Caceres: The secret of a good paella

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As you stand high up in the Castle and by using your imagination you may see behind the hill, the lanky figure of Don Quixote, on his horse and at the back following him, Sancho, on his humble donkey. In Caceres, you think you’re a hero in one of Cervantes’ tales.

by Themis Massouras

Here is the Mediterranean !

The landscape is Mediterranean. Stones, dry soil because of lack of rain, low vegetation and everywhere olives, almond trees, oak trees and cypresses. Our destination is just below the top of the hill, a small manor house where we are invited for paella, the traditional dish of Spain. Our host, Gaspar, proudly reports that he spent much time and effort to create what we admired and enjoyed that afternoon in his small villa in the city of Caceres, Spain.

Why do storks always return to Caceres ;

Storks always return to Caceres because, from the top of the towers, they can be overlooking the 2000 – year Spanish culture and history that is concentrated here in this city. It is for this reason that the city has placed a candidacy for becoming European capital of culture in 2016. A point in time that designates the city as the  bridge linking Europe with Latin America.

Caceres is located 300 kilometres west of Madrid, and 100 km from the borders of Portugal. It is the capital of the autonomous province of Extremadura and was founded by the Romans in 25 BC. If you stand at the highest point, you can see the old town with its medieval castles and mansions, all perfectly preserved reminding the life of bygone days. On the tops of the buildings and places that stand out, you may easily see the nests of storks.

In every single tower in Caceres, storks build their nests

Drink a fig!

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Inside the kitchen of the Michelin awarded Atrio restaurant. Photo: www.restauranteatrio.com
Today the city is full of life with many small shops selling local products such as sweets and cherry tarts from Jerte, the nearby valley, and liqueurs made of chestnut and figs. Caceres is famous for its wonderful dishes made with pork and lamb and garnished with fried buns (migas). Guests can enjoy these wonderful flavors in Atrio (Avenida de España, 30), one of the most famous restaurants in Spain, at El Figon de Estaquio (www.elfigondeeustaquio.com), one of the oldest restaurants in the city and many others located in the Plaza Mayor, the main square of Caceres.

Cooking Paella

Maria Jose, a beautiful Spanish lady, received us at her house and Gaspar, her husband,  along with two Portuguese friends, undertook the task to cook paella, a ‘male’ affair. First and foremost, there is paellera. A large container like a pan with a diameter of about one meter and five cm. in depth with a thick base, big enough to accommodate enough material.

Seafood (shrimp, squid, various shellfish), chicken pieces or other white meat simmer all along to give all their fluids and achieve comparable flavor. The characteristic yellow color is the result of saffron. At some time, rice is added and then, the entire mixture is cooked so as the rice to become soft, absorb all the delicious juices of the seafood and meat and get the wonderful scents and flavors of  spices that have already been added.

All the quests enjoyed the delicious meal drinking divine  wine from the area.

“Pecula mecula”, a traditional sweet made from almonds and honey, was the dessert which everybody enjoyed along with the beautiful colours of the sunset back in the horizon.

Within the walls 

The palaces, the medieval buildings and the impressive temples within the city will travel you to another era. At the Plaza de Santa Maria, you can visit the Palace of Carvajal. Next to it, there is a tower, built in the 12th century while Mayoralgo, the largest palace in the city dominates the place. It is also worth taking photos of the Gothic church of Santa Maria, where there are priceless statues inside, impressive baroque architecture and the famous icon of  Cristo de los Blazquez, also known as Cristo Negro (“Black Christ”).

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The storks never leave Caceres. Photo: www.restauranteatrio.com

 Published in TASTE magazine in June 2010. Photos by Themis Massouras, except otherwise stated.

 

Themis Massouras studied English Literature at the University of Athens and Educational Management at the University of Nottingham. He has taught English for 35 years in public schools and retired as a headmaster. In his free time (if there is any) he deals with gardening, takes care of his animals, travels and enjoys small happy moments.

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