My husband and I live part-time of the year in a small village about 40 minutes south of Valencia, about 10 minutes to Xativa, and about 20-25 minutes to the beach of Gandia and Cullera, Costa Blanca, Spain.
The folks in the village are working class with most of the men working in their own or larger orange fields that surround this area for as far as the eye can see. If it is not oranges they grow and pick, then it is persimmons (Caquis), flat peaches (melocotones), some do paella rice (el Arroz), some do crops of onions (cebolla), garlic (Ajo) spring onions. But mostly it is Oranges (Naranja). It is not the prettiest little town, but it has a charm about it and the people in the village have a big heart and good sense of humour.
The food that we eat, through the great openness of the friends we have made here, is like (as mentioned), fantastic wholesome working class food. All the meals are robust, full of flavour and textures. All meals are ALL about flavour and filling stomachs to keep them going when working or having a good meal at the end of a hard day.
Fideua. (Click for recipe) A noodle paella that can be made with fish, shellfish, molluscs, meats and vegetables. Great lunch meal, full of flavour and easy to make. One of my favourites! Served always with some aioli, the taste is divine and it is so simple to make with the aromas being heavenly!
PIMIENTOS DEL PIQUILLO RELLENOS DE COCID – Meat Stuffed Peppers with Bechamel Sauce. Between my husband and I, this is one of our favourite dishes ever!
To me, it is a lasagna of stuffed peppers. Our friends mother, Rosario, is a fantastic cook and the peppers she cooks with this sauce is… fantastico! You cannot stop at two!
Pork and veal mince cooked in herbs and stuffed in pre-skinned sweet peppers or capsicums you purchase in the jars. They are laid in a baking dish and covered with a bechamel sauce and cheese and baked for 25-30minutes. Full of flavour and addictive!
Gazpacho Manchengo. In Valencia, this is a dish that uses tiny squares of dried flat bread that are cooked in a broth with meats, like chicken and rabbit, with wonderful herbs and spice that makes this meal just delicious!
Ingredients: 1kg chicken pieces or thigh meat & 1 kg rabbit pieces, 2 garlic cloves, 2 bay leaves, a few sprigs of fresh thyme, tomato grated – no skin, onion, salt olive oil, smoked paprika, chicken stock cubes, gaspacho pasta (a package for two people) or flat bread ripped into small pieces.
Boil in a pot the rabbit and the chicken, bay leaves, chopped cloves of garlic, thyme, sprinkle of salt, 1 cup of water. Add some chicken stock and over low heat until the meat is cooked. When the meat is good you can shred the meat, taking all the bones out. Reserve the broth in the pot to add later.
Add to the paella pan a good splash of olive oil and saute onion and grated tomato. Add pasta package of gazpacho manchego ( 1 pkt = 2 people) or Torta de Gazpacho (but looks and has consistancy of a giant Captain’s Table biscuit).
Add the shredded chicken and rabbit, adding a little paprika and stir. Careful not to burn, add the broth bit by bit that was reserved into paella pan, if not enough broth add some water and another chicken stock cube. Add a little salt to flavour. Ready when the pasta/bread is soft but not completely mushy.
Beef Cheeks. This was a favourite dish of our friends Grandmother who had recently passed. So to celebrate her life they cooked her meals that she loved. The cheeks are cooked until they melt in your mouth! Slow Cooked with onion and tomatoes with capscuim, thyme, stock cubes and water. Served with crusty bread.
Pigeon. This dish is popular but for me it is too many tiny bones. You are constantly picking them out of your mouth. Don’t get me wrong, the meal is full of fresh flavours and the pigeon was surprisingly tender and tasty, but the bones!!! We did have a meal of sparrow which had more tiny bones. But how do you say no???
Rabbit Stew. This was a Wednesday night joke by the lads we have a meal with each week to watch football or play a game of poker till the early hours of the morning. I was the lucky one to get the head served to me. My photo looked like the beast had a set of silver in the gob! I veered eating the head, but the legs are pretty tender with a chicken consistency and taste.
Garlic and Lemon Rabbit. This was delicious! We had this for a breakfast in a cafe I had no idea existed tucked away in the orange fields and weekend fincas. Roasted on a terracotta pipe! Bravo!
Asta del Cordero con Patatas – Lamb Shanks with Potatoes. Cooked in white wine and onions, garlic and stock, this is served with just crusty bread and red local vino. Delicious on a cold night and a favourite with the fellas when we are watching footy outside the pub.
Arroz con Bogavante – Lobster and Rice Stew. This was a great big pot made for 4 people in a very busy seaside restaurant in Cullera and we could not eat it all. But it was a fantastic meal that was savoury and even though the body said no more, you kept going back for more! The rice is cooked in a seafood stock and the Lobster placed into it near the finishing time of cooking.
Tapas of Gambas or Prawns in Boiling Oil. With a good crusty bread, you have the most delicious of snacks here. I cannot get enough of them when we are in a bar and want a something to eat with a drink! Best pub grub ever!
Oil heated with a sprinkling of salt, place prawns and full chillies in and then a 1/2 glass of white wine. Boil and then serve boiling hot in a Cazuela Cookware with lots of crusty bread and a glass of white wine.
Pollo y Conejo Paella – Chicken and Rabbit in Rice. The Valencian’s will tell you that only in Valencia will you ever find great paella because of the water. Each communidad has their speciality in food and Valencia takes the Paella! The varieties are many, but a true to form Chicken and Rabbit Paella is a wonderful meal full of flavour and filling.
I love watching our friend Rosario or her son Enrique make paella as we talk and have a glass of vino. It’s so therapeutic the way the ingredients are layered, how it bubbles and boils, popping wonderful explosions of smells that drives you crazy with hunger.
And, as we hoe through a meal, on the bottom of every good paella is the rice that has caramelised on the bottom and become crunchy and nutty. This is called socarrat and is eaten with gusto and many say that if the dish does not have this, then it is Pfffft! No Good! I have been known scrap the bottom of the dish till it’s all gone if there is socarrat! Delicious!
And Jamie Oliver’s paella are frowned upon by the ladies of the village. They saw his TV show and they reeled back in horror of the ingredients he placed into his dish. They are traditional people in many senses and what has been passed down to them stays the same to be passed down to the next generation.
We do have some nights where we will skip the dinners when it comes to Eels and Potatoes. I love seafood but the eel, well ole mate, it just doesn’t do a thing for me.
We were at a going away dinner and did not know this was the meal. By god, I swallowed them whole with a quick bite of potato and a swig of a beer. Silly me did this and finished before anyone else and so what happens????? They fill your plate even higher with a second serving, don’t they? I had to excuse myself and it was not pretty.
I do hope that you have enjoyed the meals I have shown and that if you do travel to Spain and the Costa Blanca, that you take the time to enjoy a real robust Valencian meal with friends and have a few vinos. Spain has many wonderful hidden gems tucked away in their cities and especially along this coastline and the hinterlands.
Explore and Enjoy xxx