May 1, 2013 by caitlinvaclark
As I’ve mentioned, while my best friend was visiting last week, we spent a few days in Barcelona along with a day trip to the Catalan wine country for Cava and Tempranillo. I’d been to Barcelona once before, about 5 years ago, and have never forgotten the experience. Ever since when people would ask, of all the places I’ve traveled, what my favorite has been, this city would immediately pop into mind. I don’t know that I could ever properly quantify one visit versus another, but Barcelona has since stood out as the most unique, so I had been dying to return to see if my memory served me correct.
The Barri Gotic (the gothic area) is so beautiful. Wandering through the medieval alleys you can get lost in place and time. As Becca and I explored, she would ask which way we should go and my reply was “choose your own adventure.” In a way the goal is to be led astray. The wrought iron balconies adorned with flowers (and sometimes laundry) get me every time…
Somehow you find your way out and into the Port Vell with sailboats’ masts ringing and the smell of saltwater in the air. How can you not adore a city where in one day you can get transported to an ancient era, tour the buildings of a historic and influential architect, and witness a topless 70 year old woman hug her (clothed) friends while sip sangria on the beach?
Stylistically, I’m not the biggest fan of Gaudí’s architecture, but we toured the refurbished Palau Güell and it was breathtaking. Apparently Güell’s wife was also not a huge fan of Gaudí’s work and disliked living in this home. As Becca and I wandered through, I kept thinking, yeah, what a brat. It might not be my taste but I imagine you’d be hard pressed to complain about living there. It was hard, in photographs, to capture the private home-slash-palace’s grandeur, from the rich stonework to the delicate iron rails. This is the entryway to the concert room, which is two stories to make room for it’s massive built-in organ. Güell’s wife’s bedroom even had a secret balcony to take in these performances. Cry me a river, right?
On our last day, Becca forced me to take the “trip of death” as I refer to it. On my previous visit, my travel companion had made me take this same gondola/cablecar ride, and I had warned Becca that it was my worst nightmare. I’m not necessarily afraid of heights, more afraid of open air below me. I discovered this fear existed atop the St. Louis Arch years ago when I broke out into a full panic attack. So the idea of being jammed into a small box with 18 other people to voluntarily travel via wire 70 meters over the bay is not my idea of vacation. But anything for a friend, right??
After you wait in line for an hour to, again voluntarily, pay to hang by one metal bar on a few ropes (cables, wires, whatever- they seem like thin strings when you are trusting your life to them) across a bay and up a mountain, you finally get on solid ground, only to realize you have to take the same trip to get back!?! Hence the large beers. See the silly people dangling in the background??
I am filled with stories about food and wine that I will save for another post but for now I’ll keep things simple and classic. There are three tapas that are almost always on the menu, and equally, that I almost always order. You know the feeling of panic when you get a menu and are too stressed and suddenly overwhelmed with hunger to decide what you want. Tapas does this to me every time. So before we debate all the other choices, I place my order for a glass of spanish wine and pan con tomate, gambas al ajillo, and croquettes.
The key to Gambas al Ajillo (garlic shrimp) is to slowly cook the garlic so that it doesn’t burn. I place the oil and garlic in the skillet then heat on the lowest heat possible.
As the garlic just begins to sizzle add a pinch of red pepper flake and the shrimp. This way the garlic will be crispy, the oil infused, and the shrimp perfect!
To make the croquettes, I used leftover mashed potatoes (make sure it’s a creamy mash with no skins) mixed with shredded cheese and chorizo (or you could use ham or mushrooms or chicken or whatever your heart desires).
Then form into the classic oblong shape and dip into egg then breadcrumbs.
Pan fry until golden brown.
These tapas have a perfect crispy crust with a cheesy, creamy, spicy filling. Yes please!
In Spanish restaurants, pan con tomate is synonymous with the start of a meal, as bread and butter would be at an American joint. It’s toasty bread smeared with fresh ripe tomatoes and drizzled with good olive oil. Simple but spectacular if done right. I start by rubbing the bread with a clove of garlic. Then cut a sliver off the tomato to expose the fruit.
Rub aggressively (you need a well toasted bread for this) so that the tomato breaks down and the juices and pulp form almost a jam on the bread.
Drizzled with olive oil and you have a perfect start to a Spanish meal.
I think these three are always on the menu because they are so classic in flavor and so easy to make. The combination makes the perfect snack, would be great for dinner party entertaining, or just a light meal enjoyed with your favorite Spanish wine or cava.
The Perfect Tapas for Two
Pan con Tomate
4 thick slices crusty bread (ciabatta)
1 clove garlic
2 ripe roma tomatoes
1 Tbs. extra virgin olive oil
Toast bread on both sides either under a broiler or on a grill pan. Let cool to the touch. Rub with the peeled garlic clove. Slice off the side of the tomato, to expose the pulp, then rub aggressively onto the bread. The tomato juices and bits will spread onto the bread. Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil.
Gambas al Ajillo
2 cloves garlic
2 Tbs. olive oil
4 oz. shrimp
Pinch red pepper flake
Thinly slice the garlic and add with the olive oil to a skillet. Cook over low heat until the garlic starts to crisp and brown. Add the shrimp and a pinch of red pepper flake. Cook the shrimp through, then serve with the oil.
1 cup leftover mashed potatoes
1/4 cup shredded cheddar cheese
1 oz. Spanish chorizo, finely chopped
1/2 cup panko bread crumbs
Vegetable oil, for frying
Mix together the mashed potatoes, cheese, and chorizo. Form into six equal sized oblong shaped rolls. In a small bowl whisk the egg. Pour the bread crumbs into an additional bowl.
Dip the potato ball into the egg then roll to coat in the bread crumbs.
Heat a skillet over medium high heat with enough vegetable oil to coat the bottom. Fry the croquettes, turning to brown evenly on all sides, about 2 minutes per side. Remove and drain excess oil on a paper towel.