Mar i muntanya

Mar i muntanya – Kiwi style. Nelson scallops wrapped in Rai Valley bacon

Spring at our place is signalled by the appearance of bright yellow blooms on our kowhai tree, the arrival of bellbirds and crisp, clear days that offer a promise of summer. The rule of thumb down our way is that you don’t plant tomatoes or fire up the barbeque before Labour Weekend (the 4th Monday in October), because to do so invites disaster from the inclement weather! Having endured such a miserable winter this year, we couldn’t help ourselves. One glimpse of summer-like conditions was enough for us to clean off the barbeque to get that quintessential summer taste: char-grilled goodness. We’ve had the BBQ in action twice recently. The first time was a last minute decision. We ended up pulling anything out of the freezer that we thought would work. The second time we were a bit more prepared and actually did a purposeful shop for it. Yet, in both instances, we ended up doing a version of Mar i Muntanya – a traditional combination from Catalunya that isn’t really used much outside this region. Mar is Catalan for “sea” and muntanya is “mountains” so the term is a generic one that describes the combination of meat and seafood together in one dish. The most commonly known Mar i Muntanya dish consists of chicken and prawns cooked in a rich brandy and tomato sauce (pollastre amb escamarlans). This is the dish you will often hear called Mar I muntanya, but actually there are plenty of other (sometimes quite surprising) delicious meat and seafood combinations from this region. For example, meatballs with cuttlefish is a popular blend, as is rabbit with lobster, or monkfish (I haven’t quite worked up the courage to tackle the combination of prawns and snails yet!).

Our first taste of spring

Quite by chance, the two BBQs we had put pork and seafood together. The first was inspired by the fresh spring herbs we had in the garden and by what we found in the freezer – pork loin and prawns. Graeme had been promising to trim our sprawling rosemary bush severely unless I used it, as it was beginning to take over the path. He got so carried away that he also took to my bay tree! Coming home that night I found a trailer-load of bay leaves and rosemary to use up before it dried out. I picked sage and thyme to chop up with the finely chopped rosemary, added a little salt and pepper, and put this rub all over cubed pork. I then threaded the pork, prawns and some capsicum, interleaved with the fresh bay leaves, onto stripped stalks of rosemary. These were basted in olive oil and then barbequed along with some new season asparagus. I would love to say the asparagus came from our garden too, but they came from Motukarara via the Lyttelton Farmers’ Market. It was a great combination!

BBQ Rosemary skewers with marinated pork, prawns, bay leaves & capsicum

The second BBQ was at my father’s home in Rarangi, near Blenheim. It was an excuse to buy some new season Nelson scallops. It seemed only right to team them with some Rai Valley bacon, the only bacon in the local supermarket that was naturally cured and had no additives. I wrapped the scallops in the bacon with a sprig of fresh coriander and grilled them for a few minutes on the hot BBQ until the bacon was crispy, but the scallops were still moist. I think the Catalans have it just right! The saltiness of the pork is a fabulous match with the sweetness of the scallops. And, of course, they both went down well with a chilled dry Marlborough Riesling. Bring on summer!

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