Michael has been teasing me lately that I’m turning into quite the talented Spanish cook due to so many weekends filled with gazpacho, bocadillos, chorizo and the like. This dinner came at the height of my preoccupation with all things Spain, otherwise known as the last weekend of the WC. Michael wanted to head downtown to the Strand to pick up a book for an upcoming trip (the details which will be revealed sooner rather than later), and being that it was the Strand I could not help but browsing through the cookbook section, seeing if there were any decent Spanish cookbooks for sale that I hadn’t seen before.
Clearly, because I went there not interested in buying anything that day, the most intriguing book that either Michael or I found was a cookbook highlighting dishes from Barcelona compiled by the editors at Williams & Sonoma being sold at half-price, calling to me with recipes that even on a cursory flip piqued my hunger. Evil bastards. Naturally I had to own this and even though it took another visit to a competing bookstore to get Michael what he wanted, we both left Union Square satisfied and smiling.That’s what she said.
We were going to stop at Whole Foods to pick up what we needed for dinner that night, so I flipped through the book while we rode the N and the 1 back to 96th Street. The first dish that caught my eye was fried sardines in vinaigrette (or in Catalan, Escabetx de Sardines) because I knew that it would pique Michael’s interest, given that it had sardines and vinegar–two of his favorite foodstuffs. Flipping through to the end, I happened upon fideuà, which is like paella but slightly easier to make, but decided on using more vegetables rather than several kinds of shellfish.
The great thing about fideuà is that it’s a very versatile dish–like paella it can either be rich with food from the sea or the land depending on what you have on hand–so it’s very easy to try multiple variations once you get the hang of the technique. I must say that it is a bit labor-intensive as you cook the fish, clams and vegetables, but your patience will be rewarded with a dish that can be comfort food any time of year.
As for the fried sardine recipe, well, you’ll just have to check out the cookbook for yourself.
Fideuà (Noodles with Clams, Perch and Vegetables)
Adapted from Barcelona
Serves 2 with generous leftovers
- Shrimp shells from 2 lbs of shrimp (we saved these over several weeks and kept them in our freezer for such a use)
- 12 littleneck clams, cleaned
- 4 ripe tomatoes
- Kosher salt
- 1/2 cup olive oil
- 1/2 lb perch (or other firm-flesh fish fillets) cut into cubes
- 2 large red bell peppers, diced
- 1 green bell pepper, diced
- 2 carrots, grated (using large holes in a box grater)
- 1/2 lb fideos or fine egg noodles
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
First, make the shrimp stock: bring five cups of water to a boil and add the shrimp shells, reduce to medium-low heat and simmer uncovered for about 30 minutes to decrease the liquid amount by a third. Strain the broth with a sieve and then return it to the stockpot.
Put about an inch of water into a large saucepan (not non-stick) and bring to medium-high heat and add the clams (discarding any that have opened and won’t close up again when tapped) and cook for about 5-10 minutes, until all of the clams have opened. Remove clams to a bowl with a slotted spoon and then add the broth into the stock.
Halve the tomatoes and using the narrow holes of a box grater, gently grate the tomatoes down to the peel, preferably going directly into a bowl. Set aside.
Using a wide and not non-stick skillet, warm the olive oil on medium heat and start cooking the fish when oil is heated. When opaque, transfer the fish to a bowl/plate with a slotted spoon, and then add the peppers and the carrots. Saute until soft–about 2 minutes–and transfer them to the bowl with the fish.
Add the noodles and garlic to the pan and fry until fragrant and the noodles are coated in oil, about 30 seconds. Add the tomato pulp and cook for another 30 seconds. Add in the stock (just 4 cups), the fish, the vegetables and a healthy pinch of two of kosher salt and stir to distribute the ingredients evenly. Reduce the heat to low and let the pan simmer for about 20 minutes until all of the stock is absorbed–but about halfway through, add in the clams (in their shells) on top of the noodles.
Turn off the heat after 20 minutes and let the pan sit for another 10 minutes while covered with a kitchen towel, and serve warm but not hot.
Saffron is normally part of this kind of dish and was originally called for in this recipe, but it’s so damn expensive that we didn’t bother getting it. Use at your own discretion–it doesn’t suffer that much from lacking it, but if you feel so inclined to indulge, go right ahead.