My visit to San Diego immersed me in a family deeply rooted in the Iberian peninsula with Portuguese and Catalan roots, so why not, as an ambitious Scots-German, cook two of the quintessential dishes of Portugal and Spain: Caldo Verde and Paella? If something’s not right, they’ll tell me. My perfect setting for serving paella or any Spanish dish would be Goya’s dining room where he created his “Black Paintings,” which captivated me when I first saw “Saturn Devouring His Son” in the Prado way back in 1980.
But, it’s not a perfect world, so I’ll go on. I decided to launch into the paella, which means immediately there’s a choice to make; Valencian or Seafood Paella? Rabbit and snail headline the Valencian, but in San Diego these creatures don’t appear that often, so Seafood Paella became the choice, but via some ingredients from the Valencian–a mix of sorts. I shelled shrimp fresh from the market and slowly boiled those exoskeletons with bay leaves, garlic and onion for stock, while on another burner sunflower oil crackled in a paellera. Of course, Jordi had one, actually two. I quickly sautéed the shrimp to add flavor, removed them, then added onion, garlic and diced roma tomatoes for a sofrito. After a few minutes, I added cannelloni beans I prepared earlier, followed by fresh green beans (the beans supply a nod to the Valencian recipe). I added Arrborio rice (the traditional Bomba rice not available in the local stores), stirred to let the rice braise, and then added stock and saffron. Ah, saffron.
For over four millennia this spice derived from the flower of Crocus Sativus has caused men, women and children to beg, borrow, and steal; to wage war, indulge in insider trading, sacrifice all values and virtues, and sell all they prize if only to procure a few grams. It glows like the sun and it’s aroma and taste lead any cook to dream of the Elysian Fields where honey drips from the sky on grass and hay. Oh, where was I? Oh yes, the paella.
All above simmered until the rice closed in on al dente, I put the shrimp back in for a few minutes, and then we were ready to eat. And eat we did.
A couple of days later, Portugal’s time came, and I decided on Caldo Verde. Portugal has held a fascination for me ever since I saw Lisboa and heard the music of Madredeus–captivating and haunting. I discovered Cristina Branco and the incomparable Amália Rodriques. What’s not to love in fado? The saudade, bitterness, loss, memories transformed into beauty, art. I’ve loved reading the strangely masked fiction of Fernando Pessoa, his Book of Disquiet, and I knew behind feijoada waited an older culture and cuisine. Anthony Bourdain’s trips to the Azores and Lisbon confirmed and heightened my interest in all things Portuguese. Oh the glory of the pig and the sea! Onto Caldo Verde.
I still had some stock leftover from the paella, so this gave me a chance to build broth and literally bring two cultures together in a pot. Caldo Verde simply consists of potatoes, kale, olive oil and salt. It appears at celebrations like birthdays, weddings and religious festivals such as Festa de São João do Porto where partiers pay tribute not only to the Baptist, but far older reverential figures, such as the Sun. I add two ham hocks, kale and more garlic to the leftover paella stock.
This simmers away for a few hours as in another pot I boil skinned potatoes until they are so soft they can be smashed.
In a pan I add oil and onions, which begin to caramelize, and then it’s garlic and kale, sautéing until the kale wilts.
I add smashed potatoes to the mix, stir, and add the stock. By the way, here are the pork bones. That will do pig, that will do.
I let everything bubble along for awhile, until it’s time to serve and eat.
And eat we do, until there is nothing left. We continue drink the local, organic whites from California, and they pair up perfectly with both these dishes.