Saturday, April 27, 2013


A field of dwarf irises in bloom.

The campo—countryside—is abloom. After spring rains, wildflowers spring up everywhere. On an embankment near my house, I pick 10 or more different wildflowers. In a nearby field, drawf irises cover the ground in a mauve carpet.

Pack up some lunch and let’s go on a picnic! A merienda campestre—“lunch in the country”—is a favorite diversion on fiesta days, such as May Day, coming up next week; the fiestas of San Isidro, mid-May in Madrid, and San Juan, the midsummer’s day holiday in June.

Tortilla de patatas, potato-egg tortilla, is probably the most favorite picnic food of all. In Madrid, a variation on the classic, tortilla de escabeche, with potatoes and escabeche tuna, is typical for a verbena or outing in the park. In Galicia (northwestern Spain), empanada, a thick-crusted pie filled with pork loin or sardines,  is essential for country outings.
Coques--flat breads--with two different toppings. (Photo by Sofie Koevoets)

In Catalonia, it is the coca, a flat bread with topping, that is considered picnic fare. The coca (plural is coques in Catalan or cocas in Spanish) is sort of a cross between pizza and focaccia. Made from bread dough, the coca is usually served room temperature, rather than hot from the oven. Barcelona bake shops sell it in huge slabs or in tiny, individual coques. Unlike pizza, coca rarely has cheese (although, I quite like slices of fresh goat cheese as a final embellishment). The toppings can be a simple as a few strips of red pepper and olives or as replete as the coca de recapte, provisioned with everything in the cupboard. Canned tuna or sardines in olive oil are often added to vegetable toppings.

Below I’ve given recipes for two favorite toppings, escalivada, of roasted eggplant and peppers, and menestra, a mélange of mushrooms and artichokes. Also good are pisto, also known as samfaina, stewed vegetables much like ratatouille (pisto recipe), and spinach or chard with raisins and pine nuts (recipe ).

Catalan Flatbread with Two Toppings

Makes 14 (5-inch) mini-cocas or 2 (14-inch) cocas

For the coques:
1 recipe Basic Bread Dough, risen once
Olive oil to brush the coques
Escalivada (roasted eggplant and peppers)
7 anchovy fillets from a can
7 olives, preferably Arbequina
Menestra (mushroom and artichoke mélange)

Basic Dough for Coques

This basic bread dough recipe can be used for coques, for empanadas, for pizza or for making bread rolls. After rising once, the dough is kneaded again with additional olive oil.

2 ½  teaspoons active dry yeast (1 envelope)
½ teaspoon sugar
1/3 cup + ¾ cup very warm water (100º-110ºF)
4 cups flour plus additional for dusting baking sheets
1 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons olive oil plus additional for the bowl and dough

Place the yeast and sugar in a small bowl and add 1/3 cup warm water. Stir to dissolve. Allow it to stand 10 minutes until bubbly.

Combine the flour and salt in a large bowl. Make a well in the center and add the yeast mixture, remaining ¾ cup of warm water and 2 tablespoons of the oil. Stir to combine the ingredients into a ball. Turn out on a board and knead the dough until smooth and glossy, 3 minutes. Dough will gradually become less sticky with kneading.

Clean out the mixing bowl and oil it lightly. Gather the dough into a ball and turn it in the bowl to coat on all sides with oil. Cover with a dampened cloth and leave in a warm place to rise until doubled in bulk, one to two hours.

Before rising--
after--dough doubles in bulk.

To assemble the coques

Preheat oven to 425ºF.

Punch down the dough and turn it out onto the board. Press the dough out flat and sprinkle it with 1 tablespoon of oil. Fold the dough over several times, then knead until the oil is incorporated. Knead in 1 tablespoon more of oil in the same manner.

Divide the dough in half. Roll, pat and stretch each ball of dough into a rectangle or oval, approximately 14 inches X 8 ½ inches. Place each sheet of dough on a baking sheet. Brush the dough with olive oil and prick it all over with a fork.

Spread one coca with the roasted eggplant, peppers, onions and garlic. Lay strips of anchovy fillet across the eggplant and peppers. Scatter olives on top and sprinkle with oregano. Drizzle with additional olive oil.

Spread remaining coca dough with wild mushroom and artichoke mélange. Drizzle with olive oil.

Bake the cocques until edges are lightly browned, 15 to 20 minutes. Serve hot or room temperature.

Menestra con Setas y Alcachofas
Mushroom and Artichoke Mélange

Coca with topping of menestra--mushrooms and artichokes.

Menestra can be made with all manner of seasonal vegetables. For this version, use wild mushrooms, if available, or any cultivated mushroom. I used fresh artichokes, quartered, and cooked in olive oil. You could substitute a jar of oil-packed artichoke hearts.

Use half of the mushroom and artichoke mélange as a topping for 1 coca.

12 ounces mushrooms
4 tablespoons olive oil
½ onion, sliced crosswise
2 cloves garlic, sliced crosswise
1 ounce chopped serrano ham
Salt and pepper
Pinch of thyme
1 (15-ounce) jar artichoke hearts, drained (about 1 cup)

Clean the mushrooms carefully. Slice them crosswise.

Heat the oil in a skillet and sauté the onion and garlic on medium heat for 5 minutes. Add the mushrooms and ham and continue sautéing on high heat until mushrooms release liquid and begin to brown. Add the salt, pepper, thyme and artichokes. Cook gently until most of the liquid has cooked away.

Roasted Aubergines and Peppers

Coca with escalivada--roasted eggplant, peppers and onions.

You can roast the eggplant and peppers under the broiler or on a grill. Use half the recipe as a topping for 1 coca.

1 small eggplant, about 10 ounces
1 red bell pepper, 8 ounces
1 medium onion
1 small head garlic
1 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon vinegar
1 tablespoon olive oil

Preheat broiler.

Arrange the eggplant, pepper and onion in a shallow oven pan. Pierce the eggplant and pepper with a sharp knife in 3 or 4 places (to prevent steam from building up inside the skin). Slice the top off the head of garlic and add to the pan. Place the pan under the broiler. Grill until eggplant and pepper are charred on one side, about 10 minutes. Use tongs to turn the vegetables. Return and grill until charred on all sides. Remove them to a bowl.

Cover the vegetables and let them set until cool enough to handle. Peel the eggplant. Pull the flesh into strips and place in a bowl. Peel and cut pepper in strips and add to the eggplant. Peel onion and cut in lengthwise slivers. Squeeze the softened cloves of garlic from the skins. Season the vegetables with salt and pepper, vinegar and olive oil.

Wildflowers galore.

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