Are you a pasta fanatic or rice aficionado?
Either way, here’s a story for you from Valencia, Spain.
A young man named Gabrielo was working as a cook on a fishing boat in the Valencia region of Spain. The rice-loving captain of the boat especially loved Gabrielo’s Arròs a Banda, “rice separately.” A poor man’s paella, Arròs a Banda is just rice that’s been cooked in a broth made from leftover seafood the fishermen couldn’t sell in the market. The captain was gorging himself on Gabrielo’s Arròs a Banda, to the point that that the crew of sailors wasn’t getting its fair share. To try and make the dish less appealing to the captain, Gabrielo and his assistant Zábalo decided that instead of arròs they’d use fideuà, a pasta resembling macaroni but smaller and thinner. It worked. The captain didn’t like it as much, the crew got fed—and Gabrielo became famous. His new dish became so popular that it took on the pasta’s name, Fideuà. The last syllable in its pronunciation describes what you‘ll say when you taste it: fid-way-ah.
In the coastal area around Valencia, Fideuà is still made with seafood, usually monkfish, prawns, squid and mussels cooked in a large pan like what you’d use for paella. But the first time I encountered a recipe for Fideuà, a dozen years ago in Gourmet magazine, it was a distinctive Catalonian version with no seafood at all.
Many times at Casa Magellan and Spice, we’ve made the one-pot recipe from Gourmet, adapting it to our liking. You start by sautéing slices of garlic (six cloves!) until golden. Then you cook little chunks of chorizo, which add a robust flavour and colour to the onions.
You then add the pasta along with a chicken broth spiced with saffron. After simmering that mixture, you add chickpeas (that ancient staple), parsley and crunchy almonds. (If you’re feeling flush, spring for Marcona almonds from Spain: they’re salted and lightly fried in olive oil.)
Besides Spain, the only place I’ve found fideuà is New York. However, as Gourmet suggests, you can substitute thin spaghetti broken into two-inch lengths.
We like Fideuà better with a little seafood—clams are our choice because they’re briny good, inexpensive and they add authenticity, texture and colour. But here again, if you’re landlocked in Saskatchewan or Wyoming, forego the clams, use canned ones or add some shrimp if you want to honour the recipe’s historic seafood base.
Like many older Spanish recipes, vegetables were absent in Gourmet’s version of Fideuà, unless you count garlic and onions, so we add a pepper (orange because it’s such a Spanish colour) and leafy green kale.
The complexity of flavours belies the simplicity of Fideuà, which is comforting on a Monday night yet impressive enough for a weekend dinner party.
Besides, Fideuà is less work and, in my humble opinion, packs the essence of Spain in a spoonful better than any arròs or paella.
Fideuà: Spain in a Bowl
- 1 1/2 cups chicken broth
- 11/2 cups water
- 1/2 cup white wine
- 1/2 tsp crumbled saffron threads
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 6 garlic cloves thinly sliced
- 4 ounces chorizo medium not spicy, chopped into 1/2-inch pieces
- 1 medium onion finely chopped
- 1 orange pepper finely chopped
- 12 ounces fideuà or thin spaghetti broken into two-inch lengths
- 1 tsp lemon zest
- 1 pound clams scrubbed clean
- 2 cups kale torn into bite-sized pieces
- 1 14- ounce can chickpeas rinsed and drained
- 1/2 cup parley
- 1/2 cup toasted almonds sliced
- Bring the chicken broth, water, wine, saffron and salt to a boil in a small saucepan. Reduce the heat and keep it at a low simmer.
- Heat olive oil in a large, heavy pot over medium-high heat and sauté the garlic until it is golden. Remove with a slotted spoon onto a small plate lined with paper towelling.
- Reduce the heat to medium and cook the chorizo in the large pot until done, about three minutes. Remove and add to the plate with garlic.
- Sauté the onion for about five minutes.
- Add the peppers and cook for another five minutes.
- Add the pasta and cook until golden, about another five minutes.
- Add the broth mixture and lemon zest and cook, covered, for five minutes minutes.
- Add the clams and kale and cook for another five minutes.
- Stir in the chickpeas, chorizo and garlic and heat until warmed through.
- Season to taste with salt and pepper.
- Remove any unopened clams.
- Put into heated bowls and top with the parsley and almonds.