Archive for the ‘rice’Category

A prawn by any other name

Shrimp strip 1
Few things are as quite as confusing as the wonderful array of crustaceans available in southern Spain. When we were in El Puerto de Santa María in February, we photographed some of them at the Romerijo fish market (www.romerijo.com). The same crustacean (per its Latin name) may have two or three different common names, depending on size and where it is caught. The six images here, for example, only show four different species.

Here they are, from left to right, above:
Camarón (Palaemon serratus) is the common rock shrimp (common prawn to the Brits) found in abundance at the mouth of the Río Guadalquivír. When they are small like this, they are comparatively inexpensive. In Andalucía, they are often fried up, shell and all, in a paper-thin omelet called a tortallita de camarones.

Langostino Sanlúcar (Penaeus kerathurus) is not what the French call langoustine or the Italians call scampi. In Spain it’s a large brown prawn with hints of red. Those from Sanlúcar are especially prized because they are sweeter and more tender than langostinos from other waters. They are usually steamed or grilled with olive oil and garlic.

Gamba blanca (Parapenaeus longirostris) is the North African white shrimp, which is often found in the Bay of Cádiz. It’s an especially meaty shrimp and is served in lieu of the carabinero (red prawn, scarlet prawn) fished in a different season.

Shrimp strip 2
Here’s the second group, from left to right, above:

Cigala (Nephrops noreugicus) is the French langoustine or the Italian scampi. It also goes by such monikers as Norway lobster or Dublin Bay prawn. It’s actually a member of the lobster family. In Spain, it’s usually cut in half lengthwise and grilled (a la plancha).

Langostino rayado (Penaeus kerathurus) is the same beast as the langostino Sanlúcar, but barely half the size. These were actually fished off the coast of Mauritania in northwest Africa. At this size they’re often used in baked rice dishes, such as paella de mariscos.

Quisquilla is a name applied, alas, to a couple of different shrimp or prawns. Often it’s the small brown shrimp that is mixed into rice dishes or into soups. Here it is a much bigger version of Palaemon serratus, the camarón and would be served steamed or pan-fried with garlic.

As confusing as the nomenclature may be, they all make terrific eating. At Romerijo, you can order them by weight and have them cooked immediately to eat on the spot. The fish market cum restaurant is located at Plaza de la Herrería, 1 in El Puerto de Santa María. The local telephone is 956-54-12-54.

26

03 2014

Remembering Italy #3 — asparagus & prosciutto risotto

San Daniele del Friuli is a beautiful little community about 20 kilometers southwest of the big industrial city of Udine, located in the hill country where dry-aged hams are a tradition. Making prosciutto is the principal business of the town – perhaps followed by eating it. Even some of the flower planters in town are in the shape of pigs.

Although the Friulani love their asparagus (see my posts from May 2009), the only time I’ve ever eaten asparagus risotto in Friuli, it was made with white asparagus. The Friulani version was silken and smooth and very pale. Oddly enough, I had often been served cold steamed asparagus wrapped in prosciutto, and Pat and I wondered why we’d never seen a risotto that combined the two. Since we had some extra prosciutto di San Daniele available, I thought I’d see how the delicate ham would be in risotto with Grana Padano, a more understated grating cheese than Parmigiano. Local asparagus isn’t in season, but I was lucky to get some plump, crisp spears that had just come off the plane from Peru.

We were pleased to discover that as long as neither the asparagus nor the prosciutto is overcooked, this recipe makes a risotto in which all the elements — the prosciutto, the cheese, the rice, the asparagus, and the stock — not only retain their individual flavors and identities, they combine into a delicious, harmonious risotto. We’ll certainly be eating it again.

This is another pressure-cooker risotto, but can be made conventionally by steaming the asparagus for five minutes, and cooking the risotto while constantly stirring and adding liquid for 20-25 minutes. If doing it conventionally, you’ll need another half cup of stock.

ASPARAGUS & PROSCIUTTO RISOTTO

Ingredients

1/4 cup strong chicken stock

1 pound asparagus, cleaned and trimmed

2 teaspoons olive oil
1 medium onion, finely diced
1 cup arborio rice
1/3 cup white wine
1 cup strong chicken stock plus reserved liquid from steaming
4 slices prosciutto di San Daniele, cut into 1/4-inch squares
2 oz. Grana Padano cheese, finely grated (about 3/4 unpacked cup)

Directions

1. Place rack in 3.5 liter pressure cooker and add 1/4 cup chicken stock. Bring to a boil. Place asparagus spears on rack, close pressure cooker, and steam 60 seconds. Quick cool pot and remove asparagus. Cut into 1-inch lengths and reserve. Pour off steaming liquid and reserve.

2. Wipe out pot. Add olive oil over medium heat. Add onion and sauté until soft. Add rice and stir well to coat with oil. Turn heat up to high and add wine, stirring constantly until nearly absorbed (about 90 seconds).

3. Add chicken stock and liquid reserved from steaming asparagus; 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 prosciutto. Stir to mix thoroughly and continue stirring over low heat for 1 minute.

5. Remove from heat and stir in Grana Padano, blending well.

6. Divide risotto into two 16- to 20-ounce shallow bowls and serve.

14

12 2012

All menus lead to Rome

Ultimately, we did visit the amazing museums at Vatican City—and here’s our sneaked photo of the Sistine Chapel ceiling to prove it. (Yeah, like we were the only ones….) But we have to admit that we were originally waylaid by Rome’s greatest gourmet food shop. And who could blame us? Gastronomy is Italy’s other art. Or maybe its other religion.

When we’d finished eating lunch at Franchi (see previous post), we decided that it was a good time to stop in at Castroni (Via Cola di Rienzo 196, Tel: 06-68-74-383, www.castronicoladirienzo.it, open Mon-Sat 8am-8pm), reasoning that since we were already stuffed, we would be immune to the lures of the merchandise. It was only next door, and we’d still have plenty of time to get back to the Vatican.


The legend over the door reads Castroni Droghe Coloniali, but like some pop stars, the place is famous enough to go by a single moniker. And Castroni is indeed a name to conjure with. Since 1932 the flagship store in the Prati district east of the Vatican has proved that all gastronomic roads lead to Rome. On seeing the walls lined 15 feet high with gourmet goodies, David pleaded, “Do we have to go to the Sistine Chapel today?” Pat gave in, and we postponed the museum trip by a day.

Many ex-pats swear by Castroni for the tastes of home—the full line of Twinings teas, for example, or a broad range of Fauchon products from Paris, or good smoked Spanish paprika. But all the flavors of Italy also find their way to this wonderful shop. This year is the 150th anniversary of the unification of Italy, and while north and south, right and left seem no closer to real unity than they have been since the days of Vittorio Emanuele II himself, Castroni brings all the regions together for a gastronomic love fest.

There’s a modest bar with some casual food, so it’s possible to pop in for lunch and then to spend an afternoon just shopping. (Or drooling.) Bins hold virtually every variety of dried bean or chickpea grown anywhere on the peninsula. The store’s own brand of dry pastas include bags with mixed Roman monuments (maybe the ultimate gastronomic souvenir), and Castroni’s own coffee (whole bean or ground) makes an authentic-tasting Roman espresso—dark and syrupy with some high, almost lemony notes that suggest a lot of East African coffees in the blend. If you find the flavor addictive, the shop also sells a coffee concentrate passed off as an energy drink.

Had we demonstrated the foresight to bring an empty suitcase from home, we would have stocked up on all kinds of goodies that U.S. Customs would let us bring in, including the dazzling array of pestos from Abruzzo made of ripe Leccino olives, of asparagus, or of radicchio. Just add hot pasta and you have a stupendous meal. We also would have loaded up on duck liver and orange pâtés and the jars of small green peppers stuffed with duck liver mousse, not to mention hot-pepper-inspired salsas from Sicily and white truffle and porcini salsas from Umbria.

But since we were traveling light, we limited ourselves to squeeze tubes of tomato paste, mushroom cream, black olive puree, and mixed vegetables. (A squirt of the mixed vegetables paste into chicken broth makes it taste like minestrone.) We find them amazingly versatile in the kitchen, allowing us to add a dollop to eggs, salad dressing, soup, or a sauce to shade the flavor one way or another. (They also make great gifts for friends who cook.) In fact, the only thing we expected to find at Castroni but didn’t were the truffle products of Acqualagna in Le Marche, where the local motto is ”truffles all year long.” More on that next time….

24

06 2011

Stuffed tomatoes from Roman pizzerias

Like many Roman visitors (and many Romans, for that matter), we took advantage of the city’s many pizzerias for quick meals or snacks. Once our Zone 6 garden swings into production around mid-July, we hope to revisit the subject of Roman pizza for the myriad of vegetable versions.

But it was in the pizzerias that we stumbled onto another quintessentially Roman dish: stuffed tomatoes on a bed of roasted potatoes. Tomatoes stuffed with rice are a standard dish in a lot of parts of Italy, but Rome was the first place where we had seen them served with a big batch of potatoes. The simplicity of the single combined dish appealed to us, as it clearly does to many Romans getting an inexpensive casual meal. It took only a little experimentation at home to come up with a viable recipe for this starchier, heartier version of stuffed tomatoes.

ROMAN ROASTED STUFFED TOMATOES AND POTATOES

When served with potatoes, the tomatoes are relatively unseasoned. But if you want to serve the stuffed tomatoes alone as a first course, leave out the eggs and add three finely chopped anchovy fillets and a 1/2 cup of grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese to the mixture before stuffing.

Ingredients

3 lb. Yukon Gold potatoes, cut in 3/4-inch dice
1/4 cup olive oil
6 large tomatoes, ideally with stems intact
1 teaspoon sea salt, divided
1 cup water
2/3 cup Arborio rice
1/4 lb. ground veal or pork
large bunch flat parsley, finely chopped
2 eggs, beaten

Directions

Combine potatoes and olive oil and spread evenly in roasting pan. Roast in 350F oven for 25 minutes.

Cut 2-inch diameter cap from tops of tomatoes. Scoop out pulp, seeds, and jelly and place in strainer, add 1/2 teaspoon salt, and let drain to separate juices. Reserve juices and reserve cap.

Add remaining salt to water, add rice and boil for 10 minutes. Remove from heat and drain.

In frying pan, crumble ground meat and cook over medium heat until browned. Add reserved tomato juices and fistful of parsley. Stirring regularly, continue cooking until liquid is mostly reduced.

Mix meat mixture with rice, remaining parsley, and eggs. Stuff mixture into tomatoes and set caps on top. Place tomatoes on top of potatoes in roasting pan, raise oven to 425F and continue roasting for 30 minutes.

27

05 2011

Having a blast at Las Fallas in Valencia

Valencia is beginning to rev up for Las Fallas, the festival of fires, fireworks, and managed explosions that culminates on the evening of March 19. The pageantry, sheer noise, and almost giddy sense of celebration is almost unfathomable, and we were not sure how we could possibly write about it. But we gave it a try for the Boston Globe. See it on the Globe‘s web site or check it out on our page of sample articles.

This being Spain, there is of course plenty of time set aside for eating. Paella, the quintessentially Valencian dish, fits the celebratory mood as people gather around a big festive pan. Last year we posted our version of paella valenciana . But we know that a lot of people prefer the shellfish version, paella con mariscos. Here’s our New England adaptation, using small hard-shell clams for the Spanish almejas, and some pieces of cooked lobster tail in place of the monkfish. It remains true to the spirit of a paella you’d find at the beachside chiringuitos, or ”snack bars.”

PAELLA CON MARISCOS

Serves 4

Ingredients

About 5 cups fish stock or mixed fish and chicken stock
1 large pinch saffron
1/4 cup olive oil
1 medium onion, minced
cloves from 1 head garlic, peeled and sliced paper thin
24 large raw shrimp, shells on
1 can diced tomatoes, or two large fresh tomatoes grated and skin discarded
1 tablespoon sweet Spanish paprika
1 3/4 cup Bomba rice (or substitute any Valencian rice)
1/2 cup white wine
1/2 cup minced flat-leaf parsley
12 live littleneck clams, or 16 winkles (if available)
12 blue mussels, beards removed
1 cooked lobster tail, cut into 1-inch cubes
lemon wedges for serving

Directions

1. Heat stock in saucepan with pouring lip. Crumble saffron into stock and keep hot but not boiling.

2. In large paella pan (16-18 inches) heat olive oil. Add onion and cook 2 minutes over medium heat. Add garlic and continue cooking until onion is soft. Add shrimp and cook 2 minutes on each side. Remove shrimp to warm plate.

3. Set oven at 425F.

4. Add tomatoes and paprika to pan, using tomatoes to de-glaze. Pour in rice in cross pattern. Add wine and use spatula to swirl rice into wine. Continue cooking until liquid is almost absorbed. Stir in hot stock and swirl well to mix rice and stock. Bring to a shivering boil and cook for 5 minutes. Stir in parsley and swirl to distribute well.

5. Stud the rice with pre-cooked shrimp, clams, mussels, and lobster pieces. Cook for another 3 minutes on stovetop, then move to preheated oven. Bake 7 minutes until liquid is almost completely absorbed.

6. Remove from oven and cover with foil for 7 minutes. Serve with edges of lemon.

08

03 2011

Las Fallas and more paella tips

When we think of Valencia, the first thing we think of is paella. But the city is probably most famous for its jaw-dropping Las Fallas festival always held March 15-19. This year we finally got to attend. It is a whirlwind of parades, music, fireworks, controlled explosions outside city hall, and general madcap revelry that continues around the clock. Valencians construct immensely complex satirical scenes in 300 or more squares of the city. Some of them go 75 feet tall and can cost up to $1 million each. They represent a wide array of political and pop cultural subjects, and the satire can be both biting and bawdy. (Witness Nicolas Sarkozy of France in a hot tub with three buxom women, one of whom is perhaps performing an intimate underwater kiss.)

Between midnight and 1 a.m. on March 20, all but two “pardoned” figurines are burned to the ground. It feels like a cross between Mardi Gras and the bombing of Baghdad as shown on CNN. For the Valencians, it’s a way to get rid of the old and welcome in the new. To the uninitiated, it is simultaneously unnerving and exhilarating. (See the bottom of this post for some sample photos.) But back to paella….

We took a break from the sensory overload of Las Fallas one afternoon to head down to L’Albufera, the lagoon south of the city, for a lesson in making paella outdoors. La Matandeta restaurant sits right at the edge of the lagoon’s rice fields, and chef Rafael Galvez uses rice from the adjacent plot as well as meat and vegetables raised or foraged in the immediate area. Cuisine doesn’t get more local than that.


Working with two 20-inch pans on tripods over wood fires, he made both a traditional paella valenciana (similar to ours—see here) and another version featuring squid and its ink with an abundance of vegetables.


We were reminded that the traditional outdoor cooking infuses the paella with a haunting smokiness and helps to guarantee a nice crust along the bottom. We also learned some tips that we expect to use in our own paella endeavors from now on.


For the paella valenciana, Galvez begins by setting the pan over the fire and adding enough olive oil to thinly coat the bottom—and a few tablespoons of coarse sea salt, which we have never done. At this point he fully browns the meat (bone-in pieces of chicken, duck, and rabbit) along with the onion. As the meat browns, he adds paprika and colorante (a coloring agent with some saffron), and stirs well to coat everything. He then adds three kinds of beans—flat green beans cut in 1-inch lengths, meaty white beans found only in the Valencia area, and a flat bean similar to a lima bean.


The handles on most paella pans are attached with rivets. We had never realized that these marks serve as measuring devices. Galvez adds enough broth to bring the mixture up to the bottom of the rivets. Then he adds the rice to bring the mixture to the top of the rivets. He likes to lay out the rice in a cross pattern on top of the soup, then swirl it into the liquid. He says this distributes the rice evenly. Then he adds a large sprig of rosemary—something we had never seen before but is apparently quite traditional. (He fishes it out before the paella is done to keep the herb from making the dish too bitter.)


After all that intensive prep, Galvez simply brings the mixture to a simmer, adjusting the wood beneath the pan to heat it evenly. We were surprised to see that he keeps the burning wood and its coals around the rim of the pan, but not in the middle. This prevents the dish from burning, as the shape of the pan allows the liquid to bubble up on the sides and spread back toward the middle. He never stirs the rice for the 20 minutes it takes to cook.


The finished paella is a lovely golden dish, which the restaurant serves with a fruity red wine from the nearby Utiel-Requena district, where the Iberians were making wine from the Bobal grape variety 500 years before the Romans invaded. The rice and the wine are a perfect match.

As soon as the weather permits, we’ll fire up the Weber kettle grill to make paella outdoors. Now if we can just find a red from Utiel-Requena….

La Matandeta is located on the Alfafar-El Saler road, km. 4, in Alfafar. Tel: (011-34) 962-112-184, www.lamatandeta.com. A cooking lesson with meal is 50 euros per person for groups of 10 or more.

And now for some images from Las Fallas:

22

03 2010

Super Bowl arroz con pollo

We were surprised to read recently that Super Bowl Sunday is the second biggest eating holiday in the U.S., close on the heels of Thanksgiving. Since our own team, the New England Patriots, is not part of the action this year, it’s a diminished holiday for us. But we thought we could console ourselves with a good meal, and realized that the one dish we’ve probably eaten most often while watching football is arroz con pollo.

Of course, the football in question is what we Americans call soccer, but the Spaniards are every bit as obsessive about it. As in the U.S., tickets to the games are expensive, and the matches are typically broadcast on premium cable. If you want to see a match in Spain, you go to a bar.

According to Madrileños, Real Madrid is the best known team in the world, and we’ve watched them play in smoky flamenco bars, in Moroccan couscous joints, in burger palaces, and in “bars deportivos,” or sports bars. We drink beer and eat bar food, which as often as not includes arroz con pollo, a sort of poor man’s paella of saffron-paprika rice studded with pieces of chicken and sausage. This is our stand-by recipe the way we learned to make it on our first long trip to Spain in 1983.

We have tweaked it over the years, using all sweet red peppers instead of the standard mix of red and green, and going with boneless chicken. (Spaniards take a whole frying chicken and cut it into 16 or more pieces, often cutting right through the bones. Boneless chicken is splinter-free.) Spanish recipes also call for chorizo, which we usually use. This year we decided we would root for the New Orleans Saints, so we are substituting a smoked Louisiana andouille sausage. The Spanish version is more rice than meat. Feel free to add more protein.

Serves 4 hungry eaters or 8-10 if used as one of several game time snacks.


Ingredients

4 tablespoons fruity olive oil
2 boneless chicken breasts, cut into 16 pieces and sprinkled with sea salt
6 oz smoked andouille or chorizo sausage, cut in 1/4 inch slices
3 red sweet peppers, roasted, peeled and cut into 1-inch squares
1 large onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/2 pounds fresh tomatoes, peeled and chopped, or 1 28-oz can of diced tomatoes (drained-use the juices as part of the stock)
2 teaspoons sweet Spanish paprika (pimentón a la vera dulce)
2 teaspoons smoked Spanish paprika (pimentón a la vera ahumado)
big pinch of saffron
2 cups Valencian rice
1/2 cup dry white wine
3 1/2 cups strong homemade chicken stock

Directions

Heat olive oil in paella pan with 15-inch base or in 17-18-inch shallow, ovenproof skillet. Sauté chicken and sausage until lightly browned. Remove meat from pan and reserve.

Add red peppers, onion, and garlic to pan and cook until onion softens (about five minutes.) Stir in tomato and cook until juices reduce (5-7 minutes). Stir in both kinds of paprika and the saffron, then the rice, turning well to coat rice with oil. Pour in wine and stock. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to simmer, and cook on stove-top until rice is no longer soupy (about 7 minutes). Do not stir.

Remove from heat and stir in sausage and chicken. Pat down until even, then place uncovered in 325F oven and bake for 15 minutes.

Remove from oven, cover with foil, and let sit 10 minutes before serving.

06

02 2010

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.

Paella Valenciana

Ingredients

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)

Directions

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.

11

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. www.mercadocentralvalencia.es, 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.

06

01 2010

La Pepica: the mother church of paella in Valencia

La Pepica kitchen

When Valencianos say that they are "going to the beach," they usually mean Playa de Malvarossa, an urban strand blessed by fine sand, gentle waves, surprisingly clean waters—and the mother of all paella restaurants, La Pepica. While three-quarters of the menu of this venerable eatery (founded 1898) consists of fish and shellfish, the other quarter is a golden litany of nearly two dozen classic Valencian rice dishes.

A maestro of La Pepica

The main entrance is on the beach, but we prefer entering from the street just to walk past the dynamic kitchen where dozens of cooks in gleaming kitchen whites prepare pristine ingredients and juggle huge paella pans. The dining room is daunting. In foul weather, it seats about 450. In good weather, outdoor tables can accommodate another 200. Yet the food and service remain every bit as good as when Hemingway feasted here 60 years ago, and wrote glowingly of the meal. (Unlike some Hemingway haunts, La Pepica has aged well.)

Presenting the paella

It is uncanny how the waiters in white shirts and black vests can service 450 diners at a time and still get the orders out lickety-split. They bring each finished paella to the table for approval, then retire to a serving station to dole it out on individual plates.

Every tourist eatery in Spain sells plates of orange rice festooned with shrimp and mussels; in Valencia that dish is known as “arroces con mariscos,” or “rice with shellfish.” Paella valenciana, the authentic local paella, comes from the garden, not the sea. Filled with vegetables, land snails, and pieces of chicken and rabbit, it’s cooked in a shallow pan over a very hot fire. La Pepica serves an exemplary version—redolent of saffron and paprika, with al dente rice cooked to a thin crust on the bottom. The vegetables and snails are earthy, the chicken and rabbit sweet and falling off the bone.

Reservations are not essential, but might help avoid a wait on the weekend. La Pepica, Paseo Neptuno, 2-8. Tel: 963-710-366, www.lapepica.com. Open daily for lunch and for dinner Monday-Saturday.

03

01 2010