May 8, 2013 by caitlinvaclark
Whenever I think about Spain, I picture an outdoor cafe filled with bistro tables adorned with pitchers of Sangria. White or red or rosé, even sparkling, I love the oversized ice cubes, floating fruit, and the wooden spoon dancing at the pitcher’s lip. But the base of this delicious summer drink is the wine, which Spain also happens to make some pretty awesome bottles of. While we were in Barcelona, we planned a day trip out of the city to visit some of the nearby wineries.
Yes, we used a guided tour company, something I thought was usually reserved for the older generations. But it was amazing. Our guide, Marc, was hilariously stressed out at the prospect of 20 drunk Americans (there were Canadians and Brits as well). Marc was obsessed with the day’s structure and keeping time. As our bus approached each stop, like clockwork, he would let us know that we would be arriving at a winery in “approximately 2-3 minutes” followed by the ever important information of where the bathrooms are located.
Going through a tour group, we went to some of the more commercial spots but without complaint because they had great visitation facilities and were accustomed to non-Spanish speakers. We began the day at Jean Leon, a small winery, started by it’s Spanish born namesake. Leon came over to the US (after 6 previous unsuccessful attempts as a stowaway) and made his way for Hollywood where he eventually became great friends with the Rat Pack and opened La Scala of Beverly Hills with Frank Sinatra. You may have heard of the famed restaurant in Jackie Collins’ novels? No? You don’t read those? Oh, I mean, yeah, me neither.
After a barrel tasting at Jean Leon, we went to Torres where we were able to take a tram tour of the bottling factory, followed by a wine and cheese pairing.
Then we went to Freixenet to tour the underground cellars and drink some Cava. Was it a boozy day? I think you could say that…
On our last night, we couldn’t get reservations at Cera 23 until 10pm, so we went to the tapas bar, Quimet & Quimet. I am a late dinner person in general and love the idea of Spanish dining, having tapas around 7 followed by a late night meal. I’m told that it’s faux pas to eat before 9. But one of the tricks to lasting all day is the afternoon siesta. When you are only in a city for 3 days it seems like a waste of sightseeing time. That said, we definitely took a nap after our wine tour.
I’m so glad we rallied and joined the crowds at Quimet & Quimet. It was a packed house, standing room only, but we managed to snag a spot to enjoy the food and the people watching. Among our snacks, the stand out was the salmon tapas with yogurt, which had a bit of truffle and honey?! It was incredible.
Our last meal in Barcelona was at Cera 23 which we heard about through rave reviews on Trip Advisor. It is a small spot, a bit off the beaten path, giving it the quintessential “whole in the wall” vibe. Sometimes the most simple dishes, when done properly, are the best. The octopus was sautéed until just done with Spanish paprika and served with potatoes and really good olive oil.
But the company at Cera 23 was what made the night for us. The place is owned by a couple of young friends who wanted to start an authentic Spanish dining experience with a fresh new approach. Our waiter (slash best friend by the end of the night) told us that he started working there because he just came in so many nights to have dinner at the bar that he just started taking tables.
When Chris invited a friend from law school, in town for work, over for dinner last Friday, I took inspiration from my trip to Spain. Well, that and from a desire to celebrate Cinco de Mayo, starting the evening with Pineapple Margaritas and Bacon & Blue Cheese Guacamole. But then served and easy, make-in-advance, Spring Chicken and Chorizo Paella. While I didn’t make a traditional paella in the fancy thin pan, this recipe allows you to do all the prep in advance and finish it in the oven. Perfect for relaxed entertaining!
Cooking the ingredients in stages ensures that you maximize flavor, perfect texture, and retain moisture. Start by sautéing the chorizo, then crisp the zucchini in the chorizo fat, picking up lots of the spicy smoky flavor. Green beans or peas are traditional vegetables to stir in to paella, but I think zucchini pairs fabulously with chorizo. I also wanted to take advantage of some of my favorite seasonal vegetables, so I went with asparagus in lieu of the green beans.
I season the chicken thighs with oregano, smoked paprika, and salt & pepper. Then brown, skin-side first.
You will remove and reserve the chorizo, then the zucchini, then the chicken, adding it back once you have made the rice base. In the pan juices, I sauté onion and toast the rice. Then add chicken broth, tomatoes, and the magic paella ingredient: saffron.
Once I bring the rice broth to a simmer, I add the chicken and chorizo. Since I’m not using a traditional paella pan, I am careful not to stir the rice at this stage. This will allow a bit of the crispy bottom that gives paella the extra texture and toasty flavor.
After about 15 minutes, the dish will transform. The rice has absorbed most of the liquid and the chicken will be cooked through. At this stage I “tuck” the vegetables into the rice.
To this point, the dish can be made in advance. Then we will finish it in the oven.
A helpful hint: when you are ready to heat the paella in the oven, if it seems dry, add a bit more liquid and if it is very wet, leave the lid off for the remainder of the cooking time. I love to bring the whole pot to the table to serve. Just be sure to scrap your spoon all the way to the bottom to get the crispy rice!
Spring Chicken & Chorizo Paella
4oz. Spanish chorizo, diced
2 medium zucchini, sliced
6 chicken thighs
2 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp smoked paprika
1 onion, diced
2 cups medium grain rice
½ tsp saffron
4 cups chicken broth
1 cup canned diced tomatoes (in juice)
1 bunch asparagus, cut into 2 inch pieces
In a large dutch oven (or paella pan), sauté chorizo until crisp, about 4 minutes. Remove and reserve.
Add the zucchini to the pan and cook for 5 minutes. Remove and reserve.
Season the chicken on both sides with oregano, smoked paprika, salt and pepper. Brown in the dutch oven over medium heat, starting with skin side down. Remove and reserve.
Pour off excess fat, leaving 1 tablespoon in the pan. Saute the onion until soft, about 3 minutes. Add the rice and the saffron. Continue to cook for 2 minutes.
Pour in the chicken broth and tomatoes. Bring to a low simmer and cook for 5 minutes. Add the chicken and chorizo back to the pot. Cover and cook for 20 minutes.Do not stir.*
Preheat oven to 350˚.
Add the asparagus and zucchini and heat in the oven for an additional 15 minutes with the lid on and 10-15 with the lid off.
*Up to this point can be done in advance. If you refrigerate until serving, add 15-20 minutes to the oven time to be sure it is heated through.