Barcelona I, the Eixample

Barcelona is our favorite big city so far.  It’s Spain’s 2nd largest city (1.7 million in the center, 5 million in the greater city), but it doesn’t feel like a big city.  Public transportation is fabulous, making the city seem smaller, and wherever you go there’s a neighborhood feeling.  It’s a delightful city – anywhere you look there’s a feast for the eyes and an outdoor bistro for the stomach.  Everywhere the surroundings are funky, or whimsical, or gorgeous, or all three together.  Wide, tree-lined pedestrian boulevards are bordered by arresting architecture, chic shops, and relaxing sidewalk cafes that serve amazing tapas.  Narrow alleys and winding lanes open to surprising plazas lined with classic architecture, palm trees, sculpture and – por supuesto (of course) – more delightful cafes and boutiques.  In this amazing setting, the people bubble with life; how Pedestrian walkway with Sagrada Familia in the backgroundcould you not?  And did I say the food is fabulous?  We’re here in December, and the weather is delightful (we suspect the summer might be tough).  At night we can still dine in outside cafes wearing only light jackets, while street vendors sell roasted chestnuts that harken back to a colder climate.  This city has charm.  Are you sold yet?

There’s one problem in showing you this city – there is so much to show!  Where to start!  How to organize!  I’m going to divide Barcelona into several areas and many posts: the Old City and its “Barri Gotic” quarter; the elegant Eixample which was built just beyond the Old City walls and was the heart of the Modernista movement; the city’s main street, La Rambla; Park Guell; the art museums; the Art Nouveau Sant Pau Hospital, and finally, saving the best for last, the stunning, incredible Sagrada The Sagrada Familia, from the internet (with the construction cranes digitally removed)Familia Cathedral that was started in 1882 and is still under construction.  Just to whet your appetite, here’s a picture of Sagrada from the internet.  My!  Doesn’t that look just like 1882!  No? Although that list of what I’m going to cover in Barcelona might sound like ‘way too much, I think you’re going to be as captivated by this city as we were.

One of the joys of Barcelona is its amazing architecture, so in this first post – por supuesto – a little background on that topic is in order.  Barcelona has Roman ruins, a medieval cathedral, vestiges of a city wall, twisty Gothic lanes, and we’ll touch on those in later posts.  Mostly, however, I’ll be focusing on Barcelona’s Modernisme architecture.

By the late 1800’s Barcelona had became an industrial powerhouse, and like other large cities in Europe there was an artistic reaction against industrialization, leading to the Arts and Crafts Movement in England, the Glasgow Style in Scotland (see post Glasgow I, The City), and ultimately Art Deco in the 1920’s.  Barcelona developed a unique artistic style that it named “Modernisme” (Catalan for “modernism”), which lasted from the 1880’s to about 1914.  Its main expression was in architecture but it included painting, sculpture, and decorative arts.  Joan Miro was born in Barcelona, Salvador Dali nearby, and Picasso lived here as a teenager.  Imagine asking these three to collaborate on architecture, and you’ll come close to understanding Modernisme.  The three main Modernisme architects were Lluis Domenech i Montaner, Josep Puig i Cadafalch and (the most famous) Antoni Gaudí.  Their styleSt. George fighting a dragon, decoration on the Casa Amatller incorporated rich decoration and detail, frequent use of plant motifs, a predominance of the curve over the straight line, a taste for asymmetry, and … what to say … fantasy?  Tomorrow’s future chic?  You’ll see.  It’s a hundred years later, but I think Modernisme is still ahead of its time.  Oh, one other piece of information: the main symbol of Catalunya is the dragon, which was slain by St. George, the region’s patron saint.  In Barcelona, “there be dragons”; they are everywhere.

I’ll start the Barcelona posts with a tour of the Eixample region.  There’s much to show, so be forewarned – you’re going to see a lot of amazing buildings (and some interiors).  The expansion out of the Old City at the turn of the century was an opportunity for the newly rich to build urban mansions designed by architects doing the bold experimental designs of Modernisma.  It’s still the ritzy part of Barcelona.  I’ll start with the mundane – the sidewalks of one of the major main streets, the swanky Passeig de

Gracia, shown above.  Interesting, yes?  They’re copied from floor tiles designed by Gaudi for one of his buildings.  These wild sidewalks go for miles down the Passeig.  The street itself is divided by a central very wide tree-lined pedestrian way that is filled with outdoor

seating for the cafes across the streets – picture harried waiters racing back and forth across those street carrying trays of amazing tapas.  The pedestrian way also has occasional art, like those pasta sculptures above (and yes, young kids are allowed to play in them).

One of the first buildings we come to is the Casa Rocamora, built in 1914 in Neo-Gothic

style.  Notice its fancy decoration!  Almost universally in Barcelona, examples below, a building’s external walls are for embellishment (sgraffito, tiles, glass, colored stucco) and

the display of stone carvings; rooftops are for fanciful artistic displays; and doors are for fancy wrought iron.

As if the Passeig de Gracia needed more elegance, there are 31 fanciful street lamps with

incorporated benches that were installed in 1906 to light the boulevard.  They’re pretty cool!

As we walk along, we come to an area set slightly back from the street, and we stop to investigate.  We discover that “El Nacional” is an 1870’s textile factory converted to a restaurant complex that now houses 4 restaurants and 4 bars that also serve tapas.  Oh,

this is soooooo much more than a food court!  We’re talking upscale.  For instance, at the fish restaurant shown above, you pick out the particular fish you want, and they cook it for you right there in the open.  Some of the food options from the bars are shown below.

This swanky area of the Eixample is called the Golden Quarter (Quadrat d’Or), but we’re about to encounter the “Block of Discord” with 3 major Modernista buildings in very different styles.  Here we go!  The first house, Casa Lleo Morera, converted by Montaner

from a previously existing building in 1905, has been described as “Renaissance-influenced”.  There’s a lot of decoration!  There are art muses lurking on the balconies representing music, photography & theater, attack parrots and dragons protecting the

entrances, and awesome column decorations.  However, the outside can not compare with

the incredibly beautiful Modernista design and art on the inside of this building.  I’ll show it to you in a subsequent post.

A few doors down is the Casa Amatller, also a previously existing building, this one redone in Neo-Gothic style by Cadafalch in 1900.  Neo-Gothic?  I see quite a mix – an extravagant

Dutch-style gable combined with Moorish influences in the windows and in the sgraffito designs in the ochre-and-white stucco.  Mongrel-ian comes to mind, but the facade is interestingly attractive.  Entry into the foyer is allowed, where one can see that the

opulent exterior design extends into the building.  A staircase leads to an upper landing and a continuation of the extraordinary detail, plus an impressive stained glass ceiling.

The next house over is Casa Batlló, and it too was a previously existing building, redone in 1904 in a unique Modernista style by the most famous of the Modernistas, Antoni Gaudí.  The facade is pure fantasy, as shown below.  The lower levels are stone, with

organic-looking windows whose columns are disturbingly reminiscent of carcass bones.   The upper levels of the facade are decorated in colorful mosaics and circular disks, the balconies look like carnival masks, and everything is crowned by a roof that looks like a

scaly reptile’s back.  Pretty wild, yes?  Well, the inside is also wild, and wildly, crazily beautiful; and not just a pretty face – the design combines amazingly clever functional elements – I’ll show it off in a subsequent post.

Everywhere in this city there is incredible eye-catching detail on the buildings – stone carvings, sgraffito, tile, wrought iron and stained glass.  Below are some examples

of this diverse architectural embellishment – like that on the Palau Montaner building from 1896, shown above, and on a variety of buildings shown below.

OK, let me show you just 4 more houses, near the end of the Passeig de Gracia.  The house below is the elegant Palau del Baro de Quadras, built by Josep Puig i Cadafalch in 1904.

This next house is Casa Bonaventura Ferrer, built by Pere Falques in 1906.  It has an

outside door and an inner door with marvelous handles.  The interior was under construction upstairs, so we snuck in long enough to shoot some pictures in the foyer.

Isn’t that woodwork gorgeous?  I love the Modernista infatuation with floral motifs.

The third house is Casa Comalat, by Gaudí-influenced Salvador Valeri i Popurull in 1911.  The front of the house is symmetrical and urban-looking, although there are some

impressive Gaudí-like fluorishes.  The rear of the house, however, is something else!

It’s Clark Kent shedding his suit and glasses!  Modernista is on full display, in a breathtaking way.  In the last picture, a look through the upper floor window suggests a very interesting interior – so let’s go look through that door at the front of the house, shown below.

Remember, this is 1911!  I could just as easily believe the building was from 2111!  The Modernista architects were all control freaks; in addition to designing the building, they insisted on doing the internal decoration and even the furniture.  Isn’t it interesting?  And this is just to whet your appetite for what’s to come.

The final house is Casa Fuster, the last house that Domenech i Montaner built in Barcelona (1911) – and also the end of the Passeig de Gracia.  The end of a long day of

sightseeing (and blog reading!) deserves a culinary celebration, yes?  Some tapas and good wine?  We’ll finish this blog with a look at a colorful fountain near the beginning of the

Passeig de Gracia, with Casa Rocamora in the background.

Well, it’s been a long post! Hope you enjoyed our initiation into Modernista down the Eixample.

Next post we’ll look at the interior of one of the more spectacular Modernista buildings (the exterior was shown earlier in this post), the Casa Lleo Morera by Montaner.

 

 

 

 

 

Cooking School (Cook & Taste), Barcelona

Let me interrupt my on-going blog on Britain, just recently started, and jump ahead to share with you this cool cooking class we took – in Barcelona, Spain.  My, we do get around, eh?  Well, we’re here for several reasons – it’s warmer here, for one – but mostly we’re here because there are travel restrictions on how long you can stay in different parts of Europe, so we have to move around and play this silly traveling game.  A real pain for us long-term travelers.

While walking down a narrow twisting alley in the barrio (the Gothic Quarter) of Barcelona, intentionally lost, we came upon a cooking school (Cook & Taste, http://www.cookandtaste.net).  Opportunity!  The food in Barcelona is really, really good, but in addition we had fallen in love with an Andalusian dish in Malaga, Spain (post of 7/10/13, “Malaga, Costa del Sol”), called berenjenas con miel, or eggplant with honey, a version of which we had found here in Barcelona.  Could they show us how to make that dish?  Sure, next week.  And sure enough, next week it was offered, and here we are!  This is what we learned.  Disclaimer – things move fast when cooking, so many pictures are not in good focus.

FLATBREAD WITH TOMATO

In Granada, everybody was eating this tomato flatbread for breakfast in all the restaurants.  Eh?  We passed on it – I’ll have the apricot jam, please.  Here in Barcelona, flatbread with tomato pretty much comes automatically when one orders jamon (cured

Green olive and jamon iberica startersham) – and it goes really well together!  It’s also really simple to make!  Start with toasted bread, rub it lightly with garlic, cut a small tomato in half and rub one of the halves over the bread (a little garlic, a lot of tomato), drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with sea salt, cut to a good size (in this case 4 slices) and you’re ready to chomp.  It’s great with appetizers. (shown above).

CREMA CATALANA

Crema Catalana recipeThis desert needs to be prepared ahead and refrigerated.  It’s like a creme brulee, but a softer custard with less egg, and I think a slightly thicker, well-carmelized sugar coating.  Obtain lemon peel – our chef, Davíd, prefers to cut a large slice rather than using a grater to get the peel, since the grated peel can find it’s way into the custard and make it grainy.  One needs to cut thin slices and remove any pith, which can be bitter, from the slices.  Davíd  also scored the inside of the

lemon peel a few times with his knife.  Bring the milk just to a simmer (small bubbles only), add the peel and cinnamon, and let steep at least 10 minutes to infuse the flavors.  The longer you let it infuse, the stronger the flavor.  Meantime, blend the egg yolks with

the corn starch and sugar in a bowl until the sugar is completely dissolved and the mixture becomes foamy and almost white.  Bring the milk mixture just to simmer again, and very slowly pour the mixture through a strainer into the egg mix, whisking to avoid cooking the egg; whisk all together.

Pour mixture back into the saucepan and cook over low heat, stirring vigorously all the time with a wooden spoon until the cream thickens and one can make a line on the back of the spoon, as shown.  Pour into traditional terracotta dishes before the cream cools down.  Shake and tap to level the cream.  Place in refrigerator to chill.

Just before serving, sprinkle with sugar to coat and caramelize with a blowtorch.  In order to avoid burning the sugar, you’ll probably need to do alternate torching with brief periods of cooling until you have the desired degree of carmelization.  Let the sugar harden for a

couple of minutes.  Add fruit for presentation, then have at it!

BERENJENAS CON MIEL y QUESO de CABRA  [Eggplant chips w/ honey & goat cheese)

RecipeCut eggplant crosswise into paper-thin rounds with mandolin.  Keep cuts circular (Davíd had to trim the eggplant to fit the slicer).  Soak the slices in milk to reduce their bitterness – around 10 minutes.  Fill a deep skillet halfway with oil (not extra virgin) and heat over moderate heat to 170° C.  Blot the

 

eggplant slices with a paper towel to remove the milk.  Dredge eggplant slices in the flour until thoroughly coated, lightly pressing if necessary to help the coating adhere, and gently shake to remove excess (the idea is to produce a very thin coating that will become crisp when fried). Drop the floured pieces into the 170° C oil.

Only do a few at a time (our pan dictated 4).  Submerge, separate and turn slices in the oil with a slotted spoon until they begin to brown (golden brown), 1-2 minutes (or longer).  Transfer the chips to paper towels to drain.  Sprinkle with coarse sea salt.  Repeat for remaining chips.  Cut cubes of goat cheese.

Berenjenas con mielPlace chips over cheese squares, drizzle with honey, and add toasted pine nuts and a presentation item (Davíd used viola flowers).  Fight for your share.  In Andalusia, the dish was a little different – no cheese, and they used a molasses-like cane sugar instead of honey.  Both are good!

FRIED ARTICHOKES

As an added bonus, Davíd showed us how to fry artichokes using this same system.  First he removed the scales to get to the heart, then removed the stem and trimmed the base.  The top part of the artichoke, about half of it, is removed, the artichoke cut in half longitudinally, and the choke is cut out.  It is then placed in water with parsley to prevent

the browning reaction (I didn’t know parsley did that!).  When ready to fry, the artichokes are sliced very thin, dried on a paper towel, dredged in the flour like the berenjenas, and

fried.  They fry quickly!  Drain on a paper towel, sprinkle with sea salt, and they’re ready to go.  Thanks Davíd, they were great!

COCA DE SEPINACAS A LA CATALANA CON BACALAO CONFITADO                                 (Catalan style Spinach Flatbread with Confit Cod)

Cod on flatbread with spinachActually, before we started this recipe Davíd prepared a quick appetizer with the cod.  The cod came from a farmers’ market where chunks had been soaking in salt water for 3 days.  Davíd sliced off the remaining skin and cut 4 small pieces off the fish chunk.  He drizzled the pieces with (infused) olive oil (see below) and added a garnish of chive

sprouts and chopped pistachio nuts.  Ready to eat!  It was good, but next time I would add some sea salt.

For the flatbread, work all ingredients as a normal bread dough.  Let it rest until if rises for 1 hour.  Meanwhile, warm the oil in a saucepan, remove from heat, add the bouquet of spices (whatever you want), and let infuse for awhile.  When the dough is ready, roll it out, trim to a rectangle, and cut it to size.  Place the pieces on parchment on a tray, and brush with the infused oil.  Cover with parchment, put weight on the top (another baking tray), and bake until golden brown (180°C, 10 minutes).  Brush with infused oil again.

Cut the cod into pieces and put into infused oil that has just come to a simmer; remove from heat and let stand until cod looses transparency and becomes flaky.  Clean the

spinach under tap water and remove stems.  Let the raisins soak in Moscatell wine for 30 minutes.  Brown the pine nuts for 2 minutes in a nonstick frying pan with a few drops of olive oil.  Remove the pine nuts and add the infused raisins with their liquid; stir until thickened (this happens quickly) and pour back into their bowl.  Add more oil and saute the spinach briefly, adding a sprinkle of salt; do this in small batches, adding a little oil

each time.  Put some spinach on each piece of flatbread and arrange large flakes of the cod on top.  Add some of the raisin mixture and pine nuts.  Move to a plate and add more

raisins and pine nuts.  Davíd also added a dollop of reduced raspberry balsamic vinegar on the side.  It came from a bottle, and was a nice addition to the flavors.  I would have added a little sea salt.

PAELLA DE MARISCO (Seafood paella)

Seafood PaellaTo this list of ingredients we added some fava beans, a red bell pepper as well as the green, asparagus, some of the unsliced artichokes, and smoked paprika.  Prepare all the ingredients.  Dice the onion and garlic.  Cut some peppers into strips (for presentation) and dice the rest.  Wash the asparagus and remove their lower stem.  Grate the tomatoes

as shown.  Cook the fava beans, drain and let cool; remove the outer skin.

Soak the clams in salty water and then rinse.  Check that the clams and mussels are alive (if they are open, knock them on the table and discard if they stay open).  De-beard the mussels and clean their shells (we scraped them with a knife).  Clean the squid interior by scraping with a paper towel.  Cut the squid into squares, about 1.5 inches.  If desired, trim the whiskers off the prawns.

When everything is ready, heat the oil in a paella pan (until a drop of water sizzles) and saute the prawns briefly (count to 20, turn, count 20 again, remove).  Turn on the outer

propane ring.  For the paella you want even heat, and since you don’t want more than a layer or two of rice, you need a large skillet with a wide heat source (or two skillets …).  Add the squid to the pan, spread out the squares, and wait until the squid squares are “popping up”.  Add more oil to the side of the pan as needed.  Do not turn.  The longer you cook the squid the more tender it will be, so cooking it for something like 45 minutes

(overall) is good.  Brown only 1 side (you’re going to be adding water).  When the squares have popped up, stir and add the onion and the diced peppers and carmelize, constantly scraping the pan to deglaze.  Add some wine to continue the deglazing as the water evaporates.  90% of the taste is this “attacking the brown”.  When onions are browned, add the garlic and when it starts to brown, sprinkle with smoked paprika and add the grated

tomato on top of the paprika, mixing quickly so the paprika doesn’t burn.  Scrape and deglaze and let all the liquid from the tomatoes evaporate.  Add the asparagus, artichokes

and remaining pepper slices, stir, and cook for a few minutes.  Add the rice and stir well to coat, a minute or two.  Flatten the food to a layer, with no holes.  Add the saffron to the boiling stock, then add the stock slowly to the preparation.  Do not stir!  Rice can’t be touched beyond this point!

Increase the heat to medium-high and cook for +/- 8 minutes.  (Davíd used high heat for 5 minutes).  Then add the clams and mussels, pushing them slightly into the remaining liquid.  Taste the stock for seasoning – it must taste slightly salty (rice will absorb and dilute it).  Reduce heat to a minimum (say the notes) and cook for an additional +/- 10 minutes (Davíd says cook for a total of 15 minutes).  Davíd didn’t really time it so much as check it.  As the liquid went down, he turned the heat down.  It was done when there was

essentially no liquid at the bottom of the pan.  You want rice with some dryness.  Davíd also noted that after adding the clams and mussels one could take the pan to the oven at 180°C for 12 minutes (gets even heat!) rather than keeping it on the flame.  Right near the end, add the fava beans and arrange the prawns in a decorative pattern and allow them to heat up.  When the time is up, take the pan off the heat and cover with a cloth for 3 – 4

minutes to steam (the notes say only “stand for about 5 minutes before serving” [no mention of a cover]).  For Davíd, wanting rice with some dryness, if the rice is done and there is still some water, he doesn’t cover or he covers with a cloth to let the steam escape.

One could cover with aluminum foil to keep the rice wetter.

You’re ready to go!  It tasted every bit as good as it looks.

Well!  Hope you enjoyed this diversion from our travel blog.  The next post will be back in England, visiting the fabulous city of York.