Tuesday, July 19, 2011


This was both my first time making and eating paella, the classic Spanish rice dish. What's kept me away? Shellfish. Apart from the convenient fact that shellfish is forbidden to me both by Jewish law and doctor's order, the real truth is that I can't eat anything the looks like giant bugs. Absolutely. No. Way.

It's always looked to me like that beautiful saffron-colored rice might be pretty delicious were it not festooned with those giant bugs in every photo I've ever seen. I've been wondering for years what paella might taste like and I actually thought I could maybe imagine its flavor but I was not even close.

I made paella today because I found an utterly fabulous sounding recipe in Plenty, the new vegetable-focused cookbook by Yotam Ottolenghi. I imagine you'll be reading more about this book here as I am quite taken with it. While vegetables are the focus of the book, they are presented in a wide variety of styles and in recipes that are a little more complex and interesting than I normally see. I quite like the way the recipes are grouped and the photography is gorgeous. This recipe in particular caught my eye as there we no bugs. In fact, though I made my version with long simmered home made chicken stock, the original calls for vegetable broth making it suitable for vegetarians and vegans.

Of course I did not follow the original recipe exactly. With this many ingredients, one's bound to make a substitution or two, right? As mentioned earlier, I used chicken broth rather than vegetable because that's what I had on hand. I didn't feel like hunting (or paying) for Calasparra rice. This more authentic rice very likely makes an even better dish but I was perfectly happy with plain old US grown short grain rice. My cooking time was about 15 minutes longer than in the original recipe and I'm guessing that's because I used cheapo supermarket rice but remember--I had nothing to compare my paella to. If you have more experience, you might want to spring for a fancy Spanish rice.

If I can't be bothered to hunt down proper Spanish rice do you think I went searching for a jar of oil-packed grilled artichoke hearts?? Nope. Do we even have such a thing here? I used plain old canned artichoke hearts and I admit they did not bring much to the dish at all so maybe I'll try and figure out just what Ottolenghi was talking about the next time I make this paella.

You can see from my photos that my result was absolutely gorgeous. I'd say it was one of the prettiest dishes I've ever made. But it tasted even better. The combination of spices (saffron, turmeric, and smoky Spanish paprika) was fantastic. The artichoke hearts, fava beans, olives, and tomatoes provided something special in each bite, and the warmth of the cayenne pepper lingered gently. It's the kind of dish I love: complex but not excessively so, hearty but not heavy, and full of bold flavors.

I did use fresh saffron, smoked paprika, and fava beans. I've started buying my saffron from this guy on ebay and have been very happy with the quality of his very affordable product. I can't imagine cooking without smoked paprika but since my favorite local spice shop closed down I don't know who has the best product and price. Fava beans were new to me but I really liked the meaty, slightly chewy texture they brought to the paella.

The original recipe was published in Ottolenghi's column in The Guardian. It was then changed slightly for the book. I doubled the quantity for my version (believe me, you'll want more than 2 servings). I hope you enjoy this as much as we did!
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1 comment:

That gentleman's lady said...

I absolutely adore paella. I dislike shellfish and most of seafood so i tend to leave out the mussels and squid. I keep the chicken, chorizo, pancetta and prawn. And the veggies. I've never tried it with regular rice, paella rice is easy to find here.

Its soooooooo good!!!!!!!