Paella Brings Sunshine to Winter Kitchen
The snow is falling, steady and fine, as we walk at the park. All of sudden, Stella, the dog, stops and sniffs the air. Four deer stand in the hollow, suddenly swiftly moving as they hear the crunch of our shoes. As we drive home from the park, the snow, like a netted curtain, blurs our view. And then, the second curtain falls. It’s five-thirty and darkness covers everything. Jim carefully maneuvers the car, keeping safe distances and speeds to get us home. Once inside, he tends the wood stove to bring the temperature back up to cozy. And then, he goes to the kitchen to make our supper. It’s paella night and Jim has learned the art of making it.
Paella originated in the town of Valencia, Spain, where we often go to visit. After Jim had emergency surgery there during one of our vacations, we have returned numerous times and it feels like a second home. As he says, “If you can die there, you can live there…”
Paella is a rice dish made with saffron and smoked paprika which gives it a sunny hue. As Jim preps the ingredients and starts to fry, the smell takes me to Valencia and it’s sunny streets. Situated on the east coast of Spain, along the Mediterranean, Valencia has a subtropical climate with an average of seven hours of sunshine a day. As we go about our life there, we soak in the sun and the blue skies. The old medieval buildings reflect the light and the new modern ones shine with color. I draw energy from that luminosity and warmth. It brings out my more extroverted self, and whether walking to the bright open square, or strolling down the narrow streets or following the wide, busy boulevard, I feel what makes people move to warmer climes: it’s an outside energy that comes from above. During the hottest part of the day, life slows down. And in the evening, when it cools down, people are out, socializing and enjoying each other.
As old man winter approaches and puts us in its grip, I love having these memories in my head of another place and time. I can almost feel that same sun as it shines across the world. And then, we sit down to eat the Paella and the flavors pop. And I see the rice fields just south of Valencia, and smell the woodsmoke of cooking fires, and feel that warm sunny breeze. I’m glad I stored those memories for the winter months.
Here is Jim’s recipe if you want to make it yourself!
3 T. olive oil
1 small onion, chopped
2 small garlic cloves, minced
1 chicken breast, in chunks
¼ lb stuffed sausage, in chunks
½ c. arborio rice
1 large pinch of saffron
¼ c. white wine
2 tomatoes, chopped
½ sweet red pepper, chopped
1 c. water
1 t. smoked paprika
1 c. frozen green peas (we use flat Roma beans, if we can find them)
1 c. cooked shrimp (frozen and thawed)
In a large frying pan, fry onions in olive oil over medium heat. Add garlic, chicken and sausage. Stir a minute. Add rice and saffron. Stir fry until coated. Add in wine, tomatoes and peppers. Stir until coated. Then add water and smoked paprika. Cook until most of the liquid is gone. Add peas and shrimp. Continue cooking until all the liquid is evaporated and rice is tender. Test rice. If it’s not quite ready, add ¼ c. more water and finish cooking. The best paella has a little crustiness on the bottom when it’s done!