Friday, May 1, 2009
The Charred and the Seedless (Escalivada)
By way of adding to your tapas repertoire, I'm going to tell you about escalivada. And, yes, this too is inspired by Jordi and Deirdre's calçotada, which featured deliciousness far beyond mere calçots.
The word escalivada comes from the Catalan verb escalivar, which means to roast over hot embers or, in the approximate language of today's world, char grill. A true escalivada, which has peasant and country roots, involves placing whole unwashed vegetables (generally, eggplants, peppers and tomatoes) into an open fire (or, better yet, hot ashes) to roast--as in the photo above--, then peeling and serving them with a sprinkling of oil and salt. This of course requires access to an open fire, which I will assume most of the readers of this blog don't readily have.
Fortunately, an open fire is not absolutely necessary to make a slightly less authentic version of the beloved salad, a version that is easy peasy and open to fiddling and interpretation. I, for one, often dispense with everything but the eggplant, peppers, tomatoes and salt (particularly when I'm feeling an excess of weight in the thigh region) and use quantities of vegetables that reflect what's readily available in my fridge rather than exact amounts. Please use what follows more as a spiritual guide than as biblical escalivada truth.
2 large or 4 small eggplants
4 red peppers
1 onion (optional)
2 cloves of garlic (optional)
1 tsp finely chopped parsley (optional)
olive oil, salt and pepper (to taste)
Preheat the oven to 220 degrees C. Slice the eggplants in half and set aside for half an hour sprinkled with salt to remove the bitter juices. In the meantime, cut the peppers in half, remove seeds and place cut side down on a baking sheet lined with oiled aluminum foil. If you are using onion (I don't), place it--sliced in half, drizzled with olive oil and wrapped in aluminum foil--in the oven with the peppers. Roast for about 30 minutes or until the skin of the peppers has blackened and is coming away from the surface. Remove and set aside. Roast the eggplant in the same way once you have rinsed off the salt and dried each piece. Slice the tomatoes in half and roast for about 15-20 minutes--if you have room, you can slide the tomatoes in with the eggplant about 10-15 minutes into the eggplant's roasting time. Remove the skin from the roasted vegetables, slice into strips and combine in a serving bowl, being sure to include the juices. Dress with salt and pepper, the minced garlic and a little olive oil. (Leave out the garlic and oil for a lighter salad and, if so inclined, sprinkle in some finely chopped parsley.)
As for final touches, I often top escalivada with a soft Catalan goat cheese. I place the escalivada in an oven proof container, cover with large slices of goat cheese and brown under the broiler for a couple of minutes or until the cheese is golden. This version--as well as the cheeseless one--is delicious as part of a meal of tapas or alongside any meat dish.
Another common way to serve is on toasted bread topped with good quality anchovies and, if you like, olives.
Come to think of it, the always packed Cerveceria Catalana (c/ Mallorca 236 (Eixample), 93 216 0368) has terrific examples of both versions for those who'd rather forego the cooking altogether.