Sunday, 5 May 2013

spanortuguese sunday

Wow, it's been nearly 365 days since I last blogged.
Let's gloss over how scary that is, tempus fugit etc. and instead concentrate on whatever could have been so inspiring as to take me away from my uber busy life and put fingers to keys and talk about FOOD once more.
A sunny bank holiday lunch full of delicious Spanish paella and Portuguese pasteis that's what.
A visit to a village to see some good friends of ours (Spanish Valencians no less) was the perfect moment to finally perfect my paella making skills. For too long now I have blundered about with risotto rice (shock!) and chorizo (horror!) making some sort of weird hybrid version of the devil's paella when in fact, I should just have been listening to it talk to me all along... Let me elaborate.

Angel showed me how to make a traditional chicken paella from scratch, using his special big cast iron paella pan and a massive gas canister - not for the faint hearted. He started by frying a whole chicken cut into pieces in olive oil, and then added some paprika and a tin of chopped tomatoes. (Usually rabbit is added for depth of flavour but the meat is pretty hard to find in the UK - plus mum doesn't like eating bunnies). Broad beans cut into pieces and butter beans which had been soaked overnight completed the base of the paella. Super simple - no fresh tomatoes, no onion and garlic base, no mushrooms, NO CHORIZO! This is a huge faux pas - never add chorizo to paella as the flavour tends to dominate everything else in the dish. Pour in 3 litres of water, add some saffron and salt crushed together with a pestle and mortar and simmer for 45 mins.
In the meantime while you wait for the paella to turn from a liquidy soup into a thick hearty broth, why not drink an icy beer in the garden, nibble on some jamon, manchego and olives, or maybe try some of a freshly baked hojaldre (pastry) filled with cheese, bacon and dates. The dates complement the savouryness like caramelised onion chutney works with a sharp cheddar, and the flaky pastry wraps it all up beautifully. It is a bank holiday weekend after all. 
Back to the paella pot, and its time to add in some medium short grain rice. Risotto rice is just too sticky - you need something firm enough to soak up all the liquid while still staying loose in the dish. Once the rice is added, mix well and LEAVE WELL ALONE for another 20 mins. Another paella myth (and one I was perpetuating) is that, like a risotto, you need to stir like a wild thing constantly until the thing's cooked. No! Just leave the rice to soak up all the liquid and use the heat to speed up or slow the process by turning up or down. No spoon action needed.
Only a true paella pro like Angel would know when the dish is ready to be served - no digging in with fingers, testing grains of rice etc. The trick is to listen. You can hear the sound of the paella change, from a more liquid bubbling to a gentle snap and crackle of the edges of the rice crisping and frying. This means the paella is done and dusted, and after resting it for 5 minutes, it's ready to serve in all it's glory with a few slices of charred fried red peppers on top and a chilled glass of white wine on the side. Mmmm mmm mmm.

Spanish sundays, all the S's, as a palette cleanser before I took over the reins on dessert, we had some divine strawberry specials, super light and dreamy, made with whipped egg whites, and pureed strawbs with icing sugar. Best described as little clouds of summer and could definitely be recipe riffed by adding pureed mango or other fruits instead of strawberries.

My turn to teach, as for pudding I cracked on with pastel de nata (Portuguese custard tarts), eyecatching buttercup yellow wibbly wobbly centres. Boil 250g golden caster sugar (don't use brown sugar as it will turn your custard muddy in colour) in 125ml water, with two cinnamon sticks and two lemon slices for around ten minutes so the flavours infuse nicely. In a separate pot, whisk 30g plain flour with 20g cornflour and a few drops of vanilla essence, with a dash of milk to make a sticky paste (think glue).
To this, keep whisking in 250ml of cold milk until you have a thick mixture. The key is to add very small amounts in slowly so no lumps occur. Add in the sugary water (with the slices and sticks removed obvi) and 3 beaten egg yolks plus one whole egg. Stir away until you get a gorgeous unctuous yummy custard.

Using a deep muffin tray, grease the tins and cut out puff pastry rounds. Pretty Rosario in her flamenco apron, did a sterling job of holding the tray still while we filled the pastry cases with the nata and then popped in the oven for 20 mins at 220C. Lovely tarts for all, crisp flaky buttery casing deep filled with a full flavoured custard - extra delicious cold the next day too. Dust with cinnamon or nutmeg for an extra flavour hit. I also want to experiment with a dollop of caramel or chocolate in the bottom of each tart with a heart... watch this espacio.