The backbone of this paella recipe comes from my favorite cookbook by Yotam Ottolenghi. Originally a vegetarian recipe, but since we are not vegetarian we love to add seafood. This dish is a one-pot wonder packed full of Spanish spices and fresh ingredients you never thought would go well together. Don't let the hefty ingredients list intimidate you, this is an easy recipe that any level chef can do. The only tip to know is to do your prep work--get all the chopping and measuring done first!
3 tbs olive oil
1/2 sweet white onion, finely chopped
1 bell pepper, cut into strips
1 yellow (or orange) bell pepper, cut into strips
1 small fennel bulb, cut into strips
2 garlic cloves, crushed or finely chopped (I prefer finely chopped)
2 bay leaves
1/4 tsp smoked paprika (Note: regular paprika works and if you are sensitive to spice, add less than 1/4tsp)
1/4 tsp turmeric
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
1 cup Calasparra rice (any short-grain paella rice works)
7 tbsp good-quality sherry (I use Christian Brothers)
1 tsp of saffron threads, or a large pinch ( I always add a good amount of saffron)
5 cups of boiling vegetable stock (you may not end up using it all)
12 plum tomatoes, halved
5 small artichokes in oil from a jar, drained and quartered
15 pitted Klamath olives, halved
2 tbsp roughly chopped parsley (I prefer flat-leaf parsley)
A lemon wedge for everyone eating the meal
6-10 large shrimp, cleaned and deveined (we get the Sea of Cortez Shrimp)
Variation: If you are vegetarian, ditch the seafood and reduce the vegetable stock to
3 cups; this will basically be the original recipe.
Heat the oil in a paella pan, or a large skillet. Be sure to use a deep skillet, otherwise all the seafood may not fit. Gently fry the onion for about 5 minutes. Add the bell peppers and fennel. Continue to cook on medium heat for another 10-15 minutes until soft and golden. Add the garlic and cook for a minute more.
Add the bay leaves, paprika, turmeric, and cayenne to the vegetables and stir well. Add the rice and stir well for a few minutes. Then add the sherry and saffron. Boil down for a minute, then add 2 cups of the vegetable stock. Reduce the heat to low and simmer until most of the liquid has been absorbed by the rice. Do not cover the pan. In general, you do not want to stir the rice during cooking. However, sometimes when I make this dish the rice sticks to the bottom of the pan. Therefore, about 20 minutes into cooking, you can stir the rice a bit to ensure the rice does not stick to the pan.
While the rice is cooking, rinse the seafood with cold water and set aside in a cool place.
After about 30 minutes, taste the rice. If it is hard, it needs to cook longer. If it is soft and ready to eat, then you can add the seafood. If the rice needs to cook longer, you will need to add more vegetable stock and let it cook down and be absorbed by the rice. Continue to taste periodically and add vegetable stock as needed until the rice is cooked.
Determining if the rice is cooked enough to add the seafood can be a bit of a learning curve. Keep in mind that the seafood will be done cooking in roughly 5-10 minutes and therefore you will want the rice to be done cooking at the same time.
If the rice is soft, mix in the seafood so it can absorb all the flavors. Add about 1/2 cup of vegetable stock and again simmer until the seafood is cooked and most of the liquid has been absorbed. Do not cover the pan. The clams and mussels are done cooking once the shells open up. The shrimp is done cooking when they turn a pink/white color and are slightly firm. If there is still liquid in the pan after the seafood is cooked, that's okay, it does happen.
Remove the paella from the heat. Scatter the tomatoes, artichokes, olives, and parsley on top of the paella. Serve with a lemon wedge--don't omit the lemon wedge, it is more than decorative, it adds flavor to the dish!