Monday, November 29, 2010


The only thing that makes this paella is the presence of saffron and seafood. I didn't bake it. I didn't use hardly any vegetables at all, just leftover mussels and shrimp from bouillabaisse night. But I think that's actually the point of rustic-dishes-turned-national treasures--they fill bellies by using up the leftovers or the produce and meat about to go bad. The working class perfected dishes like pasta, bouillabaisse or paella, and now those dishes are the dishes that visitors eat when they travel to those countries.

So on this dark evening in my lonesome apartment, I'm chomping down reheated paella that reminisces of the sea even though I live about as far from the ocean as one could possibly get. It's pretty good. It doesn't get this cold in Southern Spain where I lived for fourth months and where I first tried paella. My paella is not as good as real Spanish paella, but I'm tempted to think that's more a matter of geography and my serious lack of a pitcher of sangria rather than in the quality of the chef.

This time while eating paella I'm listening to "Where are you Christmas?" and tossing up lights willy-nilly around my apartment in attempt to infuse the space with a seasonal glow. In Portugal, a memorable time I feasted on paella, I was at a tiny restaurant, one with 10 tables or fewer, with my friend Myra. It was evening but still light and hot and humid. We shared a pitcher of sangria. I got fantastically drunk like you only can when you don't plan on it. I started talking about what if someone could cultivate gigantic peas, ones the size of, say, a tennis ball. The chef at the restaurant sent over an aperatif, like I needed another drink, before we walked out onto the cobbled streets of Lagos to find our friends en route from Lisbon. It all seems so exotic, that life I led. It was exotic, it was.
Easy Paella:
1/2 onion, diced
1 clove garlic, minced
1 bell pepper, diced
handful peas
1 15-ounce can diced tomatoes
generous pinch saffron
1 cup rice
2 cups chicken stock
assorted meats and seafood including but not limited to chicken, rabbit, chorizo, shrimp, lobster, mussels, scallops, cockles--just make sure this is all pre-cooked before using this recipe variation
salt and pepper to taste

Saute the onion and garlic in olive oil for five minutes. Add the bell pepper, peas and tomatoes and saffron and pan fry for 2 to 3 three minutes. Add the rice, stir to coat with oil. Add the chicken stock and bring to a boil then reduce heat to a simmer. Add the meat and seafood. If you're making authentic paella, you should put it in the oven at 375 right now. But otherwise, just let the rice cook as is. Serve hot.

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