On a chilly day recently I was looking at a copper pan my mom gave me a while ago. Suddenly a vague recollection surfaced. I was about fourteen, and I remember seeing the big pan positioned over a cooking fire in our yard. Mom and her friends were gathered around it, stirring the paella it contained.
At the time, it didn’t strike me as strange, but looking back, it does seem a bit out-there. It was Vermont in the 1970s (I know), and my mom's friends were either heading off to or just back from the Peace Corps. She'd decided to serve paella, which is always a great choice for a crowd.
Mom had picked up the pan somewhere exotic; it's not the kind of thing you'd have found in the general store or anything. About eighteen inches across, five inches deep, and heavy--very heavy--it can hold up on an open flame. Seeing the gleaming vessel sitting on my cabinet prompted me to dig out a recipe and see what I could conjure up. After all, what could be better than some warming Spanish food, wine and music to add a little zest to a November night?
I found this Jamie Oliver recipe--it seemed pretty uncomplicated and delicious-looking. I was missing a few ingredients (squid, mussels, green beans, preserved red peppers, green peppers...okay, I probably had about half of what it called for, but isn't Jamie always telling us just to improvise with what's around?), but, I had enough of my home-grown hot peppers to feed all of Manvers Township, plus I had bought some nutty, yummy red rice from an Asian market in Peterborough.
So, with a little Bebel Gilberto playing and a glass of red wine in hand, I invented my own version of paella. It's a little Spanish, a little New Orleans, a little Canadian. Not cooked over a fire, I'm afraid--it was too cold and raining too hard. I cooked it on the wood stove instead, and it turned out beautifully.
SOUTH POND PAELLA
This is a great dish for two; just multiply the ingredients for a crowd.
3 cups chicken stock
1 large pinch of Spanish saffron
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 1/2 cups brown rice, red rice or 3/4 cup of each
1 large tin stewed tomatoes
1 red pepper, diced
2 small hot peppers, dried or fresh, minced
1 large onion, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon smoked paprika
6 chorizo or hot Italian sausages
2 cups shrimp
1/2 bunch parsley, chopped
Served with a green salad and a bottle of weighty Spanish wine, paella is the perfect meal for a grey night. Heat the chicken stock in a saucepan and add the saffron; let this sit for a few minutes.
Heat the olive oil in the pan; add sausages and cook until browned, about five minutes. Remove the sausage and add onions, sauteing until soft but not brown. Add both kinds of peppers and saute five minutes. Add garlic and paprika; stir while cooking for about two minutes. Add rice and stir to coat with oil and spices. Add the chicken broth-saffron mixture and the tomatoes; bring to a boil. Add the sausages. There should be enough liquid to more than cover the rice. Bring to a boil again, then reduce heat so that the rice is gently simmering. Stir every once in a while, adding more liquid if it’s drying up. Don’t cover. After about forty minutes, stir in the shrimp and any other seafood you want to add. Let the mixture simmer for about five minutes or until all the liquid is gone and the rice is done to taste. Toss in the parsley and garnish with lemon wedges. Put the pan right on the table to be admired.