The secret of the costrada de Pontedeume

Tradition says that the recipe came from Italy, from the hand of some Augustinian religious who lived in the Mosteiro de Caaveiro

Costrada is a medieval dish made with special dough and several layers of ingredients, especially meat, which is prepared in the Pontedeume area (A Coruña). Since the 12th century, this tradition continues to this day in the village of the Andrades, where a family of pastry chefs jealously guards the greatest secret of their recipe: the dough.

Tradition locates the origin of this overwhelming dish in the refectory of the Augustinian monks of Caaveiro, in which, on the one hand there is the dough and, on the other, several layers of meat (loin, ham and on the other) seasoned with onion and pepper. Today you can also find a variant made with fish, using turbot, scallop and ham on the different levels. However, not just any ingredient will serve as a filling, since not all meats, fish or seafood guarantee the juicy result that should be obtained.

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It is a laborious dish to prepare. The elaboration of the dough has its peculiarities; with a formula that is kept secret (it is different from empanada and puff pastry). But you also have to take special care in the choice of ingredients and in the time it is left to cook in the oven.

The recipe for the dough is a well kept treasure in the family of Lourdes Feal Dopico, one of the owners of the Obradoiro de Pontedeume confectionery and who claims to remain faithful to the original recipe. The preparation of this pasta based on wheat flour has its own, since a balance must be maintained, achieving a rather thin dough but consistent enough to sustain all the steps that make up this delicacy. For cooking, it takes about two hours in the oven at a not too high temperature so that it is done well without burning.

“It is a very laborious recipe: in which a costrada is made, five empanadas are made”, says the confectioner, who emphasizes that, in addition to respecting the original recipe, to achieve the best result it is necessary to “use good ingredients and cook with lots of love”.

Original recipe

Tradition says that the costrada came to the Eume lands from Italy, through the religious community of Saint Augustin who settled in the Monastery of Caaveiro in the Middle Ages. From his kitchen and refectory, the recipe spread among the wealthy people homes (its main ingredients are various types of meat, a prohibitive delicacy for humble families). “Chicken was a luxury then”, sentences Lourdes Feal Dopico, who also says that even today costrada is “not cheap”. It is normally consumed on special dates, such as the patron saint festivities or for the Christmas holidays.

With the passage of time, the old custom of making costrada in the houses was lost. In his book A mesa e manteis, the historian Xavier Castro affirms that this elaboration was one of the “medieval pillars of Galician gastronomy” and that in the 20th century it was reduced to “a culinary remnant officiated in the family kitchen” and “in some heroic establishment”, expressly citing the case of Cristina Dopico and also the Obradoiro pastry shop, set up by her daughters. “I think that today we are the only confectionery that makes the costrada”, claims Lourdes, who defends the preparation with the inherited “original” recipe.

Costrada. Photo: Confeitería Obradoiro.

Regarding the history of the family recipe, Lourdes explains that her mother, Cristina Dopico, had a shop and that, little by little, she began to complement that work with making costradas to order, after a family from the village to provide you with the recipe. Later, after having contact with a local nun who also claimed to have the original recipe, she was able to verify the coincidence of both two production methods.

The secret formula of the dough, the selection of good ingredients and the ideal cooking are some of the keys to the preparation of this dish

Cristina made the costrada in the kitchen of her house and later the family took them to an oven to cook. Little by little the word spread and the orders began to be extended to more houses in Pontedeume, the outskirts and even other more distant places. “I remember my mother sending one on the train to Madrid”, says Lourdes Feal.

When Cristina retired, her daughters Maribel, Beatriz and Lourdes took over the production of their mother’s traditional recipes and set up the Obradoiro confectionery. Since 1991, the establishment has made costradas and typical Pontedeume pastries, among other artisanal articles. In the case of costrada, and taking into account its peculiarities, they have it available only on request.

Lourdes Feal vindicates the role of her mother as an enterprising woman who “recovered” the preparation of the costrada since, at that time, “although there were recipes in some houses, it was no longer being made”. As for the future, when the time comes to pass the baton to a third generation, he predicts that the legacy that his mother preserved with effort and love will continue to be safe: “I think continuity is assured: we have very good people working with us”, she says.

Pontedeume, a town of ancient gastronomy

The costrada of Pontedeume is not the only example of local gastronomy that has its roots in a secular history, keeping alive old recipes and family elaborations handed down from generation to generation. Especially prominent are the traditional sweets, many times used as an after-dinner for the holidays.

In the repertoire of local traditional pastries ones of the most famous are almendrados and melindres, as it happens in other Galician towns. More specific are prollas, manguitos or the Pontedeume cake, because we only can find them is this historic village.

Caaveiro, cradle of the Pontedeume costrada

A few kilometers from Pontedeume, in the heart of the Fragas do Eume, the stone silhouette of the Monastery of Caaveiro stands out, a place where the origin of the so-called “costrada of the monks” has traditionally been located. This monastery located in the municipality of A Capela, on the top of a promontory that rises between the Eume and Sesín rivers, has a long history. It was the place of residence of different religious communities, including one of the order of Saint Augustine that would have brought the recipe for this peculiar dish from Italy.

Mosteiro de Caaveiro, un dos lugares de visita obrigada nas Fragas do Eume. Imaxe: turismo.gal.
Monastery of Caaveiro, in As Fragas do Eume. Photo: turismo.gal.

Tradition indicates that Caaveiro was founded as a monastery of Benedictine monks by Saint Rosendo in the 10th century, although it already existed previously. In the 12th century it was refounded by King Alfonso VII and his wife, Doña Berenguela. Later it passed to the Canons Regular of Sait Augustine and, during the 18th century, it lost its character as a collegiate church, a circumstance that ended up causing the end of monastic life.

In the 19th century, with the Desamortización (confiscation) of Mendizábal, the monastery’s assets remained in the hands of individuals. At present it is owned by the Provincial Council of A Coruña. The architectural complex has undergone rehabilitation actions by the provincial body, resulting in the winner of the European Award for Intervention in Architectural Heritage in the category of outdoor spaces in 2015.

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