It’s always a great pleasure for me to have houseguests who also love to cook. And not just for the fun of planning the meals together, or the camaraderie of working side by side in the kitchen. It’s the new things that I get to learn about, whether they are techniques, ingredients, or recipes. We all have such varied experiences with food; there is always something new to share.
My cousin’s husband John, an avid cook, shared this recipe with me. He prepared Tomato Paella as part of a multi-coursed dinner we enjoyed the last night of their visit. It won rave reviews from everyone.
The recipe is a Mark Bittman original. It appeared in The Minimalist column in the New York Times three years ago, and fiercely circulated the ‘net for its spectacular taste and simplicity. Somehow, it eluded me then, but, no matter, I’m on to it now! I couldn’t wait to make the dish myself.
Bittman stresses that it can be prepared with any variety of rice—a short grain style preferred—-and you can take the seasoning in a number of directions. If you have some nice threads of saffron, for a true Spanish take, please put them. Or perhaps smoked paprika. Or herbal notes: thyme, oregano, basil.
Because, really, this dish is about showcasing The Tomato.
Or, in my case, The TOMATOES.
Earlier this spring, I had planted a variety of heirlooms–green zebras, black zebras, cherokee purples, lemon boys, brandywines, sungolds. Each plant has, to date, produced only modestly, but the other day I realized, after picking, that I had a splendid representative from each plant.
What better way to use them than baked on top of savory arborio rice?
My resulting “paella” was a wonder. All the varied nuances of tomato goodness could be discerned in each bite, as each heirloom made its contribution: mellow and bright candied reds, acidy green, fragrant lemon-citrus.
It’s a visual treat, too.
I cooked it as part of Sunday brunch, served alongside poached farm eggs.
Of course, it is just as lovely as dinner side dish, as John had prepared, complementary to the salmon I smoked on our Big Green Egg. I recommend it too, as a meal’s centerpiece, served with an arugula salad, splashed with sherry vinegar.
The original recipe calls for 2 cups rice to 3 1/2 cups liquid. Considering it was just two of us eating, I decreased that to 1 cup rice/2 1/4 cups liquid. I kept the remainder of the recipe intact–tomato paste, garlic, onion, paprika. And, the quantity of tomatoes! I didn’t want to cut down on that!
Add a few sprigs of fresh thyme and a drizzle of olive oil over the top before it goes into the oven…
TOMATO TOMATO PAELLA adapted from Mark Bittman
1 T. Olive Oil
1 T. Butter
1/2 medium Onion, small dice
1 T. minced Garlic
2 t. Paprika
1 T. Tomato Paste
2 c. Water
1/4 c. Red Wine (opt.)
Salt and Black Pepper
1 1/4 c. Arborio Rice
Assorted Heirloom Tomatoes: Brandywine, Lemon Boy, Green Zebra
(about 1 1/2 lbs.) Sliced into wedges
1 9″ skillet that is Oven-Safe, like a cast-iron skillet, 2″ deep
Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
Dissolve tomato paste in water. Heat skillet on medium, and add butter and olive oil. Saute onions until translucent, and add minced garlic. Stir in rice and paprika, stirring until the grains are coated. Add water solution and wine, stirring well. Season with a little salt and black pepper.
Bring to a simmer. Remove from heat and place tomato wedges in circles around the top. Cover the top well with the wedges. Place uncovered into the oven and bake for 15 minutes.
Tomatoes will brown and caramelize, their juices encasing the rice. Check for rice-doneness–the grain will be firm, but nicely puffed.
Oh, how we Love our Tomatoes.