No need to travel for Catalan cooking

July 12, 1992|By Chicago Tribune

These recipes illustrate the dependence on seafood and earthy flavored dishes in the Catalonia region of Spain.

Fava beans and littleneck clams

Makes 6 first-course servings.

1/3 cup sliced onion, plus 1/2 cup chopped

1 large whole clove garlic, plus 1/2 teaspoon chopped

1 tablespoon olive oil, plus 1/2 cup

1 cup water

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 cup shelled fresh fava beans, or substitute 1 cup defrosted baby lima beans

1 cup chopped seeded tomato

1/4 cup chopped roasted red bell pepper (see note)

1/2 cup dry white wine

white pepper to taste

pinch sugar

2 dozen clams, preferably littlenecks, scrubbed

Put sliced onion, garlic clove, 1 tablespoon olive oil, water and salt into a saucepan. Heat to a boil; reduce heat; simmer 10 minutes. Add fava beans; simmer until just tender, about 5 minutes. Drain beans and set aside; discard garlic.

Put chopped onion and chopped garlic, 1/2 cup oil, tomato, bell pepper, wine, white pepper and sugar into a large, high-sided skillet. Heat to a boil over medium-high heat; simmer 5 minutes. Add clams, cover pan and cook until clams open, 8 to 10 minutes. Discard any clams that do not open.

Using a slotted spoon, divide clams among 6 warm soup plates. Add beans to broth to warm through, then ladle broth and beans over clams. Serve at once with crusty bread and a chardonnay wine.

Note: Roasted red peppers are sold in jars in the Italian or Spanish food sections at supermarkets.

There are many versions of romesco, a condiment sometimes called "Catalan ketchup." Use this one on grilled seafood, poultry, meats and vegetables. This is adapted from "The Catalan Country Kitchen," by Marimar Torres.

Romesco sauce

Makes about 2 1/2 cups.

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 thick slice or 2 thin slices white bread, crust removed

1/2 cup (2 ounces) whole blanched almonds, toasted

1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

1 teaspoon chopped garlic

1/2 cup chopped roasted red bell pepper, see note

1/2 pound ripe tomatoes, peeled, seeded, coarsely chopped

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon paprika

1/4 cup red wine vinegar

1/2 cup olive oil, extra virgin preferred

Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a small skillet. Fry bread over medium heat until golden on both sides. Break into pieces.

Grind the almonds in a food processor fitted with the metal blade. Add the bread pieces, red pepper flakes, garlic, bell pepper, tomatoes, black pepper, salt, paprika and vinegar. Process until pureed.

With the food processor still running, add 1/2 cup olive oil in a thin stream. Taste. Adjust seasoning as desired. Romesco should be sharp and tangy.

Don't make the next recipe if you don't like anchovy, but if you do, seek out a superior brand.

Eggplant, anchovy and tomato gratin

Makes 4 appetizer servings.

2 small eggplants, about 8 ounces each

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 1/2 tablespoons (approximately) olive oil

1 teaspoon minced garlic

1/2 cup chopped seeded tomatoes

1 tablespoon minced parsley

1/2 teaspoon dried thyme

1/4 teaspoon sugar

1/4 cup dry bread crumbs

black pepper to taste

8 large anchovy fillets, drained and chopped

Halve eggplants lengthwise; cut a small slice from the curved side so each half will sit evenly. Score flesh side with a knife; sprinkle evenly with salt, using 1/2 teaspoon in all. Set aside, cut side down, to drain at least 30 minutes. Pat dry with paper towels.

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a small saucepan; add 1/2 teaspoon of the garlic and cook until light gold. Add tomatoes, 1/2 tablespoon of the parsley, thyme and sugar. Cook, stirring occasionally, 5 minutes. Set aside.

Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in large skillet; cook eggplant halves, flesh side down, over medium heat until golden brown. Transfer to a baking pan and cook in the oven until soft, 10 to 15 minutes. Remove from oven.

Meanwhile, combine bread crumbs with remaining 1/2 teaspoon garlic and remaining 1/2 tablespoon parsley.

Heat broiler. Spread chopped anchovy over the cut surface of the eggplant halves. Top with tomato mixture; spread bread crumbs over all. Drizzle about 1 teaspoon of the olive oil over each piece. Place eggplant halves on the broiler tray and cook until crumbs are golden, about 3 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature.

In Catalonia, this dish is also made with shrimp, lobster or a mixture of shellfish. It is accompanied by handmade allioli, a garlic mayonnaise. Because of the small amount required, a sauce made from bottled mayonnaise is used here instead.

'Toasted' pasta with squid

Makes 4 servings.

3 tablespoons olive oil

1 tablespoon chopped garlic

2 cups chopped tomatoes or canned plum tomatoes

3 cups fish stock, or 2 cups chicken broth mixed with 1 cup clam juice

1/2 teaspoon loosely packed saffron threads

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 pound cleaned squid

8 ounces dried angel hair pasta

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