Paella

Ah paella. The mere sound of it takes me straight to Spain. And not, God forbid, pronounced in the British way but, rather, with its original clicking sound. The recipe below is not mine (I wish) as I do not know Spanish cuisine that good as to conjure up such an exquisite dish. It is Simon Hopkinson’s, the food writer and TV chef. It also passed the test of a real Spanish food lover’s taste, so it must be good.

There’s something deeply satisfactory about paella. Be it the rice, the abundance of ingredients or the mixture of shellfish and chicken (an authentic one calls for both indiscriminately), it makes such a perfect autumn/winter dish, not to mention how good it is when tasted during the warmer season. Be generous with portions too! The quantities indicated below serve 4, but believe me it would be enough for 3 greedy and hungry people. I have slightly adapted the ingredients and their quantities because the marketplace is a wonderful place to shop at, but does not unfortunately respond nicely to the tiny quantities of fish required below. Therefore, I went a bit commando with it.

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Ingredients

  • 150g chorizo sausage, cut into small coins and then halved
  • 1 squid, cleaned and cut into rings
  • 350g chicken thigh fillet, cut into small pieces
  • 100ml dry sherry
  • 200g cherry tomatoes
  • 4 cloves of garlic
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 150g green beans, sliced
  • 150g sweet red peppers from a jar, thickly sliced
  • 1 tsp saffron threads
  • 600ml hot chicken stock
  • 300g paella rice
  • 750g mussels, debearded and well washed (or already shelled, like in my case)
  • olive oil
  • salt & pepper

Ingredients (for the decoration)

  • 2-3 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
  • 2 tbsp chopped parsley
  • 5 tbsp olive oil

Method

  1. Use a large pan (I rely on my flat and very versatile Le Creuset pan) to heat some olive oil and then fry the chorizo slices until crisped up and the orange fat runs. Lift them out of the pan with a slotted spoon and set aside on a plate. Now introduce the squid and very briefly sliced until coloured. Remove with the slotted spoon and add to the chorizo.
  2. Season the chicken pieces with salt and pepper, then tumble in the pan and cook until golden brown for about 5 minutes.
  3. Meanwhile, put the sherry, cherry tomatoes, garlic and paprika in a food processor and whiz until smooth. Push the mixture through a fine sieve, then add to the pan once the chicken is nicely coloured. Bring up to a simmer.
  4. Cook for about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the tomato mixture has thickened.
  5. Now add the beans, peppers and saffron, then carefully pour in the chicken stock. Stir all together and bring to the simmer once again. Sprinkle the rice into the liquid and stir well, making sure it is evenly distributed among the chicken and the vegetables.
  6. Once you have done this, try not to stir the paella again and cook over a moderate heat for 20 minutes. Truth is I did stir to avoid catching at the bottom. I suggest that if your pan is not entirely non-stick you do that too. Cook until you can see the rice puffing up.
  7. Remove the paella from the heat and clamp the lid on. Leave to stand for about 5 minutes, then remove the lid and return to the heat. Add the mussels, chorizo and squid to the pan and cook, stirring, for another 2-3 minutes, then remove from the heat for the final time and steam with the lid on for another 5 minutes. This not only ensure the fish is completely cooked, but also keeps the rice very moist.
  8. To decorate, mix the ingredients together and trickle over the paella. Serve at once and enjoy.

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Mexican Pasta Bake

I love being creative in the kitchen. And if you can be creative and use leftovers at the same time, then even better. I wanted to make a pasta bake for dinner last time and, when faced with the prospective of baking the traditional British tuna and sweetcorn pasta bake, I decided to give it a twist using some ingredients I had leftover in my fridge and cupboards. Mexican-inspired was the choice of preference after I found a tin of baked beans, the abovementioned sweetcorn and some pinto beans in my cupboard, but the addition of a half a jar of red roasted peppers and some chipotle paste helped the dish to come together. Very easy, delicious and can be made with a little effort.

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Ingredients

  • 500g fusilli pasta
  • 1L whole milk, at room temperature
  • 100g butter, at room temperature
  • 100g plain flour
  • 85g red roasted peppers, drained
  • 400g can of sweetcorn, drained
  • 300g can of pinto beans, rinsed and drained
  • 250g smoked cheese
  • 100g chorizo sausage
  • 150g can of baked beans
  • 100g mascarpone
  • 3 tbsp dried oregano
  • 3 tsp chipotle paste
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp chilli powder
  • salt & pepper
  • chopped coriander, to decorate

Method

  1. Start by making the bechamel sauce. Melt the butter in a saucepan over a low to medium heat, then remove the pan from the heat and stir in the flour. Put the saucepan back on the heat and cook gently to create the so-called roux. You should get a smooth and golden-tinted paste, but don’t cook it too long or you-ll burn it. Start adding the milk by pouring it gently into the saucepan and mixing it in with a wooden spoon. Keep on stirring over a medium heat making sure to scrape the bottom of the pan until the mixture starts to thicken a little and covers the back of the spoon. This will take approximately 10 minutes. Remove the bechamel sauce from the heat, season with some salt and pepper, then stir in the ground cumin, chipotle paste and chilli powder. Cover with clingfilm to prevent a skin forming on the surface, then set aside.
  2. Put the sweetcorn, beans (both pinto and baked) and mascarpone in a big bowl, then mix to combine. Add the peppers, previously sliced into small strips.
  3. Slice the chorizo into pound coin slices, then quarter them. Heat a frying pan over a high heat, then tumble the chorizo in and cook until crisp. Remove from the pan with a slotted spoon and drain over some kitchen paper. Once cooled, add to the big bowl.
  4. In the meantime, cook the pasta according to packet instructions in plenty of salted boiling water. You want it al dente rather than mushy, as it will have to hold its shape. Once cooked, drain and tumble in the bowl with the beans and sweetcorn. Mix to combine and coat the pasta evenly with the mascarpone. This will prevent the pasta to stick. Add the oregano, then coarsely grate the smoked cheese and set aside.
  5. Pre-heat your oven to 180C, then take a big roasting dish.
  6. Remove the clingfilm from the spicy bechamel sauce and spread about 1 ladleful on the bottom of the dish to prevent the pasta from sticking to the dish. Use half of the pasta mixture to create an even layer in the roasting dish, then scatter with half of the grated smoked cheese. Cover with half of the bechamel sauce and spread it around.
  7. Top with the rest of the pasta, the remaining cheese and bechamel sauce. Bake it for about 35-40 minutes until slightly scorched on top. Remove from the oven and let cool down a little, then scatter with coriander and serve.

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Threeway Easter Wreath

This typical Italian bread is given a new makeover with the addition of unconventional ingredients, such as chorizo, and eggs, which are a strong Easter symbol as they celebrate life, rebirth, etc. The choice of ingredients you decide to fill your wreath with is totally up to you. I recently found out smoked cheese and black olives are a match made in heaven and, for that matter, smoked cheese seems to be complementing them quite well too. For those of you who are unused to eggs being baked in the oven, let me ensure you this is a traditional Italian centerpiece. If you don’t like/want eggs on top, just leave them out, the wreath will be very flavoursome and beautiful as it is. Also, the whole assembling phase might seem long winded and difficult, but let me ensure you I had not done this before and it was a piece of cake. Happy Easter everyone!

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Ingredients

  • 600g strong bread flour
  • 12g powdered yeast
  • 150g black olives, finely chopped
  • 5 eggs, well cleaned and scrubbed
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 150g smoked cheese, grated
  • 150g cooking chorizo sausage, skin removed, minced
  • olive oil
  • salt

Method

  1. To make the dough, put the strong bread flour in a bowl, then dissolve the yeast and sugar in 300ml lukewarm water. Add to the flour and start mixing that in. 
  2. While mixing, slowly add 3 tbsp olive oil and 1 tsp salt.
  3. Bring the dough together and knead on a floured work surface for about 5-10 minutes, until the dough is pliable and elastic. Shape it into a ball, transfer it to an oiled bowl, cover with clingfilm and leave to rise in a warm place for 2 hours.
  4. Once the dough has risen, take about 100g from it and set it aside. You will need that later to decorate the eggs.
  5. Divide the leftover dough in three pieces of equal size.
  6. Working one of the pieces at a time, roll it out with a rolling pin so as to obtain a long strip approximately 35-40cm long. Fill it with your favourite filling (olives, chorizo and cheese in this case), then fold the long edges onto it so as to enclose it in the dough.
  7. Roll the long tube gently in order to seal it, then set aside. Repeat for the other fillings.
  8. Line a round baking tray with baking parchment.
  9. Join the three cilinders together at the top and press it gently on to the working surface so as to make it stick it to the table. Lay the three long tubes well spaced one from the other.
  10. Start threading them together as per picture below, then bring the edges together to form a round wreath-like shape.
  11. Place 4 eggs at regular intervals on the wreath and use the dough previously set aside to make long strips to fix them.
  12. Leave to rise again for about 30 minutes in a warm place, until almost doubled in size.
  13. Pre-heat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius, then lightly beat the remaining egg and use it to glaze the the whole surface of the wreath (minus the eggs).
  14. Bake for 40-50 minutes, then transfer to a serving dish and enjoy while still warm.

2scarcedda

Cheese & Chorizo Muffins

I have to thank Paula from Spoons’n’Spades for this wonderful recipe. I had seen many recipes for chorizo muffins, but this one was extremely enticing. As with all muffins, combine the dry and wet ingredients separately, then mix them together but don’t over mix or you’ll get a very flat muffin. Sprinkle some thyme on top of these for added colour and flavour.

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Ingredients

  • 300g self-raising flour
  • 1/2 tsp paprika
  • 80g butter, diced
  • 100g chorizo, diced
  • 200g mature cheddar, coarsely grated
  • 6-8 thyme sprigs, leaves only
  • 1 egg
  • 250ml milk

Method

  1. Grease and line a muffin tray or use muffin cases.
  2. Add the flour and the paprika to a bowl and rub in the butter until well combined.
  3. Stir in the cheese, thyme and chorizo.
  4. Beat the egg with the milk and stir that one in too.
  5. Bake at 190 degree Celsius for about 20 minutes.

Tips

  • Instead of cheddar, you can try and use Red Leicester for added oomph and a nice finishing colour (which, incidentally, matches the chorizo!)