise it will be very bland!

Refrigerate for an hour or so and then roll out into a long sausage. If it is done on cling film, easy to do and not much mess. Cut into sausage lengths, beat and egg, and dip the croquettes first in the egg wash and then into dry breadcrumbs. I prefer Panko crumbs (Japanese) but sometimes they are just a bit too chunky.

Heat some oil in a frying pan and when hot fry the croquettes turning so all sides become brown.

Serve with a salad and preferably a remouldade sauce or just lemon wedges and a vinaigrette.

Also on our Portugal trip we came across in the town of Aveiro, “Ovos Moles de Aveiro”. These sweets were created in 1502 by Nuns ( who else) and they are on the outside, Rice paper and a mixture of eggs and sugar on the inside. And they do look like eggs! They were awarded in 2008 the EU Protection of Origin. The first Portuguese bakery to be so honoured!

To be honest, I tried one, himself had a nibble, way too sweet. And as for Aveiro, a cute town, impossible parking and full to overflowing with Tourists. It is called the Venice of Portugal, with its canals, and boats, cute and busy, we didn’t linger.