My favorite Thanksgiving feast, ever, was created and served three or four Novembers ago in my little kitchen in Rhode Island.
There was no turkey.
No sweet potatoes. No stuffing, no gravy, no green beans.
Instead, we ate salt cod.
And piquillo peppers and olives and Marcona almonds.
It was the best Thanksgiving dinner, ever... a Spanish Thanksgiving, a feast of more than a dozen tapas, and a beautiful paella made with true bomba (or was it Valencia?) rice.
Bomba, the more rare and costly of the two famous Spanish rices, is a Denominación de Origen round, medium-short grain rice cultivated in the L'Albufera region of Spain. It's difficult to grow and harvest, and has a long maturation cycle, which explain its high cost.
What makes bomba worth the price? Most rice varieties, when they absorb liquid, expand in width, but bomba expands lengthwise, and can absorb three times its volume in liquid. When cooked, the grains remain separate and do not stick together. Because it can absorb so much liquid, it's hard to overcook bomba. If you're new to paella, this is the rice for you.
Valencia, which is more affordable, is a rice to choose if you're a more experienced cook; it gets softer more quickly, which means that you need to keep an eye on it and measure your liquid carefully.
Chefs in Spain consider bomba the best of the best, but you can substitute Valencia, or the Italian medium-grain arborio or carnaroli rices. Don't use long-grain rice; it can't absorb enough liquid.
Store all white rices in your cupboard, in a jar with a tight-fitting lid, for up to 12 months.
Mushroom and asparagus paella
Inspired by Paella! Spectacular Rice Dishes of Spain, this vegan recipe is a dramatic centerpiece to a meatless meal. Serves 6-8.
1/4 tsp crumbled saffron threads
Kosher or sea salt
4 Tbsp minced flat-leaf parsley
4-6 cloves garlic, minced
Pinch of smoked sweet paprika (pimenton)
6 cups vegetable broth, store-bought or homemade (I used Swanson's Garden Vegetable Broth)
8 Tbsp olive oil
3/4 lb thin asparagus spears, chopped into 1-inch pieces
2 medium onions, quartered
4 artichoke hearts (canned or frozen), quartered
3/4 cup dry red or white wine
1-1/2 lb mushrooms (a mix of white, cremini, cepes, etc.), brushed clean, stems trimmed, very coarsely chopped (or, if small, left whole)
1 cup canned chopped tomato (I use Pomi)
3 cups bomba, Valencia or Arborio rice
12 strips piquillo or roasted red pepper, for garnish
In a mortar or miniprocessor, mash to a paste the saffron, 1/4 tsp salt, parsley, garlic and smoked paprika. Heat the broth in a large pot over the lowest heat.
Preheat oven to 400F for gas oven, 450F for electric.
Heat the oil in a 17-18 inch paella pan, or in a shallow casserole of similar size, over 2 burners if necessary. Saute the asparagus and onions over medium heat until softened, then add artichoke hearts and mushrooms, and cook 1-2 minutes more. Add the mushrooms and tomato, and cook 1-2 minutes. Pour in the wine, and boil away most of the liquid, then stir in the rice and coat well with the pan mixture. Pour in the hot broth and bring to a boil. Add the mashed saffron-parsley-garlic paste, taste for salt (it will likely need a bit), and continue to boil, stirring and rotating the pan occasionally, until the rice is no longer soupy and sufficient liquid remains to continue cooking the rice, about 5 minutes. Arrange red pepper strips like the spokes of a wheel, on top of the rice.
Transfer to the oven and cook, uncovered, until the rice is almost al dente, 10 minutes in a gas oven, 15 minutes in electric. Remove to a warm spot, cover with foil, and let sit 5-10 minutes, until the rice is cooked to taste.
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