Tomato paella

It’s high tomato season here in California. They’re everywhere, those fragrant red orbs, and it’s hard not to just eat them all raw. But please, if you can bear it, set aside a few juicy specimens for this recipe. It’s my new favorite paella, and a truly wonderful late-summer party meal.

I’ve been trying for years to come up with a great vegetable paella. This blows away every other version I’ve tried. The difference is those tomatoes–ripe and juicy, cut into meaty wedges and scattered on top of the rice. Unlike other paellas I’ve made, this one starts on the stove and then gets a brief blast in a hot oven. The tomatoes wrinkle and slump, while holding their gorgeous form. Stick a spoon in, and you’ve got sweet tomato jelly on top of delicately seasoned rice. It’s a total winner.

This started its life as a Mark Bittman recipe. I’ve tweaked it a bit, swapping out the onions in his recipe in favor of peppers–both sweet and hot–and romano beans. I add a bay leaf for extra fragrance, and a splash of wine just for fun. To keep the tomato flavor front and center, I use water as the cooking liquid. Once the paella comes out of the oven, it gets strewn with parsley and scallion confetti. Serve with lemon wedges for folks who want a bit of zing, and the rest of that bottle of wine.

tomato paella

This is really, truly a seasonal dish. The tomatoes are the star, so quality makes a huge difference–I’ve used fancy heirlooms and squishy-ripe globe tomatoes, both with great success. If you’re thinking of making this outside of tomato season, I’d say stay away from cottony supermarket globe tomatoes and use cherry tomatoes instead. You may also want to double the tomato paste and spices, and use vegetable broth instead of water.

The first time I made this, I multiplied the recipe by one and a half. Even with a 12-inch pan, I had to really squeeze the extra tomatoes in, and every inch of the rice was blanketed. As a result, the top of the paella turned out a little damp, since there wasn’t space for the rice to dry out. That said, we demolished the paella and picked the pan clean. So if a slightly sticky paella doesn’t bother you, feel free to scale the recipe up as far as your largest oven-safe pan will take you.


Paella, ready for the oven (photo courtesy of Audrey Kim)

Tomato Paella (serves 4-6)

Adapted from The Minimalist, via The Wednesday Chef

1 1/2 lb ripe tomatoes (about 4 globe tomatoes), cut into wedges

1/4 cup olive oil, divided

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Inner green tops from 1 large leek (discard the tough outer leaves), thinly sliced

1 red bell pepper, seeded and diced

1 poblano pepper, seeded and diced

1/2 lb (8 oz) romano beans, trimmed and cut into 1-inch pieces

1 tbsp tomato paste

1 tsp smoked paprika

1 bay leaf

Large pinch of saffron (optional)

2 cups short-grain rice (like bomba, calasparra, or arborio)

1/2 cup dry white wine

3 cups water, plus more as needed

Chopped fresh parsley, for garnish

Thinly sliced scallion tops, for garnish

Preheat the oven to 450º F, and position a rack in the lower third of the oven. In a medium bowl, combine tomato wedges, 1 tbsp olive oil, salt, and pepper. Toss to combine, and set aside while you prep the other ingredients.

In a 12-inch oven-safe skillet, heat the remaining 3 tbsp olive oil over medium-high heat. Add leek tops, bell pepper, poblano pepper, and beans. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 2-3 minutes, until the vegetables start to soften. Add tomato paste, paprika, bay leaf, and saffron (if using), and cook, stirring, for 1 to 2 minutes, until the spices are fragrant. Add the rice and stir until all the grains are shiny and coated with oil.

Add wine and let it bubble for a minute or two, until most of the liquid has evaporated. Add water and stir to combine. Arrange the tomato wedges on top of the rice; they will be partially submerged in the cooking liquid. Pour over any tomato juices that accumulated in the bottom of the bowl.

Bring the liquid to a boil, then transfer the pan to the oven. Bake for 15 minutes, then taste a bit of the rice; it should be dry and cooked but still the tiniest bit firm. If it’s not quite ready, splash a bit of water on any dry spots and return the pan to the oven for 5 more minutes.

When the rice is cooked, remove the pan from the oven and cover loosely with a clean kitchen towel or a piece of aluminum foil. Let the paella rest for about 10 minutes, then uncover and scatter over chopped parsley and sliced scallion tops. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Leftovers: Leftover paella will keep, tightly covered, in the fridge for up to 3 days. I actually love it to eat it cold, straight from the fridge, but you can let it come back to room temperature if you prefer. For extra awesomeness, add a poached or soft-boiled egg on top.

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