Happy Chinese New Year, everyone! I’m a terrible Chinese person and barely got around to organising dinners or baking treats but work was and remains hectic and I’m exhausted at the end of each day. This weekend looks a bit more promising anyway. And does this post have anything to do with Chinese New Year? Well, no, unless you count the fact that we ate rabbit.
I received an invitation from Codorníu, a Catalan cava producer, to attend a special Catalan meal prepared by Rachel McCormack of Catalan Cooking and so this past Monday night, I rocked up to Beas of Bloomsbury, where Rachel normally holds her cooking classes. In the kitchen too was Franz Schinagl (the former executive chef of Asia de Cuba), who’s currently in charge of savouries at Beas. This supper was hosted by Codorníu, who are based in Sant Sadurní in Catalunya and who have been making wine since 1551, and who will be supporting Rachel’s supper clubs throughout 2011. Oh yes, we were going to have cava throughout our meal; in Catalunya, cava isn’t just saved for special occasions – it’s drunk during meals. If you were to ask my brother if he learned anything from his trip to Barcelona, he would probably say this, which he learned from my in-laws.
If you’re not familiar with Rachel, she’s originally from Scotland but spent many years living in Barcelona, where she learned about Catalan cuisine. She now runs regular Catalan cooking classes in London, teaching the kind of cuisine you’d find in Catalan homes, and has recently started hosting Catalan supper clubs too. This was only her second supper club night; for a great run-down of her first, check out WenLin’s post.
At this supper club, we were welcomed with glasses of Anna de Codorníu Brut, a very light and fresh cava, before being let loose on a number of snacks laid out on the counter, buffet-style. There were various embotits, essentially bits of meat and in this case it was fuet, a dry cured Catalan sausage, and pernil salat, aka jamón in Spanish. There were olives, formatge (possibly Manchego?) and an excellent truita de patata i xoriço (that’s a tortilla in Spanish).
I should mention here that Rachel had designed the menu to take us on a tour of Barcelona, so while the previous tapas were from the Barcelonan markets, the seafood was from Barceloneta and some dishes were inspired by dishes at restaurants in l’Eixample, for example.
The next course was a sopa de carn d’olla served in a teacup and with this course came a different cava – a Codorníu Selección Raventós Brut – which was much darker in flavour than the previous one. Remember escudella i carn d’olla? This is the broth that’s made when all the meat’s been boiled. It was extremely rich and comforting and just the right size as to not fill us up before the main event.
After a little break, we were directed to the kitchen where another buffet spread was laid. To say there was a lot of food would be an understatement.
One cannot have the sopa de carn d’olla without the carn d’olla itself! And sure enough there was a huge platter of the boiled meats – chicken, pig trotters and pilotes (meatballs) – along with carrots, cabbage and white beans. That platter didn’t even hold all of the meat as I saw Franz topping it up later during the meal!
There were also calamars farcits d’albergínia (squid stuffed with aubergine), patates braves (in the style of those at La Taverna del Clinic, a restaurant in Barcelona), fideuà amb sofregit de calamar (noodles with a squid sofregit – a slow cooked mixture of onions and tomatoes), arròs al forn amb bolets (rice cooked in the oven with wild mushrooms), conill amb ceba (rabbit with onions), escalivada (grilled peppers, onions and aubergine), and coliflor en escabetx (pickled cauliflower).
To drink with all of this was a Codorníu Reina Maria Cristina Blanc de Noirs 2008, which my untalented tongue can only describe as not as heavy as the second cava and yet not as fresh as the first. I am utterly useless with wines (I don’t drink very much as I’m intolerant to alcohol). This cava was pointed out to us as being the first Spanish “blanc de noirs” sparkling wine, meaning that it’s white sparkling wine made from black grapes. Quite a special cava then.
That pictured below was just my first plate (!). My favourites, for which I went up again for seconds, were the fideuà (which went well with aioli), the tender pilotes in the carn d’olla, and those amazing patates braves.
We were absolutely stuffed and somehow had to find space for the desserts that would finish our meal. As we were rubbing our bellies, somehow the cava bottles in our ice buckets magically transformed into pink cava! This was a Codorníu Pinot Noir Rosé which was ever so slightly sweet.
Desserts were all absolutely gorgeous and definitely worthy of tummy space. Rachel’s crema catalana (one bowl per table and we were only two – score! Hello to my lovely tablemate Ailbhe of Simply Splendiferous) was sweet, creamy and delicious and I had many, many spoonfuls of it.
Rachel came around with platters of Bunyols de l’Empordà, essentially Catalan doughnuts. Two flavours made the rounds: lemon and amaretto bunyols and orange and rum ones; needless to say, both were fantastic. I can never turn down a freshly fried doughnut.
The final dessert almost did me in but I’m glad I persevered as it was amazing. It was a very unique sopa d’avellanes amb el seu cruixent (hazelnut soup with a hazelnut crocante): imagine a cold and thick hazelnut flavoured milk with a lump of ice cream within and a crunchy caramel biscuit – beautiful.
I reckon this is the closest thing you’ll get in London to experience proper Catalan home cooking (well, I mean if you don’t know any Catalan people here!). All the information on upcoming cooking classes and events (check out the calçotada!) can be found on Rachel’s site: Catalan Cooking. If you’re not in London, she’s got a few recipes on her blog too.