This is my all-time favorite recipe from Mark Bittman, who used to write about food and recipes as The Minimalist for the New York Times. His cookbook, How to Cook Everything: Simple Recipes for Good Food, is still my go-to for classic, basic, easy recipes for everything from appetizers to desserts. This paella recipe was one he posted in The Times though, and works as either a main dish or a side. I often serve it with a salad and some bread, but it’s also great with sausages or anything from the grill.
Until I made this I always thought of paella as a complicated dish filled with a variety of seafoods and/or meats, but as Bittman points out, paella can be as simple as rice and vegetables. This recipe is incredibly easy, incredibly frugal, and mouthwateringly delicious, especially if you love the taste of ripe tomatoes. Although any short grain rice can be used (rice from Spain is recommended though), Bittman rightly says that there can be no compromise with the tomatoes: They must be ripe, fresh-from-the-garden ripe. This is hard to do on Kaua’i as tomatoes are one vegetable that doesn’t grow well here in my opinion. Thankfully we can buy decent vine-ripened tomatoes at Costco, but they still don’t have the flavor of good, late-summer, garden-picked tomatoes.
Besides flavorful tomatoes, two other ingredients are key: Spanish smoked paprika (pimenton) – I cannot imagine this dish without that wonderful, smoky flavor (although the recipe says you can use other paprika if you choose) – and saffron. I’ve made it without saffron, but it’s better with it, in my opinion. Saffron is a taste that some don’t care for though, so that’s why it’s listed as optional, and it’s also expensive, but a little goes a long way, and a small jar lasts a long time.
Finally, I have had trouble at times with the rice not cooking fully, and there is nothing more awful than taking a bite and finding crunchy rice. The solution that works for me is to not put the paella into the oven right away. I don’t start the oven preheating until after I’ve added the broth to the rice, which give the rice some additional soaking time, about 10-15 minutes. Also, make sure the pan used is large enough – I make this in a 3-quart sauté pan and it is full!
PAELLA WITH TOMATOES
- 3 cups stock or water (I usually use chicken stock)
- 1/2 cup white wine
- 1 1/2 pounds ripe tomatoes, cored and cut into thick wedges
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 1 medium onion, minced
- 1 TBSP minced garlic
- 1 TBSP tomato paste
- Large pinch saffron threads (optional)
- 2 tsp Spanish smoked paprika (pimenton), or other paprika
- 2 cups Spanish or other short-grain rice (I use arborio)
- Minced parsley for garnish (optional)
Preheat oven to 450°. Warm the stock or water in a saucepan over low heat. Put the tomato wedges in a bowl, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and toss gently with 1 TBSP of olive oil.
Put the remaining oil in a 10- or 12-inch ovenproof skillet or saute pan. Over medium-high heat, add the onion and garlic, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and cook until they are soft, about 3-5 minutes. Stir in the tomato paste, saffron if you’re using it, and paprika and cook for one more minute. Add the rice and cook, stirring occasionally, until the rice is shiny, about another minute or so. (Be careful; it is easy at this point to burn the rice and seasonings). Add the warm stock or water and stir until just combined.
Arrange tomato wedges on top of the rice and drizzle with the juices that accumulated in the bottom of the bowl. Put the pan in the oven and roast, undisturbed, for 15 minutes, then check to see that the rice is dry and fully cooked. If not, cook for an additional 5 minutes. When the rice is ready, turn off the oven and let the pan sit for 5 to 15 minutes (all the extra liquid will be absorbed at this point).
Remove the pan from the oven and sprinkle with parsley. If you like, you can put the pan over high heat for a few minutes to develop a bit of a crust on the bottom before serving.