Hola Amiga! When it comes to countries, I am slightly obsessed with one in particular, Spain. I love the architecture, the people and of course, their food. I love that in many parts of the country they still live off their land and use family recipes that have been around since food was invented. This country really loves its food. However probably not the convenient, processed foods that have infiltrated our country. In fact, I would venture to guess that word “organic” does not enter their vocabulary very often…because it’s just what is! You would think that I have been to this country! Not yet…we have a long distance relationship until I get an apartment in Paris and a summer villa in Bilbao :-). Until then I am content to study their culture and “steal” their recipes (or at least interpret them). I have a small arsenal of authentic Spanish ingredients that I use even in non-traditional Spanish dishes, but it fills my heart with joy when I can pull them out for my most favourite dish, paella. These ingredients are not always available at your local grocery store but require a special trip to a store that takes pride in genuine Spanish and/or Italian grocery items. Paella should be made with lots of patience and a little bit of love…or is it the other way around?
Now in the spirit of sharing, I have another small obsession in the “people” category and that is Mrs. Gwyneth Paltrow. If you are a fan of food, travel, fashion, gardening or any other perk of life, then you must checkout her site www.goop.com. She is just so darn likeable and everything she touches seems to be perfection. The reason I bring her into the conversation is because my original Paella recipe came from her amazing cookbook My Father’s Daughter. This is one of my favorite cookbooks (and I have ALOT of cookbooks). It is not a meatless cookbook but has numerous veg options as well as vegetarian recipes. As I mentioned, my original version of this recipe came from this book but has evolved into a slightly different version. I like my paella a little “wetter” than Mrs. Paltrow’s version.
It is important for the well being of our planet and our bodies to use ingredients that are seasonal. Lucky for us it’s March and that means artichoke season as begun! You may have noticed them popping up in your grocery store recently and it’s our responsibility to use them to the best of our abilities. Artichokes are considered to be a vegetable flower (not to be confused with flowering vegetables) along with broccoli, cauliflower and Brussels sprouts. Vegetable flowers are actually the early part of the potential flower of the plant, picked and eaten before they progress into a “real” flower. Artichokes are the flower of a thistle plant that is beautiful when left to fully flower. They are a good source of fiber, low in calories (if not drenched in butter or mayonnaise) and pretty well endowed with folic acid and potassium. Artichokes are also considered to be useful in detoxifying the body. Explanation: Making bile is one of the liver’s main ways of eliminating toxins. For this reason, increasing bile flow is helpful in detoxifying. Artichoke leaves help increase bile flow therefore making them liver cleansers that can be instrumental in detoxifying.
Here is a small instructional tip that I found recently that I thought might help any “artichoke-impaired” chefs out there;
So dig out your favourite artichoke recipe or treat your yourself to this amazing Mediterranean dish chalked full of delicious vegetables. This dish is fantastic for entertaining for a couple of reasons; it looks amazing and you can prep alot of steps ahead of time and simply pop it into the oven when your guests arrive (and the time in between allows you to clean up your kitchen and yourself !)
If you do it properly then you should be able to smell and see (close your eyes!) Spain’s rolling hills and the salty ocean air.
Hasta la proxima!
(Until next time!)
Serves 6-8 people
Total Time: 1.5 hours
4 1/2 cups vegetable stock
6-8 pieces dried mushrooms (ie. porcini or shiitake)
2 pieces dried Wakame
6 cloves of garlic, chopped finely
Large pinch of saffron
2 tsp. smoked Spanish paprika
2 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
2 yellow onion, diced
2 sm. or 1 lrg. zucchini, diced
1 red or yellow bell pepper, diced
1 can (398ml) crushed tomatoes
2 cups Bomba rice (if you cannot find Bomba rice then short-grain white rice will work too)
3 artichokes, trimmed & steamed for 20 mins, cut in quarters
1 1/2 cups frozen peas
2-3 lemons, cut into wedges
Paprika Aioli (prep by mixing 3/4 cup of Veganaise, or your choice of mayonnaise, with 1 tsp smoked paprika, plus salt to taste)
*Begin with the broth. Combine vegetable stock, dried mushrooms, dried wakame, garlic, saffron and paprika in a medium sized pot.
Bring to a boil, then reduce to med-low and simmer until broth is needed (about 20-25 mins).
Tip#1: The broth is the heart and soul of this dish so taste it throughout cooking and ensure that it has a vibrant and salty flavour for the rice to soak up.
*Start your paella pan by heating the olive oil and add the chopped onions (if you do not have a traditional paella pan, then a large heavy-bottom frying pan will work great). Sauté onions until golden brown. Depending on your pan this could take up to 15 mins, paella pans tend to cook quicker.
Tip#2: I once took a Paella cooking class and the instructor emphasized that cooking the onions sufficiently is crucial to a great paella to bring out their natural sweetness…so don’t rush this step.
* While you are waiting for the onions, start trimming and steaming your artichokes…or if you are using canned/jarred artichokes then just remove the lid 😉 and set aside.
*When onions look well cooked, toss in zucchinni and sauté for 5 mins. Then add bell peppers and cook for 2-3 mins more. Pour in tomatoes and heat through.
Tip#3: If you are hosting a dinner party then you can stop after this step and set everything aside until you are ready to place in the oven. But allow a longer cooking time in the oven because ingredients will have cooled down.
*Pour on the Bomba rice in two straight lines (this is a technique that I was taught by Master Paella chef Mario Batali as well as Mrs. Paltrow. There does not seem to be any culinary purpose of this step however, it pleases the paella “gods” and I am in no position to mess with their blessings)
* To finish, incorporate the rice into tomato mixture thoroughly and add your warmed broth (remove any large bits of wakame before adding to pan). Turn off the heat. Toss peas on top and nicely organize the artichokes in a circle around the outside of the pan. Do not stir.
*Place pan in preheated oven for approx. 20-25 mins. or until all liquid has been absorbed and rice is soft.
* Serve in individual dishes with a dollop of paprika aioli or serve it the traditional way, which is to eat it directly from the pan.