I asked him. That's a whole morning's work in his hand there. Everybody has a secret spot up on the hill overlooking Barcelona. You go early and you don't tell anyone where you've been. Hunt for asparagus after the rain. And with fresh eyes. Because the sneaky devils look like dead greenish brown sticks among the bushes. If you give up empty handed, you can sometimes find them in season at the Boqueria or your barrio's covered market.
A great book. Even if you don't cook. Fantastic. The photography is so delicious it makes you want to eat things you might already know you don't like. And it contains pictures and references to everyday life in Barcelona that sometimes you just don't have your camera ready enough to catch. I have never tried one recipe, but it's my favorite housewarming gift at the moment and I cherish the copy I bought for myself. Sophie Ruggles' My Barcelona Kitchen, published by Murdoch Books.
A tiny little plaza, a single day of the year, an open market celebrating medicinal herbs, plants and honey. The oldest market tradition in Barcelona...medieval healers from the mountains proffering advice, ingredients and compounds. So what's with all the sausages?
Ibiza. Small villages, all with white washed churches, a handsome collection. Set against shades of blue, from the sky and sea. Find them along the country roads, open the windows, inhale, drifting fumes ... of orange blossoms. Or barbecues. A fantastic meal at Cami de Balafria in Sant Joan de Labritja, don't go without a reservation.
Open-toed high heels, standing in the dirt, outside, under a heat-lamp, Palau Robert is alight. It is the night for Ferran Adria and elBulli. So we all wait. I am hungry and thirsty. Nothing. Then, speeches, all in Catalan, I hear the word "molt," echo and echo and echo. I know that it is a superlative...I know that we are in awe of the man on the stage. It is opening night for Risc Llibertat i Creativitat and the exhibit is lovely. A history. Finding the perfect spot for the world's most lauded restaurant, celebrating family, demonstrating the food, sharing the creative process. Look, even the box of chocolate that ended every meal at elBulli before it closed last summer, forever. I had never been. And still, I am hungry and thirsty.
Yesterday was proof that the way too small oven that sometimes drives me crazy, is the best place to cook a perfect turkey. This time of year the poultry shops can only get you what they apologetically refer to as a plain white turkey. What's wrong with them? They are small. Around 10 pounds. Music to my ears. It will fit in my fridge and it will fit in my oven. And, a small turkey can be cooked hot and fast, the best way to get juicy results. I ordered my turkey for the Monday before Thanksgiving. I rinse and dry it, pick off all the missed feathers, then smear 7 and half teaspoons of sea salt all over the outside. Next, I basically forget about it in the fridge for three days. One hour before cooking, I take it out. Stuff. Heat the roasting pan until hot on top of the stove. I drop the birdy in breast side up, and listen to it sizzle. I move the pan to the oven and cook it at 220 C for 30 minutes and at 160C for 2 more hours. Take it out, and let it sit for 30 minutes before cutting Then I send a thank you card to the poultry lady at L'Aviram, in the ground level L'illa food hall.
It's three weeks to Thanksgiving. Where are the cranberries? Canned and jellied, canned and sauced, those are where you'd think they'd be at the American import shops. But I need those fresh ones and can't find them anywhere. So, off to the Boqueria I go, that's the huge covered farmers market. Ask in every stall. And find only one shopkeeper who knows what I am talking about. She has ordered them to arrive in a few days. Takes my number, will call as soon as they come in. I am so proud of myself. Then, waiting, waiting, I call. No, they didn't come in this week, maybe next week. After a couple weeks of this, and only a few more days to go, I realize I am resigned to the can-opener. Then Sarah surprises me with the news that El Corte Ingles has fresh cranberries. Sure enough...they are there! Sitting in small boxes as if they were blueberries, raspberries. For 16 euros (ugh!) I take the last four and collect about the same amount as a 2 dollar bag back home. Sorry, whoever came after me. And two hours before my guests arrived...ding!...an incoming text to my phone from the Boqueria..."we've got cranberries." Yahoo, so do I!
OK, tuna burgers, veal burgers, chicken burgers, turkey burgers, duck burgers, seen 'm all here. Anything but beef burgers. But BUNNY burgers? Stop! Actually, you can get a pretty decent -- and really it is a beef burger -- at LaBurg in Sarria, with very nice french fries if you like the natural kind.
I absolutely would not have survived my first few trips to spain without the tortilla. I can't figure out what anythings says of the menu, but I know the tortilla, Spain's answer to the frittata, the omelette. Made in the flat shape of the pan, it comes in all different variations, different heights, different widths, but with the same basic ingredients -- eggs, potatoes and onions. It's on every tapas menu and at every sandwich shop and sometimes at the bread bakery too.
To live here means to be able to make this national dish.
I have been practicing the recipe that Esther game me, making it my own and now I can tell you how I make the perfect spanish tortilla. Perfect to me is the onion tasted diffused through the potatoes, a creamy texture, moist, no toasted exterior and a fairly thin profile, so that you can also use it in sandwiches.
Some important tips. I must be patient. There are much faster ways to make a tortilla, but the best tortilla cooks slowly and takes time. Use a non-stick pan (normally I abhor these, but I can't do it without one.) Use a pan that is light enough that I can twist it without effort, that way I can concentrate on keeping the tortilla off the floor.
What you need:
First, I mix the cut up potatoes and onions on the cutting board and then put them in a container. This is so that nothing is sticking together from the get go.
I heat the oil in the pan with medium high heat until it is very hot but not smoking or burning.
Next, I pour the potato and onion mix into the oil and stir it until there is oil on every piece. This should only take a few seconds, then I turn down the heat to low, stir in 1/2 teaspoon of the salt, and cover the pan. I keep the top on for 15 minutes, removing it to stir every once and a while.
After 15 minutes, I take the top off and continue slow cooking and stirring every 5-10 minutes for another 20-30 minutes.
Now I eat one of the biggest pieces of potato. If it is cooked all the way through, I move on, if not, I go back to cooking and stirring until I eat one that is perfect. If my potatoes are falling apart, they are overdone, but will still work in the tortilla.
I turn off the heat, whisk the eggs and the remaining 1/4 teaspoon of salt until my hurts (there should be lots and lots of froth). Since Francesco told me that eggs go crazy and taste bad if you move them in more than one direction, I only whisk going one way.
Now I pour every last bit of the cooked potatoes and onions into the whisked eggs and let them sit together for 10 minutes so that the egg starts to get into the other ingredients. I keep the pan off the heat but handy to use again -- it still has some of the yummy oniony oil residue.
After 10 minutes, I reheat the pan on medium heat until it is warm, then reduce it to low. Now I pour the egg mixture into the pan and make sure that the potatoes go all the way to the edge of the pan, sometimes I have to push them around a little. To get a perfectly flat tortilla in the end, I want to keep a small gentle hill of potatoes in the middle of the tortilla.
Now I let it cook on low until only the very, very top of the tortilla is still liquid, just barely. It usually takes 10 minutes or so.
OK, now it is time to flip. I put the top on the pan, flip it upside down (with the top on), hold the lid as flat as possible, then remove the pan and put it back on the stove. Now I should have a tortilla with the cooked side up and the runny side down on the lid of my pan. Sometimes the egg starts running down my arm and that is fine. Since the top is not hot, I can hold onto it, while I reset the tortilla in the middle of the top. Mine always slides to the side a little because I am not holding it perfectly horizontal.
Now, I carefully slide the tortilla off the lid and back into the pan with the runny side down. Once it is in the pan, I use the flat spoon to scootch the sides in toward the middle to form a more vertical profile to the edge of the tortilla (about a half to three quarter inch high sides). And at the same time I press down on the middle gently with a non-stick flipper to make sure the top of the tortilla returns to being flat. Sometimes after I flip it, it is wavy or caved in, this fixes it without ruining the texture.
After only a few minutes the bottom is cooked, and I take the whole thing out of the pan with the flipper and put it on a plate with the first cooked side up. Done!
By Maia Pay Ozguc
Barcelona Impressions. Be curious. Be present. Be Barcelona!