Archive for the ‘Equipment’Category

Making paella Valenciana at home

Paella must be popular worldwide, judging by the recipe we received from the proprietor of Ceramicas Terriols (see below) when we purchased our paella pan. The directions were in a babble of languages, including Chinese and Russian. We can’t comment on the clarity of the Chinese and Russian, but the English was, shall we say, tortured. (Sample directions: “When the meat is gilding, the tomato and paprika are thrown well moved till the whole is lightly fried.”)

Still, we got the gist of it and we wanted to try it when we got home.

Since we have to traipse halfway across the city to buy rabbit, we decided to see if chicken thighs would make a good substitute. We can get good periwinkles in our neighborhood but rarely find live land snails, so we substituted button mushrooms to approximate the chewy texture and earthy flavor. Likewise, fresh favas would be nice, but lima beans are much easier to find.

We tinkered with the recipe over several months. The chicken is not as delicate as rabbit, but has similar size, texture and flavor. The lima beans are less meaty than favas, but as a close relative, they have a texture that is similar enough to pass muster. The mushrooms are definitely a compromise, but better than periwinkles. For an authentic version, you really need land snails. Still, we think this take on paella valenciana is better than any we’ve found outside Valencia. Our friends like it.

One additional cooking note: The broad base and shallow depth of a traditional Spanish paella pan ensures the classic texture with a slight crust on the bottom. You can also use a 15-17-inch shallow ovenproof skillet but you probably won’t get the crunch.



2 tablespoons olive oil
24 button mushrooms
8 chicken thighs, skinned and cut in half (about 2 pounds)
1 cup chopped tomato, drained
2 teaspoons sweet or smoked Spanish paprika (pimentón a la Vera)
2 roasted and peeled red peppers, cut in 1 inch squares
1 1/2 cups green beans, fresh or frozen
1/2 cup lima beans, fresh or frozen
3 cups strong chicken stock
1 cup white wine
1 thick pinch saffron (about 1 gram)
1 3/4 cups Valencia rice (ideally, Bomba)


1. Heat olive oil in 15-inch paella pan over medium heat.
2. Brown mushrooms on all sides (about 5 minutes).
3. Add chicken pieces and brown on all sides (about 7 minutes).
4. Add tomato and paprika. Stir well to loosen browned bits in pan.
5. Add red pepper, green beans, lima beans, stock, wine, and saffron. Stir well and simmer 10 minutes.
6. Stir in rice to distribute evenly. Simmer 7 minutes while preheating oven to 350 degrees.
7. When rice is still moist but not soupy, move pan to preheated oven. Bake 7 minutes.
8. Remove pan from oven and cover loosely with foil for 7 minutes.

Serves 4.


01 2010

Shopping in Valencia for paella tools and ingredients

Mercado Central, Valencia

After tasting paella at La Pepica (see previous post) , we were able to identify the essential ingredients and seasonings we needed to bring home to recreate the dish. The best place to shop for in Valencia for paella fixings is the soaring Modernista train-shed of the Mercado Central (Tel: 963-829-101., open 7:30 a.m.–2:30 p.m. Monday–Saturday). It’s one of the largest fresh markets in Spain, perhaps because the area around Valencia is intensively agricultural. The subtropical climate not only permits year-round cultivation of greens and legumes, the swampy lagoons are also home to some of Spain’s most prized rice plantations. You cannot take home the fresh veggies, but you can bring the heirloom rice, the spices, and the special pans for making paella.

The best paella is made with Bomba rice, an heirloom variety introduced to the area by the Moors in the 8th century and still grown in the Albufera wetlands south of the city. It is nowhere as productive as modern rice, but has an exceptionally nutty flavor and will absorb nearly twice as much liquid as other short-grain rice while still remaining al dente. La Pista Pastor, at stall #43, sells it.

Pimentón a la Vera

The other critical items for a good paella are saffron and Spanish paprika. Pimentón a la Vera is a subject unto itself, but let it suffice that Antonio Catalán (stall #457) drew us into his orbit with heaping mounds of bright red sweet and hot paprika and a brick-colored hill of smoked paprika (pimentón ahumado). He also has the best prices in the market on saffron, and cheerfully educates buyers on the subtle differences between grades. (Bottom line: Try to purchase whole threads with few or no golden flecks.)

Paella pans

Strictly speaking, of course, “paella” is not the rice meal, but the metal pan in which it is cooked. The shallow pans ensure that the rice is spread out well, and the thin metal guarantees a fine crust on the bottom. It is only a slight exaggeration to say that you can’t make a proper paella without a real paella pan. We knew we could purchase one at home (where it would be more expensive) but couldn’t pass up the array of iron and stainless steel pans at Ceramicas Terriols (stall #51), where the proprietor provides a recipe with every purchase.


01 2010

Tips for packing food and wine in a suitcase

bubble wrap packing for wineWhen we posted What to buy in an Italian grocery store and What to buy in a Spanish grocery store, we neglected to mention how to get those delicacies home. International airline security restrictions limiting liquids, gels, and pastes (including most soft foods) to 3 ounces in carry-on luggage means entrusting your goodies to the gorillas who slam around checked luggage.

Leaving home, we try to fill our checked bags only halfway, taking up the extra space with bubble wrap and really large plastic bags. (A friend once suggested we have a bag fetish.) Hefty One-Zip 2 1/2 gallon bags are ideal. A few 1-gallon sliding zipper plastic bags are also handy. Small items like jars of anchovies, truffle oil, or pistachio butter from Sicily can go in the gallon bags after each is padded with some bubble wrap (the smaller the bubbles the better).

Bottles of wine and olive oil are a little trickier, since they’re bigger and make an unholy mess if they break. We haven’t had a suitcase ruined, but we did manage to saturate a Spanish rental car trunk with two liters of Núñez del Prado olive oil.

We tend to wrap each bottle in a plastic laundry bag (thank you, hotel), then in bubble wrap before inserting into a Hefty. Each of these mummy-wrapped bottles is packed strategically in the suitcase padded by lots of dirty clothes. Practically speaking, this means no more than 3-4 big bottles per suitcase to stay under the airlines’ increasingly strict weight limitations.

If you’re flying an airline that allows two pieces of checked baggage, you can also ship wine in its own box. Ideally, that would be a box with styrofoam shipping inserts (sometimes called a “wine shipper”), but we’ve had good success with a standard wine case and lots of bubble wrap (limiting you to about 8 bottles per 12-bottle case). Attach a secure handle, which can be made from strapping tape, and pray you’re not flying Alitalia, which requires you to sign a waiver before they will accept the box as checked luggage. (They won’t guarantee safe arrival–or even arrival at all.)


12 2009

Making grilled asparagus risotto

Grilled asparagus risotto

Grilled asparagus risotto

Before we bought a pressure cooker, asparagus risotto was one of the few risottos we would bother to make because it’s smoky, luscious, and deeply satisfying. It also pairs nicely with a crisp white wine like a Vermentino from Sardinia. It had become one of our go-to quick dishes, in part because every time we light up the backyard grill, we grill some asparagus, making sure we have enough for dinner and enough left over to chop into salads and to make grilled asparagus risotto. This 2-serving recipe evolved rather radically from the version of non-roasted, non-pressure-cooked asparagus risotto made by Fanny Singer that we found in a 2003 issue of Food & Wine. Cooking time is about 10 minutes—quick food, not fast food.



olive oil
1 medium onion, finely diced
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme or 1 teaspoon fresh thyme finely minced
1 cup arborio rice
1/3 cup white wine
1 1/4 cups strong chicken stock
1/2 pound leftover grilled asparagus, cut into 1-inch lengths
2 cups chopped baby spinach leaves (about 3 oz.)
2 oz. Pecorino Romano cheese, finely grated (about 3/4 unpacked cup)
balsamic vinegar for drizzling

1. In medium-sized pressure cooker, heat oil and sauté onions and thyme until onions are soft. Add rice and stir well to coat.
2. Turn heat up to high and add wine, stirring constantly until nearly absorbed (about 90 seconds).
3. Add chicken stock and stir well. Secure lid on pressure cooker and bring up to pressure. Cook for 7 minutes before quick-cooling pot to remove lid.
4. Place pot back on low heat and stir. (The risotto should be soupy and the rice slightly too firm. Add asparagus and spinach. Stir to mix thoroughly and continue stirring over low heat 90 seconds-2 minutes.
5. Remove from heat and stir in the cheese, blending well..
6. Divide risotto into two 16-20 ounce shallow bowls. Drizzle with balsamic vinegar and serve.


11 2009

Learning under pressure

With a gleaming Kuhn-Rikon pressure cooker in hand, we were ready to try cooking risotto like a Venetian. There were just a couple of problems. Nobody grows baby artichokes on the Boston Harbor Islands (or anywhere else nearby), and Anna Maria Andreola had been, shall we say, extremely casual about measurements when she’d shown us the basic technique in Venice.

So we experimented, using the simplest Italian rice dish of all, risotto milanese. (Basic recipe for four servings: Saute a medium chopped onion in 1/4 cup of olive oil until translucent, while infusing 3 1/2 cups of chicken stock with 1/4 teaspoon of saffron. Add 2 cups arborio rice to the onion pan and toast rice until opaque. Add 1/2 cup white wine and stir over high heat until wine disappears. Ladle in the chicken stock, stirring all the while. When rice is cooked but al dente, stir in half a stick of butter and 1/2 cup of Parmagiano-Reggiano.)

Using the traditional proportions in the pressure cooker meant that we had saffron-flavored chicken-rice soup. Not a good start. Eventually we discovered the right proportions. Keep the wine at 1/2 cup, but cut the stock to 2 1/2 cups.

Good, but not perfect. The lower volume of stock reduced the concentration of flavor. Our solution was to make a very strong homemade stock from thighs and legs, leaving on some of the skin to infuse the extra collagen that gives a richer mouth-feel.


11 2009

Seeking pressure at home

Kuhn-Rikon 3.5 liter pressure cooker

Kuhn-Rikon 3.5 liter pressure cooker

We love risottos, but always saved them for special occasions because they were so time consuming. But Anna Maria Andreola had demonstrated in her home kitchen in Venice that it was feasible to make great risottos in a pressure cooker in almost no time. We were eager to try it at home.

Finding the right pressure cooker wasn’t easy. Most pressure cookers in we saw in Venetian and U.S. kitchenware stores were lightweight, flimsy aluminum pots. Many U.S. shops didn’t carry them at all. “They’re dangerous,” clerks told us. “They explode!”

To which we say, “bah” and “humbug.” We’ve been using a venerable Presto pressure canner for years (David bought it in 1970) to process sauces and vegetables from the garden, and even to occasionally cook corned beef. With both a weight that releases excess pressure and a safety valve that blows out if the steam vent is clogged, it’s a model of safety. (And, yes, we’ve blown out the safety valve a few times. It’s quick and easy to replace.) More modern models use slightly different mechanisms, but every one we’ve found for sale has at least two ways to avoid explosion.

Our problem was finding a pressure cooker with a more reasonable capacity (8 quarts is too large to make risotto for two), an alloy base to promote even heating for searing or sauteeing, and a surface finish that would minimize stuck food.

We finally discovered it at a kitchen store in Connecticut’s Litchfield Hills: the 3.5-liter Anniversary model made by Kuhn Rikon ( It’s widely available from web merchants, but actually handling the pot convinced us to buy it. The balance is perfect, and the locking lid is an easy and smooth fit.


11 2009