The cuisine of Spain holds a huge amount of fascination for me. A country that thrives on sitting as a family and celebrating food, one so diverse with flavours and history and with such a richness. In fact much as Pakistani cuisine is a confluence of South Asia I find that Spanish cuisine is a true confluence of The Mediterranean. Influenced by Moors, Jews, Christians and Celts among others. Defined by invasion and internal migration it is a cuisine of peoples, of styles and of a richness of ingredient. You think of Spain and you think of vibrancy of colour and intensity of flavour. Saffron and paprika always spring to mind when I think of Spanish cooking and I would imagine that the latter, smoked and delivered in a little red tin is my most used spice. It just adds a sense of festivity to any meal.
Another huge feature of Spanish food is fish and seafood. Mention paella and most people will think of seafood, the two words seem synonymous in the consciousness of many; however chicken, pork, rabbit and even snails are just as likely to find their way into a traditional paella. Paella is communal comfort food, a dish to share between couples, or families or even a whole village, few will have seen those giant pans boiling away in a town square, surrounded by expectant locals, and not wished that somehow they could do that at home. The Spanish just do festivity so well.
However there is another dish cooked in the paella where seafood is always the order of the day. Fideua is cooked with a type of pasta (I use vermicelli as it’s readily available) and prawns and is a perfect lunchtime meal with a glass of rose and a lot of sunshine. Given that so many prawns and langoustines make there way from Scotland to the Mediterranean nations I’ve decided to use one that is readily available around here. Mussels. Fideua would traditionally be made with a seafood stock but I’ve made stock here purely from cooking the mussels in a little water and letting the little shells give out their own moisture also. The result is a beautifully sweet dish which perfectly offsets the smokiness of the paprika, close your eyes in the kitchen and you could easily be in Valencia as the aromas become intoxicating. Traditionally served with alioli I think it needs that cutting edge of egg, oil and garlic just to set it off, by all means buy a jar but making your own is so easy and such fun.
Fideua with mussels
Serves 4 as a lunch or light dinner
Olive oil for cooking
1 onion chopped
1 very small sprig rosemary finely chopped
2 large ripe plum tomatoes chopped
1.5tsp smoked paprika
250g vermicelli roughly crushed
Sea salt to season
Handful coriander chopped
1. Heat 400ml water to boiling point then add the cleaned and de bearded mussels having discarded the dead ones. Cook for around 3-4 minutes until they have opened and are tender. Reserve the stock and keep the mussels to one side.
2. In a paella pan (28 cm diameter base perfect for this quantity) or sauté pan soften the onion with the rosemary in a good glug of olive oil but don’t allow to brown.
3. When softened add the tomatoes and cook down until almost a paste then add the paprika, trust your instinct with the quantity, it’s a spice that demands it. Stir into the tomato paste.
4. Add the vermicelli and stir through. Add the stock from the mussels, stir once and bring down to a low simmer, cooking until the pasta is al dente. It’s a trial and error thing the first few times you cook, you may need to add more liquid if not cooked through.
5. Take off the heat and correct for seasoning then add the mussels, mostly shelled but a few kept shell on for decoration
6. Sprinkle over the coriander and a good squeeze of lime and then serve with the alioli (fairly rustic recipe below)
1 egg yolk whisked
1 garlic clove crushed and roughly chopped
100ml sunflower oil
Pinch sea salt
Dribble white wine or cider vinegar
1. In a bowl add the salt to the whisked egg then with a whisk (preferably electric) add the oil drop wise until you have an emulsion and being careful not to add too quickly and allow to split
2. Add the garlic, vinegar and salt to taste.