teresa's blogFebruary 16, 2009
I don't really know Alberto Romero but thanks to the Internet, I have seen what he has for breakfast and I love him for his dedication to one of Spain's perfect meals: a little crema-topped café with a glass of water back, olive-oily bites of crunchy fried dough in the form of a churro (or a puffier porra, since he's in Madrid), and that excellent newspaper, El País. Thanks, Alberto, for the photo above. I rejoice when I hear that Starbucks has overextended itself and may have to close a few stores. As if that sameness they bring to city streetscapes weren't tiresome enough, the coffee -- ordinary beans, overroasted -- just isn't that good. And it gets my goat that the megachain has made inroads in Spain, where a well-priced, very good cup of coffee, served up quickly enough to make takeout seem like a waste of effort, is a long-established tradition. Walk into any decent bar here and order a café con leche. You get a nice, dark, crema-covered shot with freshly steamed milk for maybe a Euro twenty-five.
Let the txotx season begin! Today is the day they tap the '08 harvest kupelas in the Basque Country. Astigarraga, just outside Donostia, is, of course, the place to be. More specifically, the place to be is probably Sidrería Petritegi. That's where, this year, after the Mayoral speechifying whereupon the virtues of the most prodigious (10 Million kilo) and most aromatic apple harvest in 30 years will be extolled, and after the apple tree planting (if you want the bounty, give back to the land) is done, at 1:45pm, the txotx season officially opens with a shout of "Gure Sagardo Berria ." That's so many daunting Basque words for: we're talkin' cider here, folks, the hard stuff, come and get it -- fresh and fruity and flowing from kegs all over town.
Everybody knows about the Napolitanos' pizzas and the Provençals' pissaladières. The Catalans, however, seem to prefer to keep their cocas on the DL. (Below, a pastry shop owner puts his sweet coca under wraps.) Coca is a flatbread made in sweet and savory versions depending on the occasion and strewn with different toppings depending on the season or on where you are in Catalonia. I love a savory coca de recapte, a Tarragona-leaning combination of roasted and peeled eggplant, red peppers, and onions found in bakeries all over Catalonia. "Recapte” means provisions, and in that spirit, a savory coca can be topped with whatever is on hand, but it is never slathered with tomato sauce nor draped with cheese. It's hard to find a bakery coca that's as good as a homemade one. Fortunately, they're a cinch to throw together.
Fina Puigdevall is probably the most committed locavore among her fellow Michelin star-winning Catalan chefs. Her restaurant, Les Cols ("the cabbages"), occupies a family masía (Catalan country house) in Olot that dates back to the 15th century, though she hasn't shied away from a few modern improvements--like the dramatic glass wall separating one of the dining rooms from the chicken yard. The design is radical, the chef says, "but the most radical thing I'm doing right now is this: I'm not serving fish anymore, even though we can get fresh fish from the coast of our own province. It's only an hour away, you know. But we’re gradually retiring it from the menu because it’s not part of our local cuisine, our landscape."
They have lulled you into believing, perhaps, that jamón Ibérico de bellota is the only smuggle-worthy delicacy produced in Spain. Well, I've got news for you: the farmers of this peninsula's northern provinces are over there in their little mountain villages quietly making more and more fabulous cheeses.
The Film Forum in New York City is showing Japanese director Hiroshi Teshigahara's 1984 film, "Antonio Gaudi" starting today through next Tuesday, November 4. Details and tickets are available online at the Film Forum's website.
As far as I'm concerned, you don't need scientists prying into DNA samples to prove that Columbus was no gentleman from Verona. All you need is a day with Joan Santolaria, a geographer from Barcelona who captains the antique Catalan fishing vessel El Rafael out of the port of Palamós. The man possesses precisely the sly charm, curious intellect, quick step, and wildly curly red hair one would expect from a Catalan pirate of Columbus's magnitude.
After so many years of romancing food technology, it sounds like the Catalans are getting their feet on the ground again. The incursion of genetically modified corn on an organic farm where local varieties were being grown got people's attention here last year. Then a group of Catalan farmers -- La Assemblea Pagesa de Catalunya -- began to organize in favor of a law banning the production of GMO foods in Catalonia. The first step toward getting such a law considered by the Catalan parliament would be the collection of at least 50,000 signatures on an anti-GMO position statement. Som lo que Sembrem ("We are what we sow") emerged to take up the challenge.
Walking down Carrer Parlament in Barcelona’s Raval one day in June, I came across a place that brought back sweet memories of summers in that city. The neighborhood has become trendy, but Horchatería Sirvent is still there, righteously unhip.
Step away from the red gazpacho. Red means canned tomatoes or tomato juice have gone into the hopper. Both lend a distinctly cooked flavor to a soup that is supposed to be all about fresh summer produce. Here's the thing: Gazpacho's true colors range from pink to orange to white, never red.