We spent the last week in Falset Spain, a small town on the edge of the Priorat wine region. The town is in the mountains just off of the Mediterranean in Catalonia. Catalonia has it’s own language, culture, and history. We were excited to use our Spanish language skills but were not completely successful as most people use Catalan, which is a mix between Spanish and French.
We have been drinking great wine here. There are two main wine appellations, the “Priorat historic” and the Montsant. The Montsant forms a ring around the Priorat with the separation being made by the change from the sandy soils in the Montsant to black slate in the Priorat. The vineyards and wine making practices here were introduced by the Carthusian monks in the 12th century. The monks tended to the grapes until the mid-19th century when the land was taken over by the state and redistributed…then phylloxera came…and finally it wasn’t until the 1980s that landowners helped to establish the region as a high quality international wine producer. The character of wines from Priorat are truly unique, the vines here must grow deep roots through the slate in search of water. This protects the plant from the extreme wind and drought-like conditions. All this makes for a low-yield vine with lots of flavor and character in the grapes.
In Falset, we are in between two great national parks and just above the Ebro Delta, a paradise for fish, seafood and rice fields. After walking around the area each day, we cooked some amazing food, and at an affordable price! Almonds, hazelnuts, fish, rice, olive oil, figs, olives, oranges, good bread, cheese, sausage, tomatoes, artichokes, pine nuts…all these things are locally produced in the area. You can take your 5 liter jug over to the olive oil cooperative and fill it up with extra virgin arbequina oli for 20 euros.
Every night we were like a couple of kids in a candy store walking around to all the little shops and scheming up what to cook. We tried a few of the traditional dishes like pa amb tomàquet (bread and tomato with olive oil), esqueixada (salted cod salad with tomato and onion), suquet de peix (a seafood casserole), mongetes amb botifarra (beans and pork sausage), and of course paella. But we were also just as happy eating a buffet style meal of nuts, cheese, sausage, and bread.
On Sunday afternoon, we were lucky enough to be invited for a feast at the home of Rachel Ritchie, an amazing woman who has lived in the Proriat for the last 20 years. She works as a guide in the area and we met her at our first wine tasting tour. We learned a lot from her and her family. The meal was also epic…one of the guests brought huge Tupperware boxes full of freshly steamed mussels, snails, and razor clams with the best allioli I’ve ever tasted.
We are in Spain this month, and yesterday we hiked to a hermitage outside of Falset, Catalonia that is built in the side of a rock. We recorded Andy’s Border Trilogy, a set of three new pieces that will be on our next CD! Enjoy the scenery.
After our gig in Milano, Andrew and I went to Alba, a town in northern Italy in Piedmont famous for food, Barolo wine and white truffles.
First, we walk 4 miles into the country to Ceretto winery, a family operated winery that was started by the “Barolo brothers,” two men who helped put Barolo on the international market. Barolo as well as the other famous Barbaresco are made from nebiollo grapes that only grow in this region of the world. A north-south road going out of Alba divides the two regions, which are characterized by small hectares of land. Barbaresco has sandy soils; the wines are aromatic and are ready to drink after about five years. Barolo has clay soil which gives the wine more tannins and allows it to age very long. A traditionally made, ready to drink Barolo starts around $50. Despite its international commodity value there is also a practical reason for its price. Barolos have to be aged in oak for 3 years followed by 1 year in the bottle before they are ready for sale. In our tasting notes we described it as pale cherry color with hints of orange and brick; nose of cherry, coffee, anise, rosemary, forest floor with hints of fungi; taste of cherry, raspberry, currant, coffee and fennel; finish of tart cherry, currant, chocolate, coffee, maple syrup, cloves, toffee, and black licorice.
Of course no trip to Alba would be complete without getting some truffles. The season was almost done when we visited (already too dry and hot) but we did get a few black summer truffles. They are seven times as cheap as the famous white truffles (which go for $200 an ounce) but still wonderful for topping spaghetti, or putting in scrambled eggs. We met a lady whose father has been in the truffle business his whole life and whose husband also trained his own truffle dog. He hunts for truffles at night so no one sees his finding spots.
Some other lucky finds of our stay in Alba where the free chamber music festival going on, of which we saw 5 concerts in different Gothic cathedrals in old town: a really cool program of solo piano with Crumb, Bolcom, Bartok, Ligeti, Schubert, Scarlatti all mixed together in sets; lots of trio music for violin, cello and piano with Beethoven, Brahms, Schubert, and Piazzolla and finally Firebird and Verdi’s Requiem.
The Saturday market was also across the street from our apartment! I was yelling and drooling over everything when we shopped…Here are some dishes we made from the amazing culinary treats at the market: Fresh Tajarin Pasta with artichokes in a butter cream sauce topped with shaved black truffle; Two Chicory Salad with Hard Boiled Eggs and Shaved Sheep’s Milk Pecorino; Buffalo Milk Mozzarella with Homemade Tapenade and Bread of the Day; Fresh Capunti Pasta with Ox Tail Ragu.
Here is a fun arrangement of La Cumparsita from bassist Pablo Aslan that we adapted for flute and guitar and played for a nice audience in Milano, Italy.
We spent the last few nights in the Austrian alps making great food and taking even better hikes. Here is an example from our last night. This recipe is basically nothing…but it is so flavorful and so nutritious!
Pasta with Scarlet Runner Beans and Ricotta
1 pound of whole wheat spaghetti
1/2 pounds of dried beans
(We used Steirische Käferbohnen-heirloom scarlet runner beans from the Austrian state of Styria. We found these at a little street market in Vienna.)
3 green onions, chopped
1 paprika pepper, diced
1 piece of fresh turmeric root, peeled and minced (snagged this at the bio store in Vienna)
1 cup of ricotta cheese
1/4 cup of Toscano olive oil (makes the dish taste stellar)
salt and pepper
1. soak the beans for 6-8 hours
2. cook beans for 1 hour
3. heat olive oil, green onions, pepper, and turmeric root over low heat while you heat the pasta water
4. cook pasta in salted water
5. Add 1/4 cup of pasta water to vegetables
6. Drain pasta and add to the vegetables with the ricotta and cook in the pan for 3 minutes
7. Top with more olive oil, salt, and pepper to taste
Serve with bottle of Blaufränkisch from Austria
Austrian Alps Breakfast:
-Scrambled eggs with green onions on German Rye (Schwarzbrot)
-Tomato topped with Tilsiter Cheese and Gailtaler Speck
-Sheep’s milk yogurt with red pepper and cucumber