My ideal New Year's Eve is spent at home with friends, enjoying a meal that doesn't take two days to prepare. Themed dinners are always fun, and I think New Year's offers a festive excuse. This easy menu is Spanish-themed and both the salad and the dessert can be made ahead of time. Paella is the perfect dish for entertaining; it's prepared last minute, but you can have it all prepped and cook it once your friends arrive. When you add in the seafood, serve the salad, as the paella needs to cook a little longer and then sit for 10 minutes. Start the evening off with a few tapas or some Spanish cheese.
FENNEL AND SERRANO HAM SALAD
A Spanish-style salad made with crisp fennel and slightly piquant sheep's milk Manchego cheese. If Serrano, a dry-cured Spanish ham, is not available, use prosciutto.
¼ cup olive oil
2 tablespoons lemon juice
¼ cup chopped chives
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 head fennel, cut in half
1 bunch radishes, thinly sliced
6 slices Serrano ham, cut in thick julienne strips
Radish sprouts (if available)
1 cup shaved Manchego cheese
Whisk together oil and lemon juice in a small bowl. Stir in chives and season to taste with salt and pepper. Set aside.
Remove tough core of fennel bulb and discard. Thinly slice fennel and immerse in a bowl of ice water for 10 minutes. Drain and pat dry.
Combine fennel, radishes, ham and radish sprouts in a large bowl and place in the refrigerator until ready to serve.
Drizzle salad with dressing and toss well to combine. Top with shaved Manchego. Serve immediately. Serves 6 to 8.
Years ago on my first visit to Spain, I tasted a paella made on a wood-burning grill that became my standard for paellas ever since. I've experimented over the years but it was always missing something - it must have been the wood they used, the warm night and my new relationship. Last week, I tossed caution to the winds; instead of sourcing hard-to-find Spanish ingredients, I used what I had. Somehow this time it worked magically. A finished paella should still have some liquid on the top and ideally, a bit of a brown crust on the bottom of the pan. I used a large skillet.
1 pound (500 grams) jumbo scampi or large shrimps
1 teaspoon saffron threads
1 teaspoon hot smoked Spanish paprika or chili flakes
4 cups homemade or low-sodium chicken stock
⅓ cup olive oil
1 cup thickly sliced Spanish dried chorizo sausage
1 cup diced onions
1 tablespoon chopped garlic
4 medium squid, sliced
1 cup fresh or canned tomatoes chopped
2 cups short-grain rice, either sushi rice, Spanish Valencia or Arborio
1 pound (500 grams) fresh clams
1 pound (500 grams) fresh mussels
1 cup lima beans or green peas, defrosted
¼ cup chopped parsley
3 green onions, cut into long pieces
Use kitchen shears to cut through scampi shell on the leg side (the shell stays on). If using shrimp, shell and reserve shells.
Combine shrimp shells (if using), saffron, stock and paprika and simmer gently for 10 minutes. Discard any shell and reserve.
Heat oil in paella pan or large skillet. Add chorizo and sauté for one minute. Add onion and sauté for two minutes or until softened. Add garlic and cook another minute. Add scampi or shrimp and sauté for two minutes or until partly cooked. Remove scampi or shrimp from skillet.
Add squid and sauté in oil for two minutes or until white. Add tomatoes and sauté one minute or until just limp.
Stir in rice, then pour in flavoured stock and bring to boil. Turn heat down to a simmer and cook for 15 minutes or until rice is nearly cooked through. Stir occasionally. Add in clams and mussels, cover pan and cook five minutes or until shells begin to open. Add scampi or shrimp and peas and cook another five minutes or until seafood is cooked through. Taste for seasoning. Sprinkle with parsley and green onions. Serves 6 to 8.
ORANGE FLAN WITH CARAMEL
Although similar to crème caramel, this is a firmer-textured custard. The recipe works like a charm - if you've ever been worried about turning out these caramel-coated moulds, don't worry, it always works.
2 cups milk
1 cup whipping cream
1/2 cup granulated sugar
8 large eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla
2 teaspoons grated orange rind
1/2 cup granulated sugar
3 tablespoons orange juice
1 tablespoon corn syrup
Combine milk, cream and sugar in a large pot over medium-high heat and bring to boil. Remove from heat, cool to tepid and whisk in eggs and vanilla, and orange rind. Pour through a sieve into a bowl and reserve.
Preheat oven to 325 F.
Combine sugar, orange juice and corn syrup in a heavy pan over medium heat and stir to dissolve. Raise heat and bring to boil. Boil for eight minutes or until pale gold. Remove from heat. Immediately swirl into a round 6-cup ovenproof baking dish.
Pour in reserved custard and place dish in a large baking pan. Pour hot water into the baking pan until it comes half way up the outside of the baking dish. Cover dish with a sheet of parchment paper and bake for 40 minutes or until custard is set but has a slight wiggle in centre. Chill. Unmould onto a rimmed serving plate. Serve with Almond Cookies. Serves 6 to 8.
You can prepare the dough ahead of time, wrap the sheets in plastic and bake them up to one week later.
⅓ cup unsalted butter, softened
1 cup icing sugar
½ teaspoon grated lemon rind
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 ¾ cups all-purpose flour (spooned into measuring cups and levelled off)
1 1/4 cups ground almonds
½ teaspoon kosher salt
15 slivered almonds
1/3 cup Seville orange marmalade
Combine butter and icing sugar in a mixing bowl and use an electric mixer to beat until light and fluffy. Add lemon rind and vanilla and beat to combine. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well between additions. Add flour, ground almonds and salt, and beat just until incorporated. Wrap dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
Place dough on a lightly floured surface and roll out to about ¼-inch thick. Use a 2-inch round cutter to cut out cookies and place about one inch apart on parchment-lined baking sheets. Repeat, gathering and re-rolling scraps until you have used up all the dough. Press a slivered almond into half of the rounds. Chill cut-out cookies for 20 minutes or until they are firm.
Preheat oven to 325 F.
Remove one baking sheet at a time from fridge and bake cookies for 13 to 15 minutes or until lightly golden at the edges. Transfer to a rack to cool fully.
Spread one teaspoon marmalade onto rounds that do not have almonds and place an almond-topped cookie on top. Makes approximately 20 cookies.
A crisp, lean white is best for the first two courses, such as a Rueda from Spain or verdicchio from Italy. The paella also would be splendid with a dry rosé, preferably from Spain or southern France. As an aperitif, consider cava, a dry sparkling wine from Spain. The dessert would pair well with a muscat de beaumes de venise from southern France.