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Paella’s Lesser-Known Cousin

by Jane Worthington-Roth

If you ask, most people would probably know what a “Paella” is. Considered the national dish of Spain, Paella was developed in Valencia, in eastern Spain. There are probably as many recipes for Paella as there are grandmothers in Spain, and, traditional recipes aside, it’s a delicious way to use up various ingredients you have hiding in your fridge!

Paella pans are easy to come by and are made in perfect sizes for the number of people you want to serve. I have a paella pan that is made for “4 people” but two of us always end up eating the entire amount! If you don’t have a paella pan you can use a large (14”+) skillet.

One of the lesser-known recipes that is also cooked in a paella pan isn’t make with rice, but with thin vermicelli-like pasta known as fideo. I first tried a Catalan Fideuà de Marisco (Fideua with Seafood) in Barcelona. The ingredients were familiar, but the taste was such a surprise! Who would have thought that toasting the pasta in oil could bring such depth to a simple dish! In the Spanish-food sections of most grocery markets you can find fideo noodles, but in a pinch you can substitute thin vermicelli broken into 2-inch pieces.

1 cup clam juice (or water, or fish stock)
½ teaspoon saffron threads
4 tablespoons olive oil
1 pound fideo noodles (or 2-inch-long vermicelli)
1 teaspoon Spanish smoked paprika (also known as “pimentón”)
1 tablespoon finely-minced garlic
1 pound small clams (or cockles) well-scrubbed
1 pound mussels, well-scrubbed and de-bearded
12 medium shrimp

½ cup chopped fresh parsley leaves
Aioli (garlicky mayonnaise), for serving

Stir the saffron into the clam juice (or water or fish stock) to infuse the flavor throughout the broth.
Put the oil into a large skillet and heat over medium-high until the oil is just shimmering. Turn down the heat to low and add the dry noodles, stirring constantly until the noodles begin to brown.  If they begin to turn too dark, immediately remove the pan from the heat. The secret to this recipe is to toast the pasta to light brown, careful to not burn it, then cook the pasta until just tender but still firm to the bite.
Add the smoked paprika and garlic to the pan, stir and cook for an additional minute.  Add enough saffron-infused broth to completely cover the noodles and cook for 8 minutes, stirring occasionally.  If the mixture starts to dry out, add more broth or even a splash of white wine.
Scatter the mussels, clams, and shrimp over the noodles, pressing them down until barely submerged.  Cover the pan (use foil if using a paella pan) and simmer for about 5 minutes until the shells open and the shrimp turn opaque. The pasta should be cooked, but firm, and the mixture should be moist. Taste, then season with a little salt & pepper, if necessary.
Top with chopped parsley and offer aioli on the side.
As with Paella, Fideuà is extremely versatile – try making some variations on the dish with sautéed sweet onions, peppers, sliced chorizo, scallops, squid, or langoustines!