Poti Poti Friday

Lest my readers wonder why I am writing about bathroom fittings, I should explain that the term “poti poti” is a Catalan expression for a mixture of seemingly random things. In English, we might use the word “jumble”, or “mishmash”, while in French one might say “mélange” or “macédoine”. It is also the name of a dish, and a recipe for this is provided at the end of the entry.

Today there are a number of things which I would like to highlight for my readers:

– A hearty congratulations in advance to JB and his bride-to-be AD, whose wedding I will be attending this weekend, provided there are no further mishaps with the police. As I am with some regularity of late – bizarrely – mistaken for a police officer, perhaps I will prove of assistance in this regard. We shall see.

I am very much looking forward to the nuptial mass, and then moving on to the subsequent festivities at the beautiful Washington Club, a glorious Gilded Age mansion originally known as The Patterson House. It was designed by the legendary, albeit infamous Stanford White of New York’s beaux-arts masters McKim, Mead & White; it is the only example of White’s work here in the Capital. The home served as a temporary White House for President and Mrs. Coolidge in 1927, as the actual White House was being renovated.

– My congratulations also to Mr. and Mrs. Matthew Warner and family on the arrival of their new daughter Katherine Grace. Matt is a powerhouse of the Catholic blogosphere and runs the Fallible Blogma blog, among other ventures; his tweets in particular always alert me to interesting Catholic material on a daily basis. My best wishes to them and welcome to their new little one.

– Mr. Matthew Alderman over at Matthew Alderman Studios – and also of New Liturgical Movement and Shrine of the Holy Whapping fame – has released his Christmas Card design for this year. It is done in a charming Quattrocento woodcut style, and available to purchase online. While at the site you can also see Mr. Alderman’s proposed elevation for the new St. Paul University Catholic Center in Madison, Wisconsin, a very interesting blend of Romanesque, Byzantine, and Art Deco that reminds me (in overall impression, rather than stylistic elements) of a number of 1920’s and 1930’s campus buildings such as the Cathedral of Learning in Pittsburgh.

As to the recipe for poti poti, it is a favorite of mine which I hope my readers will enjoy. Technically it is considered a summer salad, but it is certainly tasty any time of the year. It is particularly useful if one wants to make use of bacallà, i.e., salted, dried cod (or even canned tuna, in a pinch) which is not often available in the States but seems to pop up more regularly in the winter. You can find it in many Italian or Latin American markets. In Italian it is known as “baccalà” and in Spanish as “bacalao”.

INGREDIENTS (for 4 persons)
1/2 pound of new or red potatoes, boiled and cooled
1/2 pound of dried cod, desalted (or canned tuna, drained)
2 hard-boiled eggs
2 tomatoes
1 green bell pepper
1 red bell pepper
1/2 medium-sized yellow onion
2 dozen pitted or pimiento stuffed olives
olive oil
vinegar (I prefer balsamic)
salt and pepper

NOTE: Optional extras for this jumble can include sliced sausage (preferably the white Catalan sausage known as botifarra, or a similar, mild but garlicky sausage) or diced/shredded cured ham such as serrano or prosciutto.

Slice the boiled potatoes into 1/4 inch discs, rinse them to remove any excess starch, pat them dry, and put aside into a separate bowl lined with paper towels. Cut the tomato into thin wedges and the bell peppers and onion into strips, and combine all of them in a large bowl. At this point, you can either add the olives directly to the pepper-tomato-onion mixture, or you can chop them into halves or quarters first before combining. Cut the hard-boiled eggs into 1/4 inch slices, and add these and the flaked cod (or tuna) to the bowl, stirring everything gently together to combine with a rubber spatula, being careful not to break up the tomatoes and eggs too much, and put this bowl aside as well.

Make a simple vinaigrette using the olive oil, balsamic vinegar, parsley, salt and pepper. Now add the dried-off potatoes into the large bowl with the other ingredients, and pour the vinaigrette over the top. Use a rubber spatula to combine everything.

At this point I would normally pack everything tightly into a bowl and put it in the fridge for at least an hour, and then unmould the salad by inverting it onto a plate. You can also cover the salad with plastic wrap and allow it to marinate at room temperature. Bon profit!

Stand selling bacallà in La Boqueria Market, Barcelona

A Hot Catalan Cocktail for Halloween

If you are looking for an interesting beverage for your Halloween party, gentle reader, or indeed any evening when the air is chilly, allow me to suggest a Catalan concoction which is not only extremely tasty, but also very festive. Along the Costa Brava in Catalonia, fishermen gathered around the fire on the beach in the evenings came up with a rather strong brew called a “rom cremat”, which literally means “burnt rum”, but is more commonly simply referred to as a “cremat”. Dating from the 19th century when Catalonia was heavily involved with business dealings in Cuba, the drink was easy to prepare outdoors, warming, and potent enough to lubricate the vocal cords for the singing of sea shanties known as “habeneres” after La Habana – which are usually about immigration to Cuba, pretty girls left behind in port, adventures during the Spanish-American War, and so on.

The cremat is a mixture of rum, espresso, cinnamon, sugar, lemon peel, and coffee beans, at minimum, although there are optional additions such as brandy (which I add), aguardiente, and so on. The preparation is fairly straightforward, but involves setting the drink on fire for a considerable length of time; culturally speaking, this is in keeping with the Catalans having a thing for pyromania. Naturally, dear reader, this would make a very fitting and impressive display for your Halloween party. Just make sure to do this outside, away from anything flammable, and keep an eye on it with a garden hose or bucket of water handy.

Below follows a pretty basic recipe that I particularly favor. Those interested in the variations available should be able to find numerous English-language versions of how to make cremat on the internet. NOTE: when choosing the alcohol for the dish, do not get the top shelf stuff; this is a burnt drink, so you want a high alcohol content, and any subtleties of flavor in the unadulterated liquids will be completely lost during the burning process.

– 1 bottle of dark rum
– 1 bottle of brandy
– 1/2 cup of espresso
– 1/2 cup granulated sugar (to taste)
– 3 cinnamon sticks
– the peel of 1-2 lemons
– 6-8 coffee beans (optional)

Add everything EXCEPT the espresso into a shallow earthenware casserole dish (you can also use a stockpot or Dutch oven if it is flameproof and not coated with a non-stick material), and warm it on top of the stove until the mixture is fairly warm, like bath water temperature. You need to do this or the sugar will not melt and the liquor will not ignite. Taste the mixture and add some more sugar to taste, if you wish.

Now take the dish off the stove, take it outside, and set the mixture alight. You may need to use several long matches or a long kitchen lighter to get it going. Do NOT leave the mixture unattended. EVER.

Purists believe you should allow the mixture to burn for 10 minutes: no more, no less. This allows the flavors to develop through caramelization. You may stir from time to time if you wish, but use a metal spoon or spatula with a long handle to keep you away from the flames.

Practically speaking, apart from the 10-minute rule, when the mixture has reduced in volume about 1/3 to 1/2 it is ready to serve. Put out the flame quickly by smothering it with a metal saucepan lid or, if you have big lungs for it like I do, just blow out the flame. Then add in the espresso, stir, and ladle the finished drink into cups.

Bon profit!!!

>Festa de Sant Josep

>Today is the Feast Day of St. Joseph, the foster father of Jesus. After the Virgin Mary St. Joseph is one of the “big” saints on the Church calendar as, like St. John the Baptist, he is honored on two days out of the year (his “other” feast day is May 1st, honoring him as the patron saint of workers.) Although we may have many mental images or impressions of this very humble and holy man, what many may not realize without it being brought to their attention is that we do not have a single word from his lips in the Bible: nowhere in the Gospels does Joseph himself speak, we only see him reacting to what God tells him to do.

In Catalonia St. Joseph’s Day is an occasion for eating both “crema catalana”, which is somewhat like the French crème brûlée (but better), and “canelones de festa”, or “feast day cannelloni”. Because large parts of Italy were ruled by Barcelona for long periods of time, the cultural interchange led to the adoption of several pasta dishes in Catalan cuisine, something not true in the rest of the Iberian peninsula. For example at Christmas it is common to have a soup featuring large pasta shells called “galets”, about which I have written previously, and throughout the year thin, ribbon-like pasta noodles called “fideus” are often cooked with seafood.

Because the Feast of St. Joseph always occurs during Lent, when it falls on a Friday as it does today, the Church abrogates the Lenten prohibition against eating meat on Lenten Fridays. This is good news for canelones fans, because the Catalan version of this stuffed pasta is usually made with a mixture of ground meats, such as veal, cured ham, chicken livers, etc. Although for some reason boxed, dry canelones are a bit hard to come by in this country, if you are able to obtain flat pasta squares at your local grocer, you will be able to try this excellent dish for yourselves. There are an infinite variety of canelones that one could make, depending on the ingredients available, but this version on the very useful website Epicurious should be easy enough for most home chefs to attempt for themselves. Bon profit!

Saint Joseph and the Christ Child (1632)
by Jusepe de Ribera