Gwyneth Paltrow’s vegetable paella 04/11/12
Michelle Edwards tests out Gwyneth's vegetable paella and discovers it's worth all the effort.
My husband and his family are meat-lovers. When I by-and-large gave up meat, I realised very quickly that the trick to convincing my man that meat-free could still be satisfying was by keeping our meals hearty (not skimping on starch or on depth of flavour) and varied.
So paella seemed right up our alley – starchy, flavoursome, and a brand-new vegan meal in my repertoire. Before trying Gwyneth’s version, I’d never made it before, and had not been impressed with restaurant versions I’d tried with one exception (at a Spanish restaurant on an island in the Philippines).
I had read that the sign of a proper paella was that it had to be ordered hours in advance, and since making it myself, I understand why. Notes from My Kitchen Table gives total preparation time as an hour and a half, but it took us a total of almost three hours from starting to munching.
But that’s ok, because this isn’t a dish I’d want to rush. Everybody chipped in, from making, monitoring and constantly tasting the broth (“the secret to this recipe is a well-seasoned broth”), to chopping the vegetables into equal-sized pieces, to being in charge of the heat in the electric wok (which was a job on its own).
At the end of the process, which felt more like alchemy than cooking, we were rewarded with a dish that was so full of flavour that it satisfied me right down to the bone. It was comfort food, alright – but with such a complex flavour that it also qualified as impressive enough to serve your snobbiest mates. The best thing about it is that it requires very little finesse and hardly any skill at all.
The list of ingredients and method are long, and you’ll find them at the end of this post. But in the meantime, here are the things I learned about making paella which Notes from My Kitchen Table won’t tell you.
- Using tinned instead of fresh artichokes imparts a lovely tartness to the rice, but doesn’t add the texture or crunch that I’m sure fresh artichokes would. If you can find fresh, definitely use them.
- Arborio rice was an excellent substitute for Bomba rice (Gwyneth strongly recommends Bomba, but says that risotto rice will work just as well – I thought it was perfect).
- The recipe calls for pimenton – what we call all-spice. It has a flavour of nutmeg, cloves and cinnamon, and is the single ingredient I wouldn’t bother making this dish without. We ground whole dried all-spice berries in our (thoroughly cleaned) coffee grinder, and it was this that gave the broth, and the whole dish, its complexity.
- I used poor-man’s saffron (turmeric) instead of the real deal, but it still gave the dish a warm, golden colour.
- Using red and yellow sweet pimento peppers instead of two red peppers added an extra splash of colour.
- An electric wok is an entirely different beast from a paella pan or wok that can be used on the hob. Gwyneth’s instructions are for a paella pan, making it relatively easy to control the temperature of the dish, which is vital. Our electric work required constant monitoring – as soon as it gets up to a certain temperature, it switches itself off – which meant we couldn’t just leave the paella to simmer for the last 35 – 45 minutes while we sat outside and chatted. Gwyneth suggests cooking the paella outside on a not-too-hot barbecue, which seems like a much more sociable option.
How to make Gwyneth’s paella – more or less verbatim from Notes from My Kitchen Table
1l vegetable stock
Dried shiitake or porcini mushrooms
10 cloves garlic, 4 crushed and 6 finely chopped
Large pinch saffron
½ teaspoon sweet pimenton
Freshly ground black pepper
1 large aubergine cut into 8mm thick slices, ends discarded
125 ml olive oil
1 onion, finely diced
1 large tomato
2 red peppers, seeds and stem removed, cut into 2.5 cm pieces
400g Bomba (or Arborio) rice
8 small artichokes, trimmed and steamed for 20 minutes, cut in half and chokes discarded
150g frozen peas
3 lemons, 2 cut into wedges
Combine the stock with the mushrooms and the 4 cloves of crushed garlic in a large saucepan and boil over high heat for 10 minutes. Lower the heat, add the saffron and pimenton and simmer for an additional 10 minutes to thoroughly combine the flavours. Keep warm over a low heat.
Meanwhile, prepare the aubergine by sprinkling both sides of the slices with a bit of salt and laying them between sheets of kitchen towel for at least 15 minutes (Note: this will draw out the moisture and the bitterness from the aubergine). Cut the slices into 2.5 cm pieces. Heat half the olive oil in a large sauté pan set over medium heat and cook 2 cloves of the chopped garlic until fragrant, about a minute. Add the pieces of aubergine to the pan and cook for 12-15 minutes, stirring now and then, until browned and softened. Set aside.
Meanwhile, heat the remaining olive oil in a 40-45 cm paella pan over high heat until just beginning to smoke. Turn the heat down to medium, add the onion and the 4 remaining cloves of chopped garlic, and cook, stirring, until just beginning to soften, about 5 minutes. Coarsely grate in the tomato, discarding the skin. Stir together and cook for another 2 minutes. Add the peppers and continue to cook the vegetables together until softened, another 10 minutes. Stir in the cooked aubergine.
When you’re ready to roll, place the paella pan with the vegetables over high heat and pour the rice into the pan in an even cross (this is how I was taught). (Note: I followed this instruction but it didn’t seem to make much difference because everything is stirred together almost immediately after this step.) Add the broth and stir to combine everything. Bring to the boil and then lower the heat to a simmer. Arrange the artichokes and peas on top and simmer until the rice is cooked through, about 35 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat source, cover with a large piece of foil and let it sit undisturbed for 15 minutes. Squeeze the juice of the lemon paella. Serve with lemon wedges and the Quick Pimenton Aioli (Note: A dipping sauce made of Vegenaise/mayo, garlic, pimenton, lemon juice and salt and pepper. I gave this a skip.), which is great for artichoke dipping.
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