Cooking some fish in Barcelona
Miss Crystal, former recipient of all my culinary experiments, insisted that I cook her multiple dinners during our time in Barcelona. A more than fair price for her and her housemates’ generosity in letting us sleep in their living room for nine days. So we took a trip to the Boqueria and waiting for inspiration to strike. There is no better place for kitchen inspiration than the Boqueria. We went in there with no idea what to cook, and as we wandered and pondered (ha! I’m a poet!), we seemed to stumble upon what we wanted seconds after we thought of them. “Perhaps some fish? Oooh, look, there are hundreds! Some fresh pasta? Wow, look, they’re making it right there!” If only all my shopping excursions were like that.
The fresh pasta was a great find. We just turned a corner, and there were two guys and a shiny, fancy machine, churning out incredibly colorful and beautiful pasta. We bought four kinds: beet, squid ink, spinach, and thyme. We ended up with so much pasta we didn’t even use the thyme, and I certainly hope that someone in the house enjoyed it after we left.
When I was in New York the weekend before our trip to Spain (yes, I’m such a world traveler), I had a pasta dish with a kind of cheese I’d never heard of before, nevat. I was pretty excited when I saw it in the Boqueria and decided it definitely had to go in the pasta. As it turns out, nevat is a cheese traditionally made in Catalonia. I love excellent coincidences like that.
Finally, Mr. X hit on the perfect thing to round out the meal: fresh fish. We bought two small Dorados, some fresh rosemary, and some lemons, and we were ready to cook.
Of course, we had to start the meal with some bread, cheese, and olives. Mr. X found this fantastically tangy and salty aged smoked gouda, and everyone went mad for it.
These olives were marinated in lime and mint. Crystal called them mojito olives, and we could not get enough. If anyone knows where I can find mojito olives in Boston, please share! Don’t keep the mojito olives hidden! They are spectacular: salty and bitter and, yes, refreshing.
Crystal’s kitchen was quite a challenge: two small burners, no proper oven, an odd assortment of pots and pans, and some knives that have seen better days. Cooking in someone else’s kitchen is always kind of taxing, but this one really stretched our problem-solving abilities. I’m pleased to say, though, that dinner went off pretty much without a hitch. Cooking the pasta involved heating water in an electric kettle and rotating batches of pasta and water in one smallish pot. Cooking the fish required fashioning a small baking sheet out of tin foil and maneuvering the fish into a small toaster oven. The vegetables for the pasta were cooked ahead of time and kept warm in a platter before being mixed with the cooked pasta. But in the end, everything came together, and everyone was happily fed and watered.
I have to admit, I don’t know what Mr. X did with the fish. He mixed up some kind of olive oil, lemon juice, and cayenne pepper mixture and drizzled it over the fish. He stuffed some fresh rosemary and lemons into their empty bellies (after he gutted them, ew, that’s why I don’t cook whole fish, ew). They were really delicious. Three cheers for Mr. X and his amazing fish-cookin’ ways!
The pasta was pretty simple: I sauteed some zucchini, asparagus, and mushrooms with a bit of salt and garlic in olive oil, until the mushrooms were slightly browned. Then we just cooked up the pasta, and tossed with the sauteed veggies and some cubed nevat cheese.
Everything was so fresh we didn’t need to do much. The pasta wasn’t strongly flavored, but looked so beautiful, especially the black squid ink. It was a wonderful meal shared with new and old friends, and plenty of delicious wine. I’m telling you, the Spanish really know how to live.
I only cooked one other meal in Barcelona: a vegetable risotto on our last night. Our college friend and her fiance arrived in Barcelona that day, and we had a wonderful drunken reunion dinner. The risotto making was a serious adventure in the funny kitchen: I ended up having to make two batches because the pan was kind of small, and it involved standing by the stove for about an hour and a half. But I had a glass of wine in my hand the whole time, and my ladies by my side, and it was more than worth the time. The risotto turned out great: fresh vegetables, a bit of cumin in the vegetable stock, and manchego cheese mixed in at the end. Couldn’t have been better.
And just to illlustrate one of the funniest features of the Spanish kitchen:
The kitchen sink. I have never seen one like it.