Pasta Paella, called Fideuà, is a Spanish dish similar to paella but made of thin noodles instead of rice. The pasta is fried, then soaked in stock with monkfish, clams, veggies and a touch of saffron.
The Mediterranean coast of Spain has a gastronomy of their own, and one of its most distinctive dishes is the Pasta Paella (Fideuà). It’s similar to seafood paella but made with a noodle called Fideus. Usually served in a paella pan, this dish is more complicated than a standard paella! A professional Fideuà has the pasta straight up, like a porcupine presentation. To make this effect happen is an art!
This version is a simplified home version. However, I’ll tell you how to nail a professional-looking Fideuà in the post. Let’s dive deep into this Mediterranean dish.
The small 1 cm long and thin piece of noodle is similar to the ones we put in a simple chicken broth soup. But the technique used is by far different. First, Fideuà is never “al dente,” nor are the noodles covered with a sauce but the opposite, the noodles soak up the stock. So this is the first significant difference.
This way, you can finish the dish in the oven, and if you’ve done it right, magic will happen in this step! The Fideus will slowly rise vertically and get grilled on the top end, an almost magical phenomenon. For this to happen, you need a large paella pan to sauté your noodles in olive oil and add a fine layer of Fideus to let them stand.
For this particular recipe, I broke the pro rule and used a thick bottom pan and too much Fideus for the pan size… so the Fideus couldn’t rise vertically, but this is the homemade ‘easy’ version and still taste fantastic!
If you don’t find the “Fideus noodles,” you can use vermicelli and break them, or the Italians have a similar one called: Fedelini.
Frying the Fideus
You saw that right; the first step is to fry the Fideus noodles. This step is essential for the Fideus to keep a “softly crisp” texture or to prevent it from getting soggy. Important note about the frying, cook them at medium-low heat to prevent the noodles from getting burned… any black noodle pieces are simply a disaster for this dish. So keep an eye on your frying noodles and bring them to a nice golden-light brown colour while gently moving them.
The Sofregit (the Fried Paste)
A thick red paste from a slow-cooked onion, garlic and tomato in olive oil until all the water is out of the veggies and forms a kind of red, flavorful paste. This is another essential element in Catalan cuisine, so many recipes start this way. It’s a tad long but worth it in the end. Not only does it give flavour but colour to a dish. In Spain, they are still debating if a paella should or shouldn’t start by making a Sofregit.
The Catalans and Valencians, North-East of Spain, are big fans of that flavorful paste for their paellas. Elsewhere in Spain, it’s not always well received to start a paella this way. As for the Fideuà, it’s necessary to create the dish with a nicely done Sofregit. It’s a simple technique which takes a few extra minutes.
For this Fideuà, we’ll use monkfish and clams. If you live somewhere where it’s challenging to find monkfish, substitute it with sea bass, snapper, halibut or scallops. As for the clams, rinse them well before adding them to the dish. You could easily substitute them with mussels. Those little shells will open up and give the dish this last fresh sea taste. Just like with paella, the seafood in there is up to your taste.
The Optional Pro Technique
The technique isn’t complicated, follow the instructions, but if you want to make the noodles rise straight up, it’s a tad more complicated. You’ll need a large paella pan of 40cm in diameter for this amount of pasta to rise. Also, after the final step in the oven, it’s essential to cover the complete paella with a clean towel. Let it rest for 5 minutes before getting the rising effect. I have to work on this technique; I’ve made this magic happen in culinary school just once, which was not the easiest. But if you nail it once, it’s a fantastic-looking dish!
This dish is usually served with an aïoli sauce, a garlicky mayonnaise.
Other Spanish Recipes
Pasta Paella (Fideuà)
- 250 g Fideus noodles (or broken vermicelli or fedelini)
- 500 ml fish stock / fumet (water also is fine)
- 350 g Monkfish (cut into large pieces of 4 cm (halibut, snapper, sea bass or scallops))
- 12 clams
- 1 1/2 onions (cut finely)
- 2 garlic cloves (finely chopped)
- 4 tomatoes (cut into 2 and grate the inside with a cheese grater to collect the interior and discard the skin)
- 1/4 red bell pepper (cut into small dices)
- 1 pinch saffron (*optional)
- 1/2 tsp sweet paprika
- 5 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
- salt and pepper
- Start by making the Sofregit (red paste) in a big pan, cook slowly at medium-low heat the finely chopped onions in olive oil and salt and cook until translucent, about 5 minutes.
- Add the garlic and tomato to the pan (ensure there is always a little oil left) and let the tomato water evaporate for another 5 minutes.
- Once the mixture is similar to a paste, add a tad more olive oil and the monkfish pieces, cover with the Sofregit (red paste) and cook medium-high heat the fish until slightly golden (1 minute).
- Add the bell pepper pieces, the broth, sweet paprika and saffron and let simmer for 10 minutes.
- In a separate pan, add 2 tbsp of olive oil to a pan and the Fideus noodles; cook medium-low heat until golden (light brown), and move it gently for about 5 minutes.
- When the broth is reduced, bring to a strong simmer, add the golden fried Fideus noodles to the broth and, check the seasoning (salt and pepper), cook for two more minutes.
- Add the clams and let them simmer in the broth for 1-2 minutes until they open up.
- (Optional) For the final pro touch, add the pan to the oven to give the final grilled touch on top at 180°C (350F°) for just 2 minutes.
- (Optional) Cover the Fideuà with a clean towel and let it rest for 4 minutes before serving.