How Can You Prepare a Gourmet Spanish Escalivada with Smoky Vegetables?

As we journey through the diverse culinary landscape of the world, we often stumble upon dishes that are a perfect blend of taste, tradition and technique. One such dish is the Escalivada, a traditional Spanish side dish, a variety of coca, that brings out the rustic and earthy flavors of smoky vegetables. This dish displays the magic that can be created with simple ingredients like eggplant, bell peppers, and onions.

In this article, we will take a step-by-step tour of how to prepare a gourmet Spanish Escalivada, complete with succulent smoky vegetables, and a hint of garlic and olive oil. We’ll explore the history of this dish in Spain, a few handy tips to get you started, and the recipe itself.

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The History of Escalivada

The first thing you need to understand about Escalivada is that it’s more than just a dish – it’s an emblem of Spanish cuisine. Escalivada is derived from the Catalan verb "escalivar", which means to cook slowly in ashes or embers. This method of cooking vegetables over an open fire is reminiscent of ancient cooking techniques and adds a distinctive smoky flavor to the vegetables.

The Escalivada is a testament to the Spanish ethos of using fresh, locally sourced ingredients and simple cooking techniques to create hearty, flavorful dishes. So, as you embark on the journey of cooking Escalivada, know that you’re not just preparing a dish, but also immersing yourself in a rich culinary tradition.

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Essential Tips for Making Spanish Escalivada

Before we delve into the actual recipe, let’s discuss some essential tips to ensure that your Spanish Escalivada turns out perfect every time.

  • Choose Fresh Vegetables: If there’s one thing we can learn from Spanish cuisine, it’s the importance of using fresh ingredients. Choose firm, ripe vegetables for your Escalivada. If possible, opt for organic vegetables to really capture the authentic taste of this dish.

  • Use Quality Olive Oil: The olive oil used in Escalivada is more than just a cooking medium; it’s a vital ingredient that contributes to the flavor of the dish. So, don’t skimp on the quality of your olive oil.

  • Proper Charring is Key: The unique smoky flavor of Escalivada comes from properly charred vegetables. Make sure to cook the vegetables until their skins are completely blackened, and then allow them to cool before peeling.

  • Let it Marinate: After assembling the Escalivada, let it marinate for a few hours before serving. This allows the flavors to meld together, enhancing the overall taste of the dish.

The Recipe: Spanish Escalivada

Now that we’ve covered the history and key tips for creating a delicious Spanish Escalivada, it’s time to move onto the recipe itself.

Ingredients

  • 2 large red bell peppers
  • 1 large eggplant
  • 1 large onion
  • 4 cloves of garlic
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • Salt to taste
  • 1 loaf of crusty bread (optional)

Instructions

  1. Preheat your oven to 200°C (400°F). Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil.

  2. Wash your vegetables and pat them dry. Place the bell peppers, eggplant, and onion on the prepared baking sheet. Drizzle generously with olive oil and sprinkle with salt.

  3. Roast the vegetables for 45-60 minutes, turning them halfway through, until they are thoroughly charred.

  4. While the vegetables are roasting, peel the garlic cloves and crush them with a garlic press. Mix the crushed garlic with 4 tablespoons of olive oil and set aside.

  5. Once the vegetables are done roasting and have cooled down, peel off their skins and remove the seeds. Slice the vegetables into long strips.

  6. Arrange the roasted vegetables on a platter. Drizzle the garlic-infused olive oil over them and adjust the seasoning with salt if needed.

  7. Serve your Escalivada at room temperature, with slices of crusty bread on the side if desired.

Variations of Spanish Escalivada

While the traditional recipe for Escalivada is a delightful dish on its own, you might want to experiment with some variations once you’ve mastered the basics.

  • Fish: A popular variation of the Escalivada in coastal areas of Spain involves adding grilled fish to the vegetables.

  • Asparagus: You can add grilled asparagus for an additional touch of smoky flavor and a pleasant crunch.

  • Coca Dough: In Catalonia, Escalivada is often served on coca dough, a type of Spanish flatbread, similar to pizza dough.

Remember, the beauty of Escalivada lies in its simplicity. While it’s fun to experiment with variations, ensure not to overshadow the humble charm of this classic Spanish dish.

Pairing Suggestions for Spanish Escalivada

Now that you have mastered the art of making Escalivada, let’s talk about what to pair it with. While this smoky side dish can be a star on its own, it can also complement other Spanish tapas perfectly, offering a varied and vibrant spread.

  • Serrano Ham: Thin slices of this delicious Spanish ham can provide a lovely contrast to the smoky, tender vegetables in the Escalivada. It adds a savory component that perfectly balances the earthy flavors.

  • Padron Peppers: These famous Spanish green peppers, generally fried and sprinkled with sea salt, can be a fantastic accompaniment. Their mild heat and sweet undertones can enhance the overall taste of the meal.

  • Potato Salad: A traditional Spanish potato salad, lightly dressed with olive oil and vinegar, can act as a refreshing counterpart to the richly flavored Escalivada.

  • Spanish Cheeses: A selection of Spanish cheeses like Manchego, Cabrales, or Mahon can be a delightful pairing. The creamy, rich taste and texture of these cheeses provide a great contrast to the robust, smoky flavors of the Escalivada.

  • Wine: No Spanish meal is complete without a glass of good wine. A crisp white wine or a medium-bodied red can complement the flavors of Escalivada perfectly.

  • Crusty Bread: A simple loaf of crusty bread, slightly toasted and rubbed with garlic and ripe tomatoes (a Spanish dish known as Pan con Tomate), can be a great accompaniment. It can be used to mop up the delicious juices of the Escalivada and the garlic-infused extra virgin olive oil.

Experiment with these pairings and discover which ones you prefer. The best part about Spanish cuisine is the variety it offers, allowing you to mix and match to cater to your palette.

Conclusion: The Beauty of Spanish Escalivada

Preparing a gourmet Spanish Escalivada with smoky vegetables can seem daunting at first, but once you understand the basics and the importance of using quality ingredients, it becomes a delightful culinary journey. It’s a dish that showcases the depth and breadth of Spanish cuisine, with its focus on fresh, locally sourced ingredients and simple, yet impactful cooking techniques.

The smoky, charred flavors of the Escalivada, enhanced by the richness of the extra virgin olive oil and the sharpness of garlic, create a dish that’s not only delightful but also incredibly versatile. It can be enjoyed on its own, as a side dish, or paired with a variety of other Spanish tapas.

So, embrace the simplicity and tradition of this classic Spanish dish, and bring the flavors of Spain to your kitchen with Escalivada. Whether you stick to the traditional recipe or experiment with variations, the end result is sure to be delicious. And remember, it’s not just about the end product, but also the process, the tradition, and the joy of cooking that makes Escalivada a dish worth trying. Happy cooking!