My son Matthew was home this weekend. This is always an event, because even though he’s only two hours away from us, he doesn’t come home all that often. In fact, we hadn’t seen him since the Christmas break. So whenever he comes home, we make it a celebration. This weekend in particular, we attended a concert, and spent time together, even if some of that time was him doing homework in the kitchen while absorbing the sounds, smells and liveliness of the family.
Needless to say, having Matthew home for the weekend means cooking his favorite meals. When I was in college, two hours away from home, like he is, my mom would always ask me what I wanted to eat on the weekends that I visited. Among all the dishes that I would request, one would be a constant: arroz al horno, hearty baked rice. So I decided to post the recipe for you this week, even though Matthew is much more accommodating on his preferences. In fact, whenever I ask what he would like to eat when he visits, his response is invariably the same: whatever you make.
This weekend was an even more special one, because my second son Ethan will have a birthday in just a few short days. So more to celebrate. Together with grilled steaks on Friday (the weather this weekend was glorious, spring-like in every way), stuffed peppers on Saturday (a recipe I will post sometime soon) and seafood fideuá on Sunday, apple tarts and birthday cake were in order. Ethan requested chocolate, and I added some passionfruit to it.
Arroz al horno, hearty baked rice (or arròs al forn, as it is called in the Valencian language), is a dish typical of the Valencian Community. It is based on rice, one of the regional land products (check here), but unlike paella, it is baked in an earthenware casserole, a cazuela (check here). It was typically baked on Mondays, and the reason is that it was cooked with the leftovers of the weekend’s cocido (another Spanish dish, originated in Madrid, but now cooked nationwide). Arroz al horno then includes, together with the rice, chickpeas and meat products derived from the pig: chorizo, morcilla (blood sausage), and sometimes other meats like pork ribs. It also includes potatoes, tomatoes and a head of garlic centered on the cazuela. The rice is cooked with the broth from the cocido (the most flavorful broth that I know, made from meat, chicken and vegetables).
One custom that I remember when I was growing up was that of women walking in the streets, cazuela in hand, bringing it to the village oven or bakery to be baked there, alongside the cazuelas from many other households. I don’t remember my mom doing this, but remember the brick and mortar oven, which was on the steepest street in Onteniente, carrer del Delme, calle del Delme. An amusing name for this dish is also arròs passejat (in Valencian language), arroz “paseado”, “walking” rice.
This week I was a guest at “Cort in the morning” Radio show on WHNH 101.3fm. At one point Cort asked me what were the dishes that I cook that remind me more of Spain, and of course I mentioned paella, but the thing is, any rice-based dish reminds me of Spain. Arroz al horno, even if I cook it without morcilla, blood sausage (I can see my Spanish friends raising their eyebrows now), is a perfect example. I hope you like it!
And if you’d like to hear my interview with Cort, click on this link.
HEARTY BAKED RICE
Arroz al Horno
Ingredients (for 4 servings):
2 cups Bomba or Calasparra rice (or medium grade rice, but not arborio)
1 cup chickpeas (dry or canned)
1 medium potato
3 medium tomatoes
1/2 medium onion
1 head garlic, plus 3 cloves
1/4 cup olive oil
8 ounces Spanish chorizo
2 blood sausages
8 ounces pork ribs
5 cups chicken stock or broth
1 tsp pimentón de la Vera
Salt and Pepper to taste
If using dry chickpeas, make sure to place them in water the night before. They should be soft before adding them to the dish.
Peel and slice the potatoes into about 1/2-inch-thick slices. Chop the onion finely. Cut the tomatoes in half transversally, and mince one of the halves finely. Slice the 3 cloves of garlic very thinly. Slice the chorizo into 1/4-inch-thick slices. Cut the blood sausages in half, and the pork ribs into small pieces of about 2 inches. Heat the chicken stock or broth.
Preheat the oven to 375ºF.
Starting with low heat, place the cazuela (a heatproof earthenware casserole) on the stove and heat half of the oil. Raise the heat to medium and sauté the head of garlic, 2-3 minutes. Add the potatoes and fry on both sides until golden, about 3-4 minutes per side. Remove from the cazuela and set aside. Add the pork rib pieces and sauté, turning them, until golden. Remove and set aside. Add the rest of the oil, then the onion, and cook until translucent, about 8 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the garlic and sauté, about 3 minutes. Add the minced tomato and sauté with the other ingredients. Add the chorizo and cook, 2-3 minutes. Add the pimentón, followed immediately by the rice. Stir all the ingredients, making sure the rice is well coated with the oils. Add the hot broth, the rib pieces and the chickpeas, season with salt and stir. Add the potatoes and the tomato slices and distribute them evenly. Place the head of garlic in the center, and adjust the seasoning if necessary. When it starts to bubble, transfer the cazuela to the hot oven (at this point, I like to season the tomatoes with a bit of salt and pepper). Bake for 15 to 18 minutes, tasting a few grains of rice to make sure it’s done (the grains on the surface will be more crunchy, so make sure you taste a few grains from under the surface).
Remove from the oven and serve.