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Entries about rustic

What Bibs, Plastic Gloves and Spring Onions Have in Common

sunny 16 °C

I’m perched on a wobbly chair swigging from a cup of woody, red wine, eagerly anticipating what is to come. February has arrived and the Calçotada season is in full swing across Catalonia. I don’t really understand what I’m doing here, or what’s about to appear in front of me, but I’m resoundingly assured that it is something which is not to be missed, that it is a true celebration of Catalan cuisine. I glance around me, inquisitively taking in my surroundings. I’m at what appears to be some kind of farm/factory. Outside there are barrels filled with calçots, giant spring onions and a local delicacy, queuing up ready to be tossed onto a giant charcoal-smothered barbecue. Smoke and flavour billows through the air and weather beaten men stand around with pitch forks and shovels, prodding the prized veg and attending to their every need. Around me, are long tables filled with families and friends clamorously chattering, debating, gossiping, their cups and plates permanently brimming with whatever the waiter bestows upon them. I ponder whether the scene being acted out before me is indeed the definition of rustic?

Before long I’m presented with a giant bib and a pair of plastic gloves. I’m perplexed. I thought we were going out for a traditional Catalan meal? But I’m fervently advised that these items are not some kind of bizarre fashion statement, but a vital tool if I’m to avoid a disastrous outcome to the day. I process the information, but confusion still leads the way. Suddenly, the feast begins. Mountains of pa amb tomàquet, the famous local tomatoey bread, are brought to the table along with piles of robust, steaming artichokes. I mirror those around me and decorate my helping with a dash of salt and oil, not forgetting a dollop of hearty romesco sauce – the epitome of Catalan accompaniments. The starters are fantastic, abounding in simple, delicious homemade flavours, and naturally I help myself to seconds.

Soon the moment arrives to don my bib and gloves and I sense, that it’s show-time. There in my protective gear I feel like a surgeon about to start work on a patient. I look around at my friends – we all look ridiculous. Before long heaped silver platters piled high with calçots are noisily and ungracefully brought over by the waiters and plonked down in front of us. Suddenly it all makes sense. Suddenly I understand the need to dress up as some overgrown plastic baby – the calçots are filthy! Smeared in blacker than black charcoal from their barbecue expedition, they indeed could do some serious damage if they were to come into contact with my clothes. I begin to worry that they could even stain my face! And I inquire as to how you even go about attempting to eat a calçot? I’m told to watch and learn.

I copy the Calçotada veterans around me who are professionally and smoothly stripping the sodden outside layer of their chosen calçot away. Then, as if it were a perfectly normal way to eat, they raise their arm and dangle said spring onion from above, then nibble away from bottom to top. “You can’t be serious!” I utter. “What’s the point in that? Why can’t I just use a knife and fork?”. I receive bellowing laughter in response. I don’t get it. So, I try it their way. Impossible. I nearly poke myself in the eye with my calçot, and escape with a mere cheek splatter – which now means it’s smeared in charcoal. Seriously, how can the others chomp away so effortlessly? Maybe it’s just me being an idiot? By now my friends are on their second. I give up, and utilize my plate and cutlery. Gasps of horror and jests are thrown my way, but I’ll be the cleanest at the end of the day.

I have to admit, I wasn’t so sure about this whole barbecued spring onion business, and had severe doubts as to their tastiness. But, I am pleasantly surprised – they really are delicious! And along with the endlessly flowing cava they are going down a treat! Soon the waiters bring over trays of butifarra sausages, sizzling lamb chops, mounds of chips, and forests of salad, not forgetting the typical mongeta beans. There is literally no room on the table or my plate for any more food. But on it goes finding spaces wherever it can. The feast is overwhelming – a quintessentially rustic, country banquet, and I’m loving every minute of it! But I am so, so full that by now I feel like the Michelin man, as though I’m going to have to be rolled home, and when I’m offered desert and coffee I give a dazed shake of my head. It has been a fantastic and unforgettable experience, really giving me an insight into true Catalan culture. But if I eat anything else, I really am going to burst. So I bid thee farewell Calçotada, and shall see you again next year!

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Posted by lauracerys 07:03 Archived in Spain Tagged food spain catalonia rustic calçots cava Comments (0)

The Rustic Mediterranean

Cinque Terre - Italy

sunny 25 °C


Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggiore. Poised upon breathtaking cliff tops, the picturesque haphazard villages of Cinque Terre fix their gaze upon the amber horizon of the balmy Genovese sunset. A postcard of the rustic Mediterranean Italy, these secret costal enclaves appear frozen in time. They offer an impression of mamma’s Italia, with an enchanting ambience of longstanding local tradition. Fishermen, in their quaint blue-green wooden boats, rise before the sun everyday in order to bring in the menu of the day, which, without a doubt, will be meticulously prepared according to timeless recipes of each family’s grandmother. Here and there sound a vespa or two wandering the labyrinth of narrow colour-splashed streets, which along with lapping sea-shores, the chit-chatter of the older generation and a passionate shrill from a member of the younger, form a perfect soundtrack to the quintessential Italian experience.

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The five Ligurian villages which make up the area of Cinque Terre, have always been important in terms of wine production and since the days of the Romans, their hair-raising cliffs have housed intricate terraced vineyards. In 1276 Cinque Terre became part of the Republic of Genoa which instigated the beginning of large scale agricultural commerce. The exchange of products with neighbouring communities and towns and cities further afield proved extremely advantageous for the area, and lead to a large extension of the vineyards and an important increase in maritime trade. Still today the prized wines of Cinque Terre, Sciacctera and Limoncino are produced in the area following a centuries old technique ensuring their exquisite flavours, and a glass or two is a must for every visitor to the area.

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The best way to reach Cinque Terre is by train. From the nearby port city of La Spezia you can take a local train directly to the villages. Tickets are available there and then from the station. Accommodation is not particularly easy to find in Cinque Terre due to its relative isolation and limiting cliff-top position. However the lack of mass tourism is precisely what gives Cinque Terre its Dolce Vita charm. Many tourists take a day trip to the area rather than stay for a conventional coastal holiday, and stroll along the dramatically beautiful hillside paths which link the five villages together. From there the terracotta, lemon and rosey rustic houses so oozing of stereotypical Mediterranean charm look their finest, and on a warm summers eve the sunset squeezes out every shade of colour throwing them against the shimmering azure sea. Although perhaps lacking in the fame of nearby Portofino and its southern rivals of Amalfi and Capri, Cinque Terre is the perfect destination for anyone seeking the romantic Italy of years gone by.

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Posted by lauracerys 09:41 Archived in Italy Tagged italy wine italian mediterranean vespa genova rustic lemons Comments (0)

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