Remember that Barcelona trip I took back in April? There were honestly so many amazing things about it that I’ve struggled to put them all into words, but considering I’m teaching a class about part of the trip in two weeks, I figured now was a good time to share at least one story!
For the first vacation I’ve taken completely on my own, I left most of my time open for wandering, but I wanted a few things planned to give me a little direction. That’s how I spent three hours learning to cook paella from an amazing teacher in her home with a dozen other eager (and hungry) fellow students from all over the world. It was by far one of the best parts of the trip and one I would do again in a heartbeat. (Update: Want to know how the class turned out or looking for a good paella recipe? Check it out!)
Marta, the instructor, spent the first part of the class explaining the essential ingredients and equipment for her paella: a wide, shallow pan (the thin metal of a paella pan is ideal because it heats and cools quickly, but any wide saute pan works); the rice, of course (bomba rice if you can get it, but Arborio rice works too); paprika (pimento de la vera was her preferred variety); really good stock (for great homemade fish stock, she said a monkfish head was essential); and a sofrito made of tomatoes, green peppers, onions, and garlic.
What I appreciated most about how Marta taught the class, and how she explained paella, was that she wasn’t overly dogmatic about the recipe. Other than the essentials, it was up to our tastes–use seafood, leave out the chicken, use whatever vegetables are in season. To me, that’s the best approach to recipes like this that come from “peasant” food and a tradition of using what was available—not so different from cassoulet. The method is what’s important.
She did have some great tips to help guide us in deciding what ingredients to use, though. Cuttlefish instead of squid or calamari since it’s thicker and much less likely to end up overcooked and rubbery. No chorizo (which really surprised me as it’s so frequently used) because its strong flavor overpowers all the others in the dish. Fresh artichokes if at all possible, as the frozen ones can be watery.
Other than the food, the best part of the class (as with most anything food-related) was the company with classmates from as far away as Australia to as close as Tennessee and everywhere in between. For as much as I’m an introvert, it was a fun moment to sit around this table filled with new friends and realize everyone was listening to me talk about my blog, my travels, and my work. I even invited some of my classmates to meet up later in the evening for drinks and tapas, which made for a perfect end to the day (if you know me at all, you know how out of character this was for me–and it was one of the best nights of the trip).
As we filed out of Marta’s home, pleasantly full of paella and more than a little wine, I mentioned that I was really looking forward to finding a great city market to do some food shopping the next day. Marta stopped me and said she had just the place, her favorite market right near where I was staying (as it turns out, one of the best and oldest markets that’s worth a post of its own). I honestly can’t say enough good things about the class or Marta.
Now for my news! I’ve raved so much about this class since I got back that a few people suggested I share what I learned, so I’m teaching a paella class on August 11 at the Peterson Garden Project! If you’re in Chicago, I hope you’ll come (and definitely BYOB encouraged, there will be fruit for sangria, so I anticipate a very good time had by all).