Dash of Class: Maria Barcenilla is 'One of Hardin County's Finest Cooks'

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Food column by Nora Sweat

By Nora Sweat

This month’s “One of Hardin County’s Finest Cooks,” Maria Barcenilla, is a native of Spain who moved to the United States 17 years ago with her husband, Frank Calvana, and daughter, Natalie.

Maria teaches Spanish at Elizabethtown High School and fellow teacher Bonnie Young nominated her. Young said Barcenilla often entertains co-workers and close friends at her home and “dining at Maria’s house is comparable to any five-star restaurant.

“I have learned so much about cooking from Maria. She always uses real food; you will find no processed or packaged food in Maria’s meals. She prepares all dinners from scratch, with the exception of plain canned or frozen vegetables,” Young said. “And, if you ask Maria for a recipe, she will begin to explain how to prepare the meal because she doesn’t use recipes — she just knows how to put good food together.”

Guests can tell the Barcenillas enjoy entertaining and feeding others.

“Frank and Maria are a lovely couple and its fun to watch them interact in the kitchen. They are both so comfortable with each other and their guests and both are blessed with the unique ability to make everyone feel welcome in their home,” Young said. “They exude true southern hospitality, although neither grew up in the South.”

Maria, who inherited her love for cooking and family from her mother, is most famous for her paella, a dish of king’s left overs originally created by poor servants in the mid-19th century. Paella was created out of necessity for survival, but today it is considered a scrumptious and healthy dining choice. Young said Barcenilla uses a paella pan, but says any shallow pan works. Paella should be cooked over an open flame, which Barcenilla sometimes does, but a stove top is as good.

Barcenilla has taught Young to use only good quality olive oil and real balsamic vinegar, along with salt and freshly ground pepper to season salads. Barcenilla serves an elegant and healthy salad with every meal, generally consisting of fresh spring greens and whatever vegetables are in season.

Congratulations, Maria Barcenilla, and thank you for sharing your recipes.

Nora Sweat, author of “Mama and Me,”is a native of Hardin County and a retired home economics/ family and consumer science teacher. She can be reached at norasweat@thenewsenterprise.com

or by mail at 408 W. Dixie Ave., Elizabethtown, KY 42701.

Ensalada Caprese

4 big and ripe tomatoes, sliced

1 package fresh mozzarella (3/4 pound)

½ cup extra virgin olive oil

2 cloves garlic, pressed

Bunch of basil

Salt and pepper

Add the pressed garlic to the olive oil; add a pinch of salt and microwave for 10 seconds; let it rest for 10 minutes.

On a plate, alternate the sliced tomato and mozzarella slices, add salt and pepper. Sprinkle the chopped basil over the tomatoes and drizzle with some of the olive oil (depends how much you want).

Garlic Bread My Way

1 loaf Italian style bread, sliced in half lengthwise

½ goat cheese log (small)

2/3 stick butter




2 or 3 crushed garlic cloves

Mix butter and cheese, at room temperature. Fold in the rest of ingredients; let rest for 30 minutes. Spread on bread. Bake at 375 degrees on a cookie sheet until browned.

Paella Vegetariana

1 cup rice (short if possible)

1 green pepper, chopped

1 onion, chopped

1 cup petite diced tomatoes, drained

5 tablesppons olive oil

1 teaspoon paprika, smoked if possible (or saffron, but mix in a 1 to 2 tablespoons of water before adding)

Package of mixed frozen vegetables (green beans, peas, carrots, cauliflower) defrosted and cooked according to instructions on bag

Vegetable broth, can be made from bouillon cubes, needs to be a bit on the salty side

1 lemon

On a metal pan, about 16 inches diameter and 3 inches in height, add olive oil. Add pepper and onion, sauté until soft. Add tomatoes, cook for 5 minutes. Add vegetable mixture and cook, stirring, for about 3-5 minutes. Then add paprika.

Add the rice, and stir for about 1 minute. Slowly add the broth (about 2 ½ cups), stir to spread the mixture evenly and let it cook at medium heat for about 20 minutes. (I add another ½ cup broth after 10 minutes.) Do not stir again.

After 20 minutes, squeeze the lemon over the paella, cover with a clean cloth, and let it rest for 5-10 minutes.

Pescados y Mariscos


Salt (sea salt)

Dill (eneldo)

Mustard (Dijón)

Brown sugar

Preheat oven to 400 degrees, for 15 minutes. Put the salmon on a baking sheet. Sprinkle it with salt, then dill. Spread mustard on top of salmon. Sprinkle brown sugar on top. Bake at 400 degrees for 15 minutes.

Nora Sweat, author of “Mama and Me,”is a native of Hardin County and a retired home economics/family and consumer science teacher. She can be reached at norasweat@thenewsenterprise.comor by mail at 408 W. Dixie Ave., Elizabethtown, KY 42701.