Ahhhh Spanish food! Paella, ham, tortilla…. but wait a second. I didn’t eat any of that in Barcelona (Ok…except for that one paella…).
So, is the cuisine of Barcelona actually distinct from the rest of Spain? The answer is, of course!
Every region of Spain, however, has its own specialties and cuisines. In the south there are tons of fried fish and seafood dishes. In the northwest regions, they have more hearty stews, soups, and breads. In Basque country, stunning tapas take the center stage.
Fried chipirones (baby squids) - A typical dish in southern Spain
Barcelona, part of the Catalan region, is no exception and has its fair share of unique dishes. I just so happened to visit during the end of March, which was perfect timing to enjoy one of the most delicious spring Catalan dishes: Calçots.
Calçots are essentially barbecued spring onions. Once grilled, the outer charred portion is removed to reveal a tender green shoot. This is then dipped in an nut-based tomato and pepper sauce (romesco) and subsequently lowered into one’s mouth, much like a kid eating spaghetti with his hands. Did I mention that you get your own special bib when eating them in a restaurant? It’s a very messy, very charcoal-y affair and by the end of it your finger tips will be black and your face covered with romesco sauce. It’s totally worth it though.
Calçots (Barbequed Spring Onions):
- Spring onions
- Romesco sauce, for dipping (See recipe below)
Barbecue the spring onions over medium heat for 3-4 minutes. Turn over and grill the other side for 3-4 minutes. Repeat this process until the onions are charred on the outside, about 10 minutes. Serve with Romesco sauce.
Salsa Romesco (Romesco Sauce):
Salsa Romesco is a smooth, creamy sauce made with nuts and peppers. Although it accompanies barbecued calçots, it’s also served with bread, fish, meat, or other vegetables. This is the recipe that a friend passed along to me:
- 1 Red bell pepper, halved and seeded
- 1/4 cup/30 g hazelnuts or almonds, skins removed
- 4 slices French bread
- 6 tbsp olive oil
- 2 large tomatoes, halved and seeded
- 4-6 large garlic cloves
- 1 tbsp sherry vinegar
- Salt, to taste (optional)
Roast the pepper, tomatoes, and garlic with 1 tbsp olive oil on a baking sheet at 425˚ for 40 minutes. The pepper should be blackened. Cool and peel the pepper, tomatoes, and garlic.
Fry the hazelnuts in the remaining oil until lightly brown, about 3-5 minutes. Transfer to a plate and fry the bread until also lightly browned on both sides, about 3-5 minutes. Combine the olive oil from the pan, bell pepper, tomatoes, garlic, hazelnuts, vinegar, and bread in a blender or food processor and process until pureed. Add salt, if necessary. The mixture should form a thick, but creamy paste. If it’s too thick, add in more olive oil. Serve with calçots or use as an accompaniment with meat, seafood, vegetables, or bread.
Calçots and romesco sauce
Ready to eat
Another simple, yet satisfying dish, Pa amb tomaquet, is eaten for breakfast or as an afternoon snack. It’s essentially bread rubbed with tomato, drizzled with a little olive oil, and sprinkled with salt. This dish is also served throughout Spain but is known as Pan con tomate. I did notice that in other regions the tomato was actually a thick and pureed spread. Both variations are delicious and can be partnered with other ingredients (such as a slice of tortilla) to make a very Spanish sandwich.
Pa amb tomaquet (Bread with tomato):
- 1 baguette, sliced in half, then cut into 6 inch/12 cm pieces (or 1 mini-baguette sliced in half will also do)
- 1-2 tomatoes per serving, halved
- Olive oil, to taste
- Salt, to taste
Toast the baguette slices until light golden-brown. Rub the tomato halves onto the bread slices while squeezing the pulp and seeds onto the slices. Drizzle lightly with olive oil and season with salt. Alternatively, puree an entire tomato and spoon this over the bread. Also drizzle with olive oil and salt. About 2 slices = 1 serving.
Pa amb tomaquet - the perfect breakfast or snack
I’m not ashamed to admit that trying new foods is one of the main reasons I love to travel. What’s even more gratifying is figuring out the recipes and recreating them at home in case of a craving emergency. And what’s even more gratifying than that is sharing the recipe in case of a craving/lazy emergency so someone can cook for me : D Enjoy!
I now firmly believe that more churros in the world need to be caramel filled. Surprisingly not overly sweet.