Paella is the pinnacle of rice dishes, though the grand seafood version we often see in the United States would be unrecognizable to the Spanish peasants who invented it. The dish originated in Valencia and traditionally was made with rabbit and land snails, though sometimes chicken and/or duck was used instead. Seafood came later as love for the dish spread, and much later chefs began adding a meatless version to their menus for vegan customers. With so many fresh vegetables in season, summer is a perfect time for this vegetable paella, though you can make a winter version with root vegetables and canned tomatoes. Saffron is noticeably absent in this version, replaced with a tomato-based sofrito.
A paella pan, or paellera, is the gear of choice for making paella, though you can use just about any wide skillet. When cooked properly, the rice forms a highly prized crispy crust on the bottom called socarrat. Nonstick pans will not render the socarrat properly, so avoid those if you want that crispy crust. Paella pans can be small enough to make tapas, just 8 inches across, or large enough to feed 50 people and 36 inches across. Make sure the pan you choose will fit on your cooktop or grill before you start cooking!
This tasty and healthy vegetable paella recipe from Spain and the World Table calls for Calasparra rice, a small to medium grain variety from the namesake town in Murcia, the region between Valencia and Andalucia. The rice is grown in paddies fed by water that flows in original Roman aqueducts. Calasparra and Bomba rices are highly prized for making the best paellas, though Valencia rice is still an excellent choice and more widely available in the United States. These varieties all absorb water and flavor well without becoming mushy, making them perfect for paella. You can also use arborio rice as a substitute.
I wish I could say that all the vegetables in this paella came from our summer garden, but alas it's still early in the season, so the only thing I can claim this time around is our homegrown parsley. With all the rain we had in May we probably could have grown our rice! Nonetheless, this is my entry for the June Grow Your Own event. Visit my Grow Your Own page for more information on how to join in the fun and be sure to come back early in July to view the round-up!
[Updated August 2014.]
- large saute pan or skillet
- paella pan or similar wide skillet (avoid nonstick)
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 2½ cups finely diced onions
- 1½ cups thinly sliced leeks (white part only)
- generous pinch of kosher salt
- 4½ cups chopped plum tomatoes (canned or fresh if in season)
- 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 6 artichoke hearts (cut into eighths)
- 1 head cauliflower (cut into small florets)
- 1 cup Valencia or Calasparra rice (plus 2 tablespoons)
- 1 tablespoon minced garlic
- 3¼ cups vegetable stock (more as needed)
- 1⅓ cups fresh or frozen peas
- ½ teaspoon sea salt
- ½ teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
- 3 red peppers (roasted, peeled, and cut into strips)
- 1 tablespoon coarsely chopped flat-leaf parsley
- Heat the oil in a large pan over low heat. Saute the onions with the salt for 8 minutes, stirring frequently, until they are soft. Add the tomatoes and raise the heat to medium low. Continue to cook for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally, just until the vegetables are tender and the liquid is almost completely evaporated. Remove and reserve.
- In a large paella pan or similar, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Add the artichoke hearts and saute until golden, about 6 minutes. Add the cauliflower and cook until lightly colored, about 3 minutes.
- Add the rice and garlic and stir continously to toast the rice and lightly brown the garlic, about 2 to 3 minutes. Stir in the sofrito.
- Add enough vegetable stock to cover the rice, about 2 cups. If using fresh peas, add those now. Add sea salt and black pepper. Bring to a boil, then reduce to medium low and simmer, uncovered, until the rice has absorbed most of the stock, about 15 minutes.
- Add the rest of the vegetable stock and continue cooking until the rice has absorbed all of the liquid, about 12 minutes. If using frozen peas, add them during the last 6 minutes of cooking. The rice should be al dente when done. If it is too firm, add additional water ½ cup at a time and continue cooking until the rice is done. Keep the heat around medium-low to allow a gentle simmer. Taste and add more salt and pepper as necessary. When ready to serve, garnish with the roasted red pepper strips and chopped parsley.