As much as I want to jump onto the spring bandwagon and create plate upon plate of bright, sprightly salads, it’s, well, much - too - COLD. So today, instead of turning to the beautiful bunches of chickweed, sunflower seed sprouts, and baby arugula that are overflowing the frig, I found myself instead spellbound by two homely little chorizo sausages. I started thinking about their savory, smoky flavor, and the next thing that popped into my mind was HOT SOUP. But not just any hot soup mind you, a Spanish soup called Zarzuela.
In Spain, the term zarzuela (pronounced thahr-thway-lah or sometimes zahr-zway-lah) refers to a type of light opera consisting of song, dance, and theatre. This culinary namesake, which is a seafood soup, has a full measure of drama, typically featuring halibut, mussels, shrimp, and squid—an all-star cast in an intriguing and finely tuned broth.
My new version takes the traditional dish down a smoky Mexican side road with the addition of ancho chile, smoked paprika, and the aforementioned smoked sausage, which together give the soup a deep, rich, complex flavor profile. The result is gutsy, satisfying, and sophisticated all at the same time.
Because it looks most effective here to leave the clams and mussels in their shells, the tails on the prawns, and the shells on the crab legs if you are including them, this is a messy and very enjoyable dish to eat. Be prepared to dig in with your hands if needed.
MARKET NOTE Feel free to vary the seafood as you wish, and as market availability and freshness dictate. Although not specified, chunks of halibut are excellent here, as are cracked Dungeness crab legs.
The really important consideration is the freshness of the seafood. I bought everything I needed today at Newman’s Fish Company in Portland, Oregon. It’s a top notch operation, managed expertly by Angela Amos, daughter of legendary Northwest fishing duo, Tom and Joyce Amos. (Newman’s Fish Company is featured in the March 2010 issue of Portland Monthly.)
SERVING NOTE To create a complete meal in a bowl, mound a cup of cooked Emmer farro (or cooked white or brown rice) into individual wide-rimmed pasta bowls, then ladle the broth and seafood around the rice. Alternatively, serve with long, diagonal slices of toasted French bread brushed with olive oil and garlic.
INGREDIENT NOTE Farro (pronounced FAHR-oh) is an ancient hard, hulled wheat with a nutty flavor and chewy texture when cooked. It is also called spelt. American chefs are newly enamored with this old world grain, but Italians have been eating it for centuries. Check Italian cookbooks for interesting recipes.
Smoky Spanish Zarzuela with Chorizo & Emmer Farro
For this hearty soup, I enlivened my more traditional Spanish Zarzuela recipe with smoked paprika, ancho chile paste, and Spanish chorizo. The result is magnifico!
This recipe may read like a lot of work, but I had this soup to the table in under an hour, all prep included. Okay, I had the cooked farro on hand.
2-3 cups cooked Bluebird Grain Farms Emmer Farro, or other farro (instructions below)
2 dried ancho chiles
2 cups clam or seafood nectar
1 cup dry white wine
1 cup ancho chile water, from below
shells from 1 pound prawns, from below
several sprigs parsley
2 tablespoons cold pressed, extra virgin olive oil
2 Spanish dried chorizo sausages, diced (about 4 ounces or 1 cup diced) (City Market in Portland, Oregon sells an excellent Spanish dried chorizo called Palacios; 4 small sausages per package for $8.50)
2 cups chopped yellow onion
2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced or pressed
2 teaspoons smoked sweet paprika (Whole Foods carries it; it is essential to the smoky flavor of this soup)
2 cups reduced seafood stock, from above
14½ ounce can chopped tomatoes with juice
14½ ounce can crushed tomatoes
½ large green bell pepper, chopped
½ large red bell pepper, chopped
fine sea salt, to taste
freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 pound large prawns in the shell
1 pound small manila clams, shells tightly closed, scrubbed
½ pound small Washington blue mussels, shells tightly closed, scrubbed and debearded
¼ cup chopped flat leaf parsley
1 thinly sliced green onion
- To prepare the farro, in a large saucepan, bring 6 cups of chicken or vegetable stock (or water) to a boil and add 1½ cups of Emmer farro. Boil for 5 minutes, cover, and simmer for about 50 minutes, until the grain is tender and nicely chewy. Drain and rinse under cold water. Drain again thoroughly and store in a covered container in the refrigerator until needed. (You will have about 3 cups of cooked farro.) Just before adding to the soup, heat for a minute or two in the microwave.
- To prepare the ancho chile paste, put the ancho chiles into a 2-cup measuring cup and cover with boiling water. Weight the chiles down with something heavy so that they are submerged in the water. Let hydrate for 15-30 minutes. Pour the water through a sieve into a clean measuring cup and taste it. If it is not bitter, reserve 1 cup and discard the remainder. Pull the stems from the chiles, tear them open and scrape away the seeds. Mince or puree the chiles to a paste. You should have 3-4 tablespoons of ancho chile paste. Reserve.
- To prepare the seafood stock, in a 2-quart saucepan, bring the reserved ancho chile water, clam nectar, and wine to a simmer. Peel and devein the prawns, leaving the tails on the prawns. Add the peels to the water, along with several sprigs of parsley. Simmer until the stock is reduced to 2 cups, and then strain into a clean container. Reserve.
- To make the soup base, in a 3½-quart or larger skillet, heat the olive oil. Add the chorizo and cook for one minute or so, until starting to crisp and releasing fat. If you now have more than ¼ cup fat in the pan, drain off a tablespoon or so.
- Add the onions, garlic, and ancho paste to the pan and cook slowly until the onions are translucent and softened, about 10 minutes. Add the smoked paprika and cook for 2 additional minutes.
- Add the reduced seafood stock from above, chopped tomatoes, crushed tomatoes, green bell pepper, and red bell pepper. Simmer for 5-10 minutes, partially covered, until flavors are melded but soup has not reduced significantly. Season the soup base to taste with salt and pepper. The soup can be made ahead to this point, cooled, refrigerated, and reheated just before serving. In this case, you might want to add another ¼ cup each of chopped red and green bell pepper to brighten the color.
- Just before serving, heat the prepared farro. Bring the soup to a simmer, add the clams and mussels, and cover. Cook for 3 minutes and uncover to see if all or most of the shells have opened. If not, cover again and simmer for another 2 minutes. When most of the shells are opened, discard any that remain closed.
- Divide the shellfish between 4-6 large bowls and keep warm for a minute. Add the prawns to the simmering soup base, cover, and cook until bright pink on both sides, about 1-2 minutes. You may have to turn the prawns in the soup to cook them evenly. Divide the prawns between the bowls.
- Ladle the soup base over the shellfish in each bowl. Add a ½ cup scoop of farro to the center of each serving, and sprinkle with parsley and green onion.
More Pork Recipes from LunaCafe:
- Apple Cider-Brined Tenderloin of Pork with Rhubarb Deglazing Sauce
- Grilled Baby Back Ribs with Garlic-Ginger BBQ Glaze
- Homemade Mexican Chorizo–with a Secret
- Pasta Carbonara Perfecta Mundo
- Spinach & Egg Fettuccini with Wild Mushrooms & Pancetta (Straw & Hay)
- Strozzapreti with Spicy Italian Sausage, Broccolini & Garlic Crema
- The Best Damned Hash