Stuff Catalans Do: Ebre, Esqueixada, Escalivada


I knew that the Riu Ebre was Spain’s longest river. That its delta was an important wildlife reserve.  For many years I also ‘knew’ that it was the boundary between Catalonia and ‘the rest of Spain’ (Aragon to the west and the Community of Valencia to the south). Except it isn’t.  I honestly don’t know where I got this idea from: it must have been when the president-in-exile of Catalonia, Josep Tarradellas, returned from France in 1977, after Spain’s transition to democracy. He stopped off in Madrid to meet with Spanish authorities, then flew back to Barcelona on a plane bursting at the seams with journalists who were broadcasting live on the radio. As I remember, when they flew over the Ebre, we heard cava corks popping, cheering and clapping, tears of joy etc. The river’s lower course, in Catalunya and Eastern Aragon, had been the site of the longest battle in the Spanish Civil War, between July and November 1938, which led to the defeat of the Republican army and the fall of Catalonia (and exile for many thousands), so it certainly marks a spiritual and emotional frontier.

At 930 km, the Ebre is the longest river in Spain (well, yes, the Tagus is longer but is shared with Portugal), and in a largely dry country, the one with the biggest volume. In fact it gave its name (Iber, Iberus) to the Iberian peninsula. With its source in the Cantabrian mountains, the Ebre flows through Cantabria, Castile and León, La Rioja, Navarre, Aragon (notably through the city of Zaragoza) and finally Catalonia, where it empties into the Mediterranean via the Ebro Delta, a major wildlife reserve and natural park, a haven of peace.


One of the healthiest, tastiest summer dishes in the world: a salad of aubergines and peppers roasted on embers, of rustic origin. I once tried holding and turning the veggies with tongs in the flame of my gas hob to char the outer skin, but this was incredibly messy as the kitchen filled up with swirling burnt flakes. If you don’t have any embers lying around, the best compromise is to bake them in a fiercely hot oven.  When they come out, wrap them in foil or newspaper and leave till cold. This makes them easier to peel, although the peeling process can be very messy too, especially the peppers, as you get those tiny sticky seeds all over the place as well as bits of skin. (I once saw a TV chef gently scrape the charred skin from a pepper with a clean scourer).

Serve escalivada as a garnish or salad, scattered with all i julivert (finely chopped garlic and parsley) and drizzled with extra virgin olive oil.


(Pronounced eskeSHAHDduh)

There’s only one word for this salad of shredded salt cod with black olives, tomatoes, onions, and red and green peppers, dressed with olive oil: nyam! It’s so refreshing in summer, and so visually attractive with the contrasting red and green, black and white, glistening with golden olive oil. And it’s healthy.

With dishes like these,  who on earth would ever want to eat fast food from a carton?




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