Food for Taught

Locals Share Their Favorites from Mom’s Kitchen

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Carlos Miguel Prieto

Music Director, Louisisana Philharmonic Orchestra

There were two important traditions in Carlos Miguel Prieto’s childhood: music and family dining. His family had a string quartet dating back four generations, and everyday lunch was a sit-down, three-course affair.

Today, life maintains the same influences for the conductor of the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra, partly due to the efforts of Maria Isabel Prieto, his mother, who lives in Mexico City where Prieto grew up and who now visits New Orleans regularly.

“My mother is from Spain, and she brought to Mexico a lot of traditional Spanish cooking,” he says. “Eating together has always been an important ritual in our family and also with our kids.”

The big family lunches, usually observed between 2:30 and 3:30 p.m., consisted of a soup, rice or fish dish for starters, followed by a meat course and then dessert.

“My mother cooked, and we had a fabulous cook in our house from Oaxaca,” he says. “My favorites were a Mexican and Spanish rice dish with cheese, peppers and cream and tortilla soup.”

His mother’s cooking bible was 1080 Recipes by Simone Ortega, called “Spain’s best-selling cookbook” for more than 30 years.

Prieto’s mother wasn’t a musician, but insisted that her children study music. His father played cello and his paternal grandmother, a violinist and pianist who hailed from France, “made us practice.” The family string quartet consisted of two violins, a cello and viola.

Besides leading the LPO, Prieto is the music director of the National Symphony Orchestra of Mexico and has served as guest conductor of orchestras throughout the United States, Europe, Russia, Israel and Latin America.

Despite his love of family dining, one thing he never learned is how to cook. “I have no idea of how to even start cooking,” he says.


Maria Isabel Prieto’s Paella

11    ounces shrimp with heads and shells
2 1/4     pounds mussels or 1 pound 2 ounces littleneck, steamer or cherrystone clams
3/4    cup olive oil
1    small onion, finely chopped
1    clove garlic, finely chopped
3    Tablespoons tomato sauce or 1 large ripe tomato, chopped
2    small squid, cleaned and cut into 1/4-inch thick rings
2 1/2    cups long-grain rice
3    sprigs fresh parsley
Pinch saffron threads
2    chicken bouillon cubes
Scant 1 cup drained canned peas
1    red bell pepper, seeded and cut into strips
Salt
Lemon wedges
 

Peel shrimp and reserve shells and heads. Simmer heads and shells in a pot of water for 10 minutes. Strain stock into a bowl and discard heads and shells.

If using mussels, scrub the shells under cold running water and remove the beards. If using clams, scrub under cold running water. Discard any shellfish with broken shells or any that don’t shut when tapped. Put the shellfish in a pan or skillet, add 1/4-cup of water, cover and cook over high heat for 3 to 6 minutes or until the shells have opened. Lift out the shellfish with a slotted spoon, discarding any that remain closed. Reserve cooking liquid. Remove nearly all shellfish from their shells but leave a few in the shell for garnish. Strain reserved cooking liquid into the shrimp stock. Add enough water to make 7 1/2 cups, if necessary. Pour into a pan and heat gently but don’t boil.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Pour just enough of the oil into a paella pan or large, heavy skillet with a metal handle to cover the base and heat. Add onion and garlic and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, for 7 minutes, until lightly browned. Add tomato sauce or fresh tomato and cook, stirring constantly, for a few minutes. Reserve a few shrimp for garnish and add the remainder to the pan with the squid rings and rice. Cook, stirring constantly, until the squid becomes opaque. Add shelled mussels or clams. Season with a pinch of salt and pour in the hot stock. Gently shake the pan to make sure the liquid is evenly distributed. Pound the parsley with the saffron in a mortar, or process in a mini food processor. Mix in 2 Tablespoons water, and add mixture to the paella pan. Crumble in the bouillon cubes. Gently shake the pan or stir with a wooden spoon. Add the peas to the paella and cook for a few minutes more.

Garnish the paella with the strips of red bell pepper, the reserved shrimp and the reserved shellfish in the shell. Transfer the pan to the oven and bake for about 25 minutes. Spread out a dampened dishtowel on a work surface. Remove the paella pan from the oven, place it on the dishtowel and let stand for 5 minutes. Serve the paella with lemon wedges hung over the side of the pan.

Serves 6 to 8.
 

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