This dish is a tribute to some of the most quintessentially Mediterranean vegetables around: tomatoes, peppers and aubergines. The name comes from the Catalan verb ‘escalivar’ which means ‘to cook in ashes’ and refers to the way the vegetables are cooked. Each vegetable is grilled whole either on a grill, over an open fire, or directly in the ashes. Little more is required to the dish’s preparation aside from dressing the cooked vegetables with olive oil and salt. Although it is very common to find it served alongside either anchovies or tuna, the beauty of the dish lies in the use of perfectly ripe vegetables, rich in flavor and just waiting to be devoured.
This is a dish with a long history and is actually rumoured to have been the first documented soup to be eaten in Europe. The 14th century Catalan writer Francesc Eiximenis claimed that it was eaten by Catalan people every day. Escudella, as it is known in short, is composed of a broth made from pieces of meat and seasonal vegetables such as carrots, celery or cabbage, and a large meatball known as the pilota which is cooked in the broth. At Christmas it is very typical for Catalans to eat a special version of this dish known as the ‘Sopa de Galets‘ or ‘Sopa de Nadal‘ made with a large pasta in the shape of a snail shell.
The classic Italian pasta dish, also known as ‘cannelloni,’ is a number one hit in Catalonia and in actual fact the region is the largest consumer of the dish in the world. The centuries of trade between Catalonia and Italy are what likely explain this cultural exchange and today canelons are an important part of Catalan cuisine. Unlike the Italian pasta which is eaten al dente, the Catalan version is usually well cooked and smothered with a creamy Béchamel sauce. Around Christmas time many Catalans opt to eat Canelons de Sante Esteve on the 26th of December, using pieces of cooked meat left over from the Christmas meal, often with the addition of foie gras.
Literally meaning ‘head and leg’, this is a traditional Catalan dish which has somewhat fallen out of favor in recent times due to it being mainly made of offal, such as nose and tripe. But a good cap i pota on a cold winter’s day is enough to warm any Catalan’s heart and a great way to use up the morcels of pig which haven’t made it into the jamón or chorizo. You will find it on the menus of more old-fashioned restaurants but it has also been seen on the stalls of some of Barcelona’s more trendy street-food markets, so we might well be about to see a cap i pota revival.
Salted cod, known as bacallà in Catalan, is a method of preserving the fish in which the fresh cod is rubbed in salt and then dried outdoors. A staple of the regional diet, it’s used in a variety of ways in the local Catalan cuisine. In order to prepare the salted cod for eating it must be soaked in water for a few days to reduce its salinity before being either cooked or served as is. Esqueixada is a popular salad composed of uncooked salted cod, most commonly served alongside tomatoes, onions and olives. A light and refreshing dish, it was traditionally eaten mostly in the warm summer months, although today you can find it on menus all year round.
This is the dish, or rather the ingredient, that has the Catalans going mad each year. Calçots are a type of large spring onion which are grown thoughout the winter in Catalonia and are at their best between January and March. When the time comes for them to be picked, head to Tarragona for a traditional calçotada where the onions are wrapped in paper and cooked in the ashes of an open fire before being served with a large dolloping of romesco sauce (made with red peppers and nuts). Luckily you can also find calçots on the menu of restaurants throughout Catalonia.
Located on the shores of the Mediterranean, Catalonia enjoys an abundant supply of fresh fish and seafood. The suquet de peix is non other than the Catalan version of fish stew, first invented by the fishermen who would put together an easy meal for themselves at the end of a long day using the leftover bits of fish that did not sell that day. The cheaper, the smaller, or the odder the morsel, the better. Typically these would include a mixture of fish such as hake or monkfish, and shellfish such as clams or mussels. The other essential ingredient is the delicate saffron which gives it its warm color and rich flavor.
Another hearty meat-based dish, botifarra and mongetes is the Catalan version of sausage and beans and has been present in the region since at least the 16th century. Botifarra is the name of a sausage typically made of pork (although it can also be made with goose meat) and spices that can be either fresh or cured. The cured versions include black botifarra made with pork’s blood, botifarra d’arròs made with rice, and bull which is made with fattier parts of the animal. When served with white beans, the most common is to use fresh botifarra which is cooked over a grill. The dish is simple and uncomplicated, but holds a special place in many Catalan’s hearts.
This is not so much a stand-alone dish but an essential part of any truly Catalan meal: pa amp tomàquet, or bread with tomato. Not to be underestimated in its importance, there are specific tomatoes which are preferred for its preparation known as tomate de penjar, meaning ‘tomato to be hung’ in reference to the way the tomatoes are usually kept in a bunch which can be hung in the kitchen. The origins of the dish are unclear but it likely emerged as a poor man’s way of making a meal from the most basic ingredients available to him. Consisting simply of a slice of bread rubbed with half a tomato, drizzled with a little olive oil and a pinch of salt. It is perhaps the most iconic of Catalan dishes.