Friday, March 8, 2019


Back in 2011, I attended a class at the Central Market Cooking School taught by Daniel Olivella. It was a seafood-focused class, and I fondly remember the octopus dish with potatoes and smoked paprika. I also remember the paella and learning about Bomba rice, and I remember the Xato salad. Chef Olivella told us about the popularity of this salad in Catalonia. There’s a competition every winter among towns to see who makes the best version. It’s a salt cod salad with a dressing made with Romesco sauce, but I’ll get to more of the specifics of it shortly. At the time of that class, Chef Olivella was operating a Spanish tapas restaurant in Oakland. He mentioned that he’d like to open a restaurant in Austin and was considering it. Soon thereafter, Barlata changed its address from California to Texas, and Austin had a new tapas restaurant. And now, recipes from the Austin restaurant and from Olivella’s upbringing in Spain can be found in the new book Catalan Food: Culture and Flavors from the Mediterranean of which I received a review copy. The chapters cover everything from starters to desserts with vegetables, rice and noodle dishes, seafood, and meat. It’s some of the simplest dishes that really got my attention. The Wrinkly Potatoes are cooked in an abundance of salt before being halved and served with allioli, and they look completely irresistible. The Biquini Mallorque is a grilled cheese sandwich made with Manchego cheese, but the twist is the addition of Romesco sauce and sausage—and cooking the sandwiches in olive oil. I made some with just the cheese and Romesco, and it’s my new favorite grilled cheese. The Warm Octopus with Potatoes dish from the class is in the book, and I can’t wait to revisit it. There’s also a Chicken with Shrimp dish made with an almond and hazelnut picada with sherry that’s on my to-try list. And, despite the churros, doughnuts, and Crema Catalana in the desserts chapter, my first stop there was for the Chocolate-Covered Marcona Almonds. That’s such a good combination with the roasted, salted nuts. Then, I flipped back to the page with the salt cod salad. The main elements are the big flakes of salt cod and the dressing made with a mix of Romesco sauce, olive oil, and sherry vinegar. I still have my recipe list and notes from the cooking class, and I see that the version made that night included a black olive puree and no salad greens. So, there are options for how to proceed, but I mostly followed the instructions in the book. 

Something I learned about Xato from the book is that frisee is the salad green of choice for it. This makes sense since frisee is a sturdy salad green, and the dressing is on the thicker side. The day I planned to make it, frisee wasn’t available at the farm stand I visit every week or even at the grocery store. I used a mix of local salad greens and radicchio instead. I started by making the Romesco sauce. I can never locate nora chiles and used anchos instead. They were stemmed and seeded and rehydrated in boiling water. Tomatoes were broiled until charred, and almonds were toasted. Bread was fried in olive oil, allowed to cool and cut into small pieces. Then, the garlic was cooked in the olive oil. I pureed everything in a food processor with some sherry vinegar. Some of the finished Romesco was whisked with olive oil and more vinegar to create the dressing. The salt cod had been soaking for a day in the refrigerator. I drained it and broke it into chunks. The mixed greens were tossed with the dressing and placed on plates before being topped with salt cod chunks, black olives, anchovies, and chopped herbs. Canned tuna is also listed among the ingredients in the book, but I skipped it and added extra salt cod. 

I made a meal out of this salad with lots of salt cod on each serving. There are a lot of big flavors going on in this mix of ingredients, but they all go together well. I also served the Manchego and Romesco grilled cheese sandwiches on the side, and those are so good after browning in olive oil. It’s easy to make meals from the snacks and salads in this book, and eating Catalan food is never disappointing.

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