Welcome to Catalan Cookery! I hope you enjoy reading about my culinary adventures and delicious experiences in Catalonia, Spain.

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Scrumptious Company, in which I chronicle my once-a-week dinner parties with pictures and recipes.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Synopsis: The Garden, and Olive Oil

I’ve been assigned two main projects to work on here at Alicia, both of which I’m really excited about. I’ll be sure to have lots of smaller side projects scattered in for good measure (like the carrot air of last week), but my main attention will be focused on these two topics, which I’ll be working on simultaneously throughout the two months that I’m here.

The first involves Alicia’s garden. Many of the fruits and vegetables grown here are heirloom varieties, ones that are pretty rare, whose uses and attributes are not well known. For each of these varietals within the garden, Alicia’s goal is to create a document that describes its unique characteristics, lists its assets in regards to cooking, and depicts its best-determined cooking methods. This has been an ongoing project all season, and now it’s my turn to carry it out. Each week I concentrate on one or two varietals, experimenting with a wide variety of cooking techniques and preparation methods, and performing all sorts of taste tests.

Last week we harvested the last of our tomatoes, many of them still green. And so, as part of this project, I spent the week analyzing the best possible ways to utilize these green tomatoes. The most interesting (and delicious) preparation in my opinion was Green Tomato Marmalade. Following a very systematic process, and documenting each step along the way, I conducted a number of trial recipes, slightly altering and refining the method with each successive attempt, until I finally arrived at a marmalade that our taste tests deemed ‘the best’. I did the same with Green Tomato Pickles.

This work is such a perfect mix of culinary art and scientific research. At once, it’s the work of a chef and a scientist. Each endeavor is approached very methodically, and every step and result is recorded meticulously. The pace is careful and slow, so different from the kitchen environments I’m used to. I have so say, I’m could definitely get used to this!

The theme of my second project is olives and olive oil. The tasks of this project are threefold:
One, to research, test and compile a collection of traditional recipes featuring olives and olive oil, both from around the world and from Catalonia specifically.
Two, to test different curing techniques using the olives grown in the Alicia groves.

And three, to experiment with and document all the possible ways of manipulating the texture of olive oil. In other words, take this oily liquid phase that is normal olive oil, and turn it into as many different textures as I can: olive oil powder, olive oil pudding, olive oil jellies, olive oil ice cream, olive oil foam, olive oil pearls, olive oil pasta, spherical capsules of olive oil, olive oil air, olive oil soup, olive oil gummy bears, and so on and so on…
This project is really the perfect opportunity to immerse myself in the world of Molecular Gastronomy for a while. But it’s a big challenge too. Many of the current chemicals and techniques used to change the textures of food work really easily for anything water-based (carrot juice, for instance), but the game totally changes when you’re working with a fat, like olive oil. Luckily I have incredible mentors here, who so amazingly knowledgeable in this field. I’ll definitely keep you updated with lots of pictures of our successes!


  1. So fun to read about your projects, Kate. Your descriptions really bring the work to life. Thanks for that gift on this beautiful Fall day.
    Love, Auntie M

  2. Hey Kate, I just read your entire blog from start to finish and am FLOORED by this cool opportunity for you! It doesn't get much sweeter than this gig you've landed! Enjoy the two months for all they are worth and keep your eyes, ears, nose, hands and tastebuds open to all the adventure! Love you, peaches!

    Aunt Donna

  3. I can't wait to start picking your brain Kate!

  4. It's interesting that it's harder to change the texture of oil-based foodstuff. Does it have to do with the fact that greasy stuff tends to be nonpolar? If you want to geek out on your blog a little more about the chemical theory behind all of this, I'd definitely read it up.

  5. Hi Kate,

    Congratulations on this truly amazing opportunity! Your pictures look so beautiful. I'm looking forward to reading all your future updates.
    Liz McConnell

  6. Thanks, everyone! I'm so glad you're reading!

    And Loreli, great point. Basically yes, from what I can tell, exactly. It's more difficult manipulating oils because many of the commonly used chemicals (like emulsifiers or gelling agents) dissolve in water (polar) and not oil nonpolar) because, you got it, they're polar. And thanks for the vote to get geeky! I'll see what I can do.

  7. Hi Kate,
    Reading this brings back great memories of when you were little, making pies and jam from the wood's wild black berries.
    Love, Mom

  8. I have like 6 liters of green tomato pickles in my fridge at home. Greatest idea ever.