It’s strange how quickly you start to intuit cooking for a large group of people, once you’ve got your groove.
Our trips to the supermarket were epic: five whole chickens, packs of chicken breasts and chicken legs we threw at one another to amuse the locals, who likely thought they might not get their hands on any meat that week. We had three freezers and two fridges, and even that wasn’t enough.
Once I get home, back to my own little kitchen, I know that I’ll take maybe fifteen minutes to put together dinner–I’m partial to a can of chickpeas and a can of tomatoes cooked together with some cayenne pepper and salt for a quick weeknight meal. But in Paziols, dinner takes me at least two hours to make, two hours in which the house is empty–the kids have left for the Prade–and I can wander around the rooms like a ghost and see what it would feel like if we weren’t here, if this house, like all the other houses on this street, were home to just a handful of people and not a crowd that announces its presence every time it arrives.
The terrace, usually a playground for those anxious to eat or waiting for dessert, is a sunny heaven for tanning. If I had more than just a few minutes, I’d be out here with a glass of iced coffee and a book, looking out over the vines and the roofs of the neighboring houses.
But I don’t–paella is waiting. It’s a relatively easy dish, once all the elements are put together. I make it in a pot large enough for the lid to have served as the Country Boy’s shield during our medieval dinner, with merguez instead of sausage for our non-pork-eating friends and because the spice makes it that much tastier. I use two kilos of rice… and there are no leftovers.
Tomato Paella (adapted from Pinch My Salt)
3 1/2 C. chicken or vegetable broth
1 1/2 pounds ripe tomatoes, cored and cut into thick wedges
salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/4 C. extra virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, diced
2 large cloves of garlic, minced
1 T. tomato paste
large pinch saffron threads
2 t. smoked paprika
2 C. arborio rice
3-4 oz. merguez, diced
Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Warm broth in a saucepan. Put tomatoes in a medium bowl, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and drizzle with 1 T. olive oil. Toss to coat.
Put remaining 3 T. oil in a 10- or 12-inch ovenproof skillet over medium-high heat. Add onion and garlic, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables soften, 3 to 5 minutes. Stir in tomato paste, saffron, and paprika and cook for a minute more. Add rice and cook, stirring occasionally, until it is shiny, another minute or two. Add the chopped sausage and liquid and stir until just combined.
Put tomato wedges on top of rice and drizzle with remaining juices. Put pan in oven and roast, undisturbed, for 15 minutes. Check to see if rice is dry and just tender. If not, return pan to oven for another 5 minutes. If rice looks too dry but still is not quite done, add a small amount of stock or water (or wine). When rice is ready, turn off oven and let pan sit for 5 to 15 minutes.
Put pan over high heat for a few minutes to develop a bit of a bottom crust before serving (this is the best part!)