So-called because of its wonderful contrasting reds, yellows and greens. Paella is one of my favourite dishes; I always make it for big crowds because it's easy and it's adaptable to whatever you have on hand. OK, so a Spaniard would probably weep at some of the bastardised paellas I've produced on self-catering holidays and the like, incorporating bits of bacon, tuna, prawns, frozen squid, and whatever else I could scavenge from the strange aisles of foreign supermarkets, but I think the basic formula I always use is fundamentally Spanish: onions, red peppers, garlic, peas, rice, saffron, tomatoes. I've read somewhere that paella didn't actually originate as a seafood dish in Spain; initially it was made with things like rabbit and snails (a version which I'm keen to try at some point). A seafood paella is a beautiful thing, but I was curious to see what would happen if you removed all that fish and added a few more vegetables and spices. This is the - excellent - result.
A lot of the flavour in this dish comes from the use of spices - turmeric, paprika, and cayenne pepper - but there's also a big hit of garlic, a richness from the stock and tomatoes, and a satisfying meatiness from the addition of olives. The idea of a paella with just vegetables might strike you initially as rather bland, but persevere - this recipe really is delicious. The proof of the paella lies in the eating: I made enough for five people, and three of us gobbled it up eagerly. It would make a very good main course for when you fancy a break from meat and fish; I'm pretty sure even the most ardent carnivore would enjoy it.
It's fairly simple to make - there's a base layer of sautéed peppers, onions, garlic and fennel (an unusual addition which I might start adding to all seafood paellas now, for the lovely hint of fresh aniseed it brings), then the rice goes in with the spices, stock and saffron, and you leave the whole thing alone for about half an hour (unlike a risotto, you don't stir a paella). Towards the end, stir in some halved baby plum tomatoes and frozen peas, and then the final additions are some marinated artichokes and black olives. There's so much flavour considering it's basically just vegetables and rice; I guarantee it will surprise you.
Plus, it feels incredibly healthy. Eating that amount of vegetables can't not be good for you, and the vibrant colours are an instant tonic for the mood as well. Even better - it's all made in one pot, so hardly any washing up. What's not to like?
Vegetarian paella (serves 4):
Sauté two chopped onions for five minutes in a couple of tablespoons of olive oil. Add four sliced peppers (two red and two yellow) and a sliced bulb of fennel (reserve the leaves for garnishing), and fry until golden and softening. Add four crushed garlic cloves and cook for a minute more, then add two bay leaves, a teaspoon paprika, a teaspoon turmeric and a pinch of cayenne pepper (or more if you like it spicier). Stir, then add 300g paella rice (you can get it in Tesco and most other supermarkets). Stir for a couple of minutes, then pour in 200ml white wine, a pinch of sugar, two teaspoons saffron, half a teaspoon salt, and 900ml vegetable or chicken stock. Turn the heat down to low and simmer for about 30 minutes, without covering or stirring. When most of the liquid has been absorbed, taste to check the rice - it should be slightly chewy, like a good risotto, but not still chalky in the middle.
Blanch 300g frozen peas in boiling water, then drain and add to the cooked rice, along with a few handfuls of sliced baby plum tomatoes, 4tbsp chopped parsley, and a couple of handfuls of black olives. Cover the pan and leave for ten minutes or so, then stir the rice, check the seasoning, and serve, garnished with lemon wedges, more parsley, and some marinated or tinned artichoke hearts.
(Adapted from Plenty by Yotam Ottolenghi)