Serves 6, as part of a tapas spread
The Catalans are so fond of this form of crostini they eat it for breakfast, and give it to their children every afternoon when they return from school. It depends on having a very ripe tomato, so it’s best consumed in late summer. The olive oil should be the best extra virgin you can find. The bread should be good quality rustic style. The garlic is optional — Catalan purists would not use it, but we think it transforms this toast from a breakfast staple to a pre-dinner delight.
3 garlic cloves
12 slices ciabatta
6 very ripe tomatoes
Preheat oven to 180°C (350°F). Cut the garlic cloves in half. Lightly toast the bread in the oven for 5 minutes and enthusiastically rub each slice with the cut sides of the garlic.
Cut each tomato in half and rub a half tomato onto each piece of toast, trying to force all the juicy red pulp into the bread, but leaving the skin in your hand (to throw away). Sprinkle with olive oil and salt and eat quickly, before the bread goes soggy.
If the tomatoes are not soft and luscious, grate them into a bowl and stir in 2 tablespoons olive oil. If you’re a garlic addict, you can make a paste in a mortar with garlic, salt and a little olive oil, and spread it on the bread before spooning on the grated tomatoes.
Best with: Catalans say Pa amb tomaquet is a meal in itself, but they’re not averse to topping it with an anchovy, a slice of ham (called jamón in Spain, pernil in Catalunya or prosciutto in Italy), or a slice of manchego cheese or sprinkling of grated pecorino.
Please don’t call this a pizza. While it resembles the thin Ligurian focaccia, or pizza bianca, it was born in the city of Nice (where it is called pissaladiera, while elsewhere in France it is called pissaladière). It is topped only with onions and anchovies and sometimes olives, but never tomato and never cheese. It is essentially a focaccia (or fougasse) covered with onions and a condiment called pissalat, a dialect word that means ‘salted fish’. Pissalat has such ancient origins, it may relate to the garum sauce to which the Romans were addicted. It can also be spread on crostini, or used for flavouring cold meats or fish, or sautéed spring vegetables.
The combination of the saltiness of anchovies and the sweetness of caramelised onions is wonderful, intense and irresistible. Who needs tomatoes or cheese?
1 quantity of Focaccia dough (page 174)
500 g (1 lb 2 oz) white onions
50 ml (1¾ fl oz) olive oil
a handful of small pitted black olives
10 anchovy fillets
freshly ground black pepper
For the pissalat
250 g (9 oz) best-quality anchovy fillets in oil
3 garlic cloves
2 thyme sprigs, leaves picked
1 bay leaf
8 black peppercorns
50 ml (1¾ fl oz) olive oil
First make your dough, using the previous recipe. While the ball of dough is resting, peel and thinly slice the onions, then put them in a heavy-based saucepan with the olive oil. Cook them, covered, over low heat for 1 hour, so they become like a soft jam.
While the onions are cooking, make the pissalat. Place all the ingredients except the olive oil in a mortar and pound until you obtain a paste. Transfer the paste to a bowl and add the olive oil, mixing with a wooden spoon, so you obtain a thick, smooth consistency.
When the onions are cooked, stir the pissalat into them.
Preheat the oven to 200°C (400°F).
Shape the dough into your baking tin, let it rest for 30 minutes, then spread the onion mixture over the top. Stud the topping with olives and lay the anchovy fillets over in a pattern that pleases you. Grate on some black pepper.
Bake for 30 minutes, or until the onions have started to brown.
Slice and serve warm; the bread will be just as good the next day.
We had this simple but impressive dish at Les Templiers restaurant in Collioure, where the waiter explained that it is named after Pauline Pous, the original chef, who supposedly served it to Picasso and various other artists during the 1920s. The name literally translates as ‘fish in the oven Pauline-style’. The vegetable element of the recipe remains constant, but the fish that bakes on top of the vegetables varies with the catch of the day. The only requirement is that the fish be flat, because then it cooks more evenly and its juices run into the potatoes.
Warning: when you are filleting the baked fish, do not turn it over. Lift off the fillets from the top side of the fish, then pull the spine away from the bottom half and put the spine on another plate. The locals believe that if somebody turns a whole baked fish while serving it, somewhere in the Mediterranean a fishing boat overturns, and you don’t want that on your conscience.
a good splash of olive oil
3 potatoes, peeled and thinly sliced
6 garlic cloves
4 bay leaves
1 fennel bulb, thinly sliced
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 sprigs each of fresh thyme, oregano and rosemary
4 tomatoes, thinly sliced
2 zucchini (courgettes), thinly sliced
a handful of pitted black olives
1 large flat fish, such as sole, flounder, halibut or turbot, cleaned and scaled
curly endive salad, to serve
Preheat the oven to 200°C (400°F).
Splash some olive oil into a large baking dish, and put a layer of potato slices across the bottom of the dish, interspersed with the garlic cloves, bay leaves and fennel slices. Sprinkle with a little salt and pepper. Transfer to the oven and bake for 20 minutes.
Scatter the thyme, oregano and rosemary sprigs across the potato slices, and on top of them layer the tomato slices and a layer of zucchini. Scatter the olives over the vegetables, splash on more olive oil and bake for another 15 minutes.
Now put the whole fish on top. Cover with foil and bake for 15 minutes.
To serve, place the baking dish in the middle of the table. Gently lift the fish onto a large plate and fillet it, peeling back the skin from the spine and giving each guest a slice, lifting the spine away when you have served the top half of the fish. Give everyone large spoons so they can serve themselves vegetables from the baking dish.
Serve with a curly endive salad.
Crèma Catalana (Toffee-topped custard)
We hate to diminish any Catalan achievement, but we might have to credit the French with the idea of burning sugar on top of a rich custard. A recipe very similar to this appears, under the name crème brûlée, in a French cookbook published in 1691. In the 19th century the English started calling it ‘Trinity pudding’ because it was a special-ity of the chef at Trinity College, Cambridge. The French confuse the issue by referring to the custard under the topping as crème anglaise (‘English cream’, though it’s unlikely to have been an Anglo invention).
What the Catalans did was add orange zest to a recipe that was originally flavoured only with vanilla, which was an inspiration because the sharpness of the orange cuts through the richness of the custard. They declared it to be one of the meatless dishes to be eaten on Saint Joseph’s Day (March 19). Their name for it is crema cremada (‘cremated cream’).
The best way to serve this dish is immediately after the sugar has been caramel-ised, to maximise the contrast between hot crunchy toffee and cool smooth custard. But it’s almost as good served at room temperature later that day. Originally the sugar on top of the custard was turned into toffee by the application of a hot iron. Please do not attempt this at home, if you intend ever to press your clothes again.
700 ml (24 fl oz) thin (pouring) cream
125 ml (4 fl oz/½ cup) milk
1 cinnamon stick
1 vanilla bean, split lengthways, seeds scraped
3 teaspoons lemon zest
3 teaspoons orange zest
8 egg yolks
125 g (4½ oz/heaped ½ cup) caster (superfine) sugar
For the topping
75 g (2½ oz/1/3 cup) caster (superfine) sugar
Preheat the oven to 140°C (275°F). Place two large ramekins, each about 450 ml (16 fl oz) capacity, in a baking dish lined with a tea towel.
In a saucepan, combine the cream, milk, cinnamon stick, vanilla bean pods and seeds, and the lemon and orange zest. Bring to the boil, then remove from the heat and allow to infuse for 10 minutes. Strain through a fine sieve, into a clean saucepan.
In a large heatproof bowl, mix together the egg yolks and the sugar until creamy. Bring the milk and cream back up to the boil, then pour it onto the egg yolks, one-third at a time, whisking well. Strain the mixture through a fine-mesh sieve, into a jug.
Three-quarters fill the ramekins with the mixture, then place the baking dish on a shelf in the oven. Finish filling the ramekins to just below the tops, then pour hot water into the baking dish, to come halfway up the sides of the ramekins. Bake for about 30 minutes, until the custards are set, with a slight wobble in the centre.
Remove the ramekins from the baking dish and let them cool at room temperature for 20 minutes, before putting them in the fridge for a few hours.
Evenly coat the top of each crèma catalana with the sugar, then caramelise lightly under a hot grill (broiler) — or with a kitchen blowtorch, if you have one — until golden brown. Serve immediately, or at room temperature. Give one of your guests the privilege of cracking the surface and serving the others.
Note: You could also pour the crèma catalana mixture into six smaller ramekins, and bake the custards for only about 12 minutes, until there is a slight wobble in the centre.