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On Your Mark, Get Set: The Transatlantic Crouton Transformation

2011 April 12

By Aisha Prigann, Photographs by Marc Herman.

Grau-Vives-Collita-Propia

Looking at Marc’s recipe for a maple-glazed salmon, I got a little nervous. I sensed a seasonal, continental rift as neither maple syrup nor salmon are in any way local to where I live in Barcelona, Spain. Of course I could always relay off the greens, but I want to integrate a bit of local color into my recipe and salads are not high on the list of Catalan cuisine. I zeroed in on the croutons. With a little imagination, I can turn these crispy morsels into something else, something flat and bread-like and crispy and absolutely Catalan: a “Coca” or Catalan pizza. This will be my first foray into Coca-making so a lot of things could potentially go awry. The main obstacle – my woeful inability to make dough. In the spirit of sharing and keeping things local, I’ve decided to turn RecipeRelay into a neighborhood effort, engaging my boyfriend Andrés (well versed in the art of pizza-making) and our friend and neighbor Marc Herman (our man behind the camera). I’ll also try to buy all my ingredients within the confines of my barrio, Sant Antoni.

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Buying local is pretty easy in Barcelona. Most neighborhoods have a market hall with lots of (mostly) family-run stands where people still shop on a regular basis, from old ladies with shopping cart war horses to hipsters in search of an authentic experience. Some of the markets are world famous, like the wrought-iron, art nouveau beauty La Boquería and the recently revamped stylish Santa Caterina. Most market halls are simple, deeply traditional places to buy fruit, vegetables, fish, meat and a whole lot more. Although some of the goods come from other parts of Spain and abroad, lots of the produce is locally grown. I live between two local markets, the Sant Antoni, another art nouveau gem, currently under renovation, and the Hostafrancs.

Whereas local is easy, organic was – until recently – close to impossible. Barcelona Reykjavik, a bakery that makes artisan breads and cakes, was one of the first to introduce the idea of organic food to Barcelona. In 2002, Veritas, a Catalan supermarket chain selling organic products, opened up their first store and a couple of years ago, two CSA-style services, Natural Como La Vida Misma and Ecodaki (no website), started working with local organic farmers and offering weekly home deliveries of fruit, vegetables, eggs, olive oil and more. I haven’t signed up for one yet even though I want to support and eat local organic produce. The reason? Ritual. I love going to the market every week.

Andrés and I always go to the same stands; we know the fruit and vegetable husband-and-wife team, we know the two cheese ladies and the family that sells oranges and tangerines when they’re in season and who always give us a couple on the house. Sometimes we share our tangerines with the cheese ladies. I love the colors and smells and the creative ways in which the stands present their wares in gravity-defying pyramids and lush, beautiful arrangements. I love the piles of nuts, dates, and figs, the baskets of dried pulses, and the long braids of tomatoes used for the typically Catalan pa amb tomaquet: bread rubbed with olive oil, very ripe tomatoes and garlic. A lot of the stands are collita propia, which means the majority of the produce is grown by the same people who run the stand, most of it near Barcelona or in other parts of Catalonia. In a perfect world, they’d all take up organic farming and I could keep my ritual and eat healthier too.

So… Marc’s crouton crossed the Atlantic to hopefully evolve into a delicious Coca, a Catalan pizza that you can find at almost any bakery here in Barcelona. It comes out of the oven on enormous, rectangular sheets or as long, flattened loaves  and is cut into generous slices. Savory variations are often topped with escalivada (eggplant, red pepper and onion), mushrooms, sausage or entire sardines. It can also be sweet, sprinkled with sugar and pine nuts, decorated with candied fruit and cream (this one is traditionally eaten on Sant Joan, a celebration marking the beginning of summer). Coca is a year-round staple of Catalan cooking. Spring is in full swing and there’s an abundant variety of vegetables so I hope to come up with a creative twist on this Catalan classic… The outcome of our Sant Antoni Barrio cooking expedition will be revealed on Thursday!

-Aisha

Aisha Prigann is a writer and translator; Andrés Bartos is a filmmaker; Marc Herman is a journalist. They all live in Barcelona, Spain.


  • http://profiles.google.com/jachien Jessie Chien

    This was so fun to read about what’s going on at this time of year on the other side of the world – and how shopping locally definitely influences the culture of cooking. I can’t wait for Thursday when we see what kind of goods are sprinkled on the spring Coca!

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