Tuesday, 6 February 2007

Spanish Harlem


I've just returned from a few days in Barcelona. Unlike the trip I had a few years back with my wife, there was not a great deal of culture vulturing going on as this was a stag party. Two days of missing out on some of the best architecture and restaurants around. However, I did find some time to visit my favourite market in the whole wide world, La Boqueria market just off the Ramblas.

When I first visited La Boqueria, I was blown away by pretty much everything. From the beautiful stained glass entrance, you are slammed in the face by vibrant colours, smells and noise. The whole of Barcelona appears to be in here, all after one thing - high quality fresh food. Not a cheap clothes or toiletry store in here, just pure food food food. Fruit and vegetable stalls piled high with freshly plucked grapes, strawberries and melons. Fish stalls twitching with life with every imaginable sea creature struggling for attention. I saw purple sea anemones, winking clams and huge spider crabs with their intimidating armour disguising the sweetest of crab meats. On the meat stalls, freshly skinned rabbits lay alien-like alongside piglets and lamb, entrails on show. Magnificent sausages exploding with flavour hung like an armoury and their natural accompaniment, cheese and bread, created a myriad of choice and temptation.

I always feel envious when I see these fantastic European markets. For some reason, we cannot compete over here in the UK on choice and quality. Of course we do have the odd exception in the likes of Borough market, but I'm a Northerner so not the easiest of places to get to. Our superb Farmer's markets are not every weekend and again, you usually need to travel. As a nation, we do not have the natural instinct to want to shop at them every week, preferring the soulless and character sapping supermarkets. Heart breaking. Everybody heads for La Boqueria and I'm sure they hold it with great pride and status. And rightly so. With my 10g of cheap-as-chips saffron in my hand, I left La Boqueria with my hangover vanished and optimism returned.

Here is a dish that celebrates several ingredients I gazed upon on that day. Combining the sweetness of beautifully fresh clams and mussels, gently steamed open with Spanish Fino sherry, subtly flavoured with that most Spanish of spices saffron and combined with soft butter beans and Spanish red onions, it makes for a simple supper which begs to be eaten with crusty bread and of course a bottle of the deepest and smokiest Rioja. Yo le saludo La Boqueria!!!

Clams and Mussels with Saffron Butter Beans
Serves 2 adults

250g Clams, thoroughly washed and cleaned
250g Mussels, thoroughly washed and cleaned
1 Clove garlic, sliced
Half a red onion, thinly sliced
100ml Fino sherry
200g cooked butter beans
Fresh parsley
A good pinch of saffron, infused in a little boiling water

1 - Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan, add the onion and garlic and briefly stir. Add the sherry and reduce by half.
2 - Add the clams, mussels, beans and saffron and put on the lid. Steam for 2-3 minutes or until the clams and mussels have opened fully. Ensure that you discard any that have not.
3 - Sprinkle with lots of fresh parsley, plenty of pepper and serve in large bowls with crusty bread and lots of good Rioja. Magnífico!

1 comment:

Cat said...

I went to Barcelona last year for a weekend and visited La Boqueria market 4 times it is just fabulous, but how awful being so limited in what you can buy to bring home