This is part of an ongoing ceramics-collaboration project. I interview the ceramicist about them and their work, before creating a recipe that reflects them and shooting it in a still life.
The Montse Roig concept
Montse’s ceramics take inspiration from the environment they were created in and its elemental building blocks. Her first studio was in a converted barn attached to the Pyrenean farmhouse where she lived, with gorgeous views of wooded mountains all around, and far away from the bustle of city life. In this rugged landscape, where nature rules supreme, Montse developed her unique style:
“Sempre m'han agradat els orígens. Materials primaris com l'argila, la fusta... que configura un paisatge. La relació entre funció, forma i contenidor; el primer contenidor a part de les mans, es van fer amb aquests materials.”
(I have always liked the idea of origins. Primary materials like clay, wood… which create a landscape. The relationship between function, form and container; the first container apart from the hands, were made with with these materials.)
Made local, from local, for local. This particular dish was originally created as a cheese platter for a neighbouring cheese maker. The neutral colour and simple design are purposefully subtle, so as to not take away from the artisan cheese it was made to serve.
Having spent much of my childhood and adult life in a small house down the valley, Montse’s concept and work is something that both resonates with my beliefs and reminds me of a place close to my heart.
The Pyrenees mountains are an unforgiving home, and it is only recently that the ancient way of life that has been practiced there for centuries has been disrupted by the advent of modern technology and communication. Drawing on this environmental brutality and natural splendour, I created a dish that is utterly reliant on the season on which it was conceived, foraging as many ingredients as I could. Those which weren't available in the hillsides around me were sourced locally from nearby farmers.
For cooking techniques, I opted to use raw elements as much as possible. Likewise with the styling and shooting of the image: I wanted to represent all the elements in my final shot, using the contrast of the rapid flowing water, the jagged rocks and the charred food to communicate the raw, harsh, yet rewarding environment the dish is inspired by.
Carbassa, Castanyes i Cama-Grocs Cuites a l Foc
Fire Cooked Pumpkin, Chestnuts & Cama-Grocs
Takes 70 minutes (50 prep, 25 cook)
For the fire:
Several sheets of newspaper
Dry fire wood in a range of sizes (from little twigs to 5-10cm diameter branches)
For the food:
1 tsp of crystal salt
5 juniper berries
1 mini pumpkin (make sure it’s not hard skinned)
5 castanyas (chestnuts)
1 tsp of olive oil
100g of foraged cama grocs (yellow foot) mushrooms
3 sprigs of wild pyrenean thyme
Find a spot sheltered from the wind and away from combustible material and make a 50cm +/- diameter ring of stones, bricks or earth to contain fire.
Collect dry fire wood in a range of sizes from little twigs to branches 5-10cm in diameter or even larger, set them aside for later.
Scrumple a few sheets of newspaper and arrange in the centre of the fire ring. If you don’t have newspaper then unfinished printed paper or raw cardboard works too.
Lay all your small twigs and kindling material on the paper pile, arranged like a teepee around the paper. Place a few slightly larger twigs (up to 1cm in diameter) on top, maintaining the teepee structure.
Light the newspaper. If there is any breeze light it on the upwind side. Allow the kindling to catch light and start to burn. Start adding new branches to the structure as soon as the fire has caught, arranging them carefully on to the burning pyre and gradually increasing to size until you are able to put your largest pieces on a fiercely burning fire.
Let the large logs burn through until they are embers, this can take up to 20-30 minutes depending on the size of the logs and the type of wood you are using. (You can use the fire at this stage to char vegetables for escalivada or baba ganoush / aubergine caviar: check these recipes on my blog for further information.)
As the fire burns down, you can begin with preparing the ingredients.
In a pest and mortar, crush half the salt and juniper together until they form a well combined rubbing salt paste.
Cut off the top of the pumpkin and remove the pith and seeds, disposing of them. Using your first two fingers, rub the juniper salt into the inside flesh of the pumpkin, using it all up. Replace the pumpkin top and wrap the pumpkin in a sheet of silver foil.
When the fire has burnt down and you have a pile of embers left, place the pumpkin, in it’s foil, in the embers to one side of your fire (leaving some embers for cooking the castanyas). Pile the embers up the sides to cook it all round.
Cook it this was for between 15-20 minutes, checking how well cooked it is by running a skewer though it. If it enters easily, remove the pumpkin from the fire and set aside to cool.
As the pumpkin cooks, make small incisions in the flat sides of the castanyas, ready for cooking.
Place them in a castanya pan (a pan with holes in the bottom) and sprinkle with water, and place the pan on the other side of the fire from the pumpkin, cooking them for around 10 minutes, shaking and splashing every couple of minutes.
Remove them from heat when they’re charred on the outside and the incisions have begun to peel back slightly. Leave them to cool, then peel them ready.
When the pumpkin has cooled for a couple of minutes castanyas are ready, heat up the olive oil in a large pan on maximum heat.
Add the cama grocs and the thyme leaves, roughly removing them from the stalk. After a couple of minutes, remove them from heat.
Plate up the mushrooms with the unwrapped pumpkin and shelled castanyas, sprinkling the remaining salt on the mushrooms.