Summer Vegetable Paella with Spicy Feta Sauce
Classic paella is from Spain’s eastern coastal region of Valencia. There are numerous versions enhanced by seafood, meats, poultry, wild game and vegetables. However the constant in all paellas is the rice. The Moors introduced rice and saffron to Spain, building elaborate irrigation systems making it possible to grow the rice in this arid country. Bomba rice from Valencia makes the best paella but Italian Arborio rice is an acceptable substitute although the texture will be creamier. A mixture of almonds, garlic, parsley, saffron and sometimes smoked paprika is ground to a paste called picada that gives a distinct taste and yellow color to the dish. Paella is also the name of the pan with short, sloped sides, two handles and a dimpled bottom that allows the rice to stick to the bottom and create a desirable crusty texture. It may also be made in a cast iron pan only if a paella pan is not available.
There are two recipes for seafood, poultry and chorizo paella in the book Sharing the Table, A Northwest Chef’s Quest to Recreate Memorable Meals. The following recipe is plant based. The flavor is enhanced by the picada and sofrito. Sofrito is an aromatic mixture of diced onion and grated tomatoes cooked in olive oil. Sometimes ñora peppers are added but are difficult to find. In place of these peppers, Anaheim and green bell peppers are used here. The recipe for Spicy Feta Sauce is a tasty addition to offer on the side and follows this recipe. It is best to make the sauce a day ahead so the flavors can thoroughly develop. For those without a classic paella pan, this recipe is made in a cast iron pan.
6 to 8 servings
1 tablespoon blanched Marcona almonds, chopped (about 10 almonds)
2 large cloves garlic, minced
1 ½ tablespoon Italian parsley, chopped
¼ teaspoon Pimentón Dulce or sweet smoked paprika
⅛ teaspoon saffron threads, crumbled
2 ¼ cups vegetable broth
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
⅔ cup onion, small diced
½ green bell pepper, small diced
1 medium Anaheim chili pepper, ribs and seeds removed, minced
1 large Roma tomato, peeled, seeded, grated
1 tablespoon dry Sherry
⅔ cup Bomba (or Arborio) rice
1 teaspoon kosher salt
½ pound fresh green beans, blanched
½ jar roasted red peppers or Piquillo peppers, patted dry, sliced ¼ inch lengthwise
1 (14 ounces) can artichoke hearts, drained, washed and halved
1. To make the picada, pulse the almonds to a fine crumble in a mini-food processor or mortar. Add the garlic, parsley, Pimentón, and saffron. Pulse until very fine and blended. Add a tablespoon or two of the broth to make into a paste. Set aside.
2. Heat the broth and hold hot on the side.
3. Preheat the oven to 400⁰F.
4. Heat a ten-inch cast iron pan over medium heat. Add the olive oil. When it shimmers add the onions and peppers. Cook until soft, about four minutes.
5. Add the picada, tomatoes and Sherry. Cook until the pan is almost dry.
6. Stir in the rice and coat well with the mixture.
7. Pour in all the broth and bring to a boil. Taste, Think, Transform with the salt. Simmer for five minutes, stirring and rotating the pan over the heat source. Arrange the green beans, red peppers and artichoke hearts over the top.
8. Move the pan to the oven and cook uncovered for fifteen to twenty minutes until the rice is almost al dente.
9. Remove to a warm spot, cover with foil and let sit for five to ten minutes until the rice is cooked through. Place the pan at the table where all the guests can help themselves to a portion. Pass the sauce on the side if desired.
Spicy Feta Sauce
6 to 8 servings
¼ cup crumbled feta cheese
¼ cup whole milk Greek yogurt
¾ teaspoon Pimentón Picante*
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 ½ teaspoon extra virgin olive oil
¼ teaspoon sea salt
⅛ teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
1. Blend the cheese and yogurt in a mini-food processor or blender. Add the remaining ingredients and blend until smooth. Taste, Think, Transform with salt and/or lemon juice. If possible let the flavors marry in the refrigerator overnight. Allow to sit at room temperature for at least one hour before serving.
*A substitute for Pimentón Picante is ¾ teaspoon smoked paprika and one-eighth teaspoon cayenne pepper.