Paella Party: Always a Good Idea
January 21, 2013 § Leave a Comment
What are Italians best at doing? Having a good time. What does this always include? Food and friends.
Yesterday, I got the honour to experience something that started out as a casual invite and grew into an extremely fulfilling day. I’ve learned that anytime that an Italian invites you over for ‘food with friends’, it’s a wise decision to cancel whatever plans there are for the rest of the day and simply melt back into the tempo of la dolce vita.
Carlos Capra, former Italian professor at The University of Texas, was the mastermind behind the evening. Though originally from Sardegna, growing up in Argentina and an appreciation for good food resulted in little pearls of wisdom when it comes to tackling this dish. No nonsense! A real fire in the backyard (not sure if this is entirely approved in Austin neighborhoods, but culinary passion calls for no compromises) with bricks and wood, fresh rabbit and chicken, the right spices, and the right company.
The taste of the paella is even better after several hours of watching the mixture boil in the big pan: waiting until the water level is down at the rivets, partaking in a perpetual shuffle dance to stay out of the ever-changing-direction fumo acre, forming new friendships between the Japanese woman, two Italian men, the Englishman, and the German girl. Mixing sunshine with sherry. Breaking apart wooden patio furniture and adding it to the fire when the chopped wood has run out.
Finally, when the broth is at the correct level and everything has had ample time to diffuse in taste, the rice and saffron is added. Another seven minutes over a high fire, then another couple of minutes over a reduced fire, and then, the final few minutes with the pan directly on the heated grate in order to create the browned crust at the bottom of the pan. And then… time to bring the feast inside to a large table, uncover the pan, ooh and ahh when the steam wafts up, open up a couple bottles of red wine, and tuck in.
I feel like the only way to have made this paella even more authentic would be to personally hunt the rabbit and grow the snap peas.
It was deliciously delicious, to say the least. But, quality of the food aside, an Italian get-together does not end when someone puts down the fork and looks at their watch.
Sgroppino, shaved chocolate,
campari, Borghetti, Argentinian
grappa. Opera in the background, stories,
improv theatre re-enactions,
and a lot of laughter. Finally, when the bell chimes midnight ten hours later,
you can’t help but think that life would be so much better if more lunches lasted all day long.
Now, let’s compare this to the paella party that Blue Note Beach did over the summer in Senigallia, Italy:
Bonfire on the beach, fresh ingredients, and lots of smiling faces. Our friends, owners of Bagni 158, announce the event to all of their closest friends a couple of weeks in advance. Everyone pays a few euros to partake in the tasty event, arrives around midday to splash around the Adriatic waters, sunbathe, and play a few rounds of volleyball. Then, the ladies break off inside the little house (the size of a large shed; serves as the office, kitchen, and dining room) to prepare the fish that will be used later.
The chef in charge was Nando, late husband of Stella, a woman of Argentine origins that whispered all of her country’s secret ingredients and paella tips into his ear. Others helped cut up the vegetables and measured out ingredient amounts. Finally, everything was thrown into a giant paella pan that requires four people for proper transport. The mixture then simmers over a large fire directly on the beach for hours, until the consistency is just right and the strand of beach smells of seasoned seafood for miles.
Then everyone gathers around long tables set up in a line, passes around the bottles of wine, and digs in. Food and conversation last long past the sun has set and new stars come out.
Thus, no matter where you are in the world, if an Italian (especially if there are some kinds of Argentinian secrets lurking in his blood) ever invites you over for paellas, don’t turn down the offer.