Are you curious about Catalan food and how to cook it? So were we until we took a Catalan cooking class at in Girona.
First impressions mean a lot – even in a Catalan cooking class in the heart of Girona, Spain.
That’s why we knew right away that we were in good hands when Xavier Escatllar warmly welcomed us to his brightly lit, modern kitchen and proudly walked us through his conveniently located backyard garden filled with seasonal fare like sage, mandarin oranges and quince.
“It’s not just an activity, but it’s also a matter of tradition and health.”
While traveling in countries like India and Thailand, Escatllar gained a global perspective while maintaining his appreciation for the Catalan food culture. After returning to Girona , Escatllar combined his love for Catalan cuisine with a philosophy that cooking should be flexible depending on personal preference.
Though not a classically trained chef, Escatllar is adept in the kitchen while remaining patient with “students” like us. Friendly and welcoming, he made us feel comfortable and ready to learn some new Catalan cooking skills. This is the kind of teacher we prefer whether it’s for a cooking class in Florence or anywhere else in the world.
Now permanently closed, Tots a Taula was more than a traditional cooking school. It was a hands-on culinary experience filled with Catalan hospitality plus plenty of food and Emporda wine. In other words, it was an ideal cooking school for travelers to Spain such as ourselves.
Catalan Cooking Class
Though the expansive kitchen and long dining room table comfortably accommodated 8 to 14 students, we were the only students for our Tuesday afternoon class. For three hours, we laughed while we interactively learned how to cook a handful of classic Catalan dishes.
We also sliced, diced and stirred, enabling us to take 3% of the credit for the wonderful dishes that we ate with gusto after the three-hour class. Yes, we give Escatllar 97% of the credit for the food. After all, they are his recipes and we were just his sous chefs for the day.
“You get more conscious of what you’re eating” when you cook.
True to his words, Escatllar made us conscious of what we were about to eat while we assisted him with four traditional Catalan dishes.
Attentive and entertaining, Escatllar shared Catalan cooking tips and stories, making the food come to life in a way that is different from when we’ve eaten similar dishes in restaurants. Together with Escatllar, we made all of the dishes with no more than two pots and using products procured from local markets and shops.
Pan Con Tomate (Tomato Bread)
Of all great food that we’ve eaten in Costa Brava (and there’s been a lot!), Pan Con Tomate is the dish that has quickly become part of the 2foodtrippers dining repertoire. This simple dish only requires four ingredients – bread, tomatoes, garlic and salt, with the end result so much better than the separate parts.
Add anchovies to Pan Con Tomate for a salty zing to this Catalan cooking favorite.
Samfaina (Ratatouille) With Poached Egg
True confession: we’re not big fans of eggplant. Or at least we weren’t until we helped Escatllar make Samfaina. Then again, maybe the eggplants are just better in Costa Brava.
We’ll have to test out that theory once we’re home and can recreate this colorful, tasty dish on our own. Either way, we both cleaned our plates and didn’t miss meat for a moment.
Cod With Catalan Style Spinach
Going back to the days before refrigeration when fish had to be preserved for later consumption, salt cod remains a staple in Catalan cooking. We’ve long appreciated salt cod in bacalao, but Escatllar’s version competes well with its underbelly of spinach loaded with pine nuts and raisins.
Adding a dollop of fresh aioli took this dish to the next level, especially since we had just whipped up the aioli, a Catalan invention, with a hand blender.
Crema Catalana And Carquinyolis (Biscotti)
Costa Brava is a region with a strong appreciation for dessert. We’ve tasted a lot of desserts during our time in Girona, and our favorite may be Crema Catalana, though the xuixo pastries at Casa Moner are a top contender.
Similar to France’s Crème Brûlée for its texture and glass-like, shattering burnt sugar top, Crema Catalana is different from the French dessert due to the inclusion of cinnamon and orange peel in its creamy base. The crunchy Carquinyolis, similar to Biscotti, provided a nice counterbalance to the lush Crema Catalana.
We left the cooking class smarter about Catalan food than we arrived, plus we made a new friend in Escatllar. Hopefully, we’ll take more cooking classes in our future travels. High on our wish list is learning how to cook paella in Valencia. Until then, we will make Pan Con Tomate wherever we are in the world.
Catalan Cooking Class Video
Watch our YouTube video to see the class in action.
Plan Your Girona Trip
About The Authors
Daryl & Mindi Hirsch
Saveur Magazine’s BEST TRAVEL BLOG award winners Daryl and Mindi Hirsch share their culinary travel experiences and recipes on their website 2foodtrippers. Since launching the site in 2012, they’ve traveled to over 40 countries in their quest to bring readers a unique taste of the world.
Original Publication Date: December 7, 2016