The Handoff: Coca Catalana with Leeks, Red Peppers and Goat Cheese
By Aisha Prigann, Photographs by Marc Herman
Here’s the story of what happened to the crouton that leapt from Marc’s Grilled Salmon Salad with Maple Vinaigrette across the Atlantic and woke up as a Coca in Catalunya. Like I mentioned in my previous post, Coca is a typical Catalan dish, similar to a pizza in that it involves dough topped with different ingredients. The main difference between a Coca and a pizza probably lies in the dough’s consistency and the fact that most Cocas do not use cheese. Looking around for inspiration, however, I came across a recipe for a Coca with Leeks and Mahon Cheese. Given my immense love of cheese, I decided that this rather unusual variation should serve as the basis for our Coca. To keep things local, I nixed the Mahon cheese, which comes from Menorca, and went with one of my Catalan favorites: a cured, slightly spicy yet soft goat cheese from La Garrotxa. In my opinion, this Catalan region produces the best goat cheeses in the country. Although very different from the Mahon in most respects, both cheeses are slightly spicy, giving them presence amongst the leeks and peppers.
The original recipe called for green peppers and leeks, but the red peppers at the market were irresistibly lush, bright and inviting. They would look so pretty on our Coca, a splash of spring-time color against the white and pale green of the leeks. We bought our vegetables at a collita propia stand, run by a family that grows the majority of their fruit and vegetables at a farm in Sant Boi, not far from Barcelona. We also picked up some sweet, black olives to garnish the Coca. So far none of our ingredients were organic so we decided to get everything else – flour, baking powder, olive oil – at Veritas, a local supermarket chain that is one of the few places that sells certified organic products in Barcelona. The olive oil is particularly important, good olive oil is essential to the flavor of just about any Mediterranean dish. We picked up a bottle of L’Estornell, an organic extra virgin olive oil made from the first cold press of local Arbequina olives. Certified CCPAE (the official Catalan designation for organic agriculture), the oil is made by Veá, a family-run farm in Lleida, about an hour and a half from Barcelona. It’s so tasty, I almost want to drink it from the bottle.
All ingredients gathered, we were ready to embark on our first Coca-making experience. Needless to say, Andrés, Marc and I learned several useful things…
CLICK HERE for the full post and recipe.
The first thing we discovered was the unwieldy nature of the Coca dough. Less flexible and more resistant than its pizza cousin, this is one tough dough to knead. We added more water than the recipe called for to whip the dough into shape. We also learned that poking holes in the dough is very important when we peeked into the oven and saw that our crust had developed a hunchback! And one last thing, which in retrospect seems embarrassingly obvious: get pitted olives for the garnish! Liberating olives from their pits is painstaking work…
Prep time: 25 minutes to prepare the dough. 15 minutes to let the dough rise. 20 minutes to prepare the toppings.
Cook time: 10 minutes to stir-fry the vegetables, 35-40 minutes to bake the Coca (depending on your oven)
Total time: 1 hour and 50 minutes
Yield: 3-4 as a main course (goes nicely with a green salad) or 6 as an appetizer
- 1 3/4 cups (14 ounces) wheat flour
- 3/4 cup of water (some recipes use white wine instead)
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 4 leeks
- 2 red peppers
- 3 cloves garlic
- 1/4 pound cheese (slightly spicy and not too soft)
- 1 tablespoon baking powder
- 1/4 cup medium-sized, sweet, black olives
- Salt, black pepper, olive oil
- Put the flour in a bowl and add a teaspoon of salt. Dissolve the baking powder in 3/4 cups of water. Make a hollow in the middle of the flour and add the water. Mix well with a wooden spoon. Knead the dough with your hands. The texture should be somewhat crumbly. Add the olive oil and continue kneading. After a few minutes, the dough should no longer stick to your hands. Make a ball with the dough and roll it out on a lightly floured surface. Continue kneading for another few minutes to get rid of any lumps. Knead the dough into a ball, rub some olive oil on it, cover and let sit for 15 minutes. If the dough is going to sit for more than 15 minutes while you’re preparing the toppings, you can stick it in the fridge.
- Pre-heat the oven at 355ºF. (We have a very old-fashioned gas oven with no temperature settings so we used a high flame.)
- Trim the ends of the leeks, removing most of the green, leafy part. Cut into fine slices. Cut the red peppers into long, thin strips.
- Drizzle a little olive oil into a frying pan, add the leeks and red peppers, cook over low heat until tender (2-3 mins). The peppers should still be a bit crispy. Salt and pepper to taste. Set aside.
- Grease a baking pan (we used a little bit of olive oil). Spread the dough out evenly, creating a slightly elevated crust along the edge. Use a fork to poke holes into the dough (very important!). Put the pan into the pre-heated oven to pre-cook the crust (similar to the process for making pie-crust). According to the original recipe, the crust should be almost done in 15 minutes. Given the ancient nature of our oven, this took a little longer, maybe 20 minutes.
- Cut the cheese into thin slices (don’t grate it!), cut the olives in half, slice the garlic.
- Remove the crust from the oven, spread the leeks, peppers and garlic on top, followed by the cheese slices. This needs to be done quickly! Put the pan back in the oven. Lower the heat to 265ÂºF (or to a lower flame setting) and bake for another 10 minutes. Our total baking time came to about 35-40 minutes. During the last 5 minutes in the oven, rub a bit of olive oil into the edges of the crust, scatter the olives onto the cheese, and switch the oven setting to broil. This will give the crust a lovely golden color and make the cheese nice and crispy.
The Coca should be served hot. Adding a small green salad makes for a complete meal. We carried our Coca and a bottle of red wine to the rooftop terrace and ate in the spring sunshine.
Aisha Prigann is a writer and translator; Andrés Bartos is a filmmaker; Marc Herman is a journalist. They all live in Barcelona, Spain.