Thursday, September 1, 2011

Paella for One? You bet!

Tomatoes are rampant in the gardens these days and most everyone I know is doing their best to eat their fill straight off the vine or in dishes like this one. When I found the original recipe posted to a blog with bright crescents of tomatoes peeking from the rice, I knew I needed to find a good riff for myself. 

There is no better culinary ambassador of Spain's Valencia region than paella. While the dish normally contains meat or seafood or some combination of the two, this simplified version offers a delicious alternative by adding smoked sausage and roasted red tomatoes to create a pleasing feast for taste buds and the eyes.

If you’ve had paella, you probably realize it’s generally a dish of huge proportions. Normally made in a 16 inch (or larger) pan dedicated to the dish, it was a challenge to scale it down to a manageable size for the single cook. Since paella is more a technique than a list of ingredients, the version I used here that begins on the stovetop and ends in the oven worked out quite well making this manageable for an evening meal even after a long day at work.

The best paellas have a bit of crust on the bottom due to the heat of the pan – in many Spanish paella lovers, that’s the best part!  Make sure you try to create that crust with the tip at the end of the recipe.

Two unsusal ingredients make their appearance in this dish - smoked paprika and saffron.  Most of us have used paprika in the past, mostly as a garnish for things like egg dishes.  Smoked paprika is a whole other flavor.  Using this in a dish imparts a true warm hint of smokiness to whatever you're making.  Use too much and you can easily overwhelm the palette, so go easy until you get a feel for the stregth of the paprika. 

Saffron is also quite unique.  Few of us use this on a regular basis unless you are into Indian or Spanish cuisine like our paella.  There are three mainstays of true paella - saffron, rice and olive oil.  Saffron is known for its being quite expensive, the small pouch purchased for this dish was about $20 but should last (carefully stored) for many, many future uses.  This dish can definatly be made without saffron, but will be all the better if you splurge a bit for the spice.

If you have a bottle of Rioja on hand it goes really well with this hearty dish.  The quantities given here fill a 6-inch pan which is more than enough for two smaller meals or one hearty meal for a hungry senor or seniorita. 

4 oz ripe tomatoes, cored and cut into thick wedges (one small tomato)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil
1/2 small onion, minced
1 teaspoon minced garlic
2 teaspoon tomato paste
pinch saffron threads (optional)
1/2 teaspoon Spanish pimentón (smoked paprika), or other paprika
1/2 cup Spanish or other short-grain white rice
4 oz smoked sausage, sliced ½ inch thick
1 cup chicken stock or water
Minced parsley for garnish

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Warm stock or water in the microwave until very warm. Put tomatoes in a medium bowl, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and drizzle them with 2 teaspoons olive oil. Toss to coat.

Put remaining oil in a 6-inch ovenproof skillet over medium-high heat. Add onion and garlic, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables soften, 3 to 5 minutes.

Stir in tomato paste, saffron if you are using it, and paprika and cook for a minute more. Add rice and cook, stirring occasionally, until it is shiny, another minute or two.

Add liquid and stir until just combined.

Arrange smoked sausage and tomato wedges on top of rice and drizzle with juices that accumulated in bottom of bowl. Put pan in oven and roast, undisturbed, for 15 minutes. Check to see if rice is dry and just tender. If not, return pan to oven for another 5 minutes. If rice looks too dry but still is not quite done, add a small amount of stock or water (or wine). When rice is ready, turn off oven and let pan sit for 5 to 15 minutes.

Remove pan from oven and sprinkle with parsley. If you like, put pan over high heat for a few minutes to develop a bit of a bottom crust before serving.

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