Last year, my wife and I stayed in a Tuscan-esque villa on a vineyard along with four other couples. It was a stunning location. We were there to celebrate a friend’s 50th with great food, wine and conversation. It was only our second night away without kids in about four years, so we were very excited.
We arrived in the afternoon and the sun was setting on the veranda. We dropped our bags where we stood, sat down at the table where everyone was sitting and tucked in to the cheese and wine already laid out.
The conversation was free flowing. We talked mostly about food and wine and where our food passion came from. Naturally, we talked a lot about our families.
One lady described her mother in law as an amazing cook, but her exact recipes were a closely guarded secret. However hard she tried, she could not pries the details out of her. She also talked of her regret of not writing down her mother’s recipes before she passed away.
That conversation stayed with me for days. I wanted to do something permanent for my daughters. I decided to buy a recipe journal to write recipes. But my handwriting is so bad the recipes were impossible to decipher. So now I have decided to use this blog to record all the recipes that mean something to me.
Some recipes will have family relevance. Others will be our simple mid-week dishes. A few will be memorable dinner party favourites. All will be dishes I want my daughters to know and cook, and their sons and daughters too.
First cab off the rank is paella. It’s my favourite one-pot dish. My friend and I – in a vain attempt to learn Spanish – camped in Alicante on the east coast of Spain for a couple of months. It was the first time I tasted tapas, tortilla and paella. I fell in love with the sun, Spanish food and Spanish women.
It’s the first dish I ever persevered with and eventually perfected. And I have cooked it so many times (much to the annoyance of my wife) I don’t need a recipe. I can even perfect the crust (or socarrat), the delectable part that sorts out the men from the boys.
Present it at a dinner party and it never fails to amaze, such is its the vibrancy. It is also very communal; an icebreaker that brings people closer together.
And it tastes amazing. It’s complex; a myriad of seemingly distinct flavours that, after careful cooking, merge into a balanced yet robust dish. My dream is to cook paella the proper way – outside on coals for about 20 people.
My first stab at Paella was using a simple Woman’s Weekly recipe out of Spanish Style Cooking. I bought the book about 12 years ago and I still have it. It is a great introduction and even though it’s a simpler version, it still tastes amazing. The first time I cooked it, I was hooked.
This recipe still forms the basis of the paellas I cook today, but now I vary it and add elements from other recipes. If I have time, I will make a sofrito (from Movida cookbook). Sofrito means softly fry and that’s exactly what you do with peppers, tomatoes and onions for about two hours. The final thick jam-like paste adds a depth of flavor.
I also prefer to keep it to seafood only. Adding meat such as chicken (or traditionally rabbit) just doesn’t sit right with me. In the past I have replaced chorizo with blood sausage and the results were just as good. I also vary the seafood. Sometimes I add squid, other times I keep it to clams and prawns.
So here it is, the first recipe for my daughters.
Sofrito (makes 2 cups)
- 125ml olive oil
- 2 white onions
- 2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
- 4 bay leaves
- 4 large red capsicums, seeded, membrane removed and finely diced
- 4 ripe tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and diced
Paella (serves 2-3)
- Large handful of clams (pipis or vongole)
- About 8-12 uncooked prawns
- Pinch of Saffron threads added to a small glass of white wine or warm water
- Olive oil
- Chorizo sausage (get a proper one from the deli, not a crappy supermarket version)
- 1 cup softrito
- 1 cup of rice (Arborio or Calaspare, not long grain)
- 600-800 ml seafood or chicken stock (I make one from the prawns shells, bay, peppercorns, fennel and vegetables)
- Small handful of green beans and frozen peas
Making the Sofrito
- Add the olive oil to a heavy based frying pan on a low heat. I use a paella dish. Add onions, garlic and bay leaves and cook until the onions are translucent (about 8 minutes I reckon)
- Add the peppers and cook for another 30 minutes
- Add the tomatoes and cook for another 1 ¼ hours. The sofrito keeps for 2-3 days in the fridge