Our version of Frommer’s Spain (the 19th edition) is just out, and when we got a box of books, we remembered all the good meals we had ferreted out while doing the research. We recently shared some tips for finding a good meal anywhere in the world. You can find the online version of the Boston Globe story here.
Posts Tagged ‘Spain’
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
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
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.
Growing saffron crocuses always seemed like a rather romantic undertaking–until we visited Consuegra, Spain during the harvest season. The dry plains of Castilla La Mancha, about 90 miles south of Madrid, are perhaps best known as the stomping grounds of the befuddled knight Don Quixote. But farmers in the region grow about two-thirds of the world’s culinary saffron. It’s also the best on the market (just ask any Spaniard). The harvest season is usually the last three weeks in October and is capped by the Saffron Rose Harvest Festival (La Monda de la Rosa de Azafran) in Consuegra on the last full weekend of the month. We visited one year to take part in the festivities–and also got a lesson in the hard work that goes into picking and plucking the world’s most expensive spice.
The small crocuses are unusual spots of color in the red clay landscape, but the pickers really have little time to contemplate their beauty. Men and women alike arrive in the fields before dawn and spring into action as soon as the first rays of sun hit the blooms. They scoop up the flowers into big wicker baskets before their scent is lost to the wind. And that’s just the beginning. The three bright red stigmas must be plucked from each bloom by hand and then toasted over charcoal braziers. (The whole region smells great.) The ability to quickly separate stigma from flower is a prized skill in these parts. A competition between the top pickers from all the saffron-growing towns is the highlight of the harvest festival and the competition is intense. The top pluckers can go through about 100 flowers in less than three minutes.
We didn’t really appreciate their dexterity until we sat down in a tavern one evening with a small pile of crocuses that a harvester had given us. Even with guidance from a couple of local women, it took us an hour or more to pluck our flowers. We toasted our twisted and broken stigmas over the radiator in our hotel room, wrapped them in paper towels and carried them home. We swear that they flavored the best paella we have ever tasted. And we will never again complain about the price of saffron! Check out: www.turismocastillalamancha.com
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:
Full disclosure first: We did NOT walk one of the pilgrimage routes to Santiago de Compostela, Spain. But last spring, when we were in northern Spain to research a guidebook, we did see pilgrims everywhere.
Guess we shouldn’t have been surprised. Pilgrims have been walking across Europe to Santiago de Compostela, ever since the tomb of St. James the Apostle was discovered around 814 A.D. Pilgrims often carry walking sticks with scallop shells, the symbol of Santiago. Alas, they also often throw rain ponchos over their backpacks. There’s a good reason the north is called “green Spain.” It rains a lot.
Two of the main routes from France (the Camino del Norte and the Camino Aragónese) converge in Navarra and La Rioja, continuing west across the rugged northern mountains to Galicia. The pilgrimage routes are marked with a scallop shell, and in some places the path parallels the modern paved highway. Many towns along the route were founded as way stations for the pilgrims, like the colorful Santo Domingo de la Calzada, and they usually have hostels where pilgrims can spend the night. Generally, though, the pilgrims are required to hit the road by 8 a.m., rain or shine.
Many bars and restaurants, naturally, have special discounted pilgrim menus of hearty, earthy dishes to give them the energy to keep going. Whenever we would stop at one of these pilgrim restaurants, we’d feel a little guilty after a day in the car, but we couldn’t resist the food either. One of the most sustaining dishes is called patatas a la riojana, or Rioja-style potatoes, and we still find our adaptation the perfect bowl to lift body and spirit on a cold and rainy day.
More in the next post…
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.)
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.
We 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:
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
We saw many more cows than sheep or even goats as we drove the twisting mountain roads through the Picos de Europa mountain range last spring. Although the Principality of Asturias is the oldest of Iberia’s former kingdoms, the steep green mountains looked more like Switzerland than Spain.
Cows may have predominated, but milk from all three dairy animals goes into Cabrales, possibly the most pungent blue cheese in Europe. When we stopped for lunch in Las Arenas de Cabrales, we made sure we got the blues. The cheese is made by shepherds in the nearby hills, but Las Arenas (pop 797) is the market town. In Sidrería Calluenger (tel: 985-646-441), a hard-cider bar on Plaza Castaneu, we enjoyed a sumptuous lunch of stuffed red piquillo peppers simmered in a Cabrales cream sauce, along with a plate of fried apples, Cabrales, and walnuts drizzled with honey.
Fortunately, we can buy Cabrales at home, and the cheese pairs beautifully with New England heirloom apples. We tried making this dish with several varieties, finally settling on Golden Delicious as the most authentic, with Opalescent (a beautiful apple with skin like a red-and-gold starry night) a close second.
Cabrales and Apples
Serves 2 as a light lunch or 4 as a combined cheese/dessert course.
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
2 Golden Delicious apples, cored and cut into eighths (skin intact)
4 ounces Cabrales cheese, crumbled
1/2 cup lightly toasted and coarsely chopped walnuts
2 tablespoons honey
1. Melt butter in 10-inch skillet over medium heat. Add apples and gently saute until lightly speckled with brown spots. Turn over and lightly brown other side.
2. Arrange apples on plate, intermingling with crumbled Cabrales and walnut pieces. Drizzle with honey and serve.