Boil

Vegetarian Paella

July 28, 2021
3 Stars
Photo by Linda Xiao. Prop styling by Brooke Deonarine. Food styling by Sam Senevinatre.
  • Prep time 25 minutes
  • Cook time 1 hour 30 minutes
  • Serves 4 to 6
Author Notes

There are a couple of things required to make a great paella: the right rice, a long-cooked sofrito base, and the nerve to cook it slowly without stirring to allow the rice to steam and develop a socarrat—the caramelized layer of rice at the bottom of a pan of well-made paella.

The rice must be a medium-grained rice. I was taught to make it with bomba rice, although I know a lot of Spaniards who use calasparra. This is one of the few times where it's necessary to seek out a specialty ingredient, either by finding a fancy food store or ordering online. Bomba rice is different than something like arborio, which is used for risotto, because the starch content allows it to cook up as individual grains and benefits from not stirring. Arborio rice needs to be stirred and have the cooking liquid added in intervals to develop the signature creaminess.

Sofrito is a catch-all term for a long-cooked base of aromatic vegetables. Like mirepoix in France or the holy trinity in Cajun and Creole cooking, sofrito lends depth of flavor to any dish. In this case, it's nothing more than onion, garlic, olive oil, and tomatoes cooked until thick and has become more than the sum of its parts. You can add other aromatics like bell peppers, carrots, celery, etc., but this combination is how I was taught and what I have come to like best.

True paella isn’t stirred after the liquid is added. This allows the rice to gently absorb the cooking liquid and keep the grains of rice intact. I always cook slowly on a burner or grill. I’ve seen accomplished chefs place a started paella into a hot (425°F) oven or nestled into the coals of a campfire. No matter how you cook it, don’t stir. Trust the method and let it cook. Stirring is often used to keep things from sticking to the bottom of the pan, but in this case, you want the paella to stick a little bit. The socarrat is the coveted crispy browned layer of rice at the bottom of the paella. Similar to the browned crust of a tahdig or the layer of not-quite-burnt cheese at the bottom of the fondue pot, socarrat is the prize hidden underneath. To ensure a crust, turn up the heat at the very end of cooking (after the liquid is fully absorbed) and listen. You’ll start to hear the rice crackle, give it 30 seconds or a minute, then remove from the heat. Like the rest of us, paella benefits from a bit of a rest after going through the ups and downs of cooking, so give it a 10-minute rest between cooking and serving.

Paella only needs these three things. Everything else is extra. You can add seafood or chicken or chorizo. At the height of July summer vegetable bounty, I like to layer the top with a variety of different vegetables to steam along with the rice. This is my favorite combination, but don’t feel confined by it. Just know that if something takes a while to cook (like the artichokes used here), cook it in advance and use the steam to re-warm and make it part of the paella. —abraberens

Ingredients
  • Sofrito
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 small yellow onion, finely chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 1 teaspoon herbes de Provence or a few sprigs of thyme and/or rosemary
  • Kosher salt
  • 1/4 cup red wine
  • 1 (28-ounce) can whole tomatoes, coarsely chopped
  • Paella
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped
  • 2 medium carrots, finely chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • Kosher salt
  • 2 cups bomba or calasparra rice
  • 1 teaspoon sweet paprika
  • 1/2 teaspoon saffron threads
  • 1 cup frozen peas
  • 5 cups hot vegetable stock or water
  • 1/2 pound green beans, trimmed and cut into 2-inch lengths
  • 1 (14-ounce) can artichoke hearts, drained and cut in half or quartered
  • 1 (9-ounce) tin roasted sweet red peppers, drained
  • 1/2 pound zucchini, coarsely chopped
  • Fresh lemon juice and/or chopped parsley, for serving
In This Recipe
Directions
  1. Sofrito
  2. In a medium saucepan over medium heat, heat the oil until shimmering. Add the onion, garlic, and herbes de Provence, season with a big pinch of salt, and cook, stirring and reducing the heat if it starts to brown, for about 7 minutes, until soft but not browning. Add the wine and cook, stirring occasionally, for 3 minutes, until reduced by half.
  3. Stir in the tomatoes and reduce the heat to low. Cook for 45 to 60 minutes, until the tomatoes are soft and the liquid is reduced to a thick sauce. Taste and adjust the seasonings as desired.
  4. Do Ahead: The sofrito can be made 1 week ahead. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator, or freeze for up to 6 months.
  1. Paella
  2. In a large 14 or 16-inch frying pan (any kind except nonstick will do) over medium heat, heat the oil until shimmering. Add the onion, carrots, and garlic, season with salt, and cook, stirring occasionally, for about 7 minutes, until soft but not browning. Add the sofrito, rice, paprika, and saffron and stir to coat in the onion mixture. Let toast on the burner for 1 to 2 minutes.
  3. Add the peas and stock and stir to combine (this is the last time you’ll stir). Arrange the beans, artichokes, red peppers, and zucchini on top of the rice and press into the rice to submerge gently. Without stirring, let the liquid come to a boil over medium heat, then reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer for 30 to 40 minutes, until all of the liquid has been absorbed by the rice and has steamed the vegetables. To check the liquid level, use the handle end of a wooden spoon to make a little crater in the paella and see if there is still water at the bottom; if so, keep cooking. When all of the water has been absorbed, increase the heat to medium and listen for the rice to start to crackle and develop the socarrat, about 30 seconds to 2 minutes.
  4. Remove the pan from the heat and let rest for 10 minutes to set.
  5. Divide the paella among plates, being sure to scrape up any socarrat. Serve with a squeeze of lemon or flourish of parsley (I usually serve a green salad on the side or at the end of the meal).

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • abraberens
    abraberens
  • paul.v.walsh123
    paul.v.walsh123
  • Karen
    Karen
  • cini63
    cini63
Abra Berens is a chef, author, and former vegetable farmer. She started cooking at Zingerman's Deli, trained at Ballymaloe in Cork, Ireland. Find her at Granor Farm in Three Oaks, MI or Farm Club in Traverse City, MI. Her first cookbook, Ruffage: a practical guide to vegetables is out now. Her second book, Grist: a practical guide to grains and legumes is due Fall 2021.

10 Reviews

paul.v.walsh123 January 23, 2022
Question: are you sure about 5 cups of vegetable stock or water? after 1 hour at medium low I have 3 cups left of broth. i mean, if I just put 5 cups of water in a pan at medium low it takes 2 hours to reduce. Is it supposed to be 2 cups? either the time or the cups are wrong it seems to me
 
Karen January 17, 2022
OMG.....how could the recipe writer allow us, the fans of food52 , make a dinner that just doesn't work! I should have listened to the other 2 comments that said a 12 inch pan doesn'twork. I would think maybe a 14-16 inch would work. This recipe is very labor intensive and I spent most of the day making it. Only to find out at the end of the day when I'm ready to put it all together for dinner.....I didn't have the right pan! The broth didn't fit in the pan so I switched very quickly, with everything in the pan, to a smaller skillet that had high sides. Please...someone explain how this recipe wound up on this web site. It simply doesn't work in a 12 in frying pan. It never absorbed the liquid and I let it cook for over an hour.
I happen to be a big fan of food52 and never had a problem like this. Yes, I feeel angry. A waste of time and food.
 
abraberens January 17, 2022
Hi Karen, First of all I'm sorry that this recipe didn't work for you despite our testing. I've updated the recipe to a larger pan. I'm also sorry I didn't see the previous reviews and could have saved you the time and anger. Thank you for bringing it to my attention.
 
Karen January 18, 2022
Thank you for your quick response. I appreciate your acknowledging and fixing the problem.
 
cini63 August 11, 2021
I made this tonight, spreading the chopping/prepping between multiple days. I weighed my vegetable”s and double checked liquid measurements. I found this recipe, as written, didn’t fit in the Staub Heritage All-Day Pan, which seems to be the pan that is shown with the recipe. I would make this again, but size the ingredients down. The flavor was delicious.
 
abraberens January 17, 2022
Thank you for the review. I have updated the recipe to be in a larger pan. Thank you for your feedback to help make this recipe better.
 
cini63 January 17, 2022
I don’t think a 14” pan is big enough. What size on did you use and what was the material of the pan? The more info you give is readers, the more success we will have and leave super reviews.
 
abraberens January 18, 2022
I used a 12” cast iron pan, which is why this has all been so confounding.
 
Denise August 4, 2021
My vegetarian teenager loved this, and so did I. I followed the recipe as closely as I could though I accidentally ended up ordering calasparra rice instead of bomba. (Not sure what I was thinking.)

I'd definitely recommend making the sofrito the day before. I hadn't planned on doing this, but it took so long to make that I ran out of cooking-steam for a weeknight. (Ordered in! Made the paella the next night.)

When I made the paella, by the time I'd added in all the ingredients, my 12 inch pan was filled to the brim. To. The. Brim. I ended up leaving out the artichokes because there was no room. (This was no hardship. I don't like them.)

The liquid in the pan never totally evaporated. Why? Maybe because I have a crappy stove? Maybe because I ordered the wrong rice? Maybe because my pan was too full? However, the cast iron skillet in the recipe's photo looks really full too, so maybe I should have bought a cast iron skillet along with the fancy rice?

Because the liquid never fully evaporated, I couldn't get to the "crackle" stage. I cooked it for over an hour and twenty minutes. In my impatience, (and hunger!) I burned part of the bottom. Regardless, the texture of my rice looked similar to one on the serving plate in the photo. And it was delicious. I'll definitely make this again...and use it as an excuse to buy a cast iron skillet (and the right rice though I have 3 pounds of calasparra to use up now.)
 
abraberens January 17, 2022
Thank you for the review and the feedback. I've updated the recipe to a larger pan. Sometimes despite our testing things aren't perfect. I appreciate the ability to hone it, so thanks for letting me know.