Hola and Feliz Navidad!
Si! I am in Spain for Christmas. I love reuniting with my family. It also gives me the opportunity to get together with my grandma and do some cooking with her. She is very inspirational to me. Still going very strong at 79 years young, she will cook for 27 of my family over the holidays. And trust me, we know how to eat. For Christmas, we have five different courses! All of them homemade. She has so much energy, barely accepting help from anyone. It’s just her way. But don’t worry, I’ll find a way to get in her kitchen and help!
Today is Christmas Eve, and in Spain we don’t celebrate Santa Claus, we have el Tió de Nadal. (Not tío with the accent over the i which means uncle). El
Tió is essentially alog. That’s right, a piece of wood. On this log is painted a happy face. It has two stick arms and wears the red Catalan barretina hat and is covered by a blanket. Thus to keep it warm at night of course. Now that you have an idea of what it looks like, read on to learn more about this crazy tradition.
On Christmas Eve, families gather for a dinner feast. But first, we have to “cagar el tió”. This literally translates to poop El Tió! To do this, we hit it with a stick, all the while singing a traditional Catalan song. Caga Tió ia a tradition we have and I would not be surprised if you find this a little weird!
El Tió is “fed” from the 8th of December until Christmas Eve. Both kids and adults hit the tió with a stick singing a popular song. Onces this is done, the kids leave the room to pray for presents, giving the parents the opportunity to put some presents under the blanket. Then when the children come back into the room, they miraculously receive presents, which el Tió has “pooped”. Generally the presents are candies, sweets and toys… a lot of toys!
One popular version of the song:
Avellanes i mató,
Si no cagues bé
Et daré un cop de bastó.
And the much awaited translation…
Poop turrón (a sweet nougat)
Hazelnuts and cottage cheese,
If you don’t poop well,
I’ll hit you with a stick,
Ok, I know how ridiculous that sounds, but it is our tradition and I love it. But this is mostly a food log, (I mean blog!) and I’ll get to the food.
Today, I made Macarrones, a very popular dish in Spain, eaten this time of year. I believe that those in places like the USA might think of the beautiful and colorful French meringue sweets, but these are different. It’s pasta. On Sunday, I was able to get in the kitchen with my grandma and make them with her. This is something fairly simple to make, but it does require some technique. And my grandma uses a lot of her techniques in this dish! Trust me, these macarrones are out of this world. This is definitely one of my favorite dishes.
Ingredients for 5-6 servings:
- 1 lb penne pasta
- 1/2 lb ground pork
- 1 medium onion grated
- 1/2 red bell pepper grated or chopped
- 2 cloves chopped garlic
- 4 big tomatoes (better if they are ripe)
- 2 1/2 teaspoons paprika (Not spicy)
- 2 tablespoons butter
- olive oil
- 1 cup grated cheese
For the tomato sauce:
Place the tomatoes in a boiling pot for a minute (blanch them). Place them immediately into a cold water bath, and then peel them. Place them into a blender and blend for a minute. Set aside.
Boil the pasta following the directions on the package. Once its cooked, reserve 1 cup of the water and set it aside.
With a small pan on low- medium heat, cook the onion until it is extremely brown. While the onion is cooking, mix the pork, pepper and the garlic in a large pan.
Drizzle some olive oil and cook on medium heat until the meat is fully cooked.
Add the tomato sauce, stir to incorporate and then add the brown onion. Stir until everything is well mixed.
Add the pasta into the mixture and stir. Season with salt and add the paprika. Keep stirring.
Add a little bit (1/4 cup) of the water that you previously set aside. Add 1 tablespoon of butter and stir until the butter melts.
If you see that it need a little more moisture, add a little bit more of the water and butter. The pasta should have a little juice running throughout.
Add the grated cheese and stir.
A catalán Christmas tradition. Enjoy and Bon profit!
P.S I hope el Tió is kind to me this year…!