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Spring Recipes: Paella Primavera

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Photo courtesy Steven Raichlen

Though most residents of the U.S. aren't habitually cooking over a campfire, there are many dishes we think of as stovetop dinners that were actually cooked for the first time out in the mountain air. One of those is paella, the Spanish rice dish usually mixed with meat and seafood, but here, in celebration of spring, made with vegetables.

KCET grillmaster Steven Raichlen makes his paella with a paella pan on a wood-fired grill -- two of each, actually -- but we won't tell anyone if you make yours with a gas grill or even a skillet in the kitchen. The vegetables can be improvised as well, if those in the recipe aren't quite in season for you yet. Anything you'd enjoy roasted would be great in this paella. Have fun with it!

Paella Primavera
Serves 6-8

For the rice:
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 large onion, finely chopped
1/2 red bell pepper, seeded, stemmed, and cut into 1/4-inch strips
1/2 yellow bell pepper, seeded, stemmed, and cut into 1/4-inch strips
3 cloves garlic, finely minced
2 ripe tomatoes, seeded and cut into 1/2 inch dice
3 cups bomba (Valencian-style rice; use Arborio rice if Valencian is unavailable)
1/2 cup dry white wine
5 to 6 cups hot vegetable stock
1 teaspoon saffron threads (8 to 10 threads), soaked in 1 tablespoon hot water for 15 minutes

For the vegetables:
1 medium zucchini, trimmed and sliced on the bias into 1/4-inch slices
1 medium yellow squash, trimmed and sliced on the bias into 1/4-inch slices
1 Japanese eggplant, trimmed and sliced into 1/4-inch rounds
1 sweet onion, cut into rounds and skewered
15 to 20 cherry tomatoes, on skewers
8 to 10 mini bell peppers, on skewers
6 to 8 cloves garlic, on skewers or toothpicks
Coarse salt (kosher or sea) and freshly ground pepper to taste
1 tablespoon each dried rosemary, dried oregano, and dried thyme

For serving:
1 cup cooked chickpeas, drained
3 piquillo peppers (optional), chopped
1/4 cup finely chopped flat-leaf parsley, plus additional for garnish
Lemon wedges

This recipe can be made on a gas grill, but it is best on a charcoal grill fueled with wood chunks. If you have two grills at your disposal, use one for the rice and one for the vegetables.

Put the paella pan on the grate of the kettle grill. Add olive oil to the pan and preheat. Add the chopped onion and red and yellow bell peppers to the pan, stirring with a clean grill hoe or long-handled spatula, until the vegetables begin to soften. Add the garlic and chopped tomatoes, and cook for 1 to 2 minutes. Add the rice, and stir to coat with the oil. Then add the saffron and wine and cook for 1 to 2 minutes. Add 5 cups of the hot vegetable stock. Simmer the rice for 15 to 20 minutes, or until tender, adding more stock if needed to keep the rice from drying out or scorching on the bottom of the pan.

Meanwhile, brush the vegetables with olive oil and season with salt, pepper, and the herb mixture. Place on the second kettle grill over fire, and grill until vegetables are tender. (The onions will take the longest time, the cherry tomatoes the shortest time.)

To assemble, remove the skewers from the grilled vegetables and add to the rice. Stir in the chickpeas and piquillo peppers. Serve the paella directly from the pan, if desired (be sure to set it on a heatproof surface), or transfer it to a large plate or platter. Sprinkle with chopped parsley and garnish with lemon wedges, if desired.

Note: Authentic paellas are made using bomba rice from Valencia, Spain. It is a unique strain of short-grain rice available at some specialty food shops or from Tienda.

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