Catalonian delights

Today’s recipes are a sampling of the delicious fare we enjoyed on a tour of Catalonia.

The medieval bridge at the entrance of Besalu (photo credit: AYA MASSIAS)
The medieval bridge at the entrance of Besalu
(photo credit: AYA MASSIAS)
On a six-day day tour of Catalonia in the north of Spain, we arrived in Barcelona, where we spent our first night and a fantastic day that included a visit to La Boqueria, in my opinion one of the best food markets in the world.
In the late afternoon we made our way to Girona, where we stayed at a luxurious farmhouse on the outskirts of the city for the rest of our tour, buying fresh products at farmers’ markets in surrounding villages and doing our own cooking. We had our own little kosher kitchen in which we created authentic local delicacies.
The highlight was doubtless the medieval town of Besalu, 45 minutes from our farmhouse along a drive with views of picturesque green mountains. Once in Besalu, we were surprised to find that every turn in this beautiful town of 2,000 inhabitants uncovers a building with a great historical story to tell and a unique set of Jewish heritage sites. It really has a magical charm; it is almost like peeking through a window to the past.
Besalu’s mikve (ritual bath) was discovered by accident in 1964, during excavations performed in the area. One of the old shepherds from the town, whom we met outside the mikve, told us that the very same cave was used as a bomb shelter during the Spanish civil war.
Today’s recipes are a sampling of the delicious fare we enjoyed on this latest tour: Empanadillas Catalanas (Catalonian burekas), Anchoitas a la Vinagretta con Aceite de Oliva (anchovies vinaigrette with olive oil) and Torrijas Barcelonesas con Helado de Canela (Barcelona toast with cinnamon ice cream). 
The writer is a trained chef, former owner of restaurants in New York and Jerusalem, and runs Yaya Food & Travel Ltd. (gourmet kosher Jewish heritage and culinary tours in Spain, Portugal, Provence, Gibraltar, Sicily and Morocco).
Makes 12 empanadillas
■ 1 kg. short crust pastry (buy it ready)
■ 1 onion finely chopped
■ ½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
■ 2 cloves garlic
■ 1 small red pepper
■ 12 pitted Calamata olives
■ ½ cup tinned tuna in olive oil
■ ½ cup dry white wine
■ 1 egg
■ ½ cup parsley, chopped
■ Salt and pepper
In a small pan sauté the onion, garlic and pepper in olive oil. When nice and brown add the olives and white wine. When the mixture is paste-like add the parsley and leave to cool.
Roll out the dough until it is 2 mm. thick and with the top of a glass cut out around 12 circles. Open the dough circles and stuff them with the tuna mix. With a small brush, paint the sides of the circles with the egg mix, closing each empanadilla. Bake in a medium hot oven until they achieve a golden color and expand to double the size. Serve with a green salad.
Makes 40 anchovies
■ 1 kg. fresh anchovies (ask your fishmonger to remove the spine)
■ 1 liter apple vinegar
■ 2 glasses extra virgin olive oil
■ 3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
■ 1 cup parsley, finely chopped (you can also use fresh basil or cilantro)
■ Sea salt and pepper
Open the anchovies and place them, open side up, in a dish deep enough to contain the fish covered with the vinegar. Refrigerate for 24 hours, then discard the vinegar and rinse the anchovies.
Dry them with kitchen towel and return to the dish. Cover with the chopped garlic and the olive oil and finally sprinkle with fresh parsley, salt and pepper. Serve cold with a whole grain bread and a cold beer.
Makes 10 torrijas
■ 750 gr. leftover halla or brioche cut into 1-cm. slices
■ 1 liter milk
■ 100 gr. sugar
■ 1 tsp vanilla essence
■ 2 cinnamon pods
■ ½ cup baked sliced almonds
■ 1 glass extra-virgin olive oil
■ 3 eggs, beaten
■ 50 gr. icing sugar
■ 2 tsp cinnamon powder
In a medium-sized pot, heat the milk, sugar, vanilla essence and cinnamon pods. Once it starts to boil, take off the heat and leave to cool.
Once the milk is cool, dip the slices into the milk (do not leave them in the milk too long or they will break).
Then dip each slice into the egg mix and deep-fry them in the olive oil. Once nice and brown, take them out and dry them on a kitchen towel. Immediately cover them with the icing sugar and cinnamon powder, and serve with cinnamon (or vanilla) ice cream, and just before serving sprinkle with the baked almonds.