Fidella? Paedeuà? Maybe We Should Just Call It Fideuà Inauténtico.

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A little bit of Valencia, a little bit of Catalunya, a little bit of Inglewood.

If you’ve ever been to Spain — and even if you haven’t — there’s a fair likelihood that you have at some point encountered paella, that rice-based Valencian marvel redolent of saffron and pimentón de la Vera. Believe it or not, the paella you treasure in your taste buds’ memory is likely, in a word, inauténtico. Paella, like pizza and pretzels, rallies a passionate coterie of prescriptivists to its bosom, each claiming that a single path alone leads to the culinary ecstasy prized by gourmands. Yeah, bunk.

The earliest precursor to paella I could find dates to about 1520, when the notes of the master chef to Ferdinand I, Rupert de Nola (who, despite his name, was not from New Orleans), were codified into Libre del Coch (later Libro de Guisados), said to be the first printed cookbook in Catalan (and, some further allege, in Spain). It seems to have been compiled originally in 1477, which indicates that book publishers back then maintained the same sort of leisurely release schedule they do today.

What? A book without pictures? Depends on your edition.

But I digress. According to Saveur magazine, the original Valencian paella was likely cobbled together from local ingredients. Rice was a Moorish legacy dating back to the overthrow of the Visigoths in 711, and Arab traders brought saffron to the region a couple hundred years later. Then, all they had to do was add some veggies and protein, and presto! It’s said that snails (which sound much tastier in Spanish, as caracoles) and rabbits were often featured, as were local beans. [Beans and rice? How is it that there’s no paella burrito food truck in Los Angeles? Maybe this.] In any event, the natives are passionate about what is and is not authentic (even when they disagree on specifics), but what else would you expect from citizens of a town that sports its own rice museum?

In the early 20th century, one Valencian had gone completely heretical, not only adding seafood to paella, but substituting noodles for rice! There are competing legends surrounding the origin of fideuá, one of which portrays it as an accident by a chef who had run out of rice, another concerning a chef who attempted to dissuade a gluttonous sea captain by ostensibly making his paella less palatable with noodles. Whatever the truth, the dish became a hit, though it migrated up the coast into Catalunya for its most elegant expression.

While I have a great deal of respect for the tradition of Spanish cuisine, I’m not above a cultural mashup (I am going to pull together a paella burrito one of these days!), so I assembled a dish I proudly call Fideuà Inauténtico. [I once worked with a multiple Grammy-nominated art director who occasionally said, “Go ugly early.” I’m not sure exactly what she meant by that, but it seems to apply here.] I will note that, as with many of the recipes found on this blog, this is more of a suggestion than an absolutist set of instructions.

Developing the socarrat.

Fideuà Inauténtico
Serves approximately 4 to 6, with a little left over

NOTE: This was made in a 16″ Staub pan designed for cooking paella. Technically, the pan is also called a paella, so saying “paella pan” is as redundant as saying “La Brea Tar Pits.” Mine is rather heavy and thick, while the traditional Spanish version of the pan is thin. The size and weight of your pan will affect cooking time, so have a care. The ultimate goal is for the pasta to absorb the liquid, and to develop a bit of a crust (or socarrat). While the dish as pictured was made on top of my ancient O’Keefe and Merritt stovetop, I often use my outdoor gas grill for this dish, because it produces a superior socarrat, thanks to the larger burners and higher BTU output.

INGREDIENTS
2 packages fideo pasta* (7 oz. / 400 g each)
½ cup / 120 ml extra-virgin Spanish olive oil
1 pound / ½ kg boneless chicken thighs, cooked and chopped
1 – 2 teaspoons / 2½ – 5 g pimentón de la Vera (sweet/dulce if you have it, but bittersweet/agridulce or hot/picante work fine)
1 medium onion, chopped
4 garlic cloves, chopped
2 pounds / 1 kg tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and chopped or two 14-oz / 400 g cans of fire-roasted diced tomatoes
20-24 large shrimp, tail on, uncooked
8 oz. / 225 g link of Spanish chorizo** cut into 20 or so slices
3½ – 4 cups / 820 – 940 ml of stock (I used chicken stock, but fish or veggie or beef would work fine also), heated
⅛ – ¼ teaspoon / .09 – .17 g saffron (not really very much, because it’s super expensive, but you can add more if you want)
¼ cup / 60 ml dry Spanish white wine such as Albariño (optional)
Salt to taste

*Angel hair pasta and vermicelli also work well, so long as they are in broken into short pieces and you adjust the cooking time and amount of liquid so they don’t get overcooked. Spaghetti, on the other hand, is too thick.
**Spanish chorizo, unlike Mexican chorizo, is cured and has the texture of a hard sausage.

DIRECTIONS

Cook chicken thighs in advance, using whatever method you prefer. I braised mine in wine, intending to finish them off with a little browning on the gas grill, but I skipped that step for time’s sake, and it worked out fine. In fact, I made the thighs the previous night, and just chopped them up the following evening. I saved the cooking juices to combine with the stock.

Heat the stock in a saucepan to simmer; you will be adding it in a bit at a time later in the recipe.

In large paella pan (sic), combine olive oil and fideo over high heat; brown fideo to golden colour, stirring frequently (don’t worry if some gets a little too dark, just don’t burn it). Add pimentón de la Vera and onion and cook until softened, about 3-4 minutes. Add garlic and continue cooking about one minute. If it looks like the fideo is getting too dark, splash in a little stock or wine and allow it to evaporate.

Add tomatoes, cooked chicken, chorizo, shrimp, and saffron, arranging them in the pan evenly. Begin pouring stock in a bit at a time (about 40% the first time, then 20% or so with each subsequent pour), allowing it to reduce a bit before adding more. DO NOT STIR, because this will mess with the formation of the socarrat. [You can sample the pasta along the way, checking to see if it has gone from crunchy to al dente. Typically, fideo requires only 4-5 minutes in boiling water.] A couple of minutes after the first stock addition, flip over the shrimp. When they are cooked, they’ll turn from grey to pink and white. You may need to turn them over a couple of times to get them there. Should you run out of stock, you can add a bit of dry wine, such as Albariño, or even a dry rosé. It’s also possible that you may not need to use all your stock. Let your tastebuds be your guide. If the pasta’s done and the shrimp are pink, you’re good to go. Allow the liquid to evaporate, take the pan off flame, and let it sit for a 3-5 minutes to help build the socarrat.

Lift portions out of pan with spatula, making sure to scrape off the socarrat in the process. It is traditionally served with allioli, a kind of garlic mayo that can be made in a food processor or with a mortar and pestle. Possibly due to the number of margaritas I had consumed, I skipped this step. It tasted fine without the condiment.

Just about fork-ready.

You can call me Al. Albóndigas.

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Believe it or not, the red colour comes mostly from the chorizo, not the tomatoes.

Believe it or not, the red colour comes mostly from the chorizo, not the tomatoes.

One inevitable responsibility after Thanksgiving dinner is the disposal of the turkey carcass. Picked clean for sandwiches and goodness knows what all else — tamales? sliders? pot pie? — there’s still a significant heap of bones and attached bits that deserve a better resting place than the rubbish bin.

Around our house, we generally made turkey and vegetable soup, but it just seemed too… turkey-ish. By the time we’d gotten down to the carcass, believe me, most of the members of our household were all done with turkey. This year, I decided to make some simple turkey stock (something on the order of four liters, as it turned out, because I wasn’t patient enough to let it condense into what Julia Child called a “semi-demi-glace”). But not for turkey soup. No. I figured it would make an excellent base for one of my favourite Mexican dishes, sopa de albóndigas (meatball soup).

While this soup is decidedly Mexican, its roots go back to the times that Arabs ruled Spain. The word “albóndigas” is derived from the Arabic word for hazelnut, “al-bunduq,” because the meatballs of the era were about the size and shape of said nuts. Their preparation was described in one of the great cookbooks of its day (its day being the 13th century), Kitab al- tabikh fi Maghrib wa al-Andalus (An Anonymous Andalusian Cookbook). Not too surprisingly, the meatballs emigrated to the New World with the conquistadores (along with smallpox and syphilis, albeit with a happier outcome for the locals). The use of mint in this recipe is almost certainly a descendant from a Middle Eastern predecessor, given the region’s historic proclivity for employing the herb as a seasoning for meats.

Far as I’ve been able to discover, there are two general schools of thought on sopa de albóndigas. One holds that it’s primarily a tomato-based soup, and the broth ought to be more or less jam-packed with tomato-y goodness and coloured fire engine red (PMS 199); the other is that tomatoes play a role, but not the lead. I opted for the latter. After all, I’d gone to some trouble to make the turkey stock, and I didn’t want it completely buried in the mix. The soup ultimately turned out a rich red colour, but that was thanks to the chorizo, not the tomatoes (as you can see in the picture below, when it was just the veggies and stock).

ALBÓNDIGAS SOUP

Carrots, planed on the mini-mandoline. I then cut the "coins" in half.

Carrots, planed on the mini-mandoline. I then cut the “coins” in half.


Ingredients
Broth
12 cups/3 liters turkey stock (or chicken, or vegetable, or beef)
2 carrots, sliced
1 large onion, chopped
4 stalks celery, diced
1 (14 ounce/411 g) can diced tomatoes (these were fire roasted)
1 (7 ounce/198 g) can diced green chiles, drained
1 cup/150 g cooked rice
2 teaspoons/2 g dried oregano
2 teaspoons/2 g ground cumin
1 clove garlic, minced
1 to 3 tablespoons/15-45 ml sauce from a can of Chipotle chiles in adobo sauce, to taste
1 seeded Chipotle chile in adobo sauce, optional
Sea salt and pepper to taste (smoked salt works well in this)

Here’s a trick for the rice; just cook 1 cup/180 g of dried rice (I used Brown Jasmine), put 2/3 of it in the soup and reserve 1/3 for the meatballs.

[A NOTE ABOUT CHILES: If you’re seeding Chipotle chiles in adobo sauce, wear gloves. Even the sauce is pretty hot, and if you touch your face… well, you won’t do it a second time. For the uninitiated, add the adobo sauce a tablespoon at a time, stir the broth, taste, and decide if you want to add more. If you dump it all in at once, good on you, you brave soul, but remember that this is a bell that can’t be unrung. Also, if you don’t have Chipotles in adobo sauce handy, you can get Chipotle pepper powder; use 1-3 teaspoons/1-3 g, tasting as you go.]

Broth and veggies. Mmmm.

Broth and veggies. Mmmm.

Making the broth is super easy; basically, you just dump it all into a big pot, bring it to a boil, and then back it off to a simmer. I let mine simmer for a couple of hours, because I started making it one evening after dinner. [In fact, I put the broth in the refrigerator overnight and finished the soup the following day.] If, however, you are doing a same-day soup, allow it to simmer for about an hour, so you can soften up the celery and onions and carrots, and give the flavours a chance to blend.

Meatballs (makes about 50 small meatballs)
1 lb/.5 kg lean ground beef
1 lb/.5 kg chorizo sausage, casing removed (not the fully cooked kind)
2 eggs, beaten
1/2 cup/70 g cooked rice
2 garlic cloves, minced
5-10 mint leaves, chopped
1/2 cup/25 g cilantro leaf, chopped
1/2 teaspoon/3 g salt
1/4 teaspoon/.5 g freshly ground black pepper

Full disclosure: I had about 100 g of turkey bits that I ran through a food processor and added to the meatballs. It’s not part of the “official” recipe, but it did taste good.

Mint and garlic get all muddled up.

Mint and garlic get all muddled up.

Some people say to make the meatballs first, but there’s really no need; getting the broth together and letting it simmer will afford you more than enough time to make them. The only trick to assembling the meatballs is that you should mash the garlic and the chopped mint into a sort of paste; otherwise, it’s just a matter of mixing it all up and rolling little meatballs (albóndigas) to about 1″/2.5 cm each. Heat up the broth to a low boil and lower the albóndigas — gently — into the broth. Let the meatballs cook at that temp for 5 minutes, then back the heat off, and simmer a further 20 minutes. Remember, at this point, your chief aim is to cook the meatballs through. That’s why smaller is better.

Tiny little soldiers of meat, preparing to parachute into -- quite literally -- the soup.

Tiny little soldiers of meat, preparing to parachute into — quite literally — the soup.

You can serve it straight, or if you want to get extra fancy, you can make corn tortilla ribbons for garnish. Just quarter small corn tortillas, stack the quarters, then slice the edges into ribbons. Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a frying pan, dump the ribbons inthe pan and stir until slightly browned. Remove them to a paper towel to drain and crisp up. Sprinkle over soup.

With the fried corn tortilla strips; these were spinach corn tortillas, for colour primarily.

With the fried corn tortilla strips; these were spinach corn tortillas, for colour primarily.

Calabaza Rellena con Todo lo Bueno — or — Pumpkin Stuffed with Everything Good

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Four years ago almost to the day, I was listening to National Public Radio (on KPCC in Pasadena, one of the two NPR stations to which I donate). I heard a woman hitherto unknown to me named Dorie Greenspan wax poetic about a French recipe that seemed to be the most delightful non-dessert pumpkin dish imaginable; she simply called it Pumpkin Stuffed with Everything Good. Intrigued by the concept, I purchased her most excellent cookbook (Around My French Table: More Than 300 Recipes from My Home to Yours), and I’ve made it a number of times, with great success. [Her version is simpler than this one, because there’s no pre-cooking involved; you just slice and dice and stuff and cook. Or, as the French, say, “Voila!” But hang with me here, and you’ll see where I was going.]

As I walked into the market this past Thursday, a cart piled high with gorgeous sugar pie pumpkins greeted me, and I was inspired to take a shot at reinventing the dish with a Southwest/Mexican flair. This is a fine way to introduce pumpkin into a Thanksgiving meal in some form other than pie, and it’s a remarkably flexible recipe. In many ways, this “recipe” sort of resembles a road map, with a thousand thousand routes that will all lead you from your point of departure (the kitchen) to your destination (the table).

You’ll want to note that all measures are approximate, because the pumpkin sizes will vary widely, but if you have leftover stuffing, you can always wrap it in tin foil (or, if you’re trying for a little more Southwest authenticity, a banana leaf or two), and cook it alongside the pumpkin. Arranging and wrapping the banana leaves in a way that will keep the liquid from seeping out may be something of a challenge, but it’s manageable.

This version is gluten-free; it can easily be “veganized” by substituting your favourite vegan cheeses, and full-fat coconut milk for the cream (the reason I suggest the full-fat coconut milk as opposed to soy-, rice-, or almond milk is that the coconut milk better replicates the creamy mouthfeel).

CALABAZA RELLENA CON TODO LO BUENO
(PUMPKIN STUFFED WITH EVERYTHING GOOD, SOUTHWEST STYLE)

Ingredients:

1 pumpkin (approximately 3 lbs/1.5 kg)
1 can (15.25 oz/432 g) corn, drained
4-6 slices of stale bread, cubed (I used Whole Foods’ Sun-Dried Tomato and Roasted Garlic Gluten-Free Bread)
12 oz/345 g Monterey Pepper Jack cheese, shredded (you could also use Cheddar or Gouda or Manchego)
3 Hatch chile peppers (or Anaheim chile peppers), seeded and diced (or a 4 oz/113 g can of diced green chiles)
6-8 shallots, chopped
6-8 stems fresh cilantro leaf (also known as coriander leaf or Chinese parsley), chopped
2-3 cloves garlic (to taste), peeled, germ removed and coarsely chopped
1 tsp/1.8 g dried oregano
4-6 sliced of crisp bacon, crumbled
2 links chorizo (about 1/2 lb/0.25 kg)* [see note on chorizo below]
1 plantain, diced (optional)
1 small or 1/2 large brown onion, diced
salt and pepper to taste
1/3 cup/80 ml heavy cream (or half and half, if you prefer)
2 tbsp/12 g Cotija cheese, crumbled or grated, for garnish (optional)
Fresh cilantro leaves, chopped, for garnish (optional)
3-4 banana leaves, optional (available at most Latino grocery stores)

Directions:

Center a rack in the oven and preheat it to 350°F/175°C. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil, parchment, or a silicone baking mat so that if the pumpkin innards boil over (which they sometimes do, a bit), they don’t soil the inside of your oven.

This pumpkin needs a cleaning out.

This pumpkin needs a cleaning out.

Using a sharp and sturdy knife, carefully cut a cap out of the pumpkin’s top the way you would if making a Jack-o’-lantern. [Ms. Greenspan’s suggestion is to cut at a 45-degree angle. But be careful; the pumpkin rind is tough. I find that a stabbing motion, a la Psycho, is emotionally satisfying, but it’s your call.] The opening should be large enough for you to work inside the pumpkin. Clean the strings and seeds from the cap, and set it aside (we’ll be using it later). Scoop out the loose guts (again, strings and seeds) from the pumpkin’s interior. [The seeds can be cleaned, salted, and roasted later, should you desire, or you can toss them.] Season the inside of the pumpkin with salt and pepper, and place it on the baking sheet.

Chorizo and onions and plantains, oh my!

Chorizo and onions and plantains, oh my!

Heat a frying pan and cook the bacon until crispy, then let it drain on a paper towel. Peel the plantain and dice it into quarter-inch cubes. Remove the chorizo from its casing and put it, the chopped plantain, and the chopped onion into the still-warm frying pan (which should still have bacon grease in it, so no need for oil), being careful not to splatter hot grease. Cook for about 8-10 minutes, breaking up the lumps of chorizo, and stirring occasionally. Remove plantain, onion, and chorizo from pan with a slotted spoon (or drain in colander over a ceramic or Pyrex bowl, as you don’t want that grease going down your sink) and place in a large bowl. Add the bacon, bread, peppers, cheeses, scallions, garlic, cilantro, and oregano, then toss. Season with a bit of freshly-ground black pepper, and pack the pumpkin with the mix, leaving enough room for the cap to fit back on. [We’ll come back to what to do with any extra filling a little later.] Pour the cream into the pumpkin, and use your judgement to decide whether you need to use all of it; it’s for moistening the ingredients, not immersing them.

All stuffed up...

All stuffed up…

...and capped for cooking.

…and capped for cooking.

Replace the cap and bake the pumpkin for about 2 hours — check it after 90 minutes — or until the pumpkin filling is bubbling and its flesh is tender enough to be pierced easily with the tip of a knife. You may want to remove the cap for the last 20-30 minutes of cooking to brown the top and evaporate some of the liquid.

Note the colour change on the pumpkin. Gorgeous.

Note the colour change on the pumpkin. Gorgeous.

IF YOU HAVE LEFTOVER PUMPKIN STUFFING…
You can moisten it with a little cream (not too much!) and wrap it in a banana leaf, seal it in tin foil, or even put it in a small covered casserole dish, and roast it alongside the pumpkin on the baking sheet. It can come out after 60-75 minutes (after all, it wasn’t insulated by all that pumpkin flesh), but even if you forget, it should still be plenty moist. Alternatively (as this recipe yielded just about enough for TWO small pumpkins), you can freeze the remainder, making the next pumpkin-stuffing party all that much quicker.

Serving:

When the pumpkin is ready, allow it to rest on the baking sheet for about 5 minutes or so before trying to move it. Then, carefully transfer it to a platter and bring it to table. Remember, it’s hot, and the cooking will have reduced the pumpkin’s structural integrity, so take your time. It can either be cut into wedges with the filling spooned over, or you can scoop out pumpkin flesh and filling together. Garnish with the chopped cilantro leaves and/or Cotija cheese. Depending on the size of the pumpkin, the size of your guest list, and the size of your appetite, it can serve as either a main course, or the perfect accompaniment to a turkey or some other fowl.

A little Cotija, and now the stuffed pumpkin is ready to return the favour and stuff you.

A little Cotija, and now the stuffed pumpkin is ready to return the favour and stuff you.

*A NOTE ABOUT CHORIZO: Depending on where you live, the sausage known as chorizo may come in one of two forms. Typically, in Southern California (where I live), it comes in a loose, uncooked state, sometimes packed in a typical intestinal sausage casing (or a plastic one), but it is also sometimes sold without a casing, much like any spiced ground meat. In many other places, including my homeland of Canada, chorizo is generally sold fully cured and has a texture not unlike a dry salame. Either one of these will work, but it’s entirely unnecessary to fry the dried version of chorizo; it can merely be diced (about 1/4 inch is good), and added to the pumpkin stuffing mix just like any of the other ingredients. [You should, however, peel off the casing before dicing it.]