Caldo Gallego is a tradition. It was born in the rural, northwestern Spanish province of Galicia. Bringing together dried white beans, potatoes, fatty bits of cured pork, and hearty greens, it is a beautiful arrangement of the area’s harvest and the farmer’s prescient attitude of using as much as that harvest as possible.
Each autumn, I prepare Caldo Gallego and freeze it through the winter. While I have thawed and eaten it in the spring or summer, it is never as satisfying as eating it on a cold night next to a fire’s flame. It is heavy, warming and full of flavor.
Only days after the summer solstice, on June 23, people all across Spain gather for La Noche de San Juan, St. John’s Eve. For those living near the sea, this is a vivacious event at the beach, a jubilant celebration of the summer to come, a time to clean one’s humanness of past debris.
In Galicia, the northwest Spanish province right above Portugal, the sands erupt in bonfires at night. People jump over them, symbolically passing into a new stage of life. Later, for many, a wash in the sea ensures a proper cleansing of corpa e alma, the body and soul.
There is dancing and music and, of course, lots and lots of eating. The typical and most popular dish is grilled sardines. Often, they are served alongside tapas and bread. So beloved is the sardine in Galicia during San Juan that La Voz de Galicia, a Galician newspaper, reporting on the market scarcity of sardines, said, “Without a doubt, tomorrow night it will reign at the barbecues.”
This dish, like so many of my dishes, is inspired by the verdant and bewitched land of Galicia, the northwest province of Spain. The streets of coastal Galicia, from cities, like A Coruña and Santiago de Compostela, to small towns, like Ribadeo, are filled with pulperías, or octopus restaurants. These cephalopods are caught in the rías, the canals that flow through the land into the Cantabrian Sea and Atlantic Ocean.
Here in Seattle, octopus isn’t as popular. Even though our own ocean-connected water, the Puget Sound, harbors some of the largest octopuses in the world, they are only really served at the Asian restaurants and, occasionally, at more mainstream restaurants like Coastal Kitchen or Golden Beetle. Commercial octopuses here come from Japan, the Philippines or China. Only by accident do fishmongers have Puget Sound octopus. Because they are a protected species, they can only legally be sold if caught by accident; that is, if they get mixed up with other fish being caught. But that is so rare.