- Kale, rinsed
- Pre-sliced chorizo
- Salt and pepper
- Olive oil
At University, the Monday of each week is ridiculously busy. I may only have 9 contact hours a week (yes, that is my degree), but with each week’s beginning I am out of the house 9am to 6pm. Now whilst this complaint might be a little self-indulgent as most people are out of the house between those times working, in terms of a Classics undergraduate, it definitely counts as a long day! And so, although the reasons behind may differ, this dish is brilliant for all those who are in need of a speedy supper after a somewhat late arrival home. All in all, this should take 25 minutes maximum, which is mainly taken up by boiling the pasta – time within which you can unpack your bags, change into something more comfortable, or simply relax on the sofa. Boil, fry, mix, serve. A meal of colourful, fresh ingredients from scratch in under half an hour. What more could you ask for?
- In a large saucepan, bring water to the boil. Salt the water, and then add the pasta. Boil for 15-18 minutes, and then add the kale. Blanche the kale for 1-2 minutes, until wilted. Drain thoroughly and set the kale and pasta aside, keeping them warm.
- In the same saucepan, heat olive oil. Cut each chorizo slice in half, and fry until golden and really crispy. Mix the pasta and kale back into the saucepan alongside the chorizo, and stir to combine all the ingredients. Season, and serve.
What makes paella ‘authentic’ seems to be a contentious issue. Scroll through the comment section of almost any online recipe, and you won’t struggle to find the dispute. Lid versus newspaper, paella rice versus long grain, versus even risotto rice! Everyone’s having a go. One comment criticised a recipe’s authenticity, staking their claim to knowledge on their ex-partner’s brother’s father-in-law who was from Alicante. I have a friend who went to Alicante on holiday once (and doesn’t refrain from mentioning it), so maybe I too now understand Spanish cuisine. It isn’t the first time I’ve encountered these arguments, either: my first paella used a recipe branded as unauthentic.
But having made paella several times now, I have to come to a conclusion. What korma means to Britain, to Asia it does not. Do we squabble about it? No! Because we love the creamy, mild taste and savour those toasted nuts. And we still call it curry, even if it’s not really. If you’re still unconvinced, take a line from Shakespeare: “what’s in a name?“. The dish still uses rice, vegetables, meat or fish with largely the same cooking technique, whether in Britain or Spain. And it still tastes amazing. Paella is just the name attributed to dishes like this so people know what you’re on about! A name is by no means the most central part of a dish; that surely, would be its flavour. So very much in that vein, I urge you not to argue over whether the below is truly authentic paella. I’ll save you the trouble – growing scared of the ferocious rice-debate, I modified the paella I already knew how to make as I went along. Instead, focus on what it tastes like! And if you still can’t resist, I’ll let you call it Seafood Rice. If it makes you feel better.
- Short grain rice, roughly 3 handfuls per person
- 1kg mussels, cleaned and de-bearded
- 300g prawns
- 750ml fish stock
- 2 cloves of garlic, sliced
- 1 red onion, finely sliced
- 2 bell peppers, sliced into thin strips
- 5 salad tomatoes, diced
- A pinch of saffron, soaked in 1 tbsp of boiling water
- Smoked paprika, 1 tbsp. (or a little more, to taste)
- 1 lemon, cut into wedges
- Fresh parsley
- Heat oil in a large, deep frying pan over a medium heat. add the sliced onion, and cook for 5-8 minutes until it begins to soften. Then add the garlic and paprika, and fry for a further minute. Fry the prawns until slightly browned, and then remove to a plate.
- Add the rice to the pan, and stir to coat well in the oil and spices. Add the hot stock and the saffron along with its water, stir to ensure all the rice is submerged, then cover. Reduce to a low heat, and leave to simmer for 10 minutes.
- Then, add the sliced peppers and quartered tomatoes to the pan. Simmer for 5 minutes, until the vegetables are slightly al dente. Stir the rice. It should have absorbed the majority of the stock, but a small sauce should still remain. If the rice has no sauce, it is in danger of sticking to the bottom of the pan, add a little more stock or hot water.
- Now add the mussels, peas and return the prawns to the pan. Check the level of stock, and if not too dry, replace the pad lid. Simmer for 4-7 minutes, steaming the mussels open. It’s important to monitor the mussels at this stage, as the longer the mussels cook for, the less palatable they will become. To ensure the mussels remain juicy, do not allow them to overcook!
- As soon as the mussels have opened, remove them from the heat. Season, and scatter with fresh parsley. Serve with a wedge of lemon to squeeze over.
This meal takes its inspiration from my as of late favourite “revision-baguette” – roasted vegetables with pesto mayonnaise. Not content with eating this combination for lunch, I have created a dinner version to satisfy my cravings for all things Mediterranean!
I began to develop the recipe firstly by substituting the bread. Beans, grains and pastas are common to Mediterranean cuisine, but I was most drawn to rice as a carbohydrate component because it is one that isn’t often used. Rice, for me, is usually left as a traditional accompaniment to meals such as curry or chili con carne, and thus I felt that it would be a welcome change to my reliance upon pasta!
In choosing to add meat to this dish, I was torn between chicken or lamb. I felt that lamb with fresh herbs would complement the vegetables and pesto excellently, and would make it a fuller meal. Although this dish is packed with vegetables, alone it would be more welcome as part of a summer salad than a main meal. Looking into Mediterranean meats, I found that there was an emphasis on poultry and fish. Choosing between the two, I opted for chicken breast because of their ready availability and value for money. However, in making this again I would be more likely to choose fish; Mediterranean cuisine stemming from an amalgamation of the cultures of the countries surrounding the Mediterranean sea, it is easy to see why fish is staple. The ready availability of fresh fish makes seafood an important part of their diet, and thus it would perhaps be more authentic to stick to the traditions of the Mediterranean. In cooking the fish, seasoning before grilling, frying or placing in foil in the oven until tender would be preferable – leaving the primary focus on the vegetables and the flavoursome rice. However, this is not to say that fish outweighs chicken in suitability – the chicken is seasoned and sauteed, leaving tender strips of poultry which complement but do not overpower the taste of the rice; it simply provides another element to the dish.
The diet of the Mediterranean is well known for its health benefits – the combination of fresh vegetables, fresh herbs and lean meats is acclaimed as both nutritional and beneficial to the individual. The vegetables in this dish are typically Mediterranean, and the amount of them makes this an incredibly healthy meal! However, the addition of aubergine could be made to the courgettes, peppers and tomatoes; the assortment of fresh colours and flavours when sauteed would only welcome aubergine, another traditionally Mediterranean component. Although in most vegetable tray bakes fresh herbs, such as oregano or thyme are used, I felt that pesto would be more appropriate for this dish because of the rice. The flavour of the basil permeates the rice and complements the vegetables, whilst providing a sauce to prevent dryness. Whilst fresh herbs would give excellent flavour, in mixing the rice and vegetables there would be no sauce – a problem solved by pesto! However, this means this recipe could also be used for sauteed Mediterranean vegetables, as well as the rice…two birds, one stone.
- 1 chicken breast per person, cut into thick strips
- Roughly 1 handful of rice per person
- Handful of cherry tomatoes
- ½ courgette, cut into thick chunks and then quartered
- ½ red bell pepper, cut into squares
- 1 tablespoon of pesto
- Olive oil
- Boil salted water in a pan, and add the rice. Boil until tender.
- Whilst the rice is boiling, heat a small amount of olive oil in a frying pan over a medium heat. Place the chicken strips and peppers in the pan, and fry until beginning to brown.
- Season the chicken with pepper, and ensure turning with regularity to ensure even browning.
- As the chicken is browning on both sides, add the courgettes. Turn the heat down to low, and allow the vegetables to wilt. Add the cherry tomatoes and allow to soften. Stir consistently to ensure that nothing sticks to the bottom of the pan as it wilts.
- When the rice is tender, drain and return to the pan. Add the pesto, and stir thoroughly to coat the rice in the sauce.
- Transfer the courgettes, peppers and cherry tomatoes to the rice and stir. Place the rice over a low heat, until warmed through.
- Arrange the chicken on the plate, and add the rice when it is warmed through. Season, and serve. Enjoy!