Spanish Food 101: Pasta

A culinary journey through Spain via the unparalleled medium of informal oral testimonies. This is written in English. If you would like a Spanish/Spanglish translation may I recommend reading slower, louder, and adding the letter “o” intermittently to the end of words. This is the fifth in the series of this crash course in Spanish cuisine. An introduction to this tale can be found by clicking here, and you can see the earlier forays of this adventure by scrolling down and reading more of this blog, which I would recommend that you do anyway. 

After rice comes pasta. The Italian rice. Popular among students and food enthusiasts (“foodie” is such a trite term) alike. Sunny days and happiness are made for these dishes. It is no real wonder that it is a southern European staple.

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The poor state of my phone camera. The contents of a cupboard.

For lazy cooking days, or days when a picky-eating cousins come to visit, for example, people the world over may dip their head into their pantry and opt for the enduringly popular, simple and delicious pasta. Where would we be without pasta? Why, in Asia, possibly. But we are not in Asia, we are in Spain.

One of the proudest moments of my life – no, I’ll say ‘year’ to bring the hyperbole down a little – was when I was at a tapas restaurant in Andalusia eating spaghetti a la boloñesa con atún next to an Italian girl. She turned to me as I was twirling the spaghetti with my fork and spoon as I had learned from the film Brooklyn (so many lessons to be learned from that fine film) and she proclaimed in one of the very few complete phrases of English that she knew that I “look like a real, good Italian girl.” Ever since I went skiing in Sauze d’Oulx, ate the best pizza of my life and watched fashionistas scurry about town on Vespas, then watched The Godfather three years later, I have wanted to be a real, good Italian girl. And now my dream had come true, if only for a moment. And in Spain.

 

Pasta salads or carbonara or pasta and pesto are made on lazier days, so maybe once or twice a week. When we were boiling the water for pasta and pesto, the mother showed me one by one all of the pastas in her cupboard. The smaller pastas are used for soups and stews, and the larger for normal pasta dishes as they are the world over. I was a little confused as to what was happening as more and more pasta was thrust towards me between sips of beer, but here we have it.

An aide memoire for Spanish pasta preferences: for pasta and music love, it’s rigatone y Reggaeton. (This one needs a little work).

One of my friends claims that the best pasta he has ever had in his life was in Valencia. He cared nothing else for Valencia except this and the weather. He doesn’t leave the country often.

And, of course, at the end of your pasta dish, have a slice of bread at the ready to mop of the remnants of that delicioso salsa. Carbs are here to stay.

 

Fideuà

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The difficult to pronounce (I’ve said it many times this month and here it is again: Spanish and English mouths are very different from each other) pasta-alternative, seafood-only alternative to paella which comes from the Valencian/Catalan word fideuada, or “large amount of noodles”. It’s amazing what different cultures have specific words for.

The mother prefers this in theory to paella as she has a tough time digesting rice. The Chinese have a tough time digesting alcohol properly, so it’s a reasonable trade. Like paella, it is cooked in a big, flat pan, and has shellfish and other white fish within its ingredients list. Then substitute the rice for hollow noodles, and there you have it.

The story goes that a cook on a boat used noodles instead of rice when making arrosejat as it proved too popular among the people aboard the boat and so nobody got a full portion. The substitution was well-liked, spread around the harbour then the rest of Spain, where it is here to stay.

 

Cannelons

canelons

Cannelons. Catalan cannoloni. At the restaurant in the Catalunyan mountains, I was told that I simply had to try the cannelons (my other choice for a starter would have been anchoa, which they made for me this lunchtime as recompense). The eight-year-old daughter also had the cannelons for her starter, off the kids menu.

A Catalan specialty, I am told. Pasta, bechemel and meat. Delightful, of course, and you would be correct in thinking that it is similar to lasagne or Italian canneloni. The main difference is the meat used, with the Italians usually opting for a minced meat, while for the Spanish it is more shredded.

They are popular year-round, but it is especially common to eat them on Boxing Day, when they have been prepared using the leftovers of Christmas Eve and Christmas Day’s dinners. You can also add potatoes and garbonzo beans.

Comforting. Creamy. Not necessarily for summer, but in the mountains it is never truly a Spanish summer.

 

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