Lately I’ve been having fantasies – of Spain. Spanish tapas, Spanish olive oil, Spanish wine, the people, the music, the romance of it all. My feet have only touched the airport in Madrid and now they dream of dancing the flamenco in Sevilla.
This sudden enchantment was Anthony Bourdain inspired by his visit to bewitching Andalusia on his TV show, Parts Unknown. The spell is cast and perhaps next year I will indulge my fantasy. Until then, let’s explore a Spanish specialty!
Paella, as one version of the story goes, is Latin-named after the shallow, round pan it is cooked in, a “patella.” Farmers and laborers in Valencia, the southeastern region of Spain, created “paella” over a word burning fire to cook rice, a local crop, with whatever was available like rabbit, snails, chicken and white and green beans. The coastal version often incorporated seafood and soon paella emerged as a dish to suit all tastes using a variety of ingredients. nowadays, paella can take form as a “mixta,” a combination of chicken and seafood, a Valencia Paella, like the original noted above or a combination of chorizo, chicken and seafood, which seems the most popular here in America. Many forms of paella exist in Europe and other parts of the world, each infused with the region’s edibles. Spain is a major producer of saffron and it plays a prominent role by adding an earthy rich flavor and deep orange color.
I love paella but have been overwhelmed by what seems like a big deal. Well, paella is now more fun than fear thanks to my sister-in-law Mirna who showed me her secret to simplicity. All you need to do is to prep a few things before hand and the rest can take place while your guests sip a refreshing Sangria or cool Pinot Grigio on the patio. This is a great party food!
The grill is the secret weapon where we literally cooked the entire paella. A real find was a large “paella-type” pan at Ikea that can comfortably sit and bake on the grill. Once the onions, garlic and peppers are chopped, just measure out the rest of the ingredients and have them handy. That’s it!
We made a few adjustments to the traditional paella and that’s the beauty of the dish. You can add or subtract ingredients to suit your liking. We like the flavor smoked paprika contributes. I adore artichokes and red peppers, other traditional Spanish ingredients. Paella can be your ticket to wherever you feel like traveling that night. Pick a destination and build your dish around ingredients indigenous to that locality. Make it fun!
Paella for a Family Reunion
3 chicken thighs
2 sweet Italian sausages
1 spicy Italian sausage (next time I will use Chorizo)
¼ cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 large or 2 small sweet red peppers, cut into 1” pieces
Salt to taste
pinch of saffron
4 cups (or more) chicken, vegetable or clam broth
2 cups rice – we used Arborio but the Spanish use Bomba. Be sure to use a short grain rice to absorb all the liquid
3 Tablespoons Smoked Hungarian Paprika
1 ½ cups frozen or canned artichoke hearts – no oil
1 package Trader Joe’s Seafood Blend OR shrimp, clams, mussels, calamari to suit your taste
½ cup frozen or fresh peas
Heat a grill to medium heat. Grill chicken thighs and sausages until brown but barely cooked. Remove from grill. Cut into 1” pieces. Set aside.
Place paella pan on grill and add olive oil. Stir in onions and sauté until soft. Add garlic and peppers and cook another two minutes.
Crush saffron and combine with broth. I read a recipe where Bobby Flay toasted the saffron before adding to the broth. I will try this next time.
Stir in rice and coat well with oil and veggies. Cook for one minute.
Stir in liquid and artichoke hearts. Sprinkle paprika on top and stir in.
Cook over medium heat until liquid is evaporated, about 20 minutes. If rice seems dry, add more liquid. Try to refrain from stirring rice so it doesn’t get sticky.
When rice is firm but tender, stir in cooked sausages, chicken thighs, seafood and peas and cook just until done, another couple of minutes. Give a generous sprinkling of parsley and voilà! Your party is a success!
I must mention that in the olden days, the farmers would sit around the fire and eat the paella straight out of the pan with a wooden spoon. No plates to clean up. It might be a fun way to share a dinner with family and friends!
“You should conduct yourself in life as at a feast.” Epictetus
Ciao & Adios!