I was on the right track in no time. Paella, he explains, is a Spanish comfort-food dish usually consisting of sausage and seafood with rice that has been seasoned with saffron and a sofrito. After reading Mr. Bittman's entry, I was feeling better about my decision to make this for a dinner party. This was good considering that Michael and Kelly would be over for dinner in a few hours, and I had never attempted a paella of any kind before in my life. I was determined and pretty sure I could make it turn out edible.
Let's start with the pallera. It is a large, flat, metal pan with two handles traditionally used in the cooking of paella. I don't have one, and you probably don't either. So I just used my largest flat-bottom All-Clad skillet without a nonstick coating. It worked great.
Now on to the sofrito. 'Sofrito' is a generic term for a spanish spice mixture. I looked at a ton of recipes and came up with a recipe of my very own. Collect the following ingredients and meet me at the food processor:
1/2 white onion
1/2 green pepper
1/2 red pepper
3 cloves of garlic
1/2 bunch of cilantro
2 tsp ground fresh chili paste
1 tbsp tomato paste
enough olive oil to get it all moving
Put all ingredients in the food processor. Turn it on, drizzle in olive oil, and leave it on until your veggies are finely chopped. Transfer this mixture to your paellera; cook over medium heat with a few more tablespoons of olive oil until most of the moisture has evaporated and it has taken on a paste-like consistency. You have done it; you have just made your first sofrito. You can use this in black bean soup or as a tofu marinade or for anything you want to be spicy and delicious.
For the next step, you will need:
3 1/2 cups vegetable stock
a few pinches of saffron threads
2 cups arborio rice
more olive oil
Preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Heat the stock and add the saffron to it. With the stovetop on medium-high heat, throw the rice into the pan with the sofrito and a few tablespoons of olive oil. Coat the rice in the sofrito and oil. Add three cups of hot stock to the rice and stir.
Here is where you can get creative. I topped my rice with diced zucchini, tomato wedges, shelled edamame, Field Roast sausage, grilled seitan, and king oyster mushrooms. It was quite a feast, but you can make yours as simple or as elaborate as you'd like. Arrange your toppings as you would the toppings on a pizza and throw it all into the oven. After 20 minutes, add the remaining stock and then stick it back in the oven for another 20 minutes. Right before you serve the paella, put it back on the stovetop over high heat for about 4 minutes. This will
develop the socorat, the crunchy rice at the bottom of the pan that is so wonderful. Chop some fresh herbs and sprinkle them over the top. Serve it with a nice salad. (We had spring greens with orange rounds, olives, and a sherry vinegar-olive oil dressing.)
The meal was rounded out with a wonderful syrah and a bottle of sparkling wine from Austria. Michael also brought fresh hot sauce he made from a family recipe. For dessert, The Wife served us hot tin roof sundaes made with homemade vanilla ice cream, chocolate cacao nibs, cayenne peanuts, and caramel. (She is very proud of her first attempt at homemade caramel, especially since she made it up herself as she went along. Funny what not planning ahead and not getting the proper ingredients can force you to learn!)