Family meals

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I could name a string of dishes that make my mouth water, like macaroni with fried onion-and-tomato sauce and sausages - delicious! -, cooked with a bit of gravy from the roast, like my mother used to make it.

At home, on Saint Joseph's Day, we ate Catalan crème.  And for Lent, salt cod with raisins and pine nuts and hard-boiled egg.  I had a hard time with the cod!  I suppose like all children: that strong flavour is difficult to get used to, even though later, as an adult, I've become an unconditional enthusiast of it, in every possible way: in dumplings or pasties, in the form of a brandade or in soup, fried, roast or stewed. Just boiled, with potatoes and cabbage and a thin aioli poured over it, it makes a good simple, traditional dish.

Family cooking is the most gratifying, nothing and nobody can take the place of the home atmosphere.  I've got memories of Gargantuan, very Catalan meals, at home, with my mother and father.  I remember, for example, the snail feasts:  we like to eat a lot of them and done in a lot of different ways: if they're garden snails and well fasted you can do what you like with them, a la brutesca or with a simple vinaigrette, with fried onion-and-tomato sauce or stewed-and-grilled, they're always excellent.

'To table and bed, done once said'.  At home, meal time was sacred.  Father couldn't bear waiting for anyone! Of course, in those days television didn't exist: we just had a puny, battered radio that my mother mainly listened to in the afternoons, when they broadcast novels that drove women wild, a bit like soap operas on television. But at meal time the radio was turned off, because the solemnity of the meal allowed no distraction.  There was milk on the table except at lunch.  In the morning for breakfast and at night before bedtime, freshly boiled, it warmed you up, like the hot water bottle for your feet.

On the main festivities, such as the villages’ day and Christmas, mother made cannelloni. We still keep up the tradition today. I loved being allowed to fill them. My mother, instead of making the cannelloni with Italian pasta, made a kind of pancake –or “omelettes”, as she used to call them–. They were delicious and I liked to roll them up, although she found it very difficult to accept my help without grumbling.

Things I still like are cauliflower and artichokes in batter, or else 'eggs in the nest', stuffed with sausage and a béchamel sauce and browned under the grill. These dishes my mother cooked belonged to a clearly bourgeois, middle-class cuisine, like the tasty baked pork filets stuffed with cheese or the duck and pears; she was a dab hand at it.  In the kitchen, as I grew up, all three of us ended up cooking.  As I'm an only child, all the teaching was focused on me; at least that solitude had to have some advantage! It was a real honour when my father let me make the aioli, using the pestle was like holding the TV remote control today, a sign of command and power.

The order at the table was exemplary. Mother always laid it with a cloth.  On weekdays, it would be checked, but on holidays it was white, with embroidery, which gave it a touch of distinction.  The best china was kept for special occasions, but however modest the meal was, I was never allowed to leave the table until we had all finished.  It was an extremely modest setting, but the rules that governed it were so strict that it seemed like a 'gentleman's home'. In fact, my father's family had always been landowners, and this is something that, even today, makes a big difference in a small town. Can Fabes was a house that had come down in the world, but my father was educated enough not to let himself become vulgar. My love of cooking comes from him: there was nothing macho about my father and he always felt it was normal for a man to go into the kitchen, a room which, in our home, was not reserved for 'woman's work'.


Santi Santamaria

Chef of the 'Can Fabes' Restaurant (3 Michelin stars)

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That is a lovely article - so interesting and I am impressed by the phrase 'dab hand' - haven't heard it for ages and a surprise to find it here.

I wish meals were like that now - I am Scottish but living in a Catalan family with an adolescent boy who won't eat anything without moaning unless it it pizza or pasta. Like your father I hate to see food go cold on the table but everyone here thinks the primer grit is a sign to start doing something else.  In a new step family it is not always possible to make your own rules so I can't imagine the TV being switched off, the mobile phone being put away, the house phone not being answered during a meal. You speak of another time when things were so much more secure and settled.

I will take away the suggestion of changing the table cloth for weekends and holidays - it is a lovely idea.


thank you