People love Spanish food! I hear it all the time from people who either have visited me or want to visit. “I love that Pai-lela! Ohhh give me some Tor-tila!” People love it regardless of whether or not they can pronounce it. I generally do too for that matter. But my real love is the ingrediants. You see Spain is the land of the most incredible ingredients known to man. While the dishes can be great, they can also consist of overcooked vegetables and sauce less fried foods – things that have never made sense to me. It’s the ingredients though that are the real stars, so fresh and so varied that I can never get enough of them.
Take tonight for example. Gabriella comes home from a long day at work and what does she want? “Something with vegetables and fish in it.” It’s a mantra that I know so well and Imore then happily appease from time to time. However, fish is the best when purchased at the market, which is open in the mornings when I’m working. Although I try to get there as often as possible because I love fish, it’s not always easy; but tonight, I walked down to the local supermarket and found some frozen shrimp – head on, body intact and well, better than any other frozen shrimp I’ve seen back in the States. It’s not that good frozen shrimp doesn’t exist back there; I’ve just never seen anything quite like the frozen shrimp you get here before. Along with some fresh string beans I encountered, I also picked up a sweet wine from Valencia thatwould have to pass as Mirin for that Asian touched she requested.
Vegetable/Fruit stands are on every corner, which makes life wonderful here in Spain. Fresh, seasonal and often hand-picked, our fruit stand is located a few steps from my front door, making it hard not to pick something up on my way home each day. Oh, how I love it! The colors and the smells always taunt me as they did again today as I purchased two carrots and some incredible looking wild ‘shrooms sitting outside the front door! The lady behind the counter praised them highly, and when asked how they compared with the white button mushrooms sitting at their side, she gave a small laugh as if to suggest that there was no more in common between them than the banana that sat further down the shelf! So I left with 6 mushrooms, small dark and mysterious; 2 carrots, brighter orange than a deer hunter’s vest; and a BIG handful of the sweetest tasting Moscatel grapes saved from the fermentation vat. The walk home tasted good!
Now the fun part! I cleaned the shrimp and boiled them in a stock with the heads and some veggies I had lying around in the fridge. I then blanched the string beans just enough to bring out their color. The carrots were sliced, onions chopped along with a bit-o-garlic and ginger and waited for the stock to finish. Next, I pureed the stock while adding some white wine, then strained it and set aside the stock. I then sautéed Arborio rice with onion, slowly adding a cup of wine/stock to the rice slowly little by little until it was all absorbed and the rice became creamy.
Timeout: Kick curious wife out of kitchen. “Yes it smells good but the kitchen is small…SCOOT!”
Because the rice is about ready, I heat some oil in a pan with a hot pepper or two and a smashed clove of garlic. SMOKE! Tossing out the garlic and pepper, I’m left with spiced oil that the clean shrimp dive into, reluctant culinary gems they make the oil dance and spit angrily! Heating a second pan, I add some olive oil and toss in the lightly cleaned mushrooms. After they are slightly cooked through, I take them off as I turn off the shrimp at the same time, setting them both aside as I throw in the carrots, beans, onion, garlic and
ginger! Flip. Flip. Flip. I quickly add a healthy dose of soy sauce for seasoning. Killing the flame, I add back the shrimp and gently blend it together. The smell is intoxicating and I’m getting hungry. On the plates goes a heap of orange risotto colored from the shrimp shell stock and thickened with a bit of freshly grated Parmesan. A mound of vegetables and shrimp are placed on top with a small setting of mushrooms sprouting up on the side.
I feel confident that it looks nice at the point, but we are still missing the wine. The only wine I have that might stand up to these flavors is a white wine that was recently sent to us as a sample. Although I didn’t originally want to open the
2005 Barrel Fermented Alma de Tobia, I’m glad I did. Typically I hate barrel fermented whites because the fruit disappears behind the oak, vanilla, wood and earth, but this time we were pleasantly surprised. The wine was fresh, crisp and alive, as the racy acidity cut through the richness of the dish, while slight woodiness gave a softness to the earthy mushrooms and rich risotto. Gabriella was all smiles and I just sat content. The two blended so well. If I had planned the meal ahead of time, while selecting the wine that perfectly matched with the meal, I could not have done better.
Spain is a land of ingredients and the ingredients seem to know it. Just walk to the market, pick a wine and play in the kitchen. You can’t go wrong!