When we were planning our trip to Europe I told Scott that I didn't even care what we did...because to be honest, he usually plans the majority of the trip and does a fabulous job finding fun things to do! My only request was that we eat really good food. I'm sure most people aim to eat good food while traveling but I wanted to make sure we were eating the BEST food. Scott is a foodie like me so he was all for it. Last year we were in Barcelona for a few days for part of our honeymoon and I was prepared (and so excited) to have the best paella of my life. Unfortunately, I was disappointed in the paella we had. We didn't do any research about good restaurants prior to going and just picked a place on a whim while were were strolling around town. I could tell my veggie paella had frozen prepared vegetables in it and it just didn't taste super fresh. I left feeling a little underwhelmed.
This trip was a different story. We were in Barcelona for a total of 3 nights on our trip and I made it a personal mission to find the best paella. This time we struck gold. One night we went to a restaurant called Restaurant 7 Portes and let me tell you...it was delicious. The consistency was perfect and the veggies were fresh and cooked perfectly. I was in paella heaven.
Fast forward 2 weeks later and I knew I wanted to try and replicate it at home. I went in knowing it would not be as good as the one prepared by the restaurant BUT I was pleasantly surprised by how well it turned out.
Paella is one of those things I don't really think about cooking at home. If you don't have any of the ingredients on hand it can be a bit expensive to prepare, largely in part to saffron (which is the world's most expensive spice by weight). Luckily, I actually had saffron on hand from last time I made paella about a year ago. If your grocery store has a spice bulk section, I highly recommend getting the saffron from there. The Whole Foods I go to has an area where you can get however much of a particular spice you want without having to buy a whole bottle. It can be a great money saver!
Paella is surprisingly not hard to make at all. I should mention, that "perfect" paella is all about the rice. It should be tender and al dente (never mushy) with a bit of a caramelized crust at the bottom. To achieve this, it is extremely important to NOT stir the rice mixture while it's cooking. You also want to be sure you are using the right rice. Spanish rice is round and short because it absorbs liquid very well. The rice should be a little separate when done, not creamy like risotto. Whichever rice you choose, make sure it it short grain. Long grain rices will not work in this dish.
After making this paella, I can assure you it will make an appearance often. It is a perfect meal for a date night meal at home. There is something really romantic about paella that I just love. Eating this dish took me right back to Barcelona. If only the weather here was 70 degrees like it was when we were there!
Barcelona Inspired Vegetable Paella
|Serves 2 generously|
- 3 Tbsp olive oil
- 1/2 medium yellow onion, chopped
- 1 small red bell pepper, cut into strips
- 1 small yellow pepper, cut into strips
- 1/2 fennel bulb (or anise), cut into strips
- 2 cloves of garlic, minced
- 2 bay leaves
- 1/4 tsp smoked paprika
- 1/2 tsp ground turmeric
- 1/8 - 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
- 1 cup arborio rice
- 6 Tbsp white wine (I used Pino Grigio)
- 1 tsp saffron threads
- a pinch of salt
- 2 cups boiling vegetable stock
- 3/4 cup canned cannellini beans
- 10-12 grape tomatoes, halved
- 5 small grilled artichokes in oil from jar, drained and quartered
- 10 pitted kalamata olives, halved
- 2 Tbsp roughly chopped fresh parsley
- 4 lemon wedges
- Heat up the olive oil in a large shallow skillet, and gently cook the onions for about 5 minutes. Add the bell peppers and fennel and continue to cook on medium heat for about 5-6 minutes, or until soft and golden. Add the garlic and cook for 1 more minute.
- Add the bay leaves, paprika, turmeric, and cayenne to the vegetables and stir well.
- Add the rice and stir thoroughly for 2 minutes before adding the wine and saffron.
- Boil down for a minute, then add the boiling vegetable stock and a pinch of salt. Reduce the heat and simmer very gently for about 20 minutes, or until most of the liquid has been absorbed by the rice. *Do not cover the pan and don't stir the rice during the cooking.
- Once the rice is cooked, remove the paella pan from the heat. Taste and add more salt if needed (without stirring the rice and vegetables much).
- Scatter the tomatoes, artichokes, and beans over the rice and cover the pan tightly with foil. Leave to rest for 10 minutes.
- Take off the foil and scatter the olives on top of the paella and sprinkle with parsley. Serve with fresh lemon wedges.