Posts Tagged ‘paprika’

Bites worth standing for

It’s easy to get a good, quick lunch in Rome. Usually we opt for a couple of slices of pizza in whatever pizzeria is closest when we’re hungry. But for even more variety, we sometimes head to a tavola calda—an amazing array of hot and cold dishes ordered at a counter, served up quickly and almost always eaten standing up. One of the best in Rome is found at Franchi (Via Cola di Rienzo 200, tel. 06-68-74-651, www.franchi.it.), which is also one of the city’s most extravagant alimentari (local food stores).

Outside of meal time, this is the spot in the Prati neighborhood to buy sliced cold cuts, cheese, and cooked dishes to take home for dinner. But at lunchtime, the shop is swarmed with office workers (including those from the nearby Prati courthouse) who order from the daily selection of dishes on the tavola calda. The chefs are known for their arancini: breaded and fried balls of risotto drooling with mozzarella inside. But they also make other good things, such as a cold rice salad studded with shrimp and layered with slices of cured salmon, deep-fried cod fillets, oven-roasted vegetables drizzled with olive oil and balsamic vinegar, creamy pools of polenta and melted cheese, manicotti….

The scene is a bit chaotic. You place your order, return to the cashier to pay, grab a tray and wait for your food, then hope you can score a tall table or bit of counter space to balance your food while you eat standing up. (Be careful who you elbow aside—the courthouse guards are packing.) Our last visit was a reward for shuffling in the long and pointless lines to visit St. Peter’s. We needed the break before plunging into the crowds at the Vatican museums. The rice balls did not disappoint, the slice of lasagna was as good as any we’ve eaten in a white linen dining room, and the slab of polenta was rich and cheesy.

19

06 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

Making patatas a la Riojana at home

We don’t feel too bad messing around a little with tradition to make this dish with New England provender. This rich stew hails from the Ebro River valley in La Rioja, but until Napoleon brought potatoes to northern Spain in the early 19th century, this dish was made with chestnuts!

Of course, nowadays the local potato varieties of the Ebro valley are highly prized—considered by many the tastiest potatoes in Spain. In fact, the Riojanos tend to keep them for themselves. Not only do they have the rich potato flavor of say, a Kennebec, they also keep their shape like a waxy potato while containing enough starch to thicken a broth. We discovered that a mix of waxy potatoes (Red Bliss are the easiest to find) with some starchy potatoes like russets both thickens the stew and provides some toothy pieces of potato.

The Riojanos also have a special way of cutting their potatoes to maximize the exposure of starch to the broth. Hold the scrubbed, unpeeled potato and insert a sharp small knife at a 45 degree angle to the surface. Dig in about an inch, then twist the potato to make a conical cut. Snap out the piece, and continue until the whole potato is cut into irregular, roughly conical pieces. (It’s actually a quick way to cut up potatoes with a small knife.)

Spanish chorizo is usually available in U.S. grocery stores that cater to a Latin American clientele. Other types of chorizo are less spicy; if substituting, double the garlic and add an additional teaspoon of paprika.

This version of the dish is adapted from chef Raúl Pérez Marín of Restaurante Sopitas in Arnedo, southeast of Logroño, the capital of La Rioja.

Patatas a la Riojana

Ingredients

1 ancho chile pepper, stemmed and seeded and torn into pieces
1/2 cup boiling water
1 1/4 lb. (two large) russet potatoes
1 1/2 lb. Red Bliss or other waxy potatoes
2-3 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, peeled, cut into quarters and thinly sliced
1 large red bell pepper, seeded and roasted to remove skin, cut into 1-inch pieces
3-4 large cloves of garlic, sliced thinly
1 large fresh tomato, cored and skinned, coarsely chopped
1 bay leaf
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1 tablespoon smoked Spanish paprika
8 oz. Spanish chorizo, cut in 1/2-inch slices
1 cup dry wine (white or red)
3 cups chicken or beef stock
coarse sea salt and black pepper to taste
chopped parsley to garnish

Directions

1. Soak dried chile pieces in boiling water for a half hour. Puree in blender or food processor. Set aside.

2. Cut up potatoes. Peel russets and cut into 1/2-inch cubes. (They will almost disappear and provide the thickening.) Scrub the waxy potatoes and cut into irregular, more or less conical shapes about 1 inch on widest dimension. Set potatoes aside.

3. Heat olive oil over medium heat in 4-5 quart Dutch oven or other large pot. Add onion and bell pepper and sauté until onion is soft. Add garlic, tomatoes, and bay leaf and sauté until most liquid has evaporated. Stir in thyme and paprika and cook another 30 seconds.

4. Add chorizo and raise heat to lightly brown the meat. Add the pureed pepper.

5. Stir in potatoes and add wine. Bring to boil and cook 3 minutes to burn off alcohol. Stir in broth and raise to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, covered, for about 30 minutes.

6. Remove about a cup of potatoes from the stew and mash with a little liquid. Stir back in and cook another 5 minutes.

7. Serve in shallow bowls with a little chopped parsley sprinkled on top.

05

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

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

What to buy in a Spanish grocery store

SpanishpimentonWe love visiting fresh markets when we travel, but except for dried herbs and spices, most of the goods won’t make it through US Customs. Once we’ve snapped dozens of photos of mounds of vegetables and tables of glistening fish on ice, we head to a neighborhood grocery store (the kind where homemakers, not tourists, shop) to stock up on food essentials to bring home.

Here’s our Spanish grocery list:

Saffron.
Spaniards claim their saffron is the world’s best and price it accordingly. The larger the container, the better the deal. We usually purchase saffron in 20-gram boxes or larger. (A half gram is sufficient for a 15-inch paella.) Stored in an airtight container out of the light, it will keep up to seven years—or so we have been told. It never lasts that long for us.

Pimentón de la Vera.
The colorful tins holding this smoked paprika from Extremadura are almost irresistible. The earthy red spice with a mild hint of smoke is used to season chorizo and most forms of paella. It’s most commonly available as dulce (sweet) or picante (hot). The dulce, which is slightly hot, is the best to add a touch of warmth and deep coloring to rice dishes and soups and is the main paprika used in Spanish sauces (including Bravas sauce). The picante is at least as hot as most Mexican chile peppers, and should be used sparingly. If we plan to make a barbecue dry rub, we look for the less common ahumado, which has a strong smoky component.

Sea Salt.
Flaked sea salt is a current foodie favorite, but we prefer the coarser Spanish sea salt sold for roasting fish or fowl. It can be ground in a salt grinder to use at the table or tossed into liquids as a seasoning. Our favorite brand, Sal Costa from the Costa Brava, costs less than a half euro per kilo.

fishtinsCanned fish.
The Spaniards are canning geniuses, and their tinned anchovies, oysters, squid, octopus, clams, and sardines are the secret behind half the tapas served in the bars. The white anchovies in particular are so good that the Italians import them.

Olive oil.
Olive oil is a matter of personal taste, but Spaniards tend to concur that the best in Spain comes from Andalucía—either from Núñez del Prado, or from hill towns around Úbeda. Best bet is “bionatur” oil packaged in tins rather than bottles.

Bomba rice.
This heritage strain of rice introduced to the Valencia area from North Africa around 800AD is the premium rice for paella. It’s twice as expensive as “Valencia” rice, and worth every cent for its ability to absorb flavor and maintain its toothy texture.

Manchego cheese.
This aged ewe’s milk cheese is the pride of Spanish cheeses. We sometimes bring an entire three-kilo wheel home, but big vacuum-sealed wedges are also available in most grocery stores. It keeps fine for several days without refrigeration.

PouringhotchocolateValor chocolate.
Anyone who visits in cool weather soon discovers the soothing pleasures of Spain’s unusually thick hot chocolate. Valor is a common supermarket brand for recreating the treat at home. It’s even good without the accompanying churros.

09

12 2009