Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Another Week, Another Soup

Paella has a place close to my heart. One of my all-time favourite picture books as a child was called "Around the World with the Word Gang", written by Anne Civardi and Graham Philpot, and on the page featuring the "gang's" favoute foods - laid out as a huge banquet of goodies from all over the globe - my favourite illustration was the mantilla-clad giraffe eating the intruiging pan of food labeled "paella". I remember asking my mom what "the black things" were, and she told me that they were mussels - something that I as a 6 year old had never heard of. Even though the rest of the ingredients my mom described as being in the dish - peppers, onions, clams and even the rice - made my young palate wretch, I kept asking my mom to make it. I had it stuck in my head that I would like paella, and convinced myself that it would be every bit as amazing as I imagined.

My mom finally gave in and made her "signature" paella (a riff on the Joy of Cooking recipe) for me when I was 14 - after she felt that my tastebuds had matured enough to appreciate the tastes of the slowly cooked onions, seafood and saffron. From the first forkful of vibrantly yellow rice, I knew I had found love. I had never enjoyed rice all that much, but it somehow just worked with my tastebuds and led to me polishing off a good third of the pan. My favourite part was, and still is to this day, the mussels and clams. If there was nothing else in that pot, it wouldn't matter to me - my love of seafood had been cemented since I was about 5, and the aromatic shellfish were little treasures for me to enjoy.

Our first paella was for New Year's Eve dinner, and for years after that my family developed a unique tradition of making the dish only on that day - you would never see us making it any other time of the year, regardless of how the seafood or vegetables looked in the market. When my mom started dating again, though, a lot of our family customs fell apart, including our family "parties" filled with paella, Air Farce specials and chocolate cheesecake at midnight. The last dish of paella I ever had wasn't even one of ours - it was made at the Sightlines restaurant at the Skydome. But I never forgot that first paella.

When I came about making my mom's soup last week, I had my heart set on re-creating this memory of mine, in a modified, soupy form. To eliminate the nastiness of overcooked seafood that always happens in soups (especially those that stand to be frozen and reheated), I simply eradicated that element, focusing instead on roasted chicken, chorizo and chickpeas as my main flavouring agents. Sweet caramelized onion, smoky bacon and both sweet and smoked paprika married with the saffron for an aromatic broth that I swirled with a roasted red pepper and garlic puree in lieu of cooking chunks of the vegetables with the arborio rice.

Hen and Chick[pea] Paella Soup
Serves 8 as a main
1 1/2 cups roasted red peppers (about 3 1/2)
3 cloves garlic
2 tsp olive oil
1 Spanish onion, diced
1.5 oz chorizo
1 tsp smoked paprika
1 tsp sweet paprika
1 1/4 cups arborio rice
1/2 cup white wine
6 cups hot chicken stock, divided
1 tsp saffron threads, crushed
2 cups water
1/4 cup precooked, crumbled bacon
1 bay leaf
1 1/2 cups cooked chickpeas
10 oz cooked, diced chicken
1 cup frozen peas

  1. In a food processor or blender, puree roasted red peppers and garlic, set aside.
  2. Heat oil in a large pot over medium heat.
  3. Add onion and chorizo and cook, stirring often, until onions are beginning to brown - about 8 minutes.
  4. Stir in both paprikas and rice, coating everything with the paprika mix.
  5. Pour in the wine and stir vigorously to deglaze, then add 4 of the cups of hot stock and the red pepper puree and stir well.
  6. Combine the remaining two cups of chicken stock and the saffron in a small container, then add to above with the water, bacon and bay leaf.
  7. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer (partially covered) for 1 1/2 hours. Remove bay leaf.
  8. Stir in chickpeas, chicken and peas. Cook 20 minutes longer.
Amount Per Serving
Calories: 319.5
Total Fat: 9.0 g
Cholesterol: 39.7 mg
Sodium: 1,336.0 mg
Total Carbs: 19.7 g
Dietary Fiber: 3.1 g
Protein: 13.8 g