Sunday, June 26, 2011

Escape to the Mountains

A few weekends ago, we visited the aforementioned Caterina at her Pyranees mountain refugio where she's working as a chef for the summer. The refuge, more like a mountain resort, is nestled high in these granite rock formations which are part of a national park. 

The only way to get up to the refugio is to hike up the mountain. Fortunately, the 6-hour hike abounds with breathtaking sites such as this waterfall...

 And these tranquil lakes....

We took several breaks to enjoy the views and learn how to snack on local flora:

Finally, after hours of hiking, we spotted the camouflaged Regufio Amitges:

And tasted some of Caterina's delicious food:

Here's the view from the kitchen window.
And that lake is where she hangs out during her off time. 

We tried to impress the staff with our dish-washing skills, but they told us they weren't looking to hire any extra help.

 We were sad to leave - thinking about spending time here with Caterina, cooking for hikers and becoming familiar with this beautiful mountain landscape would have been a ideal way to spend the summer. 

Friday, June 3, 2011

To Make: Paella!

It seemed fitting that before my dear friend Caterina left Barcelona to work as a chef in a Pyrenean mountain lodge - I miss her already!!! - a group of us got together to make a giant Catalan paella in her honor.

Each region of Spain has it's own take on paella and Catalonia isn't especially well-known for it's particular version but I can't get enough!

 The following recipe is a combined effort of many of Caterina's friends remembering how their Catalan mother / grandmother used to make it. I was a very happy observer in this undertaking.

One thing everyone agreed upon: only fresh seafood will do. Don't bother otherwise.

Seafood per person
2 large prawns in shells
3 mussels
3 clams
1/4 lb squid

Other than the seafood, the remaining ingredients are easy to find:

Ingredients (for 6 people)
3 cups of white short-grain rice
6 cups of fish stock
olive oil
6 cloves of garlic, minced
2 onions, chopped
24 oz of chopped tomatoes in juice (canned or fresh)
2 tbs of red bell pepper paste
Handful of peas
1/4 cup chopped parsley
(optional: one chopped carrot, red pepper, green pepper, if you are feeling healthy)

Note: they tell me saffron is just for color and tourists. Who knew?

First, soak the mussels and clams in salty water so excess sand dissolves. Throw away any shells that don't close once in water, but then reopen them with a knife once they are clean.

Next, chop the squid into thin, bite-sized strips. You may have to use scissors for the tough parts:

In a large pan, heat the olive oil and add the onion (and carrot / peppers). Once soft, add the can of tomatoes with juice and the squid strips. Stir this mixture for about 15 minutes until the squid soaks up all the juices. 

In another pan, stir-fry the un-peeled shrimp until they turn an appetizingly pinkish-orange color and set aside:

Next, add the peas, rice and parsley to the squid and let heat for a moment. Then add fish stock, clams and mussels and stir until the rice gets completely cooked. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Finally, arrange the seafood in an beautiful pattern and viola

The paella was surprisingly easy to make and more delicious than anything I've been served in a restaurant. As for Caterina, she is the best too!