07 May 2008
One summer, when I was in High School, I traveled to Spain to study the language. It was an amazing summer. I met such interesting people, fellow travelers and people who lived in the countries I visited as I crossed Europe, stopping to see the highlights, on my way to my destination in Spain.
After arriving in Spain things only got better. I was impressed and changed by the medieval grandeur of the Alcazar, the castle of Ferdinand and Isabel in Segovia, the treasures and tombs of El Escorial, the narrow winding streets of Toledo, the setting and atmosphere of Valle de los Caidos, the hustle of Madrid, the cheers and ceremonial traditions of the Plaza de los Toros de Las Ventas in Madrid. It was exciting, eye opening, a feast of sensations, of ideas and understanding.
It was also a feast of new texture, tastes and aromas. One of the most amazing things about the trip was the food. I loved the tapas, the Tortilla Espanola , the sweet butter cookies we bought by the kilo from the pastelleria. In the afternoon our collegio would serve drinks and snacks at the bar for our merienda. Almost every day we had a sandwich on good baguette style bread. There was no mayonnaise, only buttered bread and filling. One day a week the filling would be a chocolate bar. How great is that?
I loved that summer in Spain. I loved the people I met, the city life, the heat of the sun and the deep cool of the shade. I loved the strong black morning coffee, the siesta, limonadas in the afternoon at a café, and dinner, late, at our dining room. We were active and busy and always hungry, and as a result the food tasted all the more wonderful.
One of my fondest memories is of the Paella. It was served frequently during my stay in Spain but the ingredients varied. The rice was delicious and firm with little green peas, sometimes shrimp or sausage and eggs, chicken, tomatoes…but it was always fragrant, filling and delicious.
After returning to the States I hoped to eat this wonderful dish again, but I never saw it offered and I didn’t really have an adequate recipe. Later, when I visited St. Augustine, FL, on my honeymoon, we ate in a small Spanish restaurant that served Paella. I ordered it with great hope but was disappointed to find that the rice was not really fragrant with saffron but yellow with tumeric. The peas were small and soft and the rice was rather damp, not at all what I remembered or hoped for. That experience has been repeated several times since, so that I am now wary of ordering Paella in a restaurant.
At home I have had a bit more luck. I have never made a Paella that fully lives up to my memories of those wonderful weeks I spent in Spain, wide eyed with the wonder and abundance of this world, but I have made a few that aren’t bad.
This recipe is tasty and consistent. It incorporates a lot of seasonal vegetables and is very pretty on a plate. The rice does not get mushy and for the ease of preparation I cannot fault its slight stickiness.
This recipe was originally clipped from a magazine perhaps fifteen years ago, maybe from Woman's Day or Family Circle.
1 large onion, chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 teaspoons olive oil
1 cup regular long-grain or parboiled rice
1 10½ -ounce can condensed chicken broth
2 carrots, cut into ½-inch chunks
1 large tomato, chopped
1 teaspoon dried thyme leaves
½ teaspoon saffron threads
½ teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon ground red pepper
2 medium-size skinless, boneless chicken-breast halves (about ½ pound)
½ pound large shrimp, thawed and fully cooked
½ pound asparagus, trimmed and cut into 1-inch pieces
1 medium-size zucchini, cut in half lengthwise then into ½-inch pieces
Heat olive oil in a 4 or 5 quart saucepan or Dutch oven, over medium heat. When oil is hot saute onion and garlic until onion is tender and translucent.
Add the rice to the pan stirring until well mixed. Add undiluted chicken broth, stirring well. Then add carrots, tomato, dried thyme leaves, saffron threads, salt and ground red pepper. Bring these ingredients to a boil.
Reduce heat to low. Cover tightly and simmer for 15 minutes.
While the rice mixture is cooking, cut the chicken breasts into 1½ inch pieces and set aside.
Layer chicken over the rice mixture. Cover and continue cooking for 10 to 15 more minutes, until the rice is tender and the chicken is cooked through.
While the chicken is cooking, place asparagus and zucchini in a 2-quart microwave safe casserole. Add 2 tablespoons of water, cover, and cook on High for 5 to 7 minutes, or until tender, stirring midway through the cooking process.
Layer shrimp and vegetables over chicken and rice mixture. Remove from heat and let stand, covered, for 10 minutes. Stir and serve.
Makes 6 servings.