Sara is officially Dating – not dating any one particular guy, but just generally dating.
“Whoever I like, whatever fits in with my schedule. Not just one person. Not necessarily looking for Mr Right – clearly, not kicking him to the kerb if I find him, but just having some fun.”
This is something that she has never done before. Why not?
“Damn Unitarian upbringing.”
Having played telephone tag and been out a couple of times with Sean (the guy from the office on a different floor) since Christmas, she’d been waiting for things to get more serious, to progress like Super Mario to the next level. And they never did. Eventually it dawned on her; this was not a relationship. This was casual dating. That’s all it was.
This philosophical realization may or may not have had anything to do with the fact that she met a handsome Spanish guy while waiting at the bar for our friend’s birthday dinner at Balthazar (it was awesome – best French fries ever! If you can think of better ones though, let me know – happy to test them out.)
Numbers were exchanged. They met for drinks. And then cheesecake and a movie, then he invited her for dinner on his roof. It was all so perfect that she might have been fooled into thinking that this was the beginning of a relationship, had he not been perfectly clear that he was moving back to Barcelona in August. So this was dating. (Did I mention that he was exceedingly handsome?) And it was going swimmingly.
He cooked paella. It was the only think he could cook, he said. And they sat on the roof at a rickety table next to chimney vents and ventilator fan outlets as the sun set. He lit a citronella candle. They ate chunks of chocolate dipped in “Some kind of awesome sweet liquor”. Overall, Sara was pleased she’d made the effort earlier and selected La Senza. In short it was a proper date.
Paella, like risotto, is a good date food. It’s simple to make, and, unlike risotto, bakes in the oven, requiring little attention from the cook. It’s rustic food, but it seems much fancier – far fancier than the sum of its parts. And both dishes harken to the romantic heritage of their countries of origin – Italian romance and Spanish passion – which is no bad thing.
Jon and I once went for a romantic getaway to Barcelona – he was at a conference, I was mostly hanging out by the pool, shopping and eating pastries in coffee shops. It was a hot summer’s night so we decided to go for a walk on the beach and have dinner somewhere near the sea. That was as complex as the plan got. As we neared the shore it became apparent that something was Going On. Either some kind of gun fight or … fireworks. In honor of St Joan. Not the kind of organized everybody look at the fireworks from a distance fireworks, oh no. Kids were launching rockets on the beach and chucking fire crackers around with wild abandon.
From the sanctuary of our restaurant (under an awning) we ate paella, and watched the joyful carnage illuminated by flashes and bangs of green and blue and silver stars. It was a damn fine date.
Paella2 cups of chicken stock 4 chicken thighs 4 large shrimp 4 oz chorizo sausage 1 onion 2 large cloves of garlic 1 tsp tomato paste ½ tsp saffron (if you don’t have saffron, which is a shame, because it’s a great flavor, use a pinch of tumeric to give a lovely yellow color) 1 ¼ cup arborio rice (or other short grain rice – canaroli is good, calasparra is traditional) 1 handful fresh parsley (optional handful of peas) 2 fresh plum tomatoes Handful of runner beans Handful of pitted green olives 1 tbsp olive oil Salt and pepper lemon
- Pre-heat the oven to 400f
- Heat the stock gently in a pan with the saffron
- Cube the chorizo and dice the onion
- In a cast iron pan that can go in the oven (if you don’t have one, start off in a frying pan then transfer to a baking dish) fry the chorizo and onion (adding a little olive oil to get it started) until the onion is soft
- Add the diced chicken, season well, and cook until browned
- Grate in the cloves of garlic, add the tomato paste and turn in the heat
- Stir in the rice and turn to coat in the red oil then pour in the stock
- Bake in the oven for 20 mins
- Lay the shrimp on top and drizzle with a little olive oil. Add the beans (and peas if using)
- Bake for another 5 minutes
- Remove from the oven, add the chopped fresh tomato, beans and olives, cover with foil and rest for 5 mins
- Serve with parsley chopped over the top and lemon wedges to squeeze over
If You Can Make That You Can Make This
- Add clams and mussels when you add the shrimp
- If you’re cooking this for non fish eaters like my husband, omit the shrimp and amp up the chorizo, adding a scant tsp of chopped rosemary at the end (it’s traditional in Valencia)
- Or conversely, use a mixture of fish and chicken stock, and add mussels and clams when you add the shrimp
- Take out the shrimp and instead lay strips of red pepper over the rice
- Add a handful of peas for the last five minutes
- Turn into a vegetarian dish by using a tsp of smoked paprika instead of the chorizo, vegetable stock for the chicken, and add celery when you cook the onions, then add peppers, zucchini, wedges of onion at the t-20 mark, and peas and asparagus at t-5
- Or do some stirring and make a risotto with fresh peas
- Or any of these risottos
- Start the meal in style with some sangria blanca and pan con tomate