Friday, August 14, 2009

Tomato Paella & Roasted Artichokes

Several years ago, a friend of mine had shoulder surgery, and her right arm was out of commission for a few weeks. As you can imagine, eating with your non-dominant hand can be an awkward, messy affair. And so she made a sickbed request for "meals that stick to the spoon." I came up with a recipe for the occasion we called "Paellotto," a paella-risotto hybrid. Inspired by the "Rice Idiazabel" at a local tapas place, I started with traditional paella seasonings, but used arborio rice, for a more spoon-sticking variation. It was delicious, and for a while was the go-to recipe when we wanted saffron rice. Until we tried this.

I first made this dish a few years ago, for an early fall celebration dinner. The recipe was quickly passed around to friends and family, and now it's in regular tomato-season rotation at many of our households. As soon as our tomato harvest increased enough to bump it into "main dish" status (instead of "condiment," where it held steady for a few weeks), I made up a batch.

Is there anything better than rice, slick with just enough oil, and flavored saffron and tomatoes? It turns out there is: tomatoey saffron rice with smoked paprika, which mimics the muskiness of a traditional wood-fired paella. I have also added lemon wedges for a bit of sharpness, and a pinch of thyme for a slight grassy edge. Once I kept going and added capers, but honestly I like it better without.

The other nice feature of this dish is its total lack of fussiness. You can use the traditional Spanish paella rice, Bomba, if you've got it. Or you can use arborio rice, regular old sushi rice, or any short-grain white rice. You cook your aromatics, add seasonings an rice and liquid, fan your tomatoes artfully on top, and then throw the whole thing in the oven.

And for the artichokes: I love artichokes just as they are, with their delicious grassy/sweet flavor. But when you roast them in the oven, they become even better. The leaves darken to a coppery brown and curl a bit, with an amazing depth and sweetness. It reminds me of Carciofi Alla Guidia, the Roman dish where artichokes are fried whole in olive oil, without any sort of batter or breading, opening up like bronzed flowers. Artichokes meld with the traditional Spanish flavors, and as an added bonus can be roasted in the oven right along with the paella.

Oh, and reheated paella, topped with a fried egg? Best. Breakfast. Ever.

Tomato Paella
adapted from Mark Bittman's Tomato Paella, New York Times 9/5/07
serves 4-6

I used our smallish Stupice tomatoes, which melt down a bit on the top of the paella. If you use larger tomatoes, they'll fan across the top in a much more dramatic presentation. If you don't have smoked Spanish paprika, you can substitute the regular variety, but the finished dish will lack that smoky depth.

4 Tbsp olive oil
1 1/2 lb ripe tomatoes, cored and cut into thick wedges
salt & pepper
1 onion, finely diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 Tbsp tomato paste
1 large pinch saffron
1 large pinch thyme leaves
2 tsp smoked Spanish paprika (Pimenton)
2 cups short-grain white rice
1/2 cup white wine
3 1/2 cups warm water
2 Tbsp chopped basil or parsley for garnish (optional)
A chunk of idiazabel or pecorino romano cheese, for serving (optional)
lemon wedges, for serving

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.

Place the wedged tomatoes in a bowl, drizzle with 1 Tbsp of the olive oil, and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Set aside to allow them to get juicy and delicious.

Heat a dutch oven or a 12" oven-proof skillet over a medium-high heat. Add the remaining olive oil, and the onion and garlic. Sprinkle with salt and pepper, and saute until softened, about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in the tomato paste, paprika, saffron, and thyme, and stir for another minute. Add the rice, and stir for another minute, until each grain is shiny with oil.

Pour in the white wine, and simmer, stirring occasionally, for a few minutes, until it's mostly absorbed. Add the water, stir until combined, and turn off the heat. Taste the liquid, and add more salt if needed.

Take the reserved tomatoes, and arrange them on top of the rice. Pour any remaining oil and tomato juice over the top. Place both the paella and the artichokes in the oven, and roast until the artichokes are turning a deep golden, and the paella has absorbed the liquid and the rice is just tender (15-25 minutes). If the paella has absorbed the liquid, but the rice is still firm, pour in a bit more water or wine, and check again in 5-10 minutes. Once the liquid is absorbed and the paella is tender, turn off the oven and allow to sit for 5-10 minutes, to continue absorbing the final amount of liquid.

Sprinkle with parsley or basil, if desired. Have cheese for grating and lemon wedges for squeezing available at the table.

Roasted Artichokes

4 large globe artichokes
1 Tbsp olive oil

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.

Cut off the tops and stems of the artichokes, and snip off the pointed tips of the leaves to avoid poking yourself during dinner. Cut each artichoke in half down the middle, and using a spoon scoop out the hairy choke, and any of the small thorn-tipped inner leaves.

Place the artichokes in a pot and simmer until just done (you can just poke the tines of a fork into the heart), about 10-15 minutes, depending on the size and age of your artichokes. Drain, toss with 1 Tbsp of the olive oil, sprinkle with salt, and place cut-side-down in a baking pan.

Roast until the artichoke begins to darken to a coppery color in parts, and a few of the outer leaves curl.


  1. Looks divine... especially smitten with the roasted artichokes.

  2. Roasted artichokes are as easy as they are lovely. I believe caramelization is the key to happiness (then again, I'm someone who tends to use the word "caramelized" when others might use the word "burnt," so I might be a bit biased in this matter).