Sunday dinner: Spanish style
When I was little, Sunday dinners were a weekly staple in my family. My mom spent most of the day in the kitchen, preparing dinner and baking something sinfully delicious for dessert. My grandparents, aunts, uncles or cousins would come over, and we’d all sit around our dining room table and talk about upcoming events, football games, or the latest plot twist on “General Hospital.” It was our way of checking in and spending time with each other.
Recently, my husband and I visited beautiful Barcelona, Spain. Since we’d been there twice before, he suggested trying something different and signed us up for a cooking class. We both love Spanish cuisine because it blends everyday spices and ingredients into a vibrant flavor truly representative of the melting pot that is Spain. One dish in particular, paella, exemplifies this. Paella fuses so many flavors into something new and utterly delicious.
History of paella
Paella originated in the southeast region of Valencia. The word paella actually refers to the pan that is used to cook the savory dish. It is very shallow, generally no deeper than your thumb knuckle. It can be as small as a dinner plate or as big as your imagination. One of the largest pans on record held more than 100,000 servings. Paella is best cooked over an open flame to ensure even cooking. Traditional Valencian ingredients include rabbit and vegetables — usually either green beans or butter beans. Over time, other ingredients were introduced. In Barcelona, seafood paella has become the more popular version.
Cook & Taste
Our cooking class at Cook & Taste Barcelona had approximately 20 students from all over the world. It was a very hands-on class, with each of us taking multiple turns at the stove. My non-cooking husband was truly enthralled with the process. The steady sounds of chopping, whisking and stirring filled the room. Wine pours were generous, and tasting along the way was highly encouraged.
The main course for our lesson was seafood paella. Mario, our head chef, explained that paella is not an everyday dish. Most Spaniards eat paella at Sunday dinners or special occasions. It is a dish that isn’t meant to be hurried. The longer you let the tomatoes, vegetables and rice meld together, the richer the flavor will be. When the paella has finished cooking, it is served family-style and shared with loved ones.
After 4 hours of cooking, we enjoyed our kitchen sink seafood paella — complete with cuttlefish, monkfish, clams, mussels and prawns — paired with a crisp white wine and the company of our new friends. It was reminiscent of the Sunday dinners I had as a child, but with Spanish flair.