Paella Primavera

This year, I am revamping my back yard garden. Last year, it was our “ghetto garden”, encircled with chicken wire that was supported by broken twigs. This year, I’ll have three beautiful raised beds, separated by garden pavers on which I intend to meander thoughtfully. I am hoping to get all Zen about it.

My garden, hopefully, in theory, maybe, will be inspired by the idea of spring paella.

I love a paella full of fresh vegetables. I love roasted vegetables more than cheeseburgers. No, I don’t. Why do I lie to you? To myself? But I do really love roasted vegetables.

I want to be able to make a paella full of asparagus, broccoli, tomatoes, carrots, turnips, new potatoes, lions, and tigers…and bears…

And the more of than I can pull from my own garden, the better – so I’ll make a garden full of things I think would be tasty in a paella. Soon, it will be sweeping the nation. The paella garden will be right up there with Ed Hardy t-shirts and reusable grocery bags.

Now, with all of these fresh and inspiring ingredients, it is easy to make a vegetarian paella that would make your heart sing a John Mayer song to itself with every bite.

But where’s the fun in that?

I like to doctor my healthy paella up with a nice dose of chorizo, and maybe some scallops, and a little chicken (dark meat, thank you) if you got it. But you know, do whatever shakes your martini. The beauty of paella (besides the actual visual beauty of it) is that you can throw whatever you have in there.

Mr. Meat and Potatoes was very skeptical about paella the first time I made it. Until he found out there was chorizo in there. Now it is in the rotation as one of his favorites. I am sure you will agree.

By the way, no special pan is required. Remember: Death to the uni-tasker. I just use a large, shallow skillet.

Step 1: Lay your veggies out on a roasting pan. I usually cut them into fairly large pieces – I think they look prettier in the paella if they’re rustic and big rather than tiny and lost in the fray.

Use whatever you have, give them a drizzle with olive oil and toss a little minced garlic and kosher salt over them. Then put them in a 400 degree oven for about an hour. Be creative. Use turnips, fennel bulbs, squash, zucchini… the possibilities are endless.

Step 2: Toss your chorizo in your med-hi pan, and give it a good cookin’. Brown it up for about 5 minutes, and then remove it to another bowl, which I suggest be covered with a paper towel to soak up some of the grease. Leave whatever grease it left behind in the pan, though, and if you need to cook chicken (I never do – I only put chicken in my paella if I have some leftover crock pot chicken in the fridge) you could toss it in the pan and cook it in that good chorizo fat and then remove it to the chorizo dish as well.

After you remove your meat from the pan, throw in your base vegetables – usually just garlic and onion for me, and make a “sofrito”. Sweat those onions with a little salt until they are translucent, and then put in your chopped tomatoes (about a cup and a half, with the juice). I give mine a rough toss in the food processor to get the desired size and juiciness. Let that cook down until everything gets sort of caramelized and fabulous.

Step 3: Fold in your rice – about 4 cups. I use short grain Spanish rice. Sometimes I cheat and throw in a Mahatma packet of saffron rice as one of the cups, because I think that adds a little something. But it’s totally not necessary and you could use brown or white rice or whatever you have around.

Fold your rice to coat it and sort of begin to toast the outside a little. Then add water or chicken broth, along with several pinches of saffron threadsand simmer the whole thing for about 10 minutes or until the rice starts to be tender. DO NOT STIR. Eventually you want the rice on the bottom to be a little toasted. The fat in the pan will prevent it from burning and sticking.

Step 4: Tuck in any seafood you like (scallops? shrimp?) and add the meat back in to heat it through. If you have seafood, it will take about ten minutes to cook. Last but not least, place your roasted vegetables on top of the rice and meat mixture and make sure everything is warm. Then turn up your heat for just about 1 minute to toast your rice on the bottom and create a “socarrat”.

I serve this right from the stove to the table, in the pan I cooked it in. You don’t want to disturb the layers and the beauty of the dish. It would be akin to disturbing the layers of one of those colored sand art projects you made in a jar in the second grade.

If you forgo the meat and seafood, this dish can go straight from garden to table in about 17 minutes, if all goes according to plan (aside from the roasting of the veggies, which I don’t count because I can watch Oprah during that part). The meat takes a little longer, and dirties one extra dish, but, eh, chorizo.

The non-list:

4 cups of some sort of rice.

meat? whatever kind you like

saffron threads - a couple of pinches

5 or 6 cups of water or chicken broth

vegetables, whatever you got

2 cups of tomatoes or 1 15 oz can of diced

1/2 a large white onion, diced

4 cloves of garlic, minced, divided

olive oil, for drizzling

Remember: Paella garden. You heard it here first.

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