Flor de Maig (May Flower)

flor de maig

I was on my own for lunch today and searching for something hearty. I looked at the Victoria’s (one of my favourite cheap lunch places) menú del dia, but felt uninspired. I was considering going to Iposa or L’Antic Forn (all these restaurants are within a minute or two of each other), but I passed the window of Flor De Maig and saw a few groups of elderly Catalans eating what looked like tasty comfort food – always a good sign when considering somewhere new. I looked at the menú, displayed by the front door and was sold when I saw the first item, fideuà negra.

vermut de la casa

I sat outside and drank a very good vermut de la casa, while I considered my main course.

menú del dia

As you can see above, the menú del dia includes first and second courses, plus bread, a drink (wine, beer or a soft drink) and a pudding for €11.30. There is a supplement of 10% for sitting outside (something that’s not uncommon).

fideuà negra

So I did order the Fideuà Negra con Ali Oli – a paella like dish of short pasta (fideu) containing seafood and blackened with squid ink (you may remember that I had the non squid ink version at Cantoni del Poble 9 recently). It was excellent, dark and sticky – just what I wanted.

albondigas de ternera

For my main course I chose Albondigas de Ternera (casero) en salsa – homemade beef meatballs in sauce, with chips. I was very pleased with these too – they tasted amazing (and so did the sauce), full of flavour and not just balls of minced beef.

vi rosat

I drank a chilled vi rosat with my lunch – no surprises there!

mousse de mango

For pudding, I had a mousse de mango – it was light and fluffy and I’m fairly sure, made in house.

carajillo

I finished with the usual carajillo de cognac for courage and a little lift, after the heavy lunch.

I considered visiting Flor De Maig in the past, but I was a little put off by signs outside for pizza. I shouldn’t have been, the food proved to be excellent – I hadn’t realised that they have a Pakistani chef, so on top of traditional Catalan cuisine (and pizzas), they do curry! There were even two choices on the menú del dia for Lamb Madras and Dahl – I’m sure the mango mousse is relative to the chef too.

I paid €11.30 for the menú del dia, there was a supplement of €1.50 for sitting on the terraza. The vermut de la casa cost a further €3.20 and the carajillo de conac was €2.30.

Flor de Maig is at: C/Pintor Fortuny 29, 08001, Barcelona.

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La Calçotada

rooftop barbecue

We were sitting in the fabulous Can Vilaró for a group lunch on Saturday, where there’s always a big joke between Jonas and the owner, Sisco, about the Can Vilaró barbecue. This prompted the suggestion that we should have a barbecue on Oli’s roof the next day – the forecast was good and once the cat out of the bag, it wasn’t going back in. After a couple of digestives at Bar Calders, Oli and I rushed to the Boqueria in search of barbecue bargains at 7pm. We did very well with fish – near closing time there’s always something cheap when the stallholders want to shut shop and go home. Meat prices were normal and the calçots were positively expensive at €4 a bunch, but regardless, they were in season and a must for a barbecue, so we bought two large bunches.

raw calçots

Calçots are a unique Catalan invention (from Valls) – they may look like leeks, but are in fact forced spring onions. Soil is piled on top of the onion shoots to make them grow tall, in the same manner as asparagus farming. The calçots grow to the size of long thin leeks, but have delicate leaves like scallions.

blackened calçots

Calçots are barbecued over hot flames, ideally using cuttings from grape vines (sarmientos de viñedo) as fuel. The calçots are laid on the grill, in a single layer, here we have them in a wire barbecue contraption which makes it easy to flip them over. The outside is blackened over the flames for about 5 minutes, until a little juice starts to come out.

calçots in newspaper

The blackened calçots are wrapped in newspaper to steam until tender.

calçots ready to eat

Ours were perfect after about 20 minutes. Trim the excess green tops, leaving a little to hold on to. Pinch the bottom hard, just above the root and pull from the top. The clean, cooked inside should pull out of the burnt outer flesh in one go.

romesco sauce

We ate our calçots with Romesco Sauce – this is a common accompaniment, but there’s a similar sauce called Salbitxada, which is quite exclusive to calçots, whereas Romesco is also enjoyed with other foods, such as fish.

jonas eating calçots

Dip the pulled white section of the calçot into Romesco or Salbitxada sauce and eat like Jonas (above). To follow calçots, the Catalan norm is to barbecue lots of meat.

alfredo

Alfredo arrived with pre-mixed, ready to pour Negronis (note the distant seagull, top left)

sorbrassada i botifarra

and a marvelous concoction (above left) of Sobrassada and Provolone. The Provolone cheese goes into the bottom of a frying pan in little chunks, with a similar quantity of Sobrassada on top.

provolone i sobrassada

With a little stirring, the cheese and sausage melt together to make a delicious stringy tangy dip for torn up chunks of bread.

sausages and halloumi

…and on with the meat. Above are some Catalan botifarra sausages (a bit like an English Cumberland), a couple of burgers and some halloumi (where did that come from?).

marinated pork

Shaun brought some astonishing pork, which he’d marinated overnight.

corn and merguez

Merguez, sweetcorn, chicken kebabs, green chilli peppers and garlic.

ox heart

Ox heart sliced thinly and grilled quickly – it has to be cooked fast or very slow, otherwise it will become tough.

kebabs and ears

Oli insisted on some pig’s ears

botifarra and ears

…which require long slow cooking.

richard’s ears

Rich models the pig’s ears here – they probably should have been poached in stock and then deep fried.

botifarra i merguez

More botifarra (these were very good artesanal sausages, note the string) and merguez.

tuna steak

We had an overwhelming supply of sausages and a few people seemed keen to cook. So after getting the coals hot and the calçots and meat going, I got out a hotplate and stuck a cast iron griddle on top of it for the fish. Above is one of the bargain tuna steaks from the Boqueria. Oli brought out some truffle oil, so on a whim I garnished the tuna with it – excessive, but tasty nonetheless.

jonathan livingston

Jonathan Livingston Seagull came down from on high to check us out

grilled mackerel

…while I was grilling the mackerel.

mackerel thief

He seemed quite partial to fish with truffle oil!

As legend has it, the calçot was first cultivated in Valls, Tarragona by a peasant called Xat de Benaigues. The Catalan word calçot comes from calçar, to shoe, as in cover the green onion shoots with soil to force them to grow higher. Calçot season runs from November to April and they have an EU Protected Geographical Indication (status).

Calçots should be washed down with copious quantities of local red wine or cava, ideally drunk from a porrón.

There are many establishments that do large scale calçotadas out of town, grilling the calçots over barbecues for enormous quantities of people wearing bibs and plastic gloves. One of the first calçotadas was said to have been held at Hostal Restaurant Grau, in Alt Camp, Tarragona in 1962.

Valls has an annual calçot fiesta in January.

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Cantoni del Poble 9

cantoni del poble 9

I woke up feeling remarkably good (it must have been the warm Catalan sunshine streaming through the window) and called Nookie to arrange lunch in Poblenou.

rambla de poblenou

We had nowhere specific in mind, so walked to the Rambla de Poblenou (a small and sedate version of the Rambla in Barcelona), which is full of little shops and affordable bars and restaurants (unlike it’s larger cousin).

The first place we looked at was Cantoni del Poble 9, somewhere I’d been to before with Adrian and Oli, about seven years ago. I remembered that their paella had been good and since they had fideuà on the menu today, it seemed like an easy choice.

vermut

We drank a vermut de la casa while perusing the menú del dia.

cantoni menú

If you look at the bottom of the menú, you will see that it’s a whopping €10 for three courses, including bread with wine, beer or a soft drink. If you sit outside on the terrace there’s a supplement of €0.60 – that certainly won’t break the bank.

fidegua de marisco

To start, I ordered the fidegua de marisco – a seafood fideuà, somewhat like the rice dish, arròs a banda, but cooked with short pasta (fideu). It contained clams, mussels, prawns and squid, with allioli on the side. I was pleased to find a socarrat in the fideuà – a crunchy bit from the bottom of the pan – both paella and fideuà should be allowed to cook without stirring and a crust forms on the base of the cooking dish. In fact, there’s a nice bit about cooking fideuà, where if you let it cook without messing with it, the pasta will stand up on end as if to show you it’s ready.

crema de calabacin

Nookie had crema de calabacin – a rich soup made with courgettes and cream – we think it was thickened with potato.

langostinos a la plancha

We both ordered the same for the main course, langostinos a la plancha con ajo y perejil, grilled shrimps with garlic and parsley, which were delicious. I was very pleased to see that the shrimp arrived with lemon scented hand wipes.

tarta de queso

For pudding we both had tarta de queso – cheesecake. I had intended to order tarta de zanahoriah (carrot tart, or probably cake), but they had run out. Never mind, the cheesecake was very good!

vi rosat

We drank a bottle of rosado with our lunch (included in the price)

carajillo

…and I had a carajillo de cognac to finish.

Cantoni del Poble 9 is at: Rambla Poblenou 88, 08005, Barcelona.

The menú del dia costs €10 for 3 courses, including bread, beer, wine or a soft drink, which in my opinion is excellent value!

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Bodega Fermin

bodega fermin

On leaving La Mar Salada, Oli insisted on going for a beer. We didn’t have to walk far, as just round the corner is Bodega Fermin, an old fashioned bar which sells craft beer – a booming industry in Barcelona.

oli testing the beer

Oli was keen to have a beer before lunch, but we had to make a detour and ran out of time. Note the large selection of bottled beer in stock, hanging on strings above the bar.

vermut on tap

For those of you who are unfamiliar with Spanish bodegas, the word generally means wine cellar (from the Latin apotheca meaning storehouse, from the Acient Greek word apothéké) and are synonymous with small wine merchant/grocery shops that can be found all over Spain. Traditionally they sell wine from the barrel – one can bring in a bottle or jug to be filled and taken home. This is normally quite cheap and less expensive than buying a labelled bottle. Often bodegas sell groceries, such as ham, cheese, potatoes and bottled water. Bodegas also serve as a bar, so one can have a drink while shopping – what’s not to like about that! Above are Bodega Fermin’s tanks of vermut de la casa  – home made vermouth. There is no hard and fast rule about what a bodegas is, some are more like a wine merchant, others are corner grocery shops that sell alcohol and of course there are bodegas on vineyards containing hundreds of gallons of wine. Bodega Fermin has managed to incorporate trendy craft beer (with 8 draft beers on tap), without loosing it’s charm or bumping up the prices.

Bodega Fermin is noted for it’s tapas – above are a selection on sticks, which are pre-prepared and are (I assume) sitting in brine until required. The sliced cheese is preserved in olive oil –  something I’ve done myself (in the distant past) and flavoured the oil with chilli to give it a kick.

vermut de la casa

Since the arrival of my food baby, I’ve gone off beer and prefer to stick to wine, especially after lunch. As Bodega Fermin make their own vermut, I felt it was only right to test it while basking in the sunshine – I was not disappointed, it’s excellent! While vermut is generally served as an aperitif, it also makes for a good digestive (with a slice of orange, a couple of olives and a squirt of soda) on a lazy afternoon. I’m sure that Merv and Finn concur, as we polished off a few glasses each.

Bodega Fermin is at: Sant Carles 18, 08003, Barcelona (on the main square in Barceloneta).

After the vermut appreciation, we had a glass of Patxaran and sampled some Asturian cider. While walking back to the Raval, the cider got the better of us and we were lured into an Asturian cider bar on C/de la Mercé. These bars serve a strong flat cider (sidra), which is poured from above the shoulder and into a glass held just below the waist in order to aerate the drink. As the cider bar make it’s own vermut, I stuck to drinking what I was used to. Oli, on the other hand, opted for Leche de Pantera Rosa – a drink that can be traced back to the Spanish Foreign Legion. Merv and Finn, sensibly, drank cider.

Fortified, we continued our journey. For a moment we were close to sitting down in a bar on Plaça de George Orwell,  but fortunately, Oli’s homing beacon kicked in and we marched on up the hill to Walter’s Bar. I drank a couple of glasses of white wine (for strength), before going to dinner a la casa de Jonas i Silvia.

 

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La Mar Salada April 2017

la mar salada

I pinched myself again – no I wasn’t dreaming. I was sitting in La Mar Salada, next to the port in Barceloneta. The sun was warm and so bright that the waiter cranked out the the parasol so we could read our menús without being blinded by the light.

La Mar Salada is an award winning restaurant recommended by Where Chefs Eat and Fodor’s. The chef, Marc Singla, previously worked with Ferran Adria (of El Bulli) at Talaia.

menú del dia

I’d looked at the menú first thing this morning – it was good, so I emailed Oli directly to suggest lunch. As you can see I got a positive response and we arranged to meet up with Finn and Merv at 2 O’clock.

crema de carxofes

I was completely sold on the idea of Crema de carxofes amb gelat de bacon, encenalls de foi i brou d’ànec – cream of artichoke soup with bacon ice cream, foie shavings and a drizzle of duck broth. This was a stunning, warm artichoke soup with a cold scoop of bacon ice cream floating in the middle …plus foie gras and duck! This is what I came for – baby globe artichokes are in season and the above combination was to die for!

llenties caviar

Finn wasn’t quite so keen on the duck, so chose Amanida tèbia de llenties caviar, escarola frisée, tagliatelle de calamar i vinagreta d’all escalivat i guindilla – warm lentil salad, curly endive, squid tagliatelle and roast garlic with chilli vinagrette. I could have eaten this one myself, if they hadn’t tempted me with artichoke soup.

bacallà a la planxa

I had  Bacallà a la planxa amb pil pil de ceps, favetes fresques i espàrrecs bladers for my main course – grilled cod with mushroom pil pil, baby broad beans and wild asparagus. I was told by a Basque friend, that pil pil is Basque for the bubbling sound made by something cooking in a pan. The cod flaked perfectly and had a lovely crispy skin. The thick garlic pil pil emulsion is synonymous with the popular Basque dish, bacalao pil pil, where the collagen in the cod, along with sliced garlic, thickens the olive oil they are cooked in to make a warm mayonnaise like sauce.

fish and chips

Oli had “Fish and chips” de lluç de palangre amb patates rosses i emulsió de romesco. I was very tempted by this myself, as I love hake (the fish in the fish and chips), served with a romesco sauce emulsion. Interestingly, English fish and chips has a direct link to Spain – Sephardi Jews, fleeing the Inquisition brought bacalao in a tempura batter to Britain and of course the Spanish were the first Europeans to discover the potato in the New World. It’s hard to imagine a Europe without potatoes, tomatoes, many types of bean and pimentón.

cake de llimona

For pudding, the popular choices were Cake de llimona amb gelat de iogurt (which I had) – lemon cake with yogurt ice cream

platàna estofat amb crema

and Plàtan estofat amb crema de la passió i toffee – stewed banana with passion and toffee cream. Both were excellent, though I’m wondering now why none of us tried the Mojito de maduixa (strawberry mojito), which sounds quite good!

carajillo

I finished with my usual Spanish pick up – a carajillo de cognac.

vi blanc

The menú del dia at La Mar Salada is a bargain, at €18 for 3 courses and a glass of wine. In addition to our lunch, we drank a few bottles of the house white and all of us had coffee with some kind of spirit in it. Our bill always seems to work out to be around €30 each and today was no exception.

La Mar Salada is at: Passeig Joan de Borbó, 58-59, 08003 Barcelona

Other visits:

October 19th, 2011
November 28th, 2011
April 23rd, 2012
December 3rd, 2012
November 27th, 2015
December 3rd, 2015

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Empanada de Atún

tuna empanada

Empanadas are pies that come from Galicia in the North West of Spain. The name comes from the Spanish verb empanar, which means to wrap in bread. These pies come quite large, baked in a dish, or small and half moon shaped, sometimes baked and sometimes fried. Empanadas have become so popular that they can be found throughout the Spanish speaking world and Portugal, which is just below Galicia. Large baked tuna empanadas are very popular in Galicia, but there are many variations, such as; cheese, clams, spicy beef or chicken with chilli, chorizo, eel, ham, lamprey, sardines and many types of fruit or other sweet fillings for dessert.

empanadas

I’ve tried a few different pastry recipes for empanadas, particularly for the small half moon shaped  ones above, filled with a beef chilli mixture. Lard mixed 50/50 with plain flour and cornmeal  (sometimes referred to as corn flour) is good for a flexible dough with an excellent crunch and the Mexican masa harina (not the same as regular cornmeal) produces a light, delicate pastry. For my tuna empanada I used Claudia Roden’s recipe which produces an elastic dough with a crispy biscuit like flavour.

Empanada Pastry recipe:

2 large eggs
1 teaspoon baking powder
125ml olive oil
125ml dry white wine or dry cider (I used a crisp dry Muscadet, with a similar sharpness to Albariño Galician white wine, which is hard to find here)
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
375g plain flour

In a large bowl, beat an egg and the baking powder with a fork. When this is mixed together add the olive oil, wine and salt, before slowly working in the flour to make a dough. Knead the dough with both hands in/over the bowl. Sprinkle on a little more flour if it is too wet (it should be slightly tacky from the olive oil). Let the dough rest at room temperature in the bowl (covered in cling film) for one hour. This pastry is easy to make and stays elastic – I’m certain it would work well with a food processor or mixer with dough hook.

Tuna Empanada filling recipe:

1 large onion (chopped)
1 pimiento (charred, peeled and chopped) if in doubt use a chopped red pepper
3 large tomatoes (grated) or 1 tin of chopped tomatoes
6 pieces of garlic (finely chopped)
2 hard boiled eggs (chopped)
20 good quality large pitted black olives (chopped)
250g (drained weight) tinned tuna in olive oil – Ortiz is probably the best
A squirt of anchovy paste
A splash of red wine vinegar
A splash of olive oil
Cracked black pepper (to taste)
1/2 teaspoon sweet pimentón de la vera

pepper burning

Since the tuna comes in olive oil, I recommend pouring it off and using it in the pastry or in cooking the empanada filling (I used a bit in both). In Spain, sweet red peppers (pimientos) are commonly charred siting on a gas ring, grilled (broiled) or barbecued to blacken them. When placed warm in a plastic or paper bag the blackened skin sticks to the bag and comes off easily. This gives them a lovely smokey flavour. These peeled and sliced red peppers can be bought in jars from shops and markets (for those who don’t want the hassle of charring and peeling).

onion pepper garlic

Fry the onion slowly in olive oil until it is soft. Sprinkle on the sweet pimentón de la vera before mixing in the garlic, pimiento and grated tomatoes. Allow the vegetables to cook in for 5 minutes before squirting in a little anchovy paste, a few turns of cracked black pepper and a splash of red wine vinegar. After another 5 minutes turn the heat off add the boiled eggs, olives and crumble in the tuna. Mix this all well and taste to see if it seems salty enough. Make sure that the saltiness of the olives is taken into account. When you are happy with the seasoning, leave the filling to cool for half an hour or so.

In the meantime, divide the pastry into two pieces, one a bit larger than the other. Both round and rectangular pie dishes are commonly used in Galicia – I used a rectangular enameled dish measuring 11 X 9 inches (28 X 23 cm) to its edges, which is perfect for the above recipe. Roll out the larger ball of dough, so that it’s slightly bigger than the pie dish. You don’t need extra flour for the rolling, as the pastry shouldn’t stick. Grease the dish with a little olive oil and gently fit the pastry inside, rolling it over with the rolling pin helps. Trim the edges and prick the base of the pastry a few times with a fork. Divide the leftover pastry egg into 2 dishes, yolk in one and white in the other. Beat the white and brush the dough base with it. Bake the base blind in the middle of a preheated oven at 200ºC for 10 minutes (no baking beans needed). When done remove from the oven and allow the pastry to cool.

pie filling

When cold, fill the baked pastry base with the tuna mixture. Roll out the remaining dough to a shape slightly bigger than the top of the baking dish and again use the rolling pin to ease it onto the filling, then trim.

egg wash

Go round the edges with a fork to crimp them down and poke a few fork holes into the top to allow hot air to escape. Beat the egg yolk with a teaspoon or two of cold water and brush over the top of the empanada.

empanada de atún

Bake the empanada in a preheated oven at 200ºC for about 45 minutes until golden brown. When cooked, allow to cool for 10 minutes before serving.

empanada cross section

Cut the pie into 6 portions and serve with salad and a glass of dry white wine or cider. If you have any left the next day, cold empananda makes an excellent lunch.

When it comes to half moon shaped empanadas, I’ve often wondered about a connection with the Cornish Pasty. Galicia is a Celtic region sitting directly opposite Cornwall, across the Bay of Biscay. While I can find no documented food connection, I have read that the Celts arrived in Britain from Iberia around 5000BC…

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Beef Casserole

beef casserole

beef casserole

I had some leftover roast beef and decided to use it up by making a casserole. I do like buying larger than necessary joints of meat, because they cook more evenly than a small joint, you get to use the leftovers in sandwiches and often in a completely new meal too! Here, with the exception of mushrooms, I used ingredients that I had in the fridge and cupboard.

I cooked using a Spanish lidded cazuela made of terracotta, but a cast iron casserole would do the job just as well. I prefer the above to a glass casserole dish, because either can be used to brown the ingredients on top of the stove before cooking in the oven. A glass casserole will break if used on the stove.

Beef Casserole recipe (serves 4):

1 lb beef (cubed)
2 pieces of streaky bacon (chopped)
6 pieces of garlic (finely chopped)
1 large onion (chopped)
2 sticks celery (chopped)
2 carrots (chopped)
6 mushrooms (chopped)
half a pint of beef stock
2 teaspoons of ground herbs (rosemary, sage and thyme – ground in a mortar and pestle with coarse sea salt and black peppercorns)
2 bay leaves
a dessertspoonful of plain flour
a splash of red wine vinegar
a dessertspoonful of tomato purée
a squeeze of anchovy paste
a good slug of olive oil

Fry the onion in plenty of olive oil, until it goes translucent, then add the bacon and brown it a little. Next stir in the celery, carrots and garlic. Cook these for a couple of minutes before adding the mushrooms. When the mushrooms have been coated in oil, the beef can go in and then sprinkle on flour and mix in with a wooden spoon – in essence this is making a roux, which will thicken the stock, meat and vegetable juices.

Slowly pour the stock into the casserole and keep stirring for a minute or two to blend everything together. Add all the remaining ingredients, put the lid on the dish and bring to a simmer. When the liquid is bubbling, put the casserole into a preheated oven at 120ºC. I like to check and taste things every 30 minutes or so, but when cooking slowly with a covered casserole in the oven, it’s fairly safe to leave it for a few hours and it won’t stick because the heat is coming from all round the dish.

beefy

beefy

I cooked this for 90 minutes in the oven and left it uncovered on top of the stove at the lowest heat for a further 30 minutes to thicken it slightly and to allow a little bit of sticky layer to form on top. This could be cooked just as well with raw stewing steak (or similar cut), but might need a longer cooking time to tenderise the meat. Similarly, this would work well in a slow cooker for 8 hours or so, with precooked meat or a tough cut best suited to long slow cooking times.

Serve with mashed potato and a robust red wine, such as Era Costana Crianza Rioja.

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