Like so many women who decide to go forth and multiply, there came a point in the life of my friend Nieves Alberruche when she became known, or ‘identifiable’, as the mother of her boys F. and R. at the school our children went to.
Isn’t amusing and sometimes downright intriguing how relationships define our status in society? In the town where I live, I remain to this day recognisable as the ‘daughter of A.’ or the mother of C. and N., and sometimes I am also the wife of P. The good news of course is that all this doesn’t detract one whit from the ‘me’ that is me. I am quite happy to be ‘me’, whatever the social role I am playing.
Anyway, it took quite a while for me to discover that Nieves wasn’t ‘just’ the mother of her two boys but also an artist in her own right. I love her sculptures, I love her oil paintings, I love her witty outlook and quips and her sense of humour. Nieves hails from Madrid but is blond and blue-eyed and very … how can I put it … ‘trim’ and petite and going-to-the-gymn inclined, not to mention jogging and long bicycle rides. So I would never have thought her interested much in cooking, if you know what I mean. Which just goes to show how biased my perceptions can be.
She makes the very best seafood paella I’ve ever had the privilege to eat. I am not a paella expert but I have to confess that I don’t care for too much chorizo and I just can’t eat bunny — and most paellas seem to include these two ingredients. So when she explained that the Valencia paella was exclusively based on fish my ears pricked up and my palate rejoiced. I couldn’t get hold of her the evening I decided to make seafood paella and relied on memory to come up with the recipe. It wasn’t as good as hers but … considering we finished it all up, it can’t have been too bad!
Here is the paella – which is the name for the saucepan AND the recipe (and by the way, the word for saucepan in Italian is ‘padella’ which is very close don’t you think).
Here are some of the ingredients: venus clams, prawns, squid and rice. I weighed the rice (430g) and doubled the sum to calculate how much water I would need to cook it. 430 x 2 = 860 ml of water. Cut the squid into rings. Peel the prawns but do not throw away the shells because you will need them to make a stock.
Chop the onions and slice the garlic and drizzle some olive oil in a pan of your choice. I decided to start cooking the ingredients in a heavy le creuset-type of pot to start off with – but you could do this in the paella straight away if you prefer. Keep an eye on the heat, you don’t want the onions and garlic to brown. The idea is for them to cook gently.
Measure the amount of water required, depending on the amount of rice (in this case it was 860ml). Turn on the kettle or otherwise put this amount of water onto the boil. Put the prawn shells in a pan and turn the heat on high. Cook for about 2 minutes and then pour the water over them.
When the water begins to simmer, cover and cook for at least 15 minutes.
Now some time has passed and the onions and garlic are ready.
Time to add the tomatoes. Sprinkle some salt and a tiny pinch of sugar.
Add the squid rings (calamari rings).
Stir them and combine with the tomatoes.
Add the rice (I used Italian carnaroli rice because that’s what I had in the pantry).
Stir and combine the ingredients.
Pour the hot stock you have made with the prawn shells into the saucepan.
Give it a good stir.
The paella is simmering away and now you can add some threads of saffron (1 pinch of saffron threads at a pinch – ha ha ha ha, love the pun!).
I now transferred everything to the paella.
And I now added the liquid that the venus clams exuded. I stirred everything up one last time, tasted it to make sure the seasoning was okay and then left it to finish cooking in peace.
When it was almost done, I added the venus clams in their shells …
I added the prawns at the very end. At the very end because overcooked prawns become very rubbery if overcooked. Switch the heat off now.
Add some chopped parsely.
Avail yourself of the best possible olive oil and pour it into a glass … you will need more olive oil than you think for the finishing touch. Say the equivalent of one glass of wine.
Pour the olive oil over the paella until it glistens.
Squeeze the juice of one or even two lemons all over the paella (the amount of lemon juice will depend on the quality of the lemons you use and also on how ‘lemony’ you like your paella).
I happened to have some mussels lurking about that I had totally forgetten about when I started making the paella. No worries … I steamed them open separately and added them at the very end, almost like a garnish.
The wedge of lemon is also a garnish …
There were three of us for dinner that evening and I had used almost half a kilo of rice. I had presumed that there would be some leftovers …
I presumed wrongly. We polished off the lot … seafood paella is dangerous that way, you just can’t stop eating it!
Muchas gracias querida Nieves!