Barcelona’s urban sprawl makes it easy to forget that the city is adjacent to two fertile regions to the north and south, El Maresme and El Baix Llobregat, which provide numerous hyperlocal culinary treasures throughout the year.
In spring as in other seasons, these treasures appear at markets and restaurants, their origins proudly displayed, sometimes even with the names of the specific villages that they come from.
The coast and gently sloping mountains of El Maresme are home to numerous villages, three natural parks and beaches. Unsurprisingly, there’s an abundance of seafood here, including gamba de Arenys (Arenys prawns), scampi (escamarlans in Catalan, cigalas in Spanish) and little Mediterranean sand eels (sonsos in Catalan). Those eels are not so easy to find nowadays, but when fried they make a great local tapa with the excellent local white wine, D.O. Alella.
The land here produces the renowned Ganxet beans and especially tasty Maresme strawberries. But during spring, this area produces the tender and delicate peas known as pèsols del Maresme (and pèsols de Llavaneras if they come from the village Sant Andreu de Llavaneres). These peas, floreta and garrofal varieties mainly, are grown near the sea, and the salinity here results in sweeter legumes.
El Baix Llobregat, south of Barcelona, is a powerful region where urban infrastructure, industrial zones and residential villages share space with a great deal of agricultural production. Since the Spanish Civil War, the main crop here has been the El Prat artichoke, in season throughout winter and until the end of April. In these months, you’ll find this green queen on virtually every menu in Barcelona, grilled, stewed and in omelets. When spring is at its peak, we welcome the arrival of earthy, juicy white asparagus, the most famous of which are grown in the village of Gavá, along with fava beans.
Many of these spring wonders can be had at lunch or dinner, in traditional or contemporary recipes, throughout the city. The fava beans are commonly cooked in the classic Catalan way with black butifarra and ham – perhaps with a poached egg – but they might also star in a recreation of a 17th-century dish that uses almond milk and fresh herbs, as made by the great Dos Pebrots.
Recipes and availability for delicate Maresme peas are more variable but can usually be found in numerous restaurants focusing on market cuisine. We love Can Pineda’s amazing traditional dish of peas with ham, for example: we always end up chewing it very slowly in order to make it last longer. El Suculent just opened the season with a delectable surf-and-turf dish of Maresme peas with cuttlefish paired with a very thin slice of bacon and some juicy Baix Llobregat asparagus with a smoked-eel carbonara sauce.
Among our other favorite places to find Maresme or Llavaneres peas are are Freixa Tradició, Ca L’Isidre, Coure, the Adriá brothers’ Bodega 1900, the great new sensation in Sants, Mundana, and the Michelin-starred Disfrutar.
Editor’s note: It’s Spring Week at Culinary Backstreets, and we’re celebrating with dispatches on seasonal produce from a few of our cities.