Fresh Squids stuffed with cured pancetta, rice, onion, garlic and mini bell pepper dices on a wine-paprika tomato sauce.
The Catalan gastronomy has a ton of “surf and turf” traditional dishes for example the meatball with squids, the chicken and crayfish, the mar y montaña paella, etc. They call it : Mar y Montaña which translate to sea and mountain. This recipe is inspired by the Catalan surf and turf, although instead of using the traditional ground meat I’ve used a stuffing of rice, cured pancetta, onion, garlic and bell pepper dices. The sauce is an easy traditional one of fried tomato paste, garlic and paprika with a touch of white wine (or water) and a few flat leaves of parsley for the final touch. This recipe is my personal twist on the Catalan Surf and Turf, it’s not a traditional dish, however similar in taste.
A Catalan Tradition
The Catalans are the kings at mixing up sea products and the land ones, thanks to their geographical situation. The first “Mar y Montaña” style meal I’ve ever tried in Catalonia was the albondigas con sepia, meatballs and cuttlefish. It was an odd combination for me at first but once the first bite was in, I understood why those dishes are so popular in Catalonia. They are fantastic! I know there are many sceptics out there, and it’s fine, surf and turf isn’t for everyone but before you say “no” for eternity. I highly suggest you to try any great Catalan dish and if you are still not convinced, then you’ll be able to surrender… In my opinion Catalans make those combos of proteins like no one else does!
So let’s make some Mar y Montaña magic happen!
Mar y Montaña Stuffed Squids
6 medium size squids
100g of cooked rice
60g of cured pancetta cut into small dices
1/2 onion cut into small dices
1/4 bell pepper cut into small dices
2 garlic cloves finely chopped
salt and pepper
The tomato sauce
100g of tomato paste (tomato frito)
75ml of white wine or water
2 tbsp of olive oil
1 tsp of spicy paprika
1 garlic clove finely chopped
salt and pepper
Start by cleaning up the squids (check this video for more details)
Cook the rice in water or use leftover rice
Cut all the ingredients for the filling
In a small pan, soften the onions for 5 minutes in some olive oil at medium high heat
Add the garlic, pancetta, pepper, salt and pepper and mix it all together with the rice
Stuff the squids pushing down gently to fill the whole pocket, close the end with a moist wooden toothpick
Add all the ingredients of the sauce at the bottom of an ovenproof pot, mix
Add the stuffed squids over the tomato sauce and top with a touch of olive oil and salt
Cook at 180°C (350F) for 25 minutes until the squid are turning golden
Monkfish and Clams Fideuà is an authentic Catalan dish similar to a paella although the rice is replaced by Fideus, a short thin noodle that is fried, then it soaks the Mediterranean flavoured stock with some extra saffron touch.
The Catalan have a gastronomy of their own, and one of their most distinctive dish would be the Fideuà. They make all kind of Fideuà dish, it’s quite similar to paellas but it’s made with a noodle called Fideus. It’s usually also served in a paella pan and to make it to perfection is an art! This version here is a simplified, home version, although I’ll let you know how to nail a really professional looking Fideuà in the post. Let’s start with a general view of this Catalan dish.
The small 1 cm long and thin piece of noodle is far from being used the “Italian way”, first of all, fideuà is never”al dente”, nor are the noodles covered with a sauce but the opposite, the noodles soaks up the stock, so this is the first major difference. Some like to make their Fideuà with lots of liquid and keep the dish slightly moist with an extra stock (caldoso) others like to make sure all the stock is absorbed by the pasta and this way, you can finish the dish in the oven and if you’ve done it right, magic can happen in this step; the fideus will rise vertically and lightly grill on the top and become crisp which is in my opinion the ultimate Fideuà. For this to happen you need a large paella pan, to sauté your pasta in olive oil at first and add just a fine layer of those fideus to the pan to let them stand. For this recipe I broke the rule and use a thick bottom pan and too much fideus for the size of the pan… so the fideus couldn’t rise vertically but still a “one of a kind” dish! If you don’t find the “Catalan Fideus noodles” you can use vermicelli and break them or the Italians have a similar one called: fedelini.
The frying of the Fideus
Yes, you saw that right, the first step is to fry the Fideus noodles. This step is important in order for the fideus to keep a “softly crisp” texture or to prevent it from getting saggy, this also helps the pasta to rise in the final step. Important note about the frying, cook then at medium-low heat to prevent the noodles from getting burned… any black noodle pieces is simply a disaster for this dish. So keep an eye on your frying noodles and bring them to a nice golden-light brown color while gently moving them.
The Sofregit (the fried paste)
A kind of thick red paste resulting from a slowly cooked onion, garlic and tomato in olive oil, until all the water is out of the veggies and forms a kind of red flavorful base. This is another important element in Catalan cuisine, so many recipes starts this way. It’s a tad long but in the end it’s worth it. No only does it give flavor but color to a dish. In Spain, they are still debating if a paella should or shouldn’t start by making a sofregit. The Catalan, in the north of Spain and around are big fans of that flavorful paste for their paellas but elsewhere in Spain it’s not always well received to start a paella this way. As for the Fideuà though, it’s a necessity to start the dish with a nicely done Sofregit. It’s a simple technique but might take a few extra minutes especially if done right, because you can trick a sofregit to be done “faster” by adding wine or liquid to the onions to make them soften faster.
The Fideus technique and ingredients
For this variety of Fideuà we’ll use monkfish and clams, so if you are living somewhere which it’s difficult to find monkfish (also called scorpion fish) simply substitute it by sea bass, snapper, halibut or even scallops. As for the clams, rinse them good before adding them to the dish. Those little shells will open up and give this fresh sea taste to the dish in the final step. The technique isn’t hard, just follow the instructions, but if you want to try to make the fideus rise straight up it’s a tad more complicated; you’ll need a large paella pan of 40cm diameter for this amount of pasta to rise. Also, after the final step in the oven to lightly grill the top, it’s important to cover the complete paella with a clean towel and let it rest 5 minutes before getting the rising effect. I’ve personally have to work this technique out a bit more, although I’ve done it in culinary school but it’s not the easiest. But if you nail it once, it’s a fantastic looking dish! Anyway for now the importance is the flavour so let’s make this Fideuà dish going! Shall we?
Monkfish and Clams Fideuà
Makes 4 portions | Difficulty: Medium | Preparation: 40 minutes
250g fideus noodles (or broken vermicelli or fedelini)
500ml of fish stock / fumet (water also is fine)
350g Monkfish cut into large pieces of 4 cm (halibut, snapper, sea bass or scallops)
1 1/2 onions (yellow) cut finely
2 garlic cloves finely chopped
3-4 tomatoes (cut into 2 and grate the inside with a cheese grater to collect the interior and discard the skin)
1/4 red bell pepper cut into small dices
1 pinch of saffron *optional
1/2 sweet paprika (pimenton dulce)
extra-virgin olive oil
salt and pepper
(For the optional final step; Bring the oven at 180°C (350F), use a pan that goes in the oven)
Start by making the sofregit in a big pan, cook slowly at medium-low heat the finely chopped onions in 3 tbsp of olive oil and salt (the finer the onion is cut the fast they’ll get transparent) and cook until transparent about 5 minutes
Add the garlic and tomato to the pan (make sure there is always a little oil left in the pan) and let the tomato water evaporate, another 5 minutes
Once the mixture is similar to a paste, add a tad more olive oil and the monkfish pieces and cover with the sofregit and cook medium-high heat the fish until slightly golden (1 minute)
Add the bell pepper pieces, the broth, sweet paprika and saffron and let simmer 10 minutes
In a separate pan, add 2 tbsp of olive oil to a pan and the fideus, cook a medium-low heat until golden (light brown), move it gently, it takes about 5 minutes
When the broth is done reducing for 10 minutes, bring to a strong simmer, add the golden fried Fideus noodles to the broth and check the seasonning (salt and pepper), cook 2 minutes
Add the clams and let them 1-2 minutes to simmer in the broth to open up
For the final touch, add the pan in the oven to give the final grilled touch on top, at 180°C (350F) for just 2 minutes (this step is optional)
Cover the Fideuà with a clean towel and let it rest 4 minutes before serving.
Traditionally served with Allioli, a garlic mayonnaise. Enjoy!
Panellets, little breads in Catalan, are little confections made for the All Saints day (1st of november) and the day of the dead (2nd of november). They are traditional sweets made in Catalonia region, Spain, with an almond paste (marzipan) and a topping of your choice; it could be pine nuts, coconut, almond, coffee, etc. The pine nut one is by far the most popular, although the base stays the same; an almond paste. You can make them with or without potato, they say the best ones are made without, although to make the pine nuts stick to the balls, I believe the potato version is better. Another important point is to make the almond paste rest in the fridge for a day before forming the panellets. This way the oil from the almond flour make the paste bind perfectly together.
This recipe makes nice little treats for christmas also, and the kiddos can help out making them, in different shapes. The coconut one in Catalonia is usually of pyramidal shape and the pine nuts panellets are usually round, the almond one is cylindrical but ultimately its shape is up to you. Although they are use for Catholic religious days those panellets were most probably brought in Spain by the Arabs, back in the 18e century, which use almonds paste and nuts regularly in there confections. So those have quite a long history behind them.
So let’s make those little treats!
Panellets de pine nuts and coconut
Makes about 30 panellets
150g of almond flour
150g of sugar
100g of sweet potato
2 egg whites
organic lemon zest (organic since lemon zest even when washed is filled with insecticide)
200g of pine nuts
200g of coconut shredded
200g of almond bits *optional
Add the almond flour, sugar and zest of a lemon to a bowl and mix well
Add about 2 tbsp of water to the mix and work it until homogeneous paste
Cover with a plastic film and let set in the fridge overnight
Next day, make small 2 cm balls (or other shapes) with the paste, add to the egg white then in the pine nuts (or coconut, almond) and cover the ball good
Add to a baking sheet, on a baking tray
When they are all done, add a tiny bit of sugar to the egg white and mix, brush the panellets with the egg white left
Cook in the oven at 200°C (400F) for about 10 minutes (or less, until the balls are golden)