Nothing continues the memories of a wonderful holiday better than bringing the food of that holiday destination home. There is nothing quite like the process of cooking, and eating international food to tease each of the senses with memories of the good times. So one of the first things I did after my return from my recent weekend in Barcelona was to recreate that exquisite noodle paella which I had so enjoyed on the quayside of the Port Vell over our last lunch. Using durum wheat pasta noodles rather than the traditional rice resulted in a delicious textural twist on the normal paella, while cooking without moving any of the ingredients so as to caramelise the fish stock into a golden crunch at the edges made this paella something to die for.
I found a similar recipe in a new cook book I have recently picked up, My Barcelona Kitchen by Sophie Ruggles. Unfortunately my supermarkets were less in tune with the noodle paella approach, and finding something similar to the recommended short durum wheat noodles required by the recipe turned out to be the first hurdle to cross. So thinking laterally, I decided to go for a durum wheat orzo instead – for these little beads of pasta very nearly replicated the short length and texture of the noodles we had hungrily devoured in Barcelona. As for the rest, buying myself a good heap of different shell fish, from tiger prawns to langoustines, as well as plenty of squid, mussels and some mixed fish, meant that I was plying my paella with as much fish as it deserved, and in probably more generous portions than had ever been lavished upon us in a restaurant.
First up was to make the fish stock, which is an important element to the dish since it is this which really gives the paella its distinctive flavour and ensures that that caramelisation is as rich and delicious as it deserves to me. However, I admit to cheating just a little bit, as I started off with 1 litre of fresh supermarket-bought fish stock to use as my base, before further enrichening this with a chopped and wilted white onion, 1 crushed garlic clove, 1 diced tomato, half a teaspoon of smoked (sweet) pimenton, a pinch of saffron threads, a whole load of prawn shells, heads – you name it. This was left to simmer away for a good 45 minutes or so to ensure full development of the flavours before being sieved to remove all of the chunky bits, leaving behind a flavoursome stock.
Then came the paella itself. I started off by coating the base of what should have been a paella pan, but in my case had to be a wok (I am yet to own a paella pan, but I will change this) and in that oil cooking 6 unpeeled garlic cloves for 2-3 minutes. I then added the uncooked orzo and coated in the oil before cooking, tossing frequently, for around 5 minutes until golden brown. I then removed the orzo and garlic and set aside, before then cooking the prawns and langoustines and again setting aside.
Finally, bringing everything together, I cooked my calamari for a few minutes (until the liquid had disappeared), threw in some pieces of mixed fish, my orzo, mussels and all of that delicious stock, and scattered the rest of the seafood including all of the prawns on top. I then cooked untouced over a medium heat for around 10 minutes to gently caramelise. I cheated on this aspect too, placing the whole paella under the grill for a few minutes at the end to further enhance the caramelised area – I just can’t get enough of that caramel!
And there we have it – my orzo paella, which can also be made with noodles, and just calls to be varied with all the different kinds of fish and shellfish that you desire. Buen provecho!