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CATALONIA HAS been much in the news these days, what with this northeast region of Spain wishing to extend its autonomous community status into outright independence from Madrid. As I write this, matters are far from settled. However, I note that Catalonia has long had its own official language, Catalan; its own flag and coat of arms; its own history; and its own distinct cuisine.
And, wouldn’t you know, I have what’s considered the definitive English-language cookbook of Catalonia: Catalan Cuisine: Europe’s Last Great Culinary Secret. It’s written by Colman Andrews, California-born, 1945, and one of the co-founders of my favorite cooking/life style magazine, Saveur.
Andrews writes, “Like Catalonia itself, Catalan cuisine looks outward toward Europe and the Mediterranean, rather than back into the Iberian interior…. a complex and sophisticated system of recipes and techniques, first codified as early as the fourteenth century.”
Catalan cuisine’s roots are Roman, with Visigoth, Moorish, French, and Italian influences. Andrews organizes his topic in five parts: Where, Who, And What; Sauces; The Raw Materials; Themes and Variations; and Wines of the Països Catalans. Here are several tidbits on Catalan techniques and a favorite recipe gleaned from the book.
Sofregit. As the word suggests, a sofregit is Catalonia’s version of the Castilian or Portuguese sofrito; Italians love double consonants: soffritto.
The sofrito is olive oil enriched with onions and tomatoes, and comes early in a recipe. In Puerto Rico, Cuba and elsewhere in the Caribbean, a sofrito may be lard-based, with a ground mixture of, variously, ham, bell pepper, chile pepper, onion, cilantro, oregano, and garlic.
Andrew’s basic sofregit is simpler than some others, though it often gets enhanced in recipes with garlic, parsley, or both.
Picada. A picada is to Catalan cuisine as a roux is to Cajun or a pesto is to Genovese cooking.
Years ago, I fiddled with a picada to enter a national cooking contest sponsored by Better Than Boullion food base. My Picada Stew earned a third place in the Chicken category, with a requisite 15 seconds of radio fame on Melinda Lee Food News.
Many Catalan recipes begin with a sofregit and finish with a picada. One of my favorites is Mar i Muntanya, sea and mountain. A Catalan legend has it that Mar i Muntanya was the wedding banquet for a shepherd and his mermaid love. As its name suggests, it’s a stew from both the land and the sea.
At its most complex, Mar i Muntanya includes rabbit, snails, monkfish, cuttlefish, and prawns.
I substitute chicken breast for the rabbit, squid for the cuttlefish, peal the shrimp for easier eating, and omit the snails. Nevertheless, it’s quite a legitimate Catalan option, yet another variation being rabbit, pork, sole, and mussels.
Anything that pleases the shepherd and his mermaid. Bona apetit! ds
© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2017