If you adore garlic, Catalan allioli – made with garlic and oil with a smidgen of salt and lemon will appeal. My easy recipe for mild allioli uses roasted garlic for a smooth and delicious result.
I’ve often said that culinary equivalent of walking a mile in someone’s shoes is to dine at their table and break bread with them, or in this case cook a dish and take the recipe home with you to replicate in your own kitchen. A postcard for the foodie perhaps? I love learning new dishes and bringing them home putting my twist on them in my kitchen.
Last October I was in Catalonia in the small village of Ventalló on the day of their referendum, we were meant to be having an olive oil tasting, but given the momentous and historic day this was cancelled and we attended the local alllioli making competition instead.
Catalan allioli is fearsome stuff made with just four ingredients, copious quantities of raw garlic, good quality local olive oil, sea salt and lemon juice. It is FIERCE! The merest dab is so garlicky it burns and and would be enough to fell a whole coven of vampires, as well as everyone within a 10m radius on public transport the morning after.
The Allioli competition is serious stuff and hotly contested every year with competitors bringing their own equipment and practicing throughout the year. It was market day in Ventalló and people came by to watch after doing their shopping and casting their vote.
The organisers took pity on the British entrants, as obviously none of us were going to be the winners, and guided us through what to do; demonstrated by Emily. Start by peeling the garlic, roughly chopping before putting it into the mortar and then pounding it with salt until you have a paste. Then add a squeeze of lemon juice.
Slowly slowly slowly drizzle in top quality olive oil, constantly stirring in one direction with the pestle. You cannot stop for a second or the mixture will spilt. Here some of the more seasoned and serious competitors had rolled their sleeves up and were stirring with their hands. Keep going for about 30 minutes until you have a thick shiny yellow sauce the consistency of mayonnaise that is thick enough to hold the pestle upright.
It is hard work, and, considering just how powerful the finished article is, not one I’ll be making at home any time soon. The allioli is also very prone to splitting. I’ve toned down the recipe to make it a little friendlier to everyone around, as well as added some egg yolk to help emulsify and make the more stable.
Easy Allioli, Catalan Garlic Sauce Recipe
- 2 bulbs garlic
- Juice 1/3 lemon
- 1 pinch Sea salt
- 45 ml good quality olive oil
- Half an egg yolk
- Roast the whole bulbs of garlic at 200C/Gas Mark for 30 minutes, until they feel soft to the touch. Allow to cool
- Peel the bulb and cloves: scrape the soft roasted garlic into the bowl of a small food processor, add pinch of salt and pulse for a few seconds scraping the sides down as you go.
- Add the egg and lemon juice, and blend together for a few seconds.
- Continue blending, and slowly drizzle in the oil, stopping from time to time to scrape the sides down.
- Once thick with a mayonnaise like consistency check the flavour and add a little more salt if needed.
Market Day in Ventalló, Catalonia
I do love a browse in a food market when I am travelling, there is so much to see, taste, smell and be inspired by. In Ventalló the market stands were scatted throughout the narrow shaded streets, as well as being in the main square.
Voting in the referendum was underway in the town’s school, outside the old part of town. The mood was calm and good natured. Local farmers had blocked off the street with tractors to prevent vehicles reaching the polling station and there was a discrete but friendly local Catalonian police presence. The atmosphere was good, but serious and people mingled in the street chatting as they waited to vote. A very different story to the towns and the news reports from Barcelona.
There were stalls loaded with charcuterie and cured meats. High Jenga-esque stacks in every flavour.
Intensely flavoured local cheeses, rustic local bread and fresh dough sold by weight.
Sacks of flavoured artisan pasta, mushrooms and coca d’espinacs. So much to choose from, in the end a few bags of pasta, as well as some cheese made it into my case for the journey home.
We travelled to Catalonia with Jet2.com flying to Girona. Jet2 fly from a variety of UK airports including London Stansted, Leeds, Manchester, East Midlands, Edinburgh and Glasgow with flights starting at around just £40. Flights are several times a week and timetabled sensibly making a long weekend or short weekday break very easy.
For a budget airline I was very pleasantly surprised, genuinely helpful, happy staff who were delightfully perky first thing in the morning with a customer service first ethos. Planes were clean and modern with massive overhead lockers for fitting carry on bags in.
Something that’s far less traditional, but easy and tasty is my cheese dip. Perfect for crudities or tortilla chips.
We were the guest of Jet2 on a trip to Girona and the Costa Brava. All opinions our own.