There are elaborate and luxury kinds. There are also humble kinds, accompanied by nothing but a few beans and turnips. If the rice is cooked to perfection and the accompanying ingredients are in season, however, they are all as tasty as each other.
A kitchen without rice is like a beautiful woman without an eye. The quote is by Confucius, but it is not unusual to find it opening an article about rice. Rice is, after all, one of the world's most widely eaten cereals. But, although millions of Chinese consume it daily, it is the people of Valencia that have developed a thousand and one different and delicious ways to cook it.
In the Valencia region rice is prepared in five different ways, each with many variants
paella-style, stew-based, dry, sweet and oven-cooked. The most universal (and most often faked) formula is of course the paella. Its name comes from the pan in which it is cooked, with its wide base and low borders, across which the rice is spread out. It is a country dish that is prepared with whatever ingredients you may have to hand. The tavella and garrofó beans are grown locally and are usually marinated in good oil and added to the rabbit, chicken, frog, or even water rats that once formed part of the dish (and which, according to those who tried them, were exceedingly tender and tasty.)
The locally grown snails, while small and grey, are a classic ingredient and often replace the traditional rosemary branch. The secrets of a good paella are the rice, always of rounded grain, and a sofrito (fried sauce) of grated tomato and sweet paprika, along with a good broth and a constant heat that reaches all parts of the pan. The famous
socarrat or socarraet (where the base of the paella becomes crunchy and sticky) is neither essential nor the sign of a good cook.
The base of an oven-cooked rice dish
is nearly always a sofrito of garlic and paprika with added broth that is steamed for a few minutes before being added to a flat clay oven dish with the rice, stew and roasted chicken. Other ingredients, such as boiled chick peas or sliced potato, are also often added. The dish is put into the oven until the rice is dry and brown. One oven-cooked rice dish is the famous con costra, that takes its name from the crust (costra) formed by the beaten eggs that are added to the rice shortly before it is cooked. The best winter rice dish is also oven-based: en fesols i naps -with beans and turnips-, although the traditional formula is rice stew.
The rice stews are prepared in a pot and have the texture of a thick soup. All sorts of ingredients can be added, but one popular variety includes onion, artichokes and rabbit, cooked in a broth or water for 45 minutes before adding the rice and replacing the evaporated liquid to a limit of two litres. After 20 minutes the rice is ready. A side dish of chopped garlic and parsley is usually served. Another Valencia marvel are the creamy or sweet rice dishes. The base of these dishes is usually a good fish stew, ant they are prepared in similar fashion to an Italian risotto. Gently fry chopped onion in oil before adding the shellfish or fish in small pieces, and the rice. Then stir in the broth with a wooden spoon until the rice releases the starch that gives the dish its creamy texture. This dish can also be prepared with a pressure cooker, marinating the onion in oil to begin with, then adding the fish and broth and finally the rice. Leave the cooker on medium heat for ten minutes and then five minutes at low heat. That is the trick for those willing to give it a try.
La Marcelina Paseo de Neptuno, 8
Playa de las Arenas (Valencia)
El Racó de la olla Carretera de El Saler, kilómetro 15
El Palmar (Valencia)
Tuna and Goat Cheese Empanadillas: Empanadas are crisp turnovers that can be filled with anything from ham and cheese to spinach and pine nuts, or the previous day's leftovers. Altough they are often associated with South America, empanads originated in Spain's northwestern region of Galicia, where they remain immensely popular to this day. Empanadillas, the smaller, pocket-size versions of empanadas, are generally served as tapas, and, because no silverware is required to eat them, make perfect party food.
This colorful paella gets its name from the addition of paprika and red bell peppers, which flavour the rice. The sweetness of the roasted sweet red bell peppers in this recipe is the perfect counterpoint to the saltiness of the clams and aromatic pungency of the garlic. Filling but light, this paella leaves ample room for a creamy Spanish dessert.
Only 20 years ago almost nobody discussed Spanish cooking. Things have certainly changed. Iberian ham is recognized as the best (and most expensive) in the world. Olive oil, with Spain as the largest European producer, is considered the healthiest and most beneficial of all oils and fats. And most of all, tapas, those delicious mouth-watering appetizers, originally created to accompany drinks, have made their spectacular entry onto the global food scene. Tapas bars are multiplying everywhere. Tapas comes from the Spanish word tapa, lid, as they were originally served on small plates covered by wine glasses (to keep the flies away). A few slices of Chorizo, served with some olives is how the whole craze started. Undoubtedly, today's tapas are most memorable when served with wines of Jerez. The recipes in this book make it easy to prepare an unforgettable feast for your friends. The recipes allow for variations in quantities, permitting you to adapt your menu to the number of guests. Most recipes here are for traditional tapas. But there are no hard and fast rules. Any dish can become a tapa, when served in small quantity among other delicious tidbits.