Friday, March 20, 2015

Pyrenees Perfection

I generally get the strangest looks when I tell people that I’d one day love to visit Andorra. I used to thing that they had something against the beautiful Pyrenees mountains, skiing, Europe's highest capital city, tax free shops, or the 300 days of sunshine Andorra gets a year,but I have come to realize that my fellow Americans simple do not know where (or even what) Andorra is. This is one thing that I have loved about my trip around the world and back again- I have learned so many things about so many different places through my culinary explorations. One of these being about the small Pyrenees country jammed between Spain and France called Andorra.
 
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Andorra, or officially the Principality of Andorra, is the sixth smallest country in Europe. You can find it wedged between France and Spain if you look close enough on a map. The government is a co-monarchy with the president of France and the Spanish Bishop of Urgell serving as co-princes. I think it's a little weird that their monarch is a democratically elected president, but it is not the Andorrans who elect him. Only the French people vote for him, and the Andorran people end up with him as the prince. It gained its independence from Aragon in 1278, but was shortly occupied by France during the 1930s. The official language is Catalan, and a little over a third of the population claims this as their native language. Next comes Spanish with 35% of the population, followed by Portuguese with 15% and French with 5%. This statistic surprises me a little since France borders Andorra and they share a president. Why is there so much Portuguese influence? I guess it stems from the high rate of immigration. Also something that I found interesting is that Andorra does not have its own airport or post office. They rely on their French and Spanish neighbors for these services.

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The cuisine of Andorra is mostly Catalan with a little bit of French flare and a unique Mountainous aspect all its own. For my Andorran meal, I wanted to showcase the three main cuisines of the small country. One recipe (the trinxat) is purely Andorran in nature. The salad is a Catalan dish, influenced by the Spanish Catalans. Lastly, the omelet is of French origin.

 
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Trinxat would have been the perfect dish to serve earlier this week for Saint Patrick’s Day. It’s basically boiled cabbage mashed together with potatoes and bacon. You would never guess that this very Irish sounding dish hails from their fellow European nation of Andorra. In Catalan trinxat means chopped. A lot of chopping does go into this lovely dish whether it be the crispy bacon, tender cabbage, boiled potatoes, or fragrant garlic cloves.
 

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Trinxat
serves 4
1 head green cabbage, cut into fourths
1 pound russet potatoes, peeled and cubed
6 slices bacon
3 cloves garlic, minced
2-3 tbsp olive oil
salt and pepper, to taste

Bring the cabbage to a boil in a large pot of water. Cover and cook for 25 minutes. Add in the potatoes and cook for another 20 minutes. Drain and allow the cabbage and potatoes to cool. Once cooled, squeeze and excess water out of the cabbage and then mash it together with the potatoes. Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil over medium heat in a large skillet. Add the garlic and cook for about a minute until it is golden. Remove the garlic from the pan. Add the bacon to the pan and cook until it’s crispy. Crumble up the bacon. Mix two slices worth of crumbles into the potato mixture along with the garlic. Spread the remaining bacon around the bottom of the pan along with the remaining 2 tablespoons of the olive oil. Scoop the potato mixture over the top and press down to form a cake. Cook for 8-10 minutes until the bottom is golden. Using a plate, invert the trinxat onto the plate and then slide it bottom-down back into the pan. Increase the temperature to medium high heat and cook until the bottom is browned as well. Serve the trinxat bacon side up.



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Fresh spinach sautéed in high quality olive oil topped with toasted pine nuts, plump raisins, and fried garlic makes for a great vegetable side. I'm almost positive the spinach in Andorra is a lot better than what I could get ahold of, and I know that the raisins sure are. Andorra does not grow many grapes, but those they do are transformed into yummy raisins just destined to be a salad topper.
 
Espinacas a la Catalana
1 bunch spinach with the stems removed
1 ½ tbsp olive oil
1 clove garlic, minced
1 ounce pine nuts
1 ounce raisins

Heat the olive oil over medium heat in a skillet. Add the garlic and cook for about a minute until it is golden. Combine the pine nuts and raisins with the garlic and continue to cook until the pine nuts are toasted. Add the spinach, and cook until it has wilted. Toss everything together to fully mix and serve.

 
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First of all, I just want to brag a bit about my perfect looking omelet. How did I reach such high levels of omelet making abilities? Lots of practice, a bit of good luck, and the right proportion of eggs to oil to filling to pan size. Anyway, this omelet (or truita in Catalan) showcases the French influence found in Andorra.

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Truita de Bolets
serves 4
3 eggs
6 egg whites
2 tbsp milk or cream
2-3 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp herbs de Provence
10 ounces sliced baby bella mushrooms
¼ yellow onion, chopped
2 ounces shredded manchego or parmesan cheese
salt and pepper, to taste

Whisk together the eggs, egg whites, and milk. Meanwhile, heat a skillet over medium heat with 1 tbsp olive oil. Cook the onions until golden, about 8 minutes. Add the mushrooms and cook for another 6-7 minutes until they are tender. Remove the onions and mushrooms to a bowl and stir in the herbs and seasonings to taste. Clean out your skillet and place it back over medium heat. Pour enough oil in to barely cover the bottom and allow it to get hot. Carefully pour in enough of the egg mixture to make a thin layer on the bottom of the pan. Allow the eggs to set, flip (you may need to use a plate to assist you in doing this), and top with the mushrooms and cheese. Fold the omelet in half and carefully slide it onto a plate. Repeat with the remaining egg and filling.





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Visiting Andorra through its cuisine might not replace an actual trip to Andorra (which I would love to take while I’m in Spain this summer!), but it sure was delicious. The omelet was delicate, flavorful, and perfectly cheesy. I loved the sauteed mushrooms and seasonings and would have been happy to just eat the filling plain. The salad was also very good. I used high quality extra virgin Spanish olive oil that my mom gave me for Christmas, and I could really taste the difference in quality. Yum! The pine nuts and raisins complemented each other well. My only regret was that there was not more! The trinxat was my least favorite part of the meal. Boiled cabbage, bacon, and potatoes just don’t appeal to me at all. Thankfully, the actual dish turned out a lot better than I thought. It did not taste bad at all, just a little bland. It couldn’t compete with the other two dishes, but I still was able to enjoy it. Overall Andorra was a success! I hope to one day be able to share with you about an actual trip to Andorra and be able to try this yummy cuisine made by the Andorran people.

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