I am proud of my Spanish ancestry and subsequently I am drawn to the colorful cuisine of Spain. My 5th great grandfather on my father’s side was born on the Bay of Biscay in Santander, Spain and immigrated to the New Orleans area in the late 1700’s. My fourth great grandfather on my mother’s side of the family was from the Catalonia area of Spain on the east coast. He arrived in New Orleans shortly before 1800 and operated a saloon and liquor business in the city.
Valencia on the eastern coast of Spain on the Mediterranean, is the birthplace of paella. Traditional paella is made with a white short grained rice known as bomba. I have fond memories of being on the beach in Spain, watching as paella was prepared over an open wood fire on the edge of the sea, in the traditional flat bottomed paella pan.
Paella can be so versatile depending on where you eat it. I have had paella flavored with seafood, such as shrimp, lobster and mussels, and meats, chorizo sausage and chicken, and even snails. It is always seasoned with saffron which gives it a bright sunny color and Spanish paprika giving it a bit of a smoky flavor. It is the Spanish version of our New Orleans jambalaya. Ottolenghi influenced me to create this vegetarian version of one of my favorite dishes, paella. Once you understand the basic proportions of rice to broth, 1:2, and the seasonings, you can create your own version of this Spanish tradition, paella.