What's the first dinner dish that you learned to prepare? I mean, the first one that was not the result of a can in one hand and a can opener in the other.
Maybe it was grilled cheese, maybe it was a salad of some kind.
For me, it may have been baked pasta. (I say may have been because I recall making 3-Alarm Chili from a packet around the age of twelve. However, sticking to my own rules, that chili technically came from a packet, so it does not count.)
This is baked pasta, as prepared by a twenty-year-old with a small dorm kitchen: you boil some penne or rigatoni, smother it in a sludgy sauce, spoon some ricotta over it all (okay, okay, the ricotta came from a container), then top it with shredded mozzarella. Bake at 350 for 20 minutes and devour like a starving wolf with your closest friends.
Even though I'm a bit older and own better appliances, I still enjoy baked pasta in all its carby forms. I just prefer some nuance with my meals now, so when I came across this version of Catalan fideua, it clicked in my mind as something worth learning.
Catalan fideua is, essentially, a Spanish baked pasta dish. Unlike my dorm room version, fideua has dazzle. The chorizo gives it a mighty kick of spice, while the paprika mellows the whole plate with sultry, smoky undertones. When you take the pasta out of the oven, you will find a lovely crust of pasta covering a steamy, tomatoey mound of pasta, sausage and vegetables.
This is the baked pasta of your college years, after spending a semester abroad in Barcelona.
Adapted from this recipe at Epicurious
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large yellow onion, chopped
1 large garlic clove, minced
1/2 pound crimini mushrooms, quartered
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
Pinch of cayenne pepper
1 medium tomato, peeled, seeded, chopped
1/2 of a green bell pepper, cored and diced
1 1/2 cup of chicken stock
1/3 cup dry white wine (I used a pinot grigio with good results)
2 links of Spanish chorizo, cut into 1/2 slices on the diagonal
1/2 pound fideo or angel hair pasta
1 tablespoon fresh flat-leaf parsley, chopped
Preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Heat the olive oil over medium-high heat in a heavy, deep skillet, such as a paella pan.
Add the onion and garlic and cook until tender, stirring frequently, about 8 minutes. Add the mushrooms and sauté for about 4 minutes. Add the smoked paprika and cayenne and stir just until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the tomato and green pepper and sauté another 2 minutes. Finally, add the chicken stock, wine, and chorizo.
Bring the mixture to a simmer. Break the pasta in half and nestle it into the liquid in the pan. Cook until pasta is tender, stirring occasionally, about 8 minutes. Set the skillet in the oven and bake until all liquid is absorbed and pasta is crusty, about 25 minutes.
Sprinkle with the parsley and serve.