After a bit of tinkering and a lot of research, I’m finally ready to present the last recipe in my series of Spanish dishes. How could I feature Spanish recipes without a tribute to the classic rice dish paella? Maybe you think that making paella must be too complicated, like I once thought. But I’ve always promised that the recipes I share here will be simple, so you’ll have to trust me on this one. And although most paella is served with meat or seafood, my vegetable paella is hearty enough on its own (and in my humble opinion, it’s far more interesting!).
My big hang-up with paella used to be that I didn’t have a paella pan. But once I started researching recipe ideas, I realized that you don’t necessarily need one to make good paella. The key is to have a wide enough pan so that the rice cooks evenly. I also was under the impression that paella took a long time to make, when in fact it’s ready in under 45 minutes – and most of those 45 minutes you don’t even have to do anything. In fact, it’s important that you don’t do anything. Unlike the constantly stirred risotto, paella is specifically not meant to be stirred – you simply simmer the rice in its flavorful broth, uncovered, for 20-25 minutes.
There are a few ingredients that really define paella. First is the rice, which should be either calasparra or bomba (I found calasparra at Whole Foods, but I think you’ll have luck at other grocery stores too). Both are extremely absorbent, making them perfect for soaking up all of the wonderful broth. Secondly are the spices, like smoked paprika and saffron. It’s not the end of the world if you can’t find smoked paprika instead of regular paprika, but it does make a difference in my mind. And although saffron is expensive, all you need are a few threads to achieve that wonderful rich yellow color in the food.
As much as the rice and spices define paella, the rest of the recipe is open for interpretation. The beauty of the dish is that you can use whatever vegetables you want. I love using mushrooms to give a nice meaty feel to the dish, and I threw in zucchini because it was in season. Use whatever vegetables you want, or let the season dictate what you pick – I bet a springtime version with asparagus would be fantastic.
Marinated artichokes, lima beans, fresh fennel and some kalamata olives fill out this dish, making it feel substantial enough to be a main course. A hint of heat from cayenne and a splash of sherry wine add great depth, and some lemon zest and fresh parsley brighten everything up at the end. There are so many great elements in this dish that come together really nicely.
I’ve had so much fun sharing my favorite Spanish recipes in this series. I shared a flavorful and easy recipe for Catalan-style spinach; a healthier take on the spicy potato dish, patatas bravas, and the simple classic pan con tomate. While these three recipes are meant to be side dishes, this vegetable paella is a true centerpiece in a meal. Serve all four dishes for a fantastic dinner party, or mix and match however you please. I think you’ll find that the Spaniards know a thing or two about how to combine flavors using simple, healthy ingredients.
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- ½ a small yellow onion, thinly sliced
- 1 small fennel bulb, thinly sliced
- 2 garlic cloves, crushed or minced
- 1 cup sliced cremini mushrooms
- 1 zucchini, sliced
- ½ teaspoon smoked paprika
- ½ teaspoon turmeric
- ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper (or a small pinch for a milder taste)
- 1 cup calasparra (paella) rice
- 7 tablespoons sherry wine
- 5 threads of saffron
- 2 cups vegetable broth
- ⅓ teaspoon kosher salt
- ½ cup marinated artichokes from a jar, quartered
- ½ cup lima beans
- About 10 kalamata olives, pitted and halved
- 2 tablespoons fresh parsley, minced
- Zest of one lemon
- In a large, wide pan, sautee the onion in the olive oil for about five minutes over medium heat. Add the fennel and sautee for about three more minutes, then add the minced garlic and mushrooms. After about three more minutes, add the zucchini.
- Allow all of the vegetables to cook for about two more minutes, and then add the paprika, turmeric and cayenne. Stir to distribute the spices, and then add in the calasparra rice.
- Stir the rice for about one minute, until it is coated with the oil, spices and vegetables. Add in the sherry vinegar and saffron, stirring for about one more minute.
- Add the vegetable broth and the salt, and then turn the heat down to low. Allow the rice to cook for 20-25 minutes, or until all of the broth has been absorbed. Do not stir and do not cover the pan.
- Once the liquid has been absorbed, taste the rice to check the consistency. It should still be al dente, but not crunchy. If it is crunchy but has absorbed all the liquid, add a bit more broth or water.
- Once the rice has reached the desired consistency, add the artichokes and lima beans. Press them down into the rice mixture, but don't mix too much. Cover the pan with a lid, turn off the heat, and let sit for 10 more minutes.
- After 10 minutes, add the kalamata olives, parsley and lemon zest to the rice. Serve immediately.
*Loosely adapted from Yotam Ottolenghi’s Multi-Vegetable Paella in Plenty.