There’s a lot we Catalan people may be bad at, but we certainly do know how to eat well. And now that winter’s here, we’ve got many typical Catalan dishes that will stick to our ribs to help us withstand the cold. Each region has its traditional winter recipes, without forgetting some very international classic ones, from winter salads to soups made of any imaginable thing. The common denominator of winter dishes is the high caloric content: stews, heavy stocks and thick sauces. Even calçots, which are inseparable from romesco, are quite an energy input to keep your body temperature. Also, it’s time for certain delicatessen which are only found in this season and, however they are eaten –even if it must be with your jacket on–, we must enjoy them while we can.
With this weather and this pandemic issue, there’s little call to leave your home; staying in the coach with a cup of hot soup and letting the bad times go by is much more appealing. Furthermore, if there’s something we do have right now, that’s time to stay at home, so it’s a good time to bring yourself to try some new recipes. And if the thing should get better in a few days, maybe we can take a gastronomic getaway to enjoy the seasonal products and courses wherever they are typical.
Escudella i carn d’olla (soup with boiled meat and vegetables and a typical pasta, galets) may be the most typical Catalan winter dish. It’s always welcomed by the stomach but, if you get bored of it, there are many local variations which are always nice to taste. In Berguedà, we have escudella de blat de moro escairat, made almost exclusively of pork and peeled –aka escairat– maize. In Pallars they make vianda, with noodles instead of galets and –strange as it may seem– pears. If they let us go out, you may taste in the calderada, a gastronomic event which takes place in the main towns of Pallars Sobirà on Carnival. Speaking of escudella, we cannot forget the òlha aranesa, a traditional meal in Val d’Aran and one of the most anciently documented casseroles in Europe. Warmth and energy to endure the whole winter!
Another classic, particularly typical on St. Stephen’s Day, but good for any time of the year, are cannelloni. A heavy course, made of leftovers, admitting countless fillings. If you’re sick of animal protein after the festivities, you can always stuff them with vegetables –or with anything you want, for that matter–, and if béchamel is too heavy for you, try using a vegetable velouté. They are essential.
In the Pyrenees –where, after all, is the place where they know about cold– we can find the trinxat of Cerdanya and the black peas from Berguedà. Trinxat is made of smashed potatoes and cabbage (which, traditionally, should be winter cabbage), and it’s quite spread around Catalunya; in the Moianès region and in some places of Osona it even has a different name, being called baiató. Black peas, on the other hand, are a variety which is limited to the Berguedà and, in casserole, they are among the best winter meals I’ve ever had.
If we go South, it’s time for calçots, particularly for calçots from Valls. Also in Costa Daurada, although mainly in Penedès and the axis formed by El Vendrell, Vilanova and Sitges, it’s the season of xató. Xató is a winter salad made of escarole with salted fish (cod, anchovies, tuna, …) and a variation of romesco sauce. You cannot miss the calçotades and xatonades, whether it is this year or the next one!
In Priorat, on Lent, it is typical to have truita amb suc. It’s a spinach omelette stewed along with artichoke –which season is also right now, especially in the deltas of the Ebre and Llobregat rivers–, hard-boiled eggs and cod (in its premium version), without forgetting the sauce. It’s not easy to find in restaurants; it’s a home dish, one of those which recipes are zealously kept by each grandma. To taste it, you better go to Ulldemolins on the second Sunday of March, when the Truita amb Suc Festivity takes place –let’s hope the restrictions are over by then…
Now, let’s talk about the special products, these which are important by themselves –regardless of how they are cooked– because they can’t be found at any other time. Winter is the season for three highly valued animals: galera, garoina and angula.
Galera (mantis shrimp) is a crustacean –cousin to shrimps, to put it short– which is fished during winter and –according to experts– it is delicious; if you feel curious about it, the Galera Gastronomic Event takes place in L’Ametlla de Mar during the last week of February.
Garoines (or garotes) are the sea urchins –no, we do not eat the spines, we eat the red thing inside the animal–, a highly-valued delicatessen in Costa Brava. You can find them all along this coast, but the Garoinada of Palafrugell is a particularly renowned gastronomic campaign lasting from January to March. There’s always some individuals who go fishing garoines in June –they live quite attached to the rocks, it’s not like they make it very far– but it’s in winter when they’re full and when picking them does not affect the species reproduction.
Angules (elvers, in English) are baby eels –they’re not to be confused with “gules”, which are fish leftovers that have been triturated and shaped into something that kind of looks like elvers. ANgules are fished in estuarine areas –in Catalunya, mainly in the Ebre Delta– from October to March, which is when these little fishes arrive in our costs from all across the Atlantic to grow up at the headwaters of the rivers. Aside from a gourmet –and extremely expensive– product, they’re also the babies of an extraordinary animal which is rarer every year. So, come on, eat them with moderation –since the demand stimulates the fishing– and always with the certainty that they’ve been captured in accordance with the legal measures. Thank you in name of all elvers!
To end with, although they’re not typical winter products, we mustn’t forget olive oil and wine when talking about traditional Catalan cuisine. Olive oil is essential in Mediterranean cuisine and a national product; furthermore, we make quite a good oil in Catalunya. And wine… Well, I don’t intend to defend alcoholism, but I have to say, there’s nothing like a good national wine to wash down a gastronomic experience. If you’re gourmands and all this COVID-19 thing spoiled your plans of going eating delicacies, oil and wine are a great option because they can be enjoyed all year round. Moreover, they both have a whole tourist culture around them, and it’s very interesting to learn about the production process, from the vine and the olive tree to the glass and the oil bottle. Hence, let me invite you to use the outings –that, at some point, will be possible again– to visit some winery, as the Gramona experience or to go for an oleotouristic experience, as the oleoturistic visit in Torrebesses. It won’t disappoint you and, if we end up missing the winter gastronomic events, we’ll always have that.
May you all eat high on the hog!