Many years ago my husband and I flew to Madrid, Spain, rented a car, and made our way around the northeastern regions of Spain. We then drove over the Pyrenees into France, visited my sister and husband in the town where they live part-time, and then made our way back to Madrid.
During the first leg of our adventure, we stayed at a hotel in Catalonia, called the Parador de Cardona. If you’re not familiar with paradors, they are government-run hotels that were once castles, monasteries or fortresses. They get revamped with modern conveniences, but the structure is the same.
Here are a few photos this particular parador. It was breathtaking inside and out.
We drove up to the hotel, which was harrowing enough because we had to maneuver the car on the steepest driveway in the world, barely wide enough for the little rental car, but we finally made it. This photo from the website shows how high up the parador actually is from the village of Cardona.
When we asked to check in, the pretty young woman said something to us. No comprehension. My husband and I just stared at each other. We had a split-second conversation that went like this:
“Hey, you know Spanish.”
“Well you know French.”
Well let me tell you, neither of us recognized one damn word she said, or anyone else said during our stay. So do not believe anyone that the Catalon language is a mixture of French and Spanish. It is not.
But our stay was spectacular, and you really felt like you were living in a different century. We discovered Arbequin olives at this hotel, which mostly grow in Catalonia, and were generously served with cocktails and wine.
Back home, I decided to buy a Catalonian cookbook and the one I chose was Catalon Cuisine, by Colman Andrews, published in 1988.
The recipe I chose to make first from the cookbook is Roast Chicken in Samfaina. Samfaina is, according to the author, “a kind of baroque sofregit.” Okay. But then he writes that it’s virtually identical to the ratatouille of the Cote d’Azur, but also that samfaina is “the most important, unique and incorruptible dish which Catalan cuisine has brought to gastronomy.” I’m confused.
Wherever its origin, the samfaina must be prepared first.
Makes 6-8 cups
2/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 1/2 pounds onions, halved, thinly sliced
1 1/2 pound Japanese eggplant, skin on, cut into 1” cubes
1 pound zucchini, skin on, cut into 1/2 – 1” cubes
8 medium tomatoes, seeded and grated
1 1/2 pounds red bell peppers, roasted, peeled, cut into strips
Salt and pepper
Heat the oil in a cassola or Dutch oven and add the garlic, onions, eggplant, and zucchini. Stir well so that all vegetables are coated with oil.
Cover the pan and cook for 10 minutes on low heat. Uncover and turn heat up slightly, cooking until the liquid has evaporated. Stir occasionally.
Add the tomatoes and peppers, reduce heat, and simmer uncovered until the liquid has again evaporated and the vegetables are very soft.
Season to taste.
Roast Chicken with Samfaina
Pollastre Rostit amb Samfaina
1 – 4-5 pound roasting chicken
Salt and pepper
5 cups samfaina
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
Cut the chicken into 6 or 8 serving pieces, rub all surfaces well with olive oil, and season with salt and pepper. Then roast skin side up for 1 – 1 1/2 hours, or until the skin is golden-brown, and the juices run clear when a thigh is pierced with a fork.
Remove the chicken from the roasting pan, and set aside, keeping it warm. Pour off any excess fat, then deglaze the roasting pan with a few tablespoons of water. (I used some white wine.)
Add the samfaina to the pan, and stir well; then add chicken, and simmer briefly until heated through.
I’m not going to tell my mother this, but I’ve had ratatouille, and samfaina is better. Why? I have no idea. My tomatoes were really ripe perhaps.
The samfaina was actually sweet, in a good way.
This is a spectacular dish. Not terribly pretty, but comforting, hearty, and flavorful. I will be making this again!