Bunyols de Bacallà – Catalan cod fritters

Bunyols de Bacallà  or Salt Cod Fritters is a classic Mediterranean dish which can be eaten as a tapa or as a main course with a salad or other small dishes to accompany them.  They are often served with allioli which is a wonderful meeting of olive oil, salt and garlic.

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There is a huge difference between the bunyols you will get in a cafe and those you make at home. The photo above is of Bunyols de Bacallà made by my friend Bev who is a fantastic cook and she inspired to me to have a go at this recipe myself.  This was my first try and even though I had some problems they still turned out well and were delicious.

They will not be perfectly round and this is part of their beauty.

There are many variation on this recipe. You can leave out the potato and add more flour, you can use baking powder, add milk, separate the eggs and whip up the whites first. But what follows is the recipe I used and I will experiment later.

At the end of this post I will give you a couple of links to Catalan sites with slightly different recipes and some more information plus photos.

 Bunyols de Bacallà

 Ingredients

  • 500g salt cod fillets
  • 50g plain flour
  • 2 medium free range eggs
  • 400g floury potatoes
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2tbs olive oil
  • good handful of chopped parsley
  • salt and pepper

Preparation and Cooking

Salt cod has been preserved in salt and so you need to prepare it at least one day in advance.   Wash off excess salt and leave to soak in a dish of cold water for 24-36 hours.  Change the water three or four times. Taste a tiny fragment of the fish to see if it is still too salty.  It has been preserved – don’t worry that it is raw.  When it is to your taste, drain it and cut into smaller pieces

  1. Put the fish into a pan with the bay leaf and cover it with fresh cold water. Bring it up to the boil then remove from heat and leave it to stand for ten minutes
  2. When it has cooled take the fish out of the water and remove skin, bones and any other fishy bits you don’t want in your bunyols. Break the fish into small pieces with a fork. Keep the salty cooking water to one side.
  3. Now put the potatoes into a pan with the salty fish water and more salt if necessary. (I didn’t add more salt and regretted it later) Boil for ten minutes and then drain well and leave to cool
  4. Now for the batter! Put 300ml of water and the two tbsp. of olive oil into another pan and bring to the boil. Remove from the heat and slowly beat in the flour to form the batter. I did this too quickly and it developed lumps but don’t despair if this happens to you – you can just beat it harder and they will go eventually. Let the mixture cool and then beat in the eggs one at a time.
  5. Mash the potatoes in a large bowl and mix in the cod, the crushed garlic and the parsley. Add salt and pepper. Now put together the salt cod mixture and the batter and cook it on a low heat, stirring constantly until it thickens. It should end up with a mashed potato consistency and easily form into balls. This process can take a while and I stopped too soon which meant my mix was harder to handle later.
  6. Leave it all to cool and you can even put it in the fridge for a few hours as this will help it thicken more.
  7. Heat the oil in the deep fryer to about 190C or 375F.   You can use a deep frying pan if that is all you have. Our fryer is an old fashioned basket in a deep pan and this part was quite scary for a novice. However, if it isn’t hot enough the bunyols will fall apart or stick to the bottom.   Tip for testing if the oil is hot enough – drop a little flour into the oil and see it if disappears.  Another tip is to drop a clove of garlic into the oil and when it starts to fry then you can start cooking the bunyols.
  8. Using two dessert spoons form the mix into balls and deep fry them for about 3 minutes or until deep golden brown. You can do about 5 or 6 at a time. I won’t pretend this stage was easy for me. They fell apart, they stuck to the bottom of the wire basket, they took much longer to cook because I didn’t have the mix dry enough or the oil hot enough. But they still turned out OK!
  9. Drain on kitchen paper and serve with ailioli – home made if possible
  10. Eat immediately!   Or someone else will

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Here is a Catalan food site with a bit of the history of bunyols

And here is another with lots of photos of the cooking process

 

All about Torrons and how to buy the best!

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Every year just before Christmas I go to the Correus in Granollers to send off several slim rectangular packages to the UK.    Each one is a box containing a slab of Torró, a very special sweet which is an important part of the traditional Christmas here in Catalunya.

I sometimes wonder if the recipients know what to do with them or do they end up at the back of the cupboard as sometimes happens to me with unfamiliar foods?

Before coming to Barcelona I had never heard of  Torrons. It was probably at the first family Christmas dinner that I discovered how delicious and mouth-wateringly moreish they are.

What is Torró?

As with everything in Catalonia there are two options for the name depending which language you are speaking.  Torró in Catalan or Turrón in Spanish but it is the same sweet delicacy a bit like nougat or halva, typically made of almonds, honey, sugar, and egg white, and shaped into either a rectangular tablet or a round cake.

It is a very old confection which originates from Arab cuisine.  Evidence shows they were being made 500 years ago in Xixona (Jijona), a small town about 30 miles  north of Alicante.   Xixona’s economy is focused on the production of torrons and there is a museum  there showing the history and how it is made.   A friend told me that he went to Xixona as a child in the late 70’s and was disappointed to find it wasn’t the little town of his dreams,  filled with small family businesses making torrons by hand with bee hives in the back yards, scented by almond blossom.  Instead it was an industrial town full of factories  producing thousands of kilos of torrons to be sent all over Spain.

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According to legend, honey from bees that drink nectar from wildflowers growing on the mountains around Xixona is an important part of the recipe.   That makes sense to me – even the most built up cities have beautiful wild places just outside the commercial zones.

Every ingredient should be of the highest quality and although I have found no information on this,  I  am hoping that the eggs come from free range organic chickens which scratch and peck around rural farms in the foothills of those mountains. We can but dream ……….

Types of torró and how to chose the best

Torró de Xixona is soft and the almonds have been ground up to form a paste

Torró d’Alicant is hard and brittle and you can see the almonds inside

There are several different qualities of torró.

Strict rules control whether torrons may be labeled with “Suprema” or “Extra.” The best quality is “Suprema” and to get that label, the soft turró must contain at least 60% almonds and the hard, 64% almonds

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Apparently  there is also “Estàndar” (standard) and “Popular”  but we didn’t find any. If it is of lower quality usually it doesn’t say anything on the packet.

Knowledgeable shoppers will look at the ingredients on the package label when they go to buy  Torrons for  Christmas dinner. You don’t serve just any old Torró on such a special day!

If it looks cheap and cheerful then it probably is.  Check out the amount of almonds.  The best ones have 60% or more.  And there should definitely not be other ingredients like palm oil or E numbers. In general if it is cheap the quality won’t be as good.

Chocolate torró  is delicious and a big favorite and it too has qualities including “Extrafino” or “Fino”  depending on the percentage of cocoa and milk it contains.   Some of the chocolate torrons have dried fruits and nuts mixed in and are increasingly popular.

Christmas is the time to eat Torrons and at the end of the meal large plates are brought out with lots of little cubes of  Torró laid out invitingly or built up into a tower or pyramid.

Serve with Cava of course!

Nowadays there are many more versions than just the traditional Alicant or Xixona,  including ones with candied fruit, chocolate, praline, coconut and also the one with egg yolk or Gema.

Where to buy Torrons?

All the supermarkets have huge displays of Torrons  but the quality is variable.  Follow the suggestions above to help chose a good one.  Surely I don’t need to suggest you avoid ones that are made by Nestle?

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But the best places to buy are the specialist shops.  They also make Orxata and ice creams. These shops will have the word Jijonero in their name.

In Granollers the best place to buy Torró is Cal Jijonero in Carrer Corró.

This family has been making them since 1933.  There are now two Jijoneros run by people from the same family but after a dispute they split the business, which is the reason there is one in Anselm Clavé and the other round the corner in Carrer Corró.

The one in Carrer Corró keeps the reputation for being the best but you’d have to try them both and decide for yourself.

How to serve and preserve your Torró

If you receive a packet of Torró as a gift here is what to do.

Cut off a chunk, lay it on a board and chop it into little cubes and lay them on a pretty plate.

You can put some neules in a glass in the centre.  Don’t forget the cava…..

Turrons

You don’t have to eat it all at once – leave the rest in the packet and it will keep for some weeks – or so we think but we have never managed to resist eating it all within a few days.

This one is Torró d’Alicant.   Caution for anyone with teeth which might break as it is hard. But once in your mouth it starts to melt and you come back for more, and more…..

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No need to keep in the fridge, just store it somewhere cool.  And Enjoy!

 

An outsider looking in

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“I’ve felt like an outsider all my life. It comes from my mother who always felt like an outside in my father’s family.”   Anthony Hopkins
 I am going to tell you about our visit to Falset, the lovely town near Tarrogona where my partner’s aunt lives.  Falset is famous for wine and olive oil production and is where we get our bottles of Vermut – the real variety!
We drove over to Falset to celebrate Santa Montse – the saint’s day of all women called Montse (including Pep’s aunt) and of course our own much missed mother/mother-in-law. It was a family get together which if you have been paying attention to this blog you will know is not my favourite way to spend a day as I don’t feel relaxed and comfortable with that particular group of people. I don’t speak Catalan well enough but more than that, I don’t feel they are very interested in getting to know me.
But it went surprisingly well – perhaps partly because I love the auntie and so was happy to be there.  I also  love Falset and of course, things tend to go more smoothly when you meet up in neutral territory.
We ate here in a hill top restaurant called La Cassola in the wonderfully named Gratallops. The restaurant looks out over the vineyards and olive groves and was strangely empty for a Saturday lunch time. We all got quite giggly due to the immensity of the restaurant,  the strength of the rich red wine, the grumpiness of the owner/waitress and also the appearance of strange dishes like this typical Catalan escudella i carn d’olla
There was nothing odd about the dish itself, it was the fact that this huge tureen was a starter for one person!  Brother-in-law ploughed his way through it admirably but in the end had to admit defeat. 
 
The middle courses I don’t remember but I am sure they were also hearty. Then we had puddings and here they are!  
Music – dried fruit and nuts, served with a dessert wine
Crema Catalana –  the traditional option
Mel i Mato  – honey and a soft cheese
I couldn’t resist the Pyjama which turned out to be a bit of everything
We walked though the town afterwards and ended up at one of the wine cooperatives where we were overwhelmed by heady choices of wine and oil
I have always got on well with the Montses in the family – the living aunt and the sadly gone mother.  They belong to a generation which while it might have different opinions, is warm and welcoming to a stranger.  But I have spent many hours since arriving in Catalunya wondering why there is a coolness between me and the younger members of the family.  It is easy to think it is my fault – I don’t speak the language well enough, I don’t make enough effort to fit in, I occasionally duck out of events, I am so different culturally and in personality. But after this outing I did come to some conclusions which might explain this problem which has affected my ability to feel at home here.
“I think having an outsiders viewpoint is interesting and good.”
Paul Merton
1. Older people expect to be different from me and so can be accepting.  However younger people seem uncomfortable around  someone who is broadly their age but who is clearly not the same. They don’t know how to deal with me, what to think of me, where to psychically put me. I am an outsider by nature and by choice.
 
2. People in Catalunya generally do not move around as much as British people do. My own family are spread around the UK taking in London, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Cambridge and Cornwall, but the Catalan family all live within 10 miles of where they were born. Their husbands, wives and parents do too.  All of them come from a small area around our town.  Imagine what a difference this makes in your life!  Your friends are also from the same area. Everyone that surrounds you is familiar.  The nearbyness of your extended family.
 
They don’t know how to relate to this strange childless woman in her 50’s who suddenly arrived in their midst?  Who is she?  Where is she from?  Why did she leave her home and family to come here? What is in her past?  Does she have dark secrets chasing at her heels?  
 
They could chose to ask me these questions and try to find out about me or they can play safe, being friendly but not inquiring too closely. It is safer to welcome me but not let me get too intimate – after all – I may decide to set off for pastures new again one day. Or I might try to disturb the familiar patterns of their lives.
 
I think it is hard for British people coming here to really understand how it is to be part of such a different culture – deeply rooted in home territory, bonded closely with family and childhood ties, passionately protective of traditional customs and habits. 
 
I have struggled with understanding all this and I continue to peck away at it in my mind – trying to make sense of so many subtle things that disturb my equilibrium. It is only now after 5 years here that I can see how important it is not to take it too personally. It is not personal although it has so often affected me that way.
It is a ‘thing’ that affects me, hurts me, confuses me but it is not directed personally at me.  Phew!
Or maybe it is!  Eeeks!   Maybe they just don’t like me?
  
Deciding to embrace my role as ‘outsider’ may be the only answer that will give me peace and stop my constant worry that I don’t fit in here at all.
At least I am in good company – thanks Paul Merton, Anthony Hopkins, Jeremy Paxton and others who describe themselves this way.
Do you think that we all feel like outsiders?  Do you have this feeling sometimes?
I am curious to know how other people deal with this.
Let me know in the comments
“I’ve always felt myself to be an outsider, I’ve always felt awkward” 
Jeremy Paxman

 

 
 

 

 

Overnight in Trippy Square

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I arrived in Barcelona around 4pm and immediately realised I was wearing too many clothes.
It is that Spring-time feeling!

Barcelona streets were full of people in shorts and teeshirts. I was wearing boots, a jumper and my black winter coat. I wondered why I had thought it OK to leave the house wearing so much black? Gradually I realised that most if not all of the summery people were tourists. You don’t get so many of them in Granollers!

First stop was the Venus cafe in Carrer Avinyo in the Barrio Gotico

Very nice waitress gave me a menu in English but then spoke in Castellano.  Saturday is one of my Spanish days and I needed to practise before going to the tango workshop.  I try to speak Catalan on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays and Castellano on Tuesdays, Thursday and Saturdays.  It is hard and it does confuse me but I can’t see any other way to keep both languages on the go. And people here are adept at switching mid conversation so I also need the skill of making rapid changes.

The tango workshop was good.   It was wonderful to dance again after a year.  When I was learning Lindy Hop I found it frustrating how little attention was given to making the ‘connection’ between leader and follower.  They do talk about it but you need a tango class to really go in depth into how this communication is central to the dance, and to life.
Gisela and Alejandro in Sala Arditi ….. lovely teachers

In between classes we went to a little bar called Bodega La Palma, near my first flat in Barcelona

We got back to my friends flat around 3am – very late for me these days. She lives in the famous Plaça de George Orwell otherwise known as Plaça del Trippi or Trippy Square. It is very noisy and the mixture of drunk tourists and out of their heads locals make this a difficult place for people to live.   I read that this is now on the tourist map as somewhere exciting to visit but coming home everyday to screaming groups of half naked teenagers, red-eyed staggering zombies and having to step over vomit and piss as you open your door is no fun for locals. There are police cameras and the odd police van but nothing really has changed the atmosphere in the years I have known the place. The shouting and screeching went on till nearly dawn but I slept through it, tired by city energy.

Only a few streets away it is quieter and calmer

I have favourite places in this barrio of Barcelona and they always draw me with magnetic force even when I don’t intend to visit them.
One of these is the Church of Sant Just i Pastor

Today when I went in there was a Sunday service taking place. I stood at the back and listened to the priest speaking in Catalan.  I understood much of it and noticed for the first time how similar it is to Latin.  For a few moments I could imagine how it might be to be in Rome and hear Latin spoken as a living language all around me

I am not part of any Christian religion but I love this church and often came here seeking peace when I first was staying here.
It is very rare for me to visit this part of Barcelona and not come into the church.
The square outside is very pretty too

Walking up to Placa Catalunya there were human castles rising and falling – not literally falling, fortunately I have never seen one collapse although I know it happens and I can’t watch without worrying that this will be the day. One of the towers wobbled a lot but remained strong

‘Born to make a pine-cone’  It means lots of people coming together to make something strong. When some human castles are created, the surrounding people will all form a pinya to help support the structure.  I’ve never seen one that big but I’ve heard they can fill a square.

Last goodbye to the Barcelona skyline just before I go down into the station

On Sunday there are fewer trains going to our nearby station so I had to get off at Granollers Centre and walk home, carrying again my hot coat and jumper. but at least it meant I could stop off for a cooling drink of Orxata with a dollop of coconut icecream. The first of the season

Sign seen at the rail station in Passeig de Gracia.
This is the sort of confusion my brain has to deal with!

Market Day Granollers March 2014

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It is Thursday so it’s market day!

I like getting ready to go out to the market, my wheelie basket at my side.  Here in Cataluny you don’t have to be an old lady to use a shopping trolley. They are practical and almost everyone has one.  I was laughed at in the UK when I walked with my old wickerwork trolley and of course it isn’t so useful when you are in a car. But here where the market is just five minutes down the road, it means you can buy all the fresh fruit and vegetables that you want and also have a handy weapon to help you get through the crowds

Look down the hallway and perhaps you can just make out the freshly painted walls of our sitting room. We painted it white last week.  I have been wanting to do that for four years!

And in the kitchen there are three fresh baked loaves

 After Bonnie died I got a huge urge to start baking bread.  I lost the ability quite a long time ago and after producing several hard inedible bricks I gave up.  But something has changed and so far they have all been delicious.  It’s good to know exactly what is in your daily bread
I use Delia Smiths recipe for quick easy wholemeal bread.
The two little ones are half wheat and half rye.
The one on the left is half Kamut – an experiment

So, off to the market. I will try to take photos but I am nervous ever since one of the gypsy stall holders ran after me shouting not to take pictures. I need to get over this.