When I asked Afrim Pristine why this was his favourite recipe in his newly released cookbook For the Love of Cheese he gave me a pragmatic answer: “Because people underestimate how good rice and cheese are together.” This particular way of pairing rice and cheese brings him back to his time in Spain, learning how to make cheese and how to eat it at soccer stadiums.
It’s hard for a cheese lover to pick one recipe that they could eat every day! Most would go for a recipe that uses many different kinds of cheese, so they have fewer recipes to choose from. But, for Afrim, his favourite recipe is so simple and flavourful that he would just prefer staying home and cooking it rather than going out. Besides the creaminess and the bewitching cheesy aroma of the dish, this Spanish recipe also is dear to his heart because of the nostalgia he feels while eating it.
Her is how Afrim tells the story of the dish: “Zamorano is one of my favourite Spanish cheeses. It’s made from sheep’s milk and is typically aged for 18 months. Think manchego but bolder, sharper, and much better looking. I was introduced to this cheese in Spain back in 2007. When I was in Barcelona, I got tickets to an FC Barcelona versus Real Madrid soccer match. In the soccer world, this is like Batman versus Superman, Manning versus Brady, Godzilla versus King Kong. It was an epic match, with some of the greatest players ever — David Beckham, Fabio Cannavaro, Lionel Messi, Thierry Henry, and Ronaldinho, to name a few. But as great as that game was, I was almost more impressed by the concession stand’s offerings: deep-fried pork rinds, mini paella, and ham and cheese on a crusty baguette. And not just any ham and cheese—this was acorn-fed pata negra ham, and 18-month-old Zamorano cheese. The sandwich was so tasty that I ate 3 of them during the game. The depth of flavour in the cheese is equally amazing with rice.”
The Most Delicious Spanish Rice Ever by Afrim Pristine
Prep: 15 minutes
Cook: 35 minutes
Unsalted butter, for greasing
1 cup (250 ml) uncooked white rice
4 medium plum tomatoes, halved
½ medium white onion, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, peeled
¼cup (60ml) extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium serrano pepper, finely chopped
½ cup (125ml) fresh shelled green peas (good-quality jarred peas will do too)
2 medium carrots, finely chopped
1 small Yukon potato, peeled and finely chopped ½ cup (125ml)
14% sour cream
1 bunch fresh cilantro, finely chopped
5 oz (140g) grated Zamorano cheese
- Preheat the oven to 450°F (230°C).
- Lightly grease a medium baking sheet with unsalted butter.
- In a medium saucepan over high heat, bring 2 cups (500ml) of water to a boil, and stir in the rice. Reduce the heat to medium, cover, and simmer for approximately 20 minutes, then remove from the heat. Do not stir.
- While the rice is cooking, place the tomato halves, onion, and garlic in a single layer on the prepared baking sheet. Roast for 10 to 15 minutes, flipping once, until the veggies are evenly browned. Remove from the heat, and let stand at room temperature until completely cool.
- Purée the roasted vegetables in a blender or food processor.
- Drain any remaining liquid from the rice.
- Heat the olive oil in a medium skillet over medium heat. Add the serrano pepper, and cook for 4 to 5 minutes until tender. Add the rice, puréed vegetables, peas, carrots, potato, and sour cream. Season with cilantro and salt to taste. Cook for approximately 7 minutes, stirring, or until all the vegetables are tender and the rice is browned. Mix in the grated Zamorano cheese. Allow the cheese to melt before serving.