Span­ish chef José Pizarro rec­om­mends tour­ing the fields, moun­tains and coast­line of north-east Spain in search of clams washed down with cava, and meat­balls cooked slowly with cut­tle­fish

Olive - - Explore - Words JOSÉ PIZARRO

Cat­alo­nia has a rich and fas­ci­nat­ing his­tory, which is why there’s much more to see in this re­gion of north-east Spain than the beaches of the Costa Brava, the moun­tains of the Pyre­nees and the tapas bars of its most fa­mous city, Barcelona. I’ve trav­elled from Roses, in Girona, to Bala­guer, in Lleida, from Vi­lafranca del Penedès, in Barcelona, to Sant Car­les de la Ràpita, in Tar­rag­ona, all the while en­joy­ing dishes that, for me, re­flect the heart of both tra­di­tional and con­tem­po­rary Cata­lan cui­sine (some­times, even, learn­ing recipes or meth­ods that stretch as far back as me­dieval times).

Cat­alo­nia has such a di­verse range of farm­land and cli­mates – from the green moun­tains of Piri­neo de Lleida to the wet marsh­lands of the Delta del Ebro – that it’s easy to find meat with in­cred­i­ble prove­nance and amaz­ing flavour. It is also largely a coastal re­gion, with some beau­ti­ful bays and beaches, so it’s a great place to find ex­am­ples of mar y mon­taña – sea and moun­tain – dishes (think Span­ish surf ’n’ turf: lob­ster with chicken, or meat­balls with cut­tle­fish).

The Delta del Ebro is also where you’ll find some of the best rice in the Ibe­rian Penin­sula. Ar­roz ne­gro is a very pop­u­lar dish, nor­mally made with squid ink, squid and prawns, topped off with aïoli. Per­haps sur­pris­ingly, pasta dishes have also been an in­trin­sic part of Cata­lan cook­ing since the 17th cen­tury; some of the re­gion’s old­est recipes for can­nel­loni and galets (pasta shells) are still in use to­day.

Wher­ever you are, make sure you al­ways head straight to the lo­cal mar­kets. La Bo­que­ria, in Barcelona, is where you’ll find the best clams; en­joy them with a glass of cava. An­other pop­u­lar bev­er­age is ver­mut – Sun­days are ver­mouth days in Cat­alo­nia, and peo­ple drink this along­side tinned seafood or fish and a plate of crisps.

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