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Tom’s Cookbook Library: Unlocking secrets of favorite Catalan dishes

Spotlight shines on Mediterranean cooking

Catalan recipes are featured in a new cookbook.
Catalan recipes are featured in a new cookbook.

“Catalan Food” (Clarkson Potter), chef Daniel Olivella’s debut cookbook, offers food lovers a tantalizing look at a region well known for its gastronomic delights.

Olivella speaks knowledgeably of the culture and flavors of the Mediterranean, having spent his formative years in Catalonia, which is tucked in the northeast corner of Spain near Barcelona.

“I hung out with my mom in the kitchen quite a bit,” he says in the introduction. “I’ve always loved to eat, and my mom first taught me how to taste.”

Upon moving to the U.S., Olivella honed his culinary skills at restaurants in Chicago and San Francisco. In no time, he opened Barlata, a tapas bar in Oakland, California, and later relocated the business to Austin, Texas.

Some 80 recipes – including one for gazpacho (below) – reflect the nuances of Catalan cuisine. Various chapters include Little Bites; Vegetables and Beans; Paella, Rice and Noodles; and From the Sea to the Table, among others.

Olivella prefers serving the gazpacho within a few hours, rather than holding the soup for an extended period. That approach, he says, helps the flavors “stay clean.”


(Serves four as a first course)

2 slices baguette bread, crusts removed

1 cup almonds, toasted

4 garlic cloves

1/2 cup fresh mint leaves

1 English cucumber, peeled, seeded and cut into 1-inch pieces

1 medium red onion, cut into 1-inch pieces

1 medium red bell pepper, cut into 1-inch pieces

1 medium yellow bell pepper, cut into 1-inch pieces

1 medium green bell pepper, cut into 1-inch pieces

10 red vine or heirloom tomatoes, cored, or 1 (28-ounce) can whole peeled tomatoes in juice

1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil, plus more for finishing

1 to 3 tablespoons red wine vinegar, to taste

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Place the bread in a medium bowl and add enough cold water to soak the slices (about 1/2 cup). Let sit until softened, about five minutes.

In a food processor, combine the almonds, garlic and mint, and pulse until the mixture resembles wet sand, about two minutes. Squeeze the water from the soaked bread until it no longer drips, then add the bread to the processor and blend until very smooth and creamy, another minute or two. Add the cucumber, onion and bell peppers and pulse until the vegetables are finely chopped, but not pureed. Transfer the mixture to a large bowl.

Add the tomatoes (plus the juice, if using canned), olive oil and vinegar to the food processor and pulse until finely chopped. Stir the mixture into the bowl of chopped vegetables and season with salt and pepper. Taste and season with more vinegar or oil if needed.

Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate until chilled, at least two hours or up to eight hours. Before serving, taste the soup and adjust the seasoning with more vinegar, salt and pepper. Serve in small bowls, drizzled with a little more olive oil to finish.

Journalist Tom Witom, who lives in Elgin, has written extensively for years about food and the food industry. Feedback on the column can be sent to

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