Years ago, a friend from school went chasing his dreams and moved to Alicante, Spain. We travelled there to visit and the four of us spent long leisurely afternoons laughing a lot, eating paella and drinking lots of red wine. In the late afternoons, we sunbathed on idyllic Spanish beaches and spent hours reading dog-eared Hemingway novels that we picked up at the local ex-pat bookstore. It was all good.
Last week, The Los Angeles Times featured a mushroom paella recipe. (Two of my inviolate weekly rituals, by the way, are to spend my Wednesday and Saturday mornings with Juliet dozing in my lap while I sip from a steaming pot of Darjeeling tea and devour the food sections of the Los Angeles and New York Times. You won’t reach me if you call before 10 a.m.–or, if you do, I’ll be spectacularly cranky.)
Paella–the headline read. Paella!
Dare I dream?
I rushed to make the Los Angeles Times’ paella recipe the very day that it appeared in the newspaper and, alas, I hated it. The mushroom flavor overwhelmed the dish, I thought.
I wanted the distinctive, traditional spicy taste of paella where you can taste the saffron-flavor in the rice, dammit. So, I kept looking.
And, then, there it was– a very good recipe for a vegetable Spanish paella. The rice is redolent with the flat flavor of saffron. The onion and garlic flavors shine and the finished dish is full of the texture given it by the artichoke hearts and the crunchy al dente zucchini. The stunning Rancho Gordo Alubia Blanca beans add a wonderful dimension to the dish–not to mention protein.The Kalamata olives complete the dish, giving it their distinctive briny flavor.
It was perfect. It was Alicante.
You can go home again.
I adapted this recipe from one that appears on the Epicurious site and, with a little tweaking, I think it is pretty wonderful. The link to the original recipe appears at the end of this post.
Recipe: Vegetable Paella
1/2 C. water
1/4 t. saffron threads
2 T. olive oil
1 red bell pepper (sliced)
1 green bell pepper (sliced)
1 medium onion (diced)
1 12-ounce bag baby artichokes (quartered)
2 large garlic cloves (minced)
1 1/2 C. paella rice (Arborio rice or medium-grain jasmine rice)
3 C. vegetable broth
2 C. spinach (chopped or julienned)
1 C. canned diced tomatoes
3/4 t. paprika
1/2 t. salt
15 ounces white beans (rinsed and drained if using canned)
1/2 C. shelled fresh peas or thawed frozen peas
1 medium zucchini (cut into large pieces)
3/4 C. kalamata olives
1/2 package soy chorizo (available at Trader Joe’s)
Boil 1/2 cup water in a small pan and sprinkle saffron over water. Cover, remove from heat and let the saffron infuse into the water for about 10 minutes (or more).
Heat olive oil in a large pan over medium-high heat. When oil sizzles, add chopped peppers and chopped onion. Saute for about 8 minutes or until onion begins to brown. Add minced garlic and artichoke quarters to the hot pan and cook for another 5 minutes. Turn heat down to low and add rice. Stir rice in the hot pan until it is coated with olive oil.
Add vegetable broth, spinach and diced tomatoes to the pan and bring to a boil (stirring frequently). Add saffron water, paprika and salt to the pan and reduce heat to medium-low. Cover the pan and cook for about 15 minutes. After 15 minutes, mix in beans and peas and cover and continue to cook until the liquid in the pan is absorbed and the rice is tender. This will take 5-10 minutes.
Remove from heat and let paella stand (covered) for 5-10 minutes.
Saute soy chorizo in a small amount of olive oil. The chorizo will be the consistency of ground beef. Stir it into the paella.
Meanwhile, saute zucchini chunks in some olive oil until the zucchini is just al dente. Add to paella along with chopped cilantro and whole Kalamata olives. Sprinkle with paprika.
Serve and enjoy or refrigerate overnight to let flavors develop.
Cook’s Notes: I used frozen artichoke hearts from Trader Joe’s in this recipe but now that artichokes are in season I plan to use fresh artichokes the next time I make this dish. I used jasmine rice in the recipe, but I have ordered some Spanish short grain rice to use the next time I make this recipe. I used Rancho Gordo Alubia Blanca white beans http://www.ranchogordo.com. I am in love with these beautiful little white beans.
Here is the link to the original recipe: