It's early October. I took an overnight bus from Montpellier, with a Monoprix bag of bread, cheese, and chocolate, and slept through most of the 11 hour journey. Annie had met me at the bus station with a huge smile, and we happily ate churros con chocolate in a little cafetería while rain rapped against the window.
"What time is it?" I half ask.
"We'll take a siesta after lunch."
I lift my head enough to try and look out her window. The shutters, designed for steamy Spanish summer, are rolled down and give the impression of it being 2 am, not time for class.
"How do you get anything done with these things?" I grumble at the shades.
She grins, rolls it up.
"It's great for napping."
I stay in my floor bed, clinging to any lingering traces of sleep.
"You can stay here, if you want" She offers, but I decline. I'm quite keen to wander around by myself.
We walk to the Universidad. On the way, Annie points out some of Salamanca's characters. It's a small city, so it's easy to see the same people over and over. For example, there's "Spanish Bob Dylan" (it really is uncanny!), and a "living statue" type who is sprayed bronze, and is can be found doing anything except sitting still like a statue.
The university is grand, ornate and steeped in history that only 900 years of establishment can bring. Yesterday, Annie showed me the famous Salamanca frog carved into the exterior of the university. Apparently, if you can spot it on your first day of school, you'll have a successful semester. Annie told me exactly where it was, and I still couldn't see it. Typical.
Annie climbs the ancient stairwell to her class, and I go explore. It's another gorgeous day, with sun spilling all over the winding streets. I peek into a tourist shop, sifting through trinkets, shotglasses and t-shirts emblazoned with a picture of a frog, or sometimes a Spanish flag, or a bull.
I wander into a jamón shop. The smell...how does one describe the smell that immediately hits you upon entering a small shop full of cured pork? It smells musky yet bright, salty and pungent, and it dances around my nose enticingly. Big legs of ham hang by the walls, in the windows, from the ceiling. They're pale, almost white on the outside, but where the jamón has been shaved off, it is a deep pink with gleaming white marbling. Glorious.
I stroll through the streets, the gentle breeze lifting my hair. Eventually I make my way back to Annie.
"How was your morning?" She asks, after waving goodbye and exchanging a few words in Spanish with her friends.
I smile, remembering the grand swirls of birds over my head, the autumnal rustling of the trees, the elderly men in dress pants and cardigans smoking cigarettes on benches.
("Hat, cane, button down sweater and dress pants," Annie laughs, "might be my Halloween costume next year.")
We find a cafetería for lunch, and get to pick two plates, a drink and dessert from the menu del dia.
We both have a glass of wine, and I choose paella for for my first course, and pork chops in a cheese sauce for my main plate.
My paella finally arrives, and I am so pleased to be trying it for the first time in Spain. Annie is equally excited for me to try it, saying she often gets vegetarian paella, though her favorite Spanish food so far is a bocadillo de tortilla de patatas.
Paella is a delight. Yellow, toothsome, briny, and savory, studded with peas, soft, sweet peppers, mussels, enormous crawfish and rings of squid. The rice had became crunchy and almost caramelized on the bottom, which apparently is the trademark of a good paella.
Adapted from Menu del Dia by Rohan Daft
This is a recipe that requires a lot of prep and steps, but is, in terms of execution, not difficult and produces a great meal. I changed a lot from the original recipe, most notably adding tumeric- mine just wasn't yellow enough, and I remember the host of my farm in Spain showing me a popular "paella spice blend" that included tumeric for color. It's up to you!
The olive oil seemed excessive to me, but the dish wasn't oily, so, I'm keeping it as the recipe said. However, feel free to experiment.
Also, you can really use any kind of meat or seafood for this dish. As you see, I used clams instead of mussels because, well, I live in Massachusetts! It's really up to you. I had paella with goat in Extremadura! And it was amazing!
6-10 threads of saffron
1/4 cup olive oil
A pinch of tumeric
2 chicken breasts and 2 thighs, cut into bite size pieces
1 onion, chopped
1 red bell pepper, cut into bite size pieces
1/4 pound green beans, cut into inch pieces
2 cloves of garlic, chopped
2 tomatoes, skinned and cut into cubes
1/2 tsp Spanish paprika (pimentón)
1/2 cup peas, shelled
8 large prawns or langoustines, shell on
8 clams or mussels, scrubbed
2 1/2 cups short grain rice (I had arborio, but Spanish Bomba is what you're supposed to use)
4 1/2 cups chicken broth or water, heated
First, over low heat, gently toast the saffron. This will only be for about 10-15 seconds. Remove and set aside.
Pour all the olive oil into a large paella pan (or a frying pan), raise heat to medium,and add the chicken. Cook until browned. Remove from pan and set aside.
Add garlic, tomatoes, saffron, tumeric and paprika. Stir and cook for about five minutes.
Add your peas. Stir in the browned chicken, prawns and clams to the pan. Cook for about five minutes, then remove half the shellfish and set aside. (This is just for the classic paella look!)
Add all your rice. Try to get it spread out as evenly as possible across the pan. Pour over all your stock and add salt.
Take the shellfish that you said aside and arrange it artfully over the top of the rice.
Cook for about fifteen minutes, or until the rice seems to have absorbed most of the liquid.
Remove from heat and cover with newspaper for about ten minutes before serving; paella is meant to be eaten at room temperature!