with Donna Sweeny

Spanish Classics

Paella, a delicious combination of rice, vegetables, meat and seafood, originated on the eastern coast of Spain. Its popularity quickly spread, and today it seems that every province and city has added its own special twist. It is not unusual to sec “Paella Andalu­sia” or “Paella Valcnciana” listed on restaurant menus. The only thing all of these varia­tions have in common is saf­fron-flavored rice.

The making of a paella be­gins with a “sofrito“—a paste of olive oil, onions, garlic and tomatoes—which is the base for most Spanish slews. If this is your first experience in cook­ing with saffron (more ex­pensive, by far, than gold!), I am sure it will not be your last. The dried stigma of the crocus, saffron has long been used as a dye, medicine and cooking ingredient, and with good reason. It imparts to rice a distinctive golden yellow color, as well as a heady aroma and pungent taste.

The name “paella” conies from the two-handled metal pan in which it is cooked, the “paellera”; however, any 12-or 14-inch oven-proof frying pan will do just as well. What follows is a very basic paella recipe, but please remember there are no hard and fast rules — experiment add or delete ingredients as you like.

One cooking tip: Because the skin of a tomato is usually tough and bitter, this recipe calls for using a peeled tomato. A very easy way to do this is to spear the tomato with a fork, plunge it into a pot of boiling water and hold it there for about 15 seconds. Take it out and you will find that the skin of the tomato peels off readily.

Paella (8 servings)

  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 12 chicken drumsticks
  • 8 hot Spanish-type sausages
  • 1 medium sized sweet red pepper, seeded, deribbed, and cut into strips
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped onion
  • 1 teaspoon finely chop­ped garlic
  • 1 large tomato, peeled and chopped
  • 6 cups of boiling water
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground saf­fron
  • 3 cups of rice
  • 24 clams
  • 24 mussels
  • 1 small jar artichoke hearts
  • 1 cup frozen peas
  • Preheat the oven to 400°F.
  • Pour 2 tablespoons of the olive oil into the pan, brown the drumsticks, and set them aside to drain on paper towels.
  • Cut the sausages into one-inch slices, brown them and set them aside to drain on paper towels.
  • Add 1/4 cup of olive oil to the pan. Chop 2 of the pepper strips and cook them with the chopped onion, garlic, and tomato over medium heat. Stir the mixture constantly until a loose paste, the “sofrito” is formed.
  • Add 6 cups of boiling water and the saffron to the sofrito, stirring constantly, then add the 3 cups of rice. Stir gently and taste for sea­soning; salt if necessary.
  • Arrange the sausage slices, drumsticks, clams, mussels, and artichoke hearts in an attractive way on top of the rice/sofrito mixture.
  • Set the pan in the oven and bake uncovered for 20 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven, sprinkle the frozen peas on top. and return the pan to the oven for about 10 minutes. At the end of that lime, the rice should have absorbed all of the liquid. If not, continue to bake for a few more minutes. Do not stir the paella once it has been put in the oven.
  • When all the liquid has been absorbed, remove the pan from the oven, and let it stand for 5 minutes covered with a clean towel. Remove the towel and serve.

As the Spanish say, “Agua para et susto; vino para el gusto!” (Water for sustenance; wine for enjoyment!) A Spanish Rioja wine is a delightful accompaniment to paella, or per­haps you would like to try the ever-popular

Sangria (8 servings)

  • 1 bottle of dry red wine
  • 1 orange, thinly sliced, pits removed
  • 1/2 lemon, thinly sliced, pits removed
  • 1  tart apple, cored and thinly sliced
  • 1/4 cup of brandy
  • 2 eight-ounce bottles of club soda
  • 1/4 cup of white sugar

Combine all of the ingredi­ents in a large pitcher, mashing the fruit slightly with a wooden spoon. Refrigerate for at least one hour. Serve very cold.

While you are enjoying the paella, be sure to leave a bit of room for dessert. Flan is easy lo make, and because it is molded it makes an at­tractive presentation.

Flan (8 servings)

  • 3/4 cup plus 3 table­spoons of sugar
  • 3 cups of milk
  • 1 tablespoon of butter
  • 5 eggs
  • 3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • Preheat the oven to 375°F.
  • Place 3/4 cup of sugar in a saucepan and cook it over low heat until it becomes a thick brown syrup. Working quickly, coat the bottom of a 1 1/2 quart mold with the syrup and set aside. Individual tea cups can be used instead of the mold.
  • In another saucepan, scald 3 cups of milk and 1 table spoon of butter; cool to room temperature.
  • Beat 5 eggs, 3 tablespoons of sugar and 3/4 teaspoon va­nilla extract together and add to the cooled milk.
  • Pour the mixture into the mold. Place the mold in a baking dish with high sides; pour hot water into the baking dish to reach halfway up the side of the mold. Bake for 45 minutes or until a knife in­serted into the custard comes out clean.
  • Cool and refrigerate. Unmold onto a serving dish.