La Bonne Vie: A quick escape to Spain inspires a delicious chowder

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By: Rachel Shenk

Rachel Shenk/La Bonne Vie

It’s almost three in the afternoon and we are hurrying to get our shoes on. Just next door to our apartment here in Valencia, Spain, the cathedral bell will soon ring out.

We want to be up in the tower when it clangs out the time. But first, we have to climb down our 95 apartment stairs, walk down the narrow street to the small, plant-lined plaza where people are starting their lunches, wend our way through the next pedestrian alley to the big plaza where a large fountain pulls folks in, and down a darker walk where street people ply their wares, past the beggar at the cathedral door and finally to the tower where we quickly climb 207 steps to get the bird’s eye view of the city.

And just in time, slightly out of breath and with a minute to spare, we sit down on the sun-warmed stone bench lining the tower wall and wait. With a creak, the big iron hammer lifts and bangs against the bell and the whole air reverberates with the sound. One, two, three. It’s now 3 p.m. in Valencia and it’s time for lunch.

Earlier in the morning, we took a fast walk down the Jardin de Turia, a dry riverbed turned into a 9 kilometer park. At its one end stands the City of Arts and Sciences, an impressive six building complex created in the last 20 years and an architectural marvel. With a mix of metal, glass and water, it stands out against the skyline of flat rice fields and the Mediterranean Sea. Soon it will welcome the finish line of the Valencia Marathon.

What we are noticing in this city founded by the Romans in 138 B.C. is that the old and the new live side-by-side very well. Current goings on mix with a respect for tradition. And with that in mind, we decide to take our lunch at Seu Xeria, a sleek restaurant unobtrusively tucked into a historical building that is just a three minute walk from our apartment.

Its menu combines the old and the new in interesting ways. Our four-course menu included the traditional sardine prepared as a light and airy mousse, cod with edamame served in a typical sauce coloured with squid ink as well as a cappuccino turned on its head as coffee ice cream served with a traditional Valencian citrusy cream.

We definitely followed the Spanish clock and made the meal last a good hour and a half. As we left, life was starting to pick up again and people were back on the streets. And we were ready to climb our 95 steps back to our apartment and sit a while on the deck to watch life unfolding in Valencia.

In Goshen, we often make this chowder which combines numerous typical flavours of Mediterranean Spain. It’s perfect for a cool autumn night.

Catalán chicken chowder

Ingredients

  • 1 lb. skinless, boneless chicken breast halves, cut into small pieces
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tbsp. olive oil
  • 14 ½ oz. can diced tomatoes
  • 14 ½ oz. can chunky tomato sauce (I use Muir Glen)
  • 1 ¾ cup vegetable broth
  • 7 oz. artichoke hearts, drained and quartered
  • ¾ cup frozen baby sweet peas
  • 7 ¼ oz. jar roasted red sweet peppers, drained and diced
  • ½ cup slivered almonds, toasted
  • ½ cup white basmati rice
  • A pinch of saffron — very important! 

Directions

  1. Cook the rice according to directions, throwing in the saffron at the beginning. There needs to be enough saffron to colour the rice a nice yellow. As it cooks, start on the chowder.
  2. In a large saucepan, cook chicken, onion and garlic in olive oil over medium-high heat for 5 minutes or until chicken is no longer pink. Add tomatoes, tomato sauce, vegetable broth and artichoke hearts. Bring to boil and reduce heat. Simmer uncovered for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add peas and roasted red pepper. Cook 3 to 4 minutes more or until heated through.

To serve, divide soup among individual serving bowls. Spoon a mound of the cooked rice in the center of each bowl. Sprinkle with almonds. Makes four servings.

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