Now comes the second culinary article in a very short period of time. It seems that after my last post on the dinner I made for Gabriella, my hunger wasn’t satisfied! So I got up early this morning and walked down to our local market. Not the SUPERmarket mind you, but our local Spanish market. It’s an enormous structure that looks like an old railway station with iron work framing and large glass windows that filter in just enough light to make the vegetables appear to glow with life, and it’s a nice 15min walk from our house.
Entering the market the aroma of the ocean overwhelms me when I walk past the fish stalls imagining the warm salty air.
As I continue walking rich fat, meats and salt cures invade my ocean dreams as large hams dance before my eyes just begging me to let lose wads of money to savor the sweet candy like meat. Fresh herbs, fruits and vegetables all mingle together and let loose an array of smells and colors that would put any rainbow to shame. Everything is so ripe and alive that I find myself falling into the stands as the proprietor suspiciously asks me if I need any help. This is one place I need no help, only a guide.
Today was a special day though because I found the most incredible fresh mushroom stand. Mushrooms in Catalonia are king. People hunt for the delectable fungi from right about now up until Christmas and then again in spring within the hills that surround our little town of Terrassa! As I stepped up to this booth with eyes as wide as portabella caps, and a growing grin on my face as wide as the hills they grow on. “This is heaven”, I thought. Huge baskets of mushrooms in various types, sizes and colors sat before me, their colors ranging from deep orange to inky black and everything in between. The forest floor was obviously well represented along with its various aromas.
Rich loamy earth slowly wound its way into my nostrils enticing thoughts of all the wonderful treats that I could make with these earthy treasures. My enthusiasm was obviously apparent because the women working behind the baskets quickly began to offer ways to use the mushrooms along with their favorite recipes.
Our conversation then flowed into the type of mushrooms we had in the States and the culture surrounding it. I felt like I stumbled into some kind of underground fungal cult. In the end, together we chose three different mushrooms that would make the ideal mushrooms soup.
Some people say that people from Catalonia are cold. We have heard this several times both from people who do live here and people who don’t. However, I have a new theory that they in the end don’t know the secret language of the mushroom. If they had, they would realize that Catalonians not only love mushrooms, but also love to talk about them!
As I pulled myself away and moved on I remembered that I needed a chicken carcass in order to make a stock for the soup. Walking past a fowl stand, I remembered too that I had been looking for a duck breast and I asked the vendor whether she had one to serve with the mushroom soup I was planning on making. Her eyes came alive and after a quick call to her partners stand she told me to wait one second as she ran over to grab the last one. We chatted about food and when she learned that I needed some fresh herbs for the soup I was planning to make she again left her stand to introduce me to her friends, helping to teach me the words for the herbs I needed in her native Cataln. Although we had little luck finding the herbs today, I not only walked away with a chicken carcass for the soup and a fresh duck breast that I would glaze with Vermouth, but also the proof that the Catalans are fungi crazy! Mention mushrooms and you will quickly become anyone’s friend!
I had just made some new friends and inthree small bags I held the culinary gold plucked recently from rotten logs and pine needle undergrowth that surrounds my town. This obviously made for an incredible day and my enthusiasm was well displayed by the permanent grin on my face which received a few awkward glances from people as I left through the front door of the market. There is something a bit obscene about sharing a passion you hold so dear with a total stranger. It’s almost like having a secret affair. Your body tingles and your minds race with the possibilities; and instead of the price of the sale, you both are more engaged in the act of being human, filling your needs for something more than just nourishment, but also discovery.
I know it’s a small thing, but I’ve been smiling all day because of it. I’m hoping Gabriella gets home early because the aroma of the fresh garlic chicken stock I’ve had on the stove waiting for the mushrooms and cream to go into it is driving me insane. As I sit here typing I am sipping on the artisanal handmade vermouth that we bought the other day at a small local wine sho. Being so tasty, I am getting a little concerned that there won’t be enough for the glaze I intend to put on the duck breast. Let’s not forget the roasted garlic potato croquettes with a side of butter sautéed brussel sprouts to go with the duck. For wine, I’m thinking more traditional, though I do have a bottle from Pla de Bages – a small region near home. This actually may be a good choice simply because the wine makers are most likely familiar with the famous mushrooms here and wouldn’t want to make a wine that didn’t pair well with the local fungi bounty.
BTW the dinner was great and the wine we had turned out not to be a Spanish one!