My father isn’t your typical amateur enthusiast chef. When I come visit him, the massive fridge is usually empty bar a shrink-wrapped pack of organic chorizo, two jars of jam, some butter and the odd half-empty can of something or other. Don’t get me wrong, he is a connoisseur and will happily spend a lot of money and/or time for good food. He’s been known to drive to a whole other country to get cheese and mussels.* Being his daughter, I too will happily throw money at my local deli guy, the provider of cheesy epiphanies such as buffalo milk taleggio (try it if you can, it’s nothing short of a revelation).
His appreciation for culinary greatness notwithstanding, my father is not the type of person who cooks to fill his belly. When I come visit, he avoids cook by casually suggesting he’d be happy to try whatever I’d feel like cooking, especially if this might include fish, fresh herbs, possibly capers and a general mediterranean feeling?
My father approaches cooking in the same style he attacks every subject that happens to catch his eye: with his very own academic curiosity and intellectual excitement. When he researches a recipe he thinks he’d like, he’ll cook and re-cook it, tweaking here and there until it has been perfected, at which point he usually wants to show off. His having reached this stage in the perfection of a recipe is usually indicated by a nonchalant remark at breakfast, like “So, what are we gonna have for lunch today? I could do (insert incredibly specific and detailed description of dish) if you like?”
The Paella he made on one of this show-off occasions has since entered my personal favourites list. Best enjoyed with a glass of red wine, this is an utterly delicious, easy recipe, especially if you have roasted or grilled chicken leftovers on hand. If not, there’s an additional step in the recipe: poach a chicken breast, brush the pulled pieces with oil and a bit of seasoning (Brathendlgewürz – mostly salt, paprika and garlic) and put the pieces under the broiler in your oven to get nice charred edges. Alternatively, use smoked tofu cubes – not as good as the chicken, but a solid second best. This recipe also calls for pickled chargrilled bell pepper slices. Don’t buy the ones pickled in oil, you’ll want the ones in salsa. If you can’t get them, roast one red and one bell pepper at home and replace the salsa with a little tomato purée.
(I know I know, there’s no rice in the picture. How can it be a paella without rice, I hear you complaining? Well, it’s not. It’s Paella sin arroz, so to speak. More specifically, it’s the result of me craving paella and not being deterred by the fact that there wasn’t any rice in the pantry. I’ll replace the picture next time I make proper paella, promise.)
Finely chop 2 garlic cloves and fry them in a big pan with a little olive oil. After two minutes, add some roughly chopped chorizo slices and let them brown a bit. Then add a scarce handful of the chicken pieces, turning up the heat. Meanwhile, cook one and a half cups of white rice according to package instructions, throwing in a cup of frozen peas and a generous pinch of saffron in the last 5 mins. Take a handful frozen shrimps, wash them in a little hot water to get the ice coating off, pat dry and add to the pan. Take the bell peppers out of the jar, roughly chop them and add them and the tomato salsa they came in to the pan, salt and pepper to taste. Drain the rice, put it in the pan, give it a little stir, cover and wait for a couple minutes and you’re done!
* Not making this up.