Saturday, January 15, 2011

Paella with New Friends

Continuing our warm welcome to Spain, our host invited us to lunch at her home in our first full day here. Her friend, Juan, who we had met the evening before, is known for his paella and was to be our chef. Our host's husband met us outside our condo and we walked to Juan's nearby home. We did our best to converse--I have felt good about how much Spanish I am able to understand and more keeps coming to me, but my speaking skills are very rudimentary. The aroma of the paella immediately caused my stomach to rumble in happy anticipation. Juan was cooking it in a large paella pan on an outdoor stovetop. We sat for a few minutes in the outdoor kitchen and shared a glass or rose wine. I felt like I had been transported to a TV show I had been watching over the last few months ("Spain on the Road" in which Gwyneth Paltrow, Mario Battagli and friends travel around Spain, mostly eating) as it did not feel real...the sun, the smells, the kindness of our hosts...perfecto!

We took a tour of Juan's garden and pool area. The garden is absolutely filled with fruit trees and we received a bag of tangerines to take with us and an invitation to come and get fruit any time. Shortly thereafter the paella was ready, so Juan loaded the large pan in to the back of his van and we were on our way.

Our host's holiday home is a bit further out of town, along the coastal road. The property is simply stunning, settled in to the hillside with the mountain over your shoulder and overlooking the Mediterranean. We were given the choice of sitting inside or on the large porch over the sea-outside, of course! As we sat down to the table overflowing with delicious food and looked out to sea with the sun shining down on us, I felt I was in my TV show (or a dream) again.

The chef did not disappoint with his paella--it put any previous paella I have tasted to shame. The flavor lived up to the aroma. Chock full of shrimp, chicken and homemade meatballs, the chef shared how we takes care in selecting just the right ingredients--knowing where to find the perfect chicken raised and fed with care and the most flavorful and fresh shrimp and vegetables. Our host also explained that for many men, making the paella is a macho activity and they are very serious about it--do not talk to them or bother them while cooking. Juan, on the other hand, has a more relaxed attitude and can socialize, as he did with us, while cooking. Somehow he has the right balance of taking his paella just seriously enough--with great results--delicioso! In addition to the paella (of which I had two giant servings), we had a plate of shrimp, homemade Tzizki sauce, cheese and refreshing melon to complete the meal.

I cannot imagine a more perfect meal complimented by good company and an ideal setting.

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