I am not sure why it has taken me so long to read a novel by Manuel Vázquez Montalbán featuring Pepe Carvalho, but recently, I finally did it. I have known for a while the connection between Montalbano and Montalbán, though it was only when I started writing this post that I learned the details. In this interview (in Italian), Camilleri explains (my translation of the transcript):
I came up with the protagonist's name, because while I was writing the novel, I was reading a novel by Vázquez Montalbán, The Pianist. The structure of that novel gave me the intuition of how to restructure The Brewer from Preston. I started to work like crazy: on one side I was writing the Montalbano novel and on the other, I was restructuring The Brewer knowing that it was the right way to go. And so, to show my gratitude, I called my protagonist, who at that point still had no name, Montalbano, which by the way is a Sicilian last name.
(Note: The Pianist does not feature Pepe Carvalho. The first Montalbano novel is The Shape of Water.) Camilleri and Montalbán knew each other and they knew Jean-Claude Izzo (whom I am reading and enjoying as I write). Here's an excerpt from an article on Camilleri in the LA Times:
Camilleri has plenty of ideas and a dozen manuscripts in the pipeline. The last installment of the Montalbano series is ready for publication upon the author's demise or incapacitation.
Camilleri wrote it as the result of a conversation in Paris years ago with two fellow mystery writers: Manuel Vázquez Montalbán of Spain and Jean-Claude Izzo of France. The three old friends amused themselves discussing how they would do away with their sleuths one day. Vázquez Montalbán and Izzo have since passed away.
While I was in Italy last month, I decided it was high time I met Carvalho and so, during a visit to a bookstore, I purchased Tatuaggio (Italian translation of the original Tatuaje, Tattoo in English), the 1976 novel where the famous detective is introduced. (I read here that Montalbán had used the name in an earlier novel, but it is in Tattoo that Carvalho takes on a rounded personality.) Note: the quotes from the book that follow are my translation into English of the Italian translation I read (I have no real knowledge of Spanish). The one exception is noted.
Carvalho lives in Barcelona, a city I have never visited, though now I feel I have seen it a bit through the detective's wanderings around some of the city's neighborhoods. Carvalho likes to eat good food, drink good wine and he also cooks. One could draw a comparison between Carvalho and Montalbano in terms of their attitude towards food, but I didn't. I actually never thought about Montalbano while I was reading Carvalho's adventure. The story completely engaged my attention and I enjoyed Montalbán's writing style a lot. I am looking forward to reading another one of the Carvalho's books soon.
Back to Tattoo, the title of the novel refers to a peculiar tattoo on the body of a man pulled out of the sea, which says "born to raise hell in hell" (in Italian: sono nato per rivoluzionare l'inferno). The man's face is so badly destroyed that the tattoo provides the only clue for identifying him. Carvalho follows the tattoo thread and the reader follows him in his voyage of discovery, which at some point brings him away from his Barcelona to Amsterdam and Rotterdam. In the process, we learn about Carvalho's heritage, some of his work experience, his current way of living and his philosophy of life.
Early on in the novel, Carvalho cooks (for himself only) some caldeirada, and I decided to follow his example to the letter, i.e., to cook the dish strictly according to the words in my copy of the book, without consulting any other source. It was not a straightforward task, considering that Carvalho completely overlooks details such as quantity of the ingredients, and is very sparse in his description of the cooking procedure.
The only thing I looked up was the name of the dish, and in so doing I discovered that caldeirada is a traditional Portuguese fish stew (zuppa di pesce). Montalbán introduces the dish as la particolare caldeirada di Pepe Carvalho (Pepe Carvalho's special caldeirada), indicating that what follows is Carvalho's personal variation on the theme of caldeirada.
In preparation for the meal, Carvalho shops at the Boqueria Market and buys some fresh monkfish and hake (coda di rospo e merluzzo freschi) and some prawns (gamberoni). He also purchases "a handful of clams ad mussels," but then he does not use them in making caldeirada. Based on what was available at the store, I bought sturgeon, true cod and prawns. I made the recipe twice. The first time I made fish stock (more on this shortly) and used certain quantities of the ingredients. The result was good, but could use some improvements, so I made it again with the changes I thought would improve the end result, and I obtained a very nice dinner entrée.
The recipe as given in the book starts with the preparation of fish stock:
He cleaned the fish and peeled the prawns. He boiled the fish bones and red shells together with an onion, a tomato, some garlic, a ñora, a celery rib and a bit of leek. Fish stock was essential to make Pepe Carvalho's special caldeirada.
While writing this post, I found this quote of the recipe1 and decided to mention ñora, which, according to online sources, is a sun-dried red pepper (of variety bola) with a characteristic flavor. The Italian text says peperoncino rosso piccante (red hot chili pepper), and that is what I used (I had some from Italy), in small quantity. If I find some ñora, I will be able to evaluate how the result differs.
Back to the recipe, the question here is: how much water did he use? And for how long did he boil the stock? I decided that since I was making fish stock, I would make a bunch and freeze it for later use. Carvalho adds a ladleful of the stock to his caldeirada, but I think that he must have made more than that, as a ladleful of water is not enough to cover the vegetables he lists. In thee end, I used six cups of water and, after bringing to a boil, I simmered the prawn shells and vegetables (a tomato, half a medium onion, 2 cloves of garlic, a very small red chili pepper cut into 3 pieces, a celery rib, a piece of leek, sliced), uncovered, for close to one hour, as I was preparing the ingredients for the dish and then cooking them. My fish was already clean, so I only used the prawns' shells. I actually asked the fishmonger for some fish bones and was told that they get the fish already cleaned.
To realize the caldeirada, I made more executive decisions. These are the ingredients I used:
- half a medium onion (4 oz.), sliced thin using a mandoline
- a very small red hot chili pepper (peperoncino rosso piccante), cut into 3 pieces
- 1 lb tomatoes, San Marzano-like, diced
- two Devina potatoes (8 oz.), unpeeled, diced small (Yukon can be substituted)
- four prawns, peeled and de-veined
- a bit less than 2/3 lb true cod fillet, cut into large cubes
- a bit more than 1/3 lb sturgeon fillet, cut into large cubes
- a ladleful of fish stock (prepared as described above)
- salt, to taste
While the stock was simmering, Carvalho prepared a sofrito with tomatoes, onion and ñora. When the sofrito had acquired the right consistency, he stewed in it the potatoes. Then added the prawns to the pot, the monkfish and finally the hake. The fish browned slightly, released some water that mixed itself with the sofrito. At that point Carvalho added a ladleful of fish stock. Within ten minutes, the caldeirada was ready.
Carvalho proceeds to eat it straight out of the pot, sitting in front of the fireplace (where he has previously lit a fire using a book taken out of his library, because he could not find a newspaper around his house), drinking chilled Fefiñanes with it.
I followed Carvalho's recipe, improvising a bit as I went along. I used a deep sauté pan, where I let the onion and chili pepper cook in warm olive oil for a couple of minutes, while I diced the tomatoes. I let the vegetables cook for 5 minutes, covered, then added the potatoes. After 10 minutes, I added the prawns, then after a minute the sturgeon and, after another minute, the cod. Soon after, I poured over the stew a ladleful of the hot fish stock. Once the fish was ready (in my case, in less than 10 minutes), I added salt to taste and served immediately.
I think some country-style bread is a required accompaniment for caldeirada (and fish stew in general). The second time I made it, I served it with a couple of my own gougères as topping. Would Carvalho have liked my rendition of his recipe? I don't know, but my husband and I certainly did and I am sure we will have la caldeirada di Pepe Carvalho again on our dinner table.
Parting note: After dinner, Carvalho drinks a cup of coffee, prepared the way he had learned in the United States. I served homemade gelato al caffè for dessert. I am afraid, dear Pepe, that there is no contest for this part of the meal.
This is my contribution to the ninth edition of Novel Food, the literary/culinary event that Lisa of Champaign Taste and I have been co-hosting for some time. A conversation on the food in Montalbano's novels gave us the idea of marrying literature and food in a blog event.
1 The post referenced states that the excerpt comes from the book Las Recetas de Carvalho (Carvalho's recipes), which appears to quote verbatim the passage in Tatuaje that is the subject of my post.
I am also contributing this to the third installment of the Abbecedario culinario della Comunità Europea (European Community Culinary ABC), an event organized by Trattoria MuVarA that will bring us to visit 26 countries of the EU (all except Italy) using the alphabet as guide. C like Canja (Portugal) is hosted by Patrizia of La Melagranata.