This past April we vacationed in Italy with Paula and Mike Graham. Dining at their house a few months ago, we relived our “Italian” experience through a pasta-making dinner. So to reciprocate, we decided to transport them to Spain at our house this time around. And there’s nothing more quintessential Spanish than Paella, an icon of Spain’s cultural identity!
A Classic Seafood Paella was the intended main course, with the salad from The New Spanish Table, Frisee with Pears and Honeyed Lardons (recipe follows), and a traditional flan planned for dessert. Several bottles of Rioja and Tempranillo wines were resurrected from the cellar; and it was up to the Grahams to provide a Spanish appetizer–and that they did with a platter of artsy piquillo pepper bites. On toasted baguette slices, stuffed with goat cheese, sprinkled with a smattering of sliced scallions and drizzled with balsamic glaze, not only were they visually appealing, but incredibly tasty too. The platter was a piece of art in itself!
After Mike exclaimed a few times that he really liked the apps, Paula confessed that he was a bit hesitant about the choice before they made the trip over. Not to worry, there wasn’t a morsel left on the platter.
An item of interest for Mike was our Porron: a traditional glass wine pitcher typical of many regions of Spain like Catalonia and Aragón. It resembles a cross between a wine bottle and a watering can. The top of the bottle is narrow and can be sealed off with a cork. It is shaped such that the wine stored inside it will have minimal contact with the air, while being ready to be used at all times. They are often shared while drinking directly from the vessel without using wine glasses—although that’s not a custom we engaged in.
Visual steps to making the Paella:
Frisée with Pears and Honeyed Lardons
From the New Spanish Table by Anya von Bremzen
Whenever you come across a savory dish that includes pears, you can safely bet that the recipe is from the Catalonia region of Spain. This recipe is inspired by one from Can Ventura, a restaurant in the Pyrenean Puigcerda region, which, due to a fluke of history, is within the French border but is governed by Spain! Who knew?
This smoky-sweet-tangy salad includes pancetta lardons (a stand-in for Catalan mountain bacon.) It made a delicious first course and went extremely well with the homemade seafood paella.
- 1 piece, 5-6 oz. pancetta, diced med-fine
- 41/2 tsp. honey
- 2 Tbsp. best-quality red wine vinegar, plus 1/4 cup for the dressing
- 2 small ripe but firm pears, peeled, cored, cut into 1/2-inch dice
- 1/4 cup fragrant extra virgin olive oil
- Coarse salt (kosher or sea) and freshly ground black pepper
- 7 to 8 cups frisée (curly endive), rinsed, dried, and torn into bite-size pieces
- Place the pancetta in a small skillet over med-high heat and cook until it begins to render its fat, about 2 minutes. Reduce the heat to medium and continue cooking until the pancetta is lightly browned. Ifthere is too much fat in the skillet, pour some off.
- Add the honey and 2 tablespoons of vinegar, stirring until the honey dissolves. Cook until the vinegar evaporates and the pancetta is evenly coated with the honey mixture. Turn off the heat and let the pancetta cool a little.
- Place 3-4 tablespoons of the diced pear and the remaining 1/4 cup vinegar in a blender and puree. Scrape the puree into a bowl and whisk in the olive oil. (We did this step all with an immersion blender.) Season the dressing generously with salt and pepper.
- Place the frisée in a bowl, add the caramelized pancetta and the remaining diced pears, and toss to mix. Stir in enough of the dressing to lightly coat the frisée (you may not need all that you made.) Taste for seasoning, adding more salt and pepper if needed. Serve at once.