Until a couple years ago, paella was a dish I’d heard of, and knew it was made with rice, but that’s pretty much all I knew. And it might not have been on my radar at all if not for the Seinfeld episode where George Castanza’s mom makes paella for dinner and Jerry’s parents cancel, so we hear her wailing (several times as only Estelle Castanza can) “What am I going to do with all this paella?!?”
Then on a girls’ night out at Solera, a Spanish restaurant in Minneapolis, we ordered the vegetarian paella, a dish that feeds the whole table. It was fantastic! Amazing flavors and textures that left me craving more of it for days and weeks afterward. This was during our home addition/remodel and I literally had no kitchen, so making it wasn’t an option at the time. But for our first dinner party when the construction was done, paella was the main course.
There are as many versions of paella as there are cooks—vegetarian to seafood and everything in between. My mom commented that some of the paella she ate in Spain had eyes staring back at her. I guess some versions include the whole fish. Um, not mine! I read countless paella recipes and this is what I came up with, pulling bits and pieces, aspects I liked from a bunch of different versions.
There are specific rice types to be used in paella, Bomba and Valencia are two of them, and the first couple times I made it, that’s what I used—I hunted it down and finally found it after trips to many stores. This time I couldn’t find it and hadn’t planned enough in advance to order it online, so I used a store brand of medium grain white rice and no one could tell the difference. In fact, my parents, who were our lunch guests for paella today, both said this was better than my version they had a couple years ago. Lesson learned.
White rice, not being a whole grain, isn’t something I cook very often, but I don’t think it hurts once in a while. You can vary the vegetables in this dish to your preference. And if you can’t find good tasting vegetarian sausage, go ahead and leave it out, but you’ll probably want to add some cayenne or crushed red pepper to give it a little heat. And a nice rosé of Cotes du Rhone pairs perfectly with paella!
1-2 tbls. Extra virgin olive oil
1 large sweet onion, roughly chopped
1 small red bell pepper, seeded and chopped
1small green bell pepper, seeded and chopped
1 small orange or yellow bell pepper, seeded and chopped
3-4 cups vegetable broth/stock, kept at a simmer
3-5 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup green peas or corn
3-4 medium tomatoes, seeded and chopped
2 links Field Roast Grain Meat Company’s vegan chipotle sausage, browned
1 ½ tsp. smoked paprika
5-10 strands saffron
Salt & freshly ground pepper, to taste
2 cups uncooked Paella rice (Bomba or Valencia, but any medium grain rice will do)
1 14 oz. can artichokes hearts, drained and halved
Finely chopped fresh parsley
Lemon wedges for garnish and drizzling
Heat oven to 375 degrees F. In a 13” Paella pan or other large pan with deep sides, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the onions and peppers, reduce heat to medium-low and cook for 10 minutes or until vegetables are tender and onion is translucent. Add the garlic, smoked paprika, saffron, sausage, peas/corn, tomatoes, and salt & pepper. Simmer for 10 minutes longer. Stir in rice and warmed stock and bring to a boil. Lower heat to medium-low and simmer for 10-15 minutes, until most of the stock is absorbed. Scatter artichoke halves over top. Place pan in hot oven for about 10 minutes until all liquid is absorbed. Return to burner and heat over medium heat for a few more minutes to give the bottom a bit of a crispy crust (socarrat–the best part!). Sprinkle with chopped parsley and serve with lemon wedges to squeeze over paella. Serves 6.