I was fascinated with the PBS series On The Road Again....Spain with Mario Batali, Gwyneth Paltrow, Mark Bittman, and Claudia Bassols. They seemed like odd bedfellows at first, but their chemistry was wonderful, as they traveled by convertable throughout Spain eating, drinking, and museum hopping. They covered every region from coast to coast and I totally went along for the ride.
I became obsessed with Spanish cuisine. I started buying Spanish olive oil-packed sardines that tasted better than fresh, fruity Spanish olive oil to drizzle on bagels, bulbousValencian bomba rice for paella, and Spanish wine. I even ordered an authentic paella pan from Spain!
Michael gave me the series companion book, Spain: A Culinary Road Trip, as a kind gift that seemed to throw gas onto my burning Spanish culinary tormented fire.
I was hooked. I started cooking my way through the book. I stopped buying jarred roasted red peppers and began roasting my own. I was making Caldo Callego, a white bean, chorizo, turnip, and turnip green stew, instead of my normal soups. Pan Con Tomat, grilled bread rubbed with garlic and ripe tomato became our house bread. I became irritated that our local grocery store didn't carry head-on fresh gambas (shrimp). I even managed to work the fresh sliced pineapple with drizzled lime juice and molassas appetizer into an event menu at work.
My first paella with my new paella pan was at our Spanish cookout last fall. I wanted to cook it over a charcoal fire so that the smoky fumes would permeate the paella much like the one Mario Batali created in the series over burning grape vines. It worked and managed and to season my pan as if it had cooked a 1000 paellas.
The burning and yearning desire for Spanish cuisine eventually started to wane in intensity, but still remained deeply important. There was one recipe in the book that alwayes eluded me. I was afraid to try it. It seemed so wrong. The name, Seafood Fideos sounded silly and intriguing.
I made it last night with calamari, shrimp, sausage, chicken, and shelled clams.
It was basically paella with pasta instead of Valencian rice. Thin pasta. Fideos or, in my case, angel hair pasta broken into 2 inch lengths.
It went really fast. Mise en place was definitely in order. I sliced green bell pepper, onions, garlic, roasted red bell peppers, and set them aside. The earthy autumn hued spices (tumeric, saffron, paprika, and smoked paprika) were set in place in demi mise en place cups and whole san marzano tomatoes were hand crushed into a side bowl. A combination of fish stock and saffron-infused chicken stock simmered quietly on the back burner until needed.
I cleaned, de-inked, de-quilled, and cut the heads off the calamari before slicing them into rings leaving the tenticles whole. The shrimp were deviened and left tail on.
I got my paella pan screaming hot, drizzled it with olive oil, sauteed the sausage, chicken, green peppers, and onions until caramelized and almost cooked through, and set them aside. I then sauteed the pasta in the pan drippings until toasted and nutty and deglazed the pan with white wine and stock. The pasta needed to be very toasted and dry in order to soak up the stock and tomatoes. After adding the spices, tomatoes, and remaining stock, I tossed in the calamari, shrimp, chicken, sausage,roasted red bell peppers, and let it simmer to thicken. Unlike paella, the fideua went into the oven at 350 to bake and absorb for 30 minutes.
It was interesting. It was almost the opposite of paella. With the direct heat of stove top cooking, the paella soccarat ( crunchy, sweet caramelized rice candy) forms on the bottom of the pan. With the oven method, it formed on the top of the fideua with crunchy pasta sticks. The shrimp and calamari were perfectly tender, adding a bounce back bite to contrast the soft pasta, meaty chicken, and grainy sausage.
It was good. Very good. What I thought sounded so wrong was completely right.