Wednesday, December 5, 2012

winter garden

After a short trip to Georgia (the US state, not the country - you have no idea how many people think, nay swear, that I am of Eastern European descent.  If I am, it's news to me!) where I wandered about with my jacket open carelessly to the spring-like weather, I am back in Philadelphia and it is growing cold.  We had our few nice days, too, as I apparently brought some of the warm back with me (or, you know, the jet stream or some other meteorological explanation), and there may be a few nice days left, but don't deceive yourself - it's December.

Would it be easier to put up my Christmas tree and start decorating for the few weeks we have left this holiday season if it was cold and snowy?  Yes, of course.  I'm still holding out hope for a white Christmas and Mister and I have mint cocoa and some peppermint oreo-type cookies leapt off the shelf and landed safely in my basket at Whole Foods today.  Nevertheless, there was time for one more "spring cling" in our made-up menu.

Although a part of me aches for my neatly planned menu and my well-organized grocery lists, I am actually enjoying this different way of shopping; haphazardly selecting things to cover our basic nutritional needs and then hoping everything can play nice in the sauteuse.  I had grown quite weary of my cookbooks and needed to get myself out of a MadeThisAMillionTimes rut.  It's nice to have "safe" recipes you can come back to, where you can locate the right page in the cookbook by the proximity of splatters and spills, where you can nearly make the recipe from memory but just need a few crib notes and stolen glances at the book.  This little bird was ready to stumble out of that safe nest and the lifestyle/financial change was the nudge I needed.

Green Garden Paella
4-6 servings as a main course

2-3 Tbsp olive oil
3 large cloves of garlic, pressed or minced
3 stalks of celery, sliced thinly
1 large(ish) green bell pepper, 1-2" long thin slices
1 medium zucchini, diced
1 cup basmati (or jasmine) rice
3 cups vegetable broth (or 3 cups water + 1 Rapunzel bouillon cube)
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp dried thyme
1 tsp dried and lightly crushed tarragon
4 oz smoked tofu, cubed (small)
10 kalamata olives, sliced lengthwise into quarters or sixths (depending on the size of the olives)

Heat the oil in a large saute pan (4-qt) over medium-low heat.  Add celery and garlic and stir well to combine and coat with oil.

Cover the pan and reduce heat to low.  Cook, stirring frequently to prevent burning, for about 10 minutes.  You can be slicing the pepper during this time.  Once the celery is tender, stir in the green pepper.

Replace lid and cook for about 5 more minutes, stirring once or twice.  Dice the zucchini.  When you're ready to add the zucchini, remove the lid from the pan and push the pepper and celery out to the sides of the pan, creating an empty space in the middle.  Within a moment, this space should be invaded by the oil and accumulated cooking liquid.  Once this occurs, add the zucchini in this space and sprinkle with the salt.  Do not stir.

Cover and turn heat up slightly.  You should hear evidence of slightly higher heat in the sizzling sound your food is making.  Allow the zucchini to steam-saute for about 1-2 minutes, then lift the lid, sprinkle on the thyme and tarragon and stir everything together.  Shake the rice over the vegetables, then pour in the broth and stir.  Raise heat to medium to encourage boiling and the minute it comes to a full boil, reduce heat to the lowest setting and cover.

Cook the paella, covered and without stirring, for 15-17 minutes.  You can check your facebook, read emails, peruse your new issue of Southern Living (it's the Christmas copy!), whatever.  What you should be doing, though, is dicing the tofu and slicing the olives.  Once they're all set, you can resume wasting your time however you please.  When the 15-17 minutes have passed, take the lid off your paella and put it somewhere out of the way - you won't be needing it anymore (until it's time to do the dishes).

Add your tofu and olives, then stir everything together.  There should still be a noticeable amount of broth to be absorbed.

Leave the pot uncovered and the heat on the lowest setting and let your paella simmer for 10-15 more minutes, stirring from time to time.  When nearly all of the broth has been absorbed, spoon into bowls and serve.


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