Catalan Food: Flavor Straight from the Mediterranean

One of my favorite pieces in each issue is our “Season’s Most Delicious Reads”—which means I get to flip through and cook from many wonderful cookbooks to choose a small selection of my favorites. Catalan Food struck me with its big, simple flavors and inspired my next Mediterranean dinner party. Below, find recipes for two beautiful seasonal dishes: Lamb Brochettes and Grilled Salad.

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Pinxo Morú (Lamb Brochettes)

Serves 8 to 10 as a tapa or 4 to 6 as a main dish

Pinxos are skewered foods usually displayed in Catalan bars, buffet-style, for guests to nibble on while drinking. Traditionally, the bartender keeps track of how much to charge you by how many skewers you leave on the bar. Pinxo morú are a bit larger than other pinxos, similar to a kebab. These feature the Moroccan flavors of paprika, cumin, and garlic, a sort of Catalan tip of the hat to the deep influence of the Moors in Catalonia. The only departure from the traditional dish here is that I top my cucumber-yogurt salad and pinxos with spicy pepper sauce. What can I say? I like it hot.

MARINATED LAMB

1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh cilantro
2 teaspoons paprika
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 garlic clove, chopped
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 pound boneless leg of lamb or top round, cut into 1-inch cubes

PEPPER SAUCE

2 dried árbol chiles
1 roasted red bell pepper
1 cup Sofregit (recipe follows) or store-bought sofrito
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
1 teaspoon ground cumin
Kosher salt

CUCUMBER-YOGURT SALAD

¼ cup plain whole-milk yogurt
1 tablespoon chopped fresh mint leaves
Kosher salt
½ medium English cucumber, peeled, seeded, and thinly sliced on the diagonal
8 to 10 skewers (6- to 8-inch), soaked in water for 1 hour if wooden

  1. Marinate the lamb: In a large resealable bag, combine the cilantro, paprika, salt, cumin, garlic, lime juice, and olive oil. Add the lamb and shake to coat. Press the air out of the bag and seal. Marinate in the refrigerator for at least 4 hours or overnight.

  2. Make the pepper sauce: Bring a small saucepan of water to a boil over high heat. Add the chiles, remove the pan from the heat, and let stand until the chiles are soft, about 20 minutes.

  3. Pluck the chiles from the water and transfer to a blender or food processor. Add the roasted red pepper, sofregit, olive oil, lime juice, and cumin. Season generously with salt and pulse until the mixture is thick and smooth. It should be thick enough to rest on the plate in a thick pool.

  4. Meanwhile, make the cucumber-yogurt salad: In a medium bowl, stir together the yogurt, mint, and a generous pinch of salt. Add the cucumber and toss to coat. Use immediately or chill for up to 3 hours.

  5. Heat a grill or grill pan to medium. Thread 4 to 5 pieces of marinated lamb onto each skewer. Grill the skewers until the meat is charred in spots but still rare inside, about 10 minutes, turning once.

  6. Divide the dressed cucumbers among plates and top with the skewers. Spoon on the pepper sauce. 

SOFREGIT (SOFRITO)

Makes about 1½ cups 

 ¹⁄³ cup extra-virgin olive oil 
1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped 
A few generous pinches of kosher salt 
1 small green bell pepper, finely chopped 
1 can (15 ounces) tomato sauce      

  1. In a medium saucepan, heat the oil over medium-high heat. When the oil is shimmering, add the onion and salt, and reduce the heat to medium-low. Cook until the onion is translucent, about 15 minutes, stirring often to prevent burning. Stir in the bell pepper and cook until the onion is pale golden and very soft and the pepper is tender, about 15 minutes more. When it is ready, the onion will fall apart in your fingers. Give it time. 

  2. Add the tomato sauce, increase the heat to medium-high, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and simmer gently for 1½ hours, stirring occasionally. You should see only a few bubbles here and there as the sauce cooks. The sofregit is finished when it concentrates to a thick, chunky texture and falls from a spoon in one dollop.  

  3. To store, spoon the sofregit into ice cube trays in 2-tablespoon portions. Freeze until solid, then transfer to freezer bags, squeeze out all the air, and seal. Store for up to 3 months. Thaw before using or add directly to the pan for dishes that will be simmering. 

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Amanida a la Graella (Grilled Salad)

 Serves 4 as a side dish

 My friend chef Jordi Vila recently took me to his brother-in-law’s farm and cooked a dinner I will never forget. He set up a fire in one of the orchards and made a grilled escarole salad with vinaigrette from grilled lemons. It was a modern take on the escalivada we had when I was a kid (see page 92), with the same feeling of strong community and good food. Jordi insists I share his secret: The difference between a good escalivada and a bad one is that the grilled vegetables can touch neither water nor the vinaigrette until just before serving.

navel orange 
½ lemon 
1 large head escarole (about 12 ounces), halved lengthwise with stem end intact 
4 fresh figs, halved lengthwise 
2 garlic cloves, peeled 
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper 
6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil 

  1. Heat a grill or grill pan to medium (see note). Grill the orang e and lemon until the peels char and begin to split, about 8 minutes, turning them occasionally. Remove to a cutting board and let cool. 

  2. Meanwhile, grill the escarole, cut-side down, until it is charred in spots, about 30 seconds. Remove to a platter cut-side up and let cool. While the escarole cools, grill the figs cut-side down until they are char red in spots, about 30 seconds. Remove to the platter cut-side up and let cool. 

  3. Squeeze the juice from the lemon and orange into a medium bowl. Mash the garlic in a mortar with a pestle and scrape it into the bowl with the citrus juice. Add a few generous pinches of salt and pepper. 

  4. Begin whisking, then slowly add a few drops of oil, whisking constantly. As the mixture thickens, add the oil a bit faster, still whisking constantly. Pour the vinaigrette over the salad and serve immediately. 

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el consell: If you can, grill the citr us and escarole over a wood fire in a fire pit. You can even char the fr uit right near the embers of the fire. The flavor of the smoke will enhance the taste of the dish, and the e xperience of the fire will set your mind to dreaming.

Reprinted from Catalan Food: Culture & Flavors from the Mediterranean. Copyright © 2018 by Daniel Olivella and Caroline Wright. Photographs copyright © 2018 by Johnny Autry. Published by Clarkson Potter, an imprint of Penguin Random House, LLC.