Saturday, September 3, 2016

Padron Peppers and Paella

These days Camas Swale Farm has an impressive array of summer peppers, including these spicy padron peppers. A Spanish tapas specialty, also known as shishito peppers in Asian cuisine, they are famous for having variable levels of heat, making eating them a bit of  gamble. We had ours seared whole in olive oil with a sprinkle of sea salt, and they were all very spicy but with some reaching a scorching level of spiciness.

Seared Padron Pepper
Heat a cast iron skillet over medium high heat. Coat the bottom with olive oil and then add the whole patron peppers. Sear the peppers, rotating them with tongs, until they are charred and blistered. Sprinkle with sea salt and serve with a word of caution.

Seared patrons work well as an accompaniment to a fragrant pan of Spanish paella. Paella is a big, celebratory dish, but it can be quite simple if you plan ahead and make it the day after a grilled meal. Then you can grill extra tomatoes, peppers, and onions for a saucy base for the rice and extra sausage to nestle in among the shellfish. We made a big pan at the coast recently. I remembered to pack a box of Arborio rice, saffron, and a frozen pint of crab stock. We didn't have sausages or peas, but incorporated some bacon and grilled zucchini for a similar effect. If you don't have specific expectations, it can be a very forgiving dish to feed a crowd.

serves 6 to 8 
use this as a guide and tailor to your tastes and available ingredients

3 cups (500 g) Arborio or other short grain rice 

olive oil
1 large onion seared and chopped
4 large or 8 roma tomatoes, seared and chopped to make about 2 cups
4 peppers, sweet and mildly spicy, seared, seeded, and chopped
4 cups stock, preferably homemade from crab or shrimp shells, but could use chicken
4 sausages such as spicy chorizo, grilled and cut into  half-moon slices
2 pounds shellfish such as clams or mussels
1 cup fresh or frozen peas
1 large pinch saffron
red pepper to taste
salt to taste
fresh parsley for garnish

1. If you plan ahead, you could grill the tomatoes, peppers, onions, and sausages a day ahead. Or you could broil them before starting the rice, making sure they are nicely charred. Also ahead of time, desand the clams and debeard the mussels if necessary.

2. Choose a large, wide pan such as a paella pan that will hold all of the ingredients. Heat over medium heat and when the pan is hot, add a generous drizzle of olive oil to coat the bottom. Add the chopped onions and sauté to soften for a few minutes. Add the rice and sauté to coat with oil and toast a bit. When the rice kernels become more whitish, add the chopped tomatoes, peppers, stock, and saffron. Stir and then distribute the sausage slices over the rice. Bring to a simmer, lower the heat to medium low, sample some of the rice broth and add salt and red pepper to taste. Allow the rice to simmer for about 20 minutes. Refrain from stirring if want to create a bottom crust or socarrat. Keep an eye on the liquid level and add drizzles of boiling water if it looks like it is getting too dry.

3. After 20 minutes of simmering, the rice should be partially cooked but still hard in the center, and the liquid level in the pan should be a little more soupy than you want the final dish. Now add the shellfish, nestling them into the rice with their hinge sides down. Cover the pan and let steam 5 minutes. Uncover and check on the shellfish, which should be mostly opened. Sprinkle over the peas, add a little more water if needed, recover, and steam for another 3 minutes. Uncover and taste the rice. It should taste firm and just a little undercooked (it will keep cooking off the heat). Add salt and pepper and cook a few more minutes if needed. Remove from the heat, sprinkle with fresh parsley, and serve.

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