I have been away from my computer for several weeks doing a lot of traveling. Part of that was spent in a cruise around the Mediterranean beginning in Barcelona, Spain. This post describes our visit along with a couple of recipes for food we enjoyed while we were in this beautiful and exciting city.
We arrived on a flight from Philadelphia and were taken to our hotel on La Rambla Catalanya. First on the agenda was a brief nap, and then we explored Las Ramblas and parts of the old city. The street was perfect for walking, with a wide pedestrian walkway shaded by beautiful old plane trees. All along the way, there were open-air cafés offering a wide variety of food and drink. We selected a brightly lit cafe with linen tablecloths not too far from our hotel. The waiters were extremely friendly, and the menu offered a wide choice of tapas, along with paella, sangria, and excellent Spanish and Portuguese wines.
We settled on a short list of hot and cold tapas which included octopus, cod-fish croquettes, tomato bread, and other tasty items. One of our favorites was patatas bravas, highly recommended by our daughter, Sarah, who had spent a couple of summers in Spain. It turned out to be a great choice.
We finished up with crema catalana for dessert, and as our waiter said, “How can you not have crema catalana? You’re in Barcelona.”
The next day we toured the city including, of course, La Familia Sagrada. Even for those who have visited many times, no trip to Barcelona is complete without a visit to this spectacular church, under construction for 130 years with more construction projected to at least 2026.
To me, it is hard to call the basilica beautiful – it flies too far outside my concepts of graceful architecture. At the same time, it is impossible not to think of it as an architectural marvel. The architect, Antonio Gaudi, began what would be his life’s ultimate work in 1883. Gaudi was obviously a genius who developed radical theories of construction based upon his observations of suspended strings and other seemingly simple yet profound understandings of geometry. The basilica is under very active construction with several huge cranes arranged around the perimeter, building more towers to bring the final total to thirteen or possibly eighteen, depending upon whether the full plan will be fulfilled.
Patatas bravas with tomato sauce and aioli
This is one of the most famous and popular of all tapas. As a result, there are many recipes for preparing the potatoes. You can choose to roast them, bake them, boil and fry them, deep fry them at two different temperatures, etc., etc. Probably the simples – and perhaps even the most authentic – is to roast them in the oven. There is also variation in what to serve with the potatoes. A tomato sauce is common, but aioli is also common. You may even want to offer both, or your own choice of sauce.
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 tablespoons onion, minced
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 3 medium tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and chopped
- 1 tablespoon tomato paste
- ¼ cup white wine
- 1 tablespoon parsley, minced
- 1/8 teaspoon ground red (Cayenne) pepper
- 1 bay leaf
- 1/8 teaspoon sugar
- salt and pepper to taste
- Heat the olive oil in a small saucepan over medium heat.
- Add the onion, sweat and then saute lightly.
- Add the remaining ingredients, cover and cook over low heat for 30 minutes. Cool, strain, and dilute with water if needed to make a moderately thick sauce.
- 4 cloves garlic, peeled and mashed
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 2 egg yolks
- 1 cup extra virgin olive oil
- ¼ teaspoon dry mustard
- 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
- In a mortar or small dish, mash the garlic and salt together to form a paste. Set aside
- Using a whisk and a medium bowl, beat the egg yolks until smooth, thickened, and slightly foamy.
- By drops at first, whisk in the olive oil, until it is fully incorporated into the yolks before adding more. As the process continues, you can speed up the addition of oil. Do not rush the process or the sauce will separate.
- When the oil has been fully incorporated, whisk in the mustard and garlic-salt mixture. Then stir in the lemon juice to make a smooth sauce.
- 2 large Yukon gold potatoes, peeled and cut into ¾-inch chunks
- ½ cup olive oil
- salt and pepper
- ½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
- 2 teaspoons parsley, minced
- Arrange the potato chunks on a small baking sheet which has been lightly coated with some of the olive oil. Drizzle the remaining oil over the potatoes and ststir just enough to coat the potatoes, keeping them in one layer.
- Roast in the middle of an oven preheated to 375° F for about 45 minutes. Stir several times during the roasting. Remove from the oven when the potatoes are well-browned and crisped.
- Sprinkle with the salt, pepper, red pepper flakes, and parsley.
- Serve immediately while still warm, along with the tomato sauce and/or alioli for dipping or spooning over the top.
This is only one in a family of creamy desserts, including baked custard, flan, crème brûlée, and créme anglaise. They all have eggs, sugar, and milk or cream. Sometimes they have corn starch or gelatin as a thickening agent. Some are baked in a water vath while some are cooked on the stove top. The more you read recipes to discern the differences, the more confusing the relationships. Whatever, crema catalana is traditionally cooked on the stove, allowed to set up in the refrigerator,and served in a shallow terra-cotta dish, topped with sugar caramelized with a salamander, under a broiler, or with a blow torch.
- 4 egg yolks
- ¾ cup sugar
- 1 cinnamon stick
- zest of 1 lemon (use orange if you prefer)
- 1 tablespoon cornstarch
- 2 cups whole milk
- additional sugar (about 1 tablespoon for each) for topping individual servings
- With a hand-held electric mixer, beat the eggs and sugar in a medium saucepan until they form a thick, smooth mixture
- Add the cinnamon stick and lemon zest to the mixture
- In a small bowl, dissolve the corn starch in the milk. Then add to the egg mixture and place over low heat
- Stir constantly until the mixture thickens. Work slowly or you will scramble the eggs. When the mixture has thickened enough to lightly coat your stirring spoon, remove immediately from the heat.
- Remove the cinnamon stick You can strain the custard at this point if you wish. Then ladle into 4 to 6 small ramekins or casuelas.
- Refrigerate at least 3 hours, and preferably overnight.
- When you are ready to serve, remove from the refrigerator, sprinkle about a tablespoon of sugar over the top of each of the individual servings.
- Caramelize the sugar topping by (1) using a small metal salamander heated on a stove burner, (2) running under your oven broiler for 5 to 10 minutes, or (3) using a small culinary blow torch.
- Serve immediately.