Paella (traditional Valencian style)

Valencian Paella
Valencian Paella

Paella is a very simple dish that Valencian peasants would cook using cheap, fresh and widely available ingredients. Yet despite its innate simplicity, people repeatedly misunderstand and complicate it, causing us Valencians a great deal of stress in the process, because we know it could be so much better and yet people keep insisting on bastardising our national dish in every possible way! ๐Ÿ˜ญ

Also if you, like me, do not live in Valencia and hence do not have access to some of the “niche” local ingredients, I will also provide acceptable replacements that follow the original spirit. I live in the UK, so my suggestions will reflect what I can find in local markets and supermarkets. If it’s not in my list, it quite probably is not acceptable, so don’t add it ๐Ÿ˜œ

Hope you enjoy it!
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Herbal teas, locally brewed drinks, and fusion cuisine

I was in Spain for a few days last week. On the way in I flew with hand baggage only. But the way back involved checking in my previously almost empty bag (I pack very lightly), as it had been loaded with a (figurative) ton of local-ish produce:

  • sobrasada! and four different cheeses from various parts in Spain
  • spelt based spaghetti with spirulina and other sea weeds (I love trying out new things)
  • Organic Spanish Marcona almonds
  • three bottles of Antoรฑita La Moderna, a locally brewed beer which I had just tried and liked, so my beerofiliac spouse can try it
  • a bottle of herbero – a drink made out of a sweet aniseed digestive base with added local herbs from the Serra de Mariola mountains
  • sweet chamomile, elder, mate (to brew)
  • And since this is the season of colds: locally sourced thyme (to brew) and eucalyptus (to inhale)

I couldn’t stop thinking this was quite a funny bag, and also hoping the bottles would not be smashed despite my best packing efforts. I normally don’t take liquids with me so I don’t have to check them in, because then I’m all worried they’re going to be smashed when loaded/unloaded. Stupid airport security procedures… ๐Ÿ™„

Since I came back we’ve been enjoying all manners of unusual culinary combinations; let’s call them fusion cuisine:

Chestnut mushrooms and spirulina and spelt spaghetti
Dinner: chestnut mushrooms and spirulina and spelt spaghetti
Eggs on sobrasada on toast, with spring onions
Breakfast: eggs on sobrasada on levaine toast, with spring onions

And some not-so-weird: thyme infusion, or thyme tree – perfect to soothe sore throats, or just to enjoy its fragrant smells:

Thyme infusion

We also tried the elder infusion; I had never had that one before. I fell like a baby afterwards, not sure if it’s related or not, but there you go!

Roasted artichokes

Artichokes in salad
Artichokes in salad

We sourced a few good looking artichokes at Natoora and I couldn’t resist turning them into a lightweight dinner! This style of dinner is very common around my home area as it won’t have you digesting heavy stuff for hours, and so you can sleep well.

Preparation

  1. First chop their stems, and also a few of the outside leaves (as they’re hard, have spiky bits and that’s not nice). Then cut them in halves:

    Artichoke sliced in half
    Artichoke sliced in half
  2. Put them all on a pan, add some oil and salt, and set them to a high heat
  3. Wait until they got some colour in one side. Then turn them around and brown them on that side too. If they’re cooking too fast and you fear they’ll burn, reduce the heat!
  4. Add some water – about a centimeter tall, cover, and bring to a boil. Then reduce the heat and let the artichokes soften in the water
    Artichokes roasting in the pan
  5. Once the water has evaporated, check the artichokes are soft (I just “lightly” punch them with a fork). If not, you can either add a bit more water and repeat the process, or keep them on a very low heat for longer.
  6. Done! Ready to eat!

In this case I served them with some escarole salad, tomatoes and cucumber, and just a touch of olive oil and balsamic vinegar. It is way more filling that you’d imagine, because the artichokes are so full of flavour, and the other vegetables were really high quality so it was a really sensational dish ๐Ÿ™‚

Other ways to serve them:

  • with toasted bread and olive oil. I would prefer wholemeal baguette style bread, but any good bread could work.
  • with an omelette (possibly a simple egg one)
  • with pan fried chicken breasts

Rambling time

Escaroles seem quite uncommon in the UK, but I grew up eating them during winter months, and I miss them, so I was very excited that Puntarelle & co had them in stock. The taste is quite different from your every day lettuce: peppery, spicy, a bit sour. I figured liking them is certainly an acquired taste because my very English partner didn’t like them at all! ๐Ÿ˜†

In the same vein, finding good artichokes in London’s markets is quite the challenge. Forget supermarkets—I’ve never, ever, been able to find artichokes which were not weeeeell past their best times.

But it’s hard to tell from the outside because to know for sure you’d need to slice open the artichoke and see if it is still a bud, all green and undeveloped, and it has not started to turn into the bloom before the flower (which is what artichokes are, after all).

One way to test this is to gently squeeze the artichokes and see how they respond. They should be flexible; if they’re stiff it’s too late. But sometimes it’s hard to say…

Another way of testing is to use your nose: fresh artichokes have a very ‘green’ and characteristic smell. But this doesn’t work with supermarkets because the produce has been in a fridge for so long it just doesn’t smell of anything anymore. And shops tend to be cold as well, which doesn’t help with releasing aromas. So you could only use this in fresh markets.

When the flower develops, the “core” of the artichoke turns into stems and it’s absolutely vile to eat because it’s like eating spiky hairs that make a ball at the end of your throat. Urghhh. It’s also incredibly difficult to slice, as it hardens. I’ve lost count of the amount of artichokes I’ve had to throw away after I tried to salvage some of their contents ๐Ÿ˜ฑ

It is a complex problem that feeds itself:

  1. They are still a ‘weird’ vegetable and the demand is pretty low, so the food chain doesn’t prioritise getting good quality artichokes fast to the UK. And then they spend way too long in the shelves
  2. When people buy them and find a disgusting vile old artichoke they never buy them again, and so the demand keeps being low
  3. Back to step one ๐Ÿ˜ญ

Still, I keep trying to find decent ones, because they can be so delicious!

Amusingly enough in Spain you can not only easily find artichokes, but even the stalks of the plant, called pencas, which are eaten in stews and salads. Nothing goes to waste!