It took me more than several years to get around to trying out Tomato Paella. I would run across the recipe when tomatoes were out of season, make a mental note, but never remember when the time came. This year’s early arrival of just about everything gave me the extra time I needed to cook up a batch as the tomatoes were coming in. After having tomatoes in their plainest, freshest form all summer long, we’ve returned to this dish now that the kitchen’s cool enough to cook in again.
The flavor of fall tomatoes, like their early summer counterpart, are more muted than at the sun-filled height of summer. Tomatoes are cold-sensitive and, as temperatures drop, the membranes inside the fruit walls become damaged, causing the tomato to lose flavor and become mealy in texture. Cooking them in big, chunky wedges, as in this paella, is one way to revive their bright taste and enjoy them before they’re gone.
This basic paella is easily altered to the season and what’s on hand. Instead of fava beans, early season choices include spring peas or asparagus, progressing through green beans or summer squash, and ending up with shell beans, edamame or corn. At its most pared down, using 2 teaspoons of smoked paprika instead of the chorizo, the dish becomes effortlessly vegan. Whatever the combination, this simple paella is warming and comforting while remaining light and fresh, perfect for this transitional time as we move into the cooler evenings of fall.
3½ cups stock or water
Large pinch saffron threads (optional)
1½ pounds ripe tomatoes, cored and cut into thick wedges
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
4 ounces Spanish chorizo (spicy or sweet), chopped
1 medium onion, minced
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 tablespoon tomato paste
2 cups Spanish or other short-grain rice
1 cup fava beans, blanched and peeled
Minced parsley for garnish
– Preheat oven to 450°F. Warm stock or water in a saucepan. If using, stir in saffron, and set aside. Put cut tomatoes in a medium bowl, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and drizzle them with 1 tablespoon olive oil. Toss to coat.
– Put remaining oil in a 10- or 12-inch paella pan or ovenproof skillet over medium-high heat. Add chorizo and cook, as the oil takes on color. Then add the onion and garlic, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and continue cooking, stirring occasionally, until vegetables soften, 3 to 5 minutes. Stir in tomato paste and cook for a minute more. Add rice and cook, stirring occasionally, until it is shiny, another minute or two. Add fava beans and liquid, and stir until just combined.
– Put tomato wedges on top of rice and drizzle with juices that accumulated in bottom of bowl. Put pan in oven and roast, undisturbed, for 15 minutes. Check to see if rice is dry and just tender. If not, return pan to oven for another 5 minutes. If rice looks too dry but still is not quite done, add a small amount of stock or water (or wine). When rice is ready, turn off oven and let pan sit for 5 to 15 minutes.
– Remove pan from oven and sprinkle with parsley. If you like, put pan over high heat for a few minutes to develop a bit of a bottom crust before serving. Makes 4 to 6 servings.
Adapted from a recipe by Mark Bittman, The New York Times.