I don’t know how it happened, but Spain wove its way into my heart since I was very young. I was fascinated with flamenco dancers as a child (my mom can tell you stories about this), I was probably one of the only 16 year olds I knew who listened to Spanish guitar music (receiving weird looks from people who rode in my car with me), took Spanish classes in high school, and when I was in college, longed to study abroad in Seville, the capital of Andalusia – a region known for matadors, dusty landscapes, and flamenco.
I never got to study in Spain. I started reading about things like churros y chocolate, the traditions of Santa Semana (I’m not even Catholic), and can we talk about Don Quijote by Miguel Cervantes? Read it, loved it, saw the ballet. Perhaps I am secretly in love with the romantic idea of La Vida Tranquila, or the pace that life in Spain brings to mind. People take their time, a siesta is part of daily life, and the food?
I can’t say it enough – it is some of the best damn food in the world.
When I finally got to set foot in Spain…we went to San Sebastian, which is (for all intents and purposes), probably the least Spanish part of the country . I’ve tasted some of Basque Country’s delicious offerings, but there is much more to Spain than San Sebastian!
Txakoli is something I was introduced to in San Sebastian, as it is a wine that is wildly popular in Basque country, and almost impossible to find poured properly (from up high, using the pourer shown above) outside of Basque country! I once went to a wine bar in San Francisco where our server tried to pour Txakoli into my glass from about two feet above the table.
He poured about a quarter of the glass onto the floor.
Rioja is a region just south of the Cantabrian Mountains in Northern Spain. These wines are known to be bold, fruit-forward, with lots of tannins, that go really well with food. The 2009 Bodegas Muga Rioja “Selección Especial” that we enjoyed with our Spanish lunch is one of my absolute favorite Spanish wines.
Gildas: The pintxo gilda (meaning lollipop) consists of a green olive, anchovy and 1 to 4 guindilla peppers (depending how spicy you want it), on a toothpick. This appetizer (pintxo/tapa) is one of the simplest and most delicious things I’ve ever eaten. While it is very Basque, you’ll find olives and anchovies eaten all over Spain!
So here is the basic framework for Paella Valenciana – truth be told, I never follow the proportions exactly, you just have to feel it out. I’ve made this so often that I’ve developed a fairly good sense of timing, so just keep doing it! If you have ever made risotto before, the process is very similar. This recipe can be expanded to feed many…if you find that the liquid amount seems too little, make sure to have extra broth on hand to cook the rice all the way through.
Per person, you will need:
1/2 c. Paella rice (I use Valenciano brand)
1/4 c. Dry white wine
5 Saffron threads
1/2 c. broth – for this version, I used octopus broth
1 Tomato, pureed
1/4 Yellow or white onion, diced
1-2 cloves Garlic, minced
1/2 a Chicken breast, cut into strips
1 piece Dried chorizo (not the mushy fresh kind), sliced at an angle
3-4 Shrimp, deveined, with shells still on
Red bell pepper
1/2 tsp. Pimenton de la Vera
Toast the saffron threads in a dry sauce pan until they start to release aroma. Add white wine to the pan and bring to a boil, then keep on low heat so the liquid stays warm. Heat the paella pan on medium high heat, and coat generously with olive oil. Saute the onions and garlic, then add the chicken breast. Cook until the chicken is lightly browned. Add the chorizo and heat through. Then, add the rice and keep stirring until the rice is coated with oil. Add the tomatoes and a heaping spoonful of pimenton de la vera and mix until even. Ladle some of the wine mixture and add a little chicken broth. This begins the cooking process for the rice. You will slowly add liquid and keep at a low simmer until the rice is almost done. Add all of the vegetables – the peas, artichoke hearts, bell pepper, and make sure the rice does not burn and stick to the bottom of the pan. Add the seafood and cook until the shrimp is done and the shellfish have opened.