Vegetable Abundance Paella
Here are a few things you should know about Paella:
Paella hails from Valencia in Eastern Spain.
It should always be cooked outside, preferably over an open flame. (Made from the branches of olive and orange trees, naturally.)
You should NEVER stir the paella once rice has been added.
You should never cover paella – or put it in an oven.
You must always use a paella pan, preferably a seasoned with used 20+ years and passed down through generations.
Paella is only authentic if it is made with the lime-rich water of Valencia.
Obviously, paella is eaten for lunch – not dinner.
The paella should be consumed straight from the pan. Of course.
Phew, this rice dish is serious business. Despite breaking most of the aforementioned rice rules when cooking my own paella, I still have such a soft spot for this dish and its cultural traditions. I first experienced paella among the curving and historic streets of Barcelona on a sunshine drenched November day. While sangria, one of Spain’s other notable culinary contributions, seemed a bit too cold to drink – paella sounded just perfect. After getting a tip on a good paella spot to try, I was rewarded with a hidden gem of a restaurante tucked among old Barcelona streets.
As it was the lunch hour, (paella is served for lunch only – unless of course, you’re in an overpriced tourist café) and there were other people than just me, (rules are you must order paella for 2+ people) paella was deemed acceptable to eat. Thank goodness. Rules aside, we were rewarded with a huge paella pan filled with golden colored rice and intricately layered with fresh herbs, tender vegetables, and salty olives. We were given plates and forks, but told that the most traditional way to consume paella was straight from the pan itself – working from the edges into the center. The center, by the way, is the best part. It has a nice bite to it where the rice became slightly burned and crisp – but not black and inedible. As four forks tucked around the edges and came closer and closer to the rich center, four stomachs began to feel very full and incredibly happy. This was paella, and this was delicious.
Nowadays when I think of Spain, I inevitably start thinking about Barcelona and warm vegetable studded paella, and I get a mad craving for saffron, paprika, and all things paella. Despite the crazy rules, paella isn’t too tricky to make and can be made in your own kitchen – without a flight to Barcelona. You’ll need some fresh vegetables, bomba or short grain rice, vegetable stocks, herbs, and the gem of all paella ingredients: saffron. Known as the most expensive herb on the planet, saffron is made from the bright red stigmas of the saffron crocus flowers. Apparently, hundreds of thousands of saffron flowers need to be harvested in order to produce a commercially used amount – hence the high price tag. What you will get when you purchase saffron is, however, a flavor and aroma incomparable to others, and even some nutritional goodness too. Saffron is absolutely essential in paella and makes the whole dish immensely delicious and flavorful.
Valencian bomba rice + delicious veggies + smoky paprika + heavenly saffron + bright parsley + salty olives = Your plane ticket to Barcelona and a delicious vegetable Paella!
Vegetable Abundance Paella
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided
1 red bell pepper, diced
1 medium sized eggplant, cut into 1-inch square pieces
3 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
3 ounces of shitake mushrooms, sliced
A large handful of asparagus, chopped (about 20 strands)
1 (28 ounce) can whole peeled tomatoes; drained, rinsed, seeds removed and diced
¼ teaspoon sea salt
3 ½ cups vegetable stock
½ cup green peas
½ teaspoon smoked paprika
1 teaspoon saffron threads, lightly ground with a mortar & pestle
1 cup bomba rice or any other short grain rice
¼ cup chopped parsley
¼ cup olives, pitted
In a 14 to 16 inch paella pan, or large cooking pan, heat 3 tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat. Add in bell pepper and eggplant and lightly sauté for 5-7 minutes, or until eggplant and peppers begins to lightly brown. Pour cooked eggplant and peppers into a separate bowl and set aside.
Return pan to medium-low heat and add remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil along with garlic, mushrooms, and asparagus. Lightly sauté veggies for 5 minutes. Add in diced tomatoes, saffron, smoked paprika, and sea salt and cook for 5 minutes more.
Turn heat to medium-high. Add cooked bell pepper & eggplant, peas, and vegetable stock to pan and bring mixture to a boil. When boiling, sprinkle rice overtop of mixture and gently stir rice once or twice through pan. Put the spoon down and never stir again! Of course, if you feel the need to stir – just go for it. I won’t judge you. ☺
Cook paella over medium-high heat for 10 minutes, uncovered. Note – if you smell any burning, turn down the heat and give the rice a gentle stir. After 10 minutes, reduce heat to low and cook for 5-10 minutes more, or until all liquid is absorbed and the rice is al punto – with a bit of bite!
Remove paella pan from heat and let sit for 5 minutes. Garnish with olives and parsley, and spoon rice into dishes, or go tradicional and let everyone eat from the paella dish with their forks. Enjoy!