by Gareth Groves
I love food, I love wine and I love cooking so when blogger and cookery teacher Rachel McCormack invited me to come along to one of her Catalan Cooking classes to talk about Catalan wines, I jumped at the chance.
Rachel’s classes – held at the delightful Beas of Bloomsbury – are not an attempt to turn you into the next Ferran Adria, but a window onto the sort of food Rachel and her friends ate and cooked in their own homes when she lived in Barcelona.
The star attraction was a ‘Fideua Rossejat amb sofregit de Calamar’ but we nibbled on exquisite chorizo, morcilla, local cheeses and pan con tomate whilst we cooked. The atmosphere resembled a group of friends hanging out munching and chatting rather than a formal classroom. Miss McCormack may be a very good teacher but you are much more likely to end up in the pub than detention after class.
As I wrote above, the star dish was Fideua Rossejat amb sofregit de Calamar or ‘noodle cake’ as one of my classmates described it. The dish is a sort of pasta paella, with short vermicelli-like noodles replacing the rice. The secret to the dish’s success is the long, slow cooking of the sofregit: onion, pepper, garlic, tomato and squid all finely chopped and melted over the course of an hour or two into a deep, dark, concentrated pan of joy.
The finished dish combines this intense flavour base with the pasta and stock, a final burst in the oven giving a crispy top and base surrounding the mellow, fish pasta filling. It was blooming marvellous. I even learnt the Catalan word for ‘crispy bits’ as we scraped the pans clean, only to promptly forget it on the way home. Even so, you have got to love a language that has a special word for ‘crispy bits’. We served it up with some super-punchy alioli – a garlic and oil emulsion that will ‘influence’ your breath for days – and the classic Catalan nut and pepper-based Romesco sauce.
This was my bit. Rachel had sent me the menu in advance and told me to bring 2-3 Catalan bottles that I thought would match the food. We kicked off with Etim Blanco 2007 from Montsant. Now, Montsant is one of my favourite Spanish wine regions. Located to the south of Barcelona, Montsant surrounds the more famous (and pricey) wine region of Priorat and is a great source of gutsy, good value Mediterranean reds. You are more likely to stumble across reds than whites but this beauty is made from old white Garnacha grapes and hums with cool citrus and riper peachy fruit with lots of stony minerality. A lovely aperitif with enough cojones to stand up to the morcilla and chorizo.
Next up with the Fideau was the els Pyreneus Altas de Ruesca Rosado 2009 from vines grown very close to the French border in the region of Emporda. Made from old vine red Garnacha grapes, it is dry and refreshing with crisp strawberry fruit running the length of the palate. Too many people dismiss rose as a drink suitable only for picnics and teenagers, refusing to see it as a grown up option for serious food, but not me. Think of top quality, dry roses like this as white wines with a bit of extra oomph and fruit – just the job for a slow cooked squid dish flavoured with sweet peppers and tomatoes.
Finally, with dessert (a rather boozy bread and wine combo) some Cava – not a perfect match but exactly as they do it in Catalunya we were told. The Torre del Gall Brut Reserva was a textbook example: dry, fresh and sparkling with some classic earthy notes and freshly-squeezed citrus on the finish.
Want to find out the recipe for that fideau or know the secret to a perfect romesco? Check out the Catalan Cooking website for more details about upcoming courses.