Craig Strong, executive chef at Studio, Montage Laguna Beach, is known for his irresistible modern French cuisine with California twists. And there are hints of Spanish influences in his dishes as well, a reflection of the two years he spent working at the Newport Room, the fine dining restaurant at the Hotel Arts, Barcelona.
When I asked him to prepare an easy-to-make dish to videotape, a concoction that homecooks could make, he was quick to suggest paella.
Have a look at the short video; Craig shows how to make paella, including some interesting twists.
“Paella is so versatile; every Spanish mother has her own paella recipe, some with rabbit, some with seafood or chicken or vegetables,” he said, adding that his version is often accompanied with aioli spiked with pureed piquillo peppers. “And it can be a one-dish meal that is great for entertaining.”
(The paella is so good as-is, my opinion is that you don’t need the aioli … just sayin’)
He decided on vegetable-themed paella, a colorful version that showcases a wide assortment of fresh vegetables: red bell peppers, fava beans, baby zucchini and tomatoes.
Growing up as one of eight children in San Diego, he was inspired by his mother and grandmother to experiment with tomatoes and zucchini that were grown in the family’s vegetable garden.
Today he and his wife live in Laguna Beach and are enthusiastic home gardeners. I imagine that the vibrant hues of his delectable paella might be the catalyst to inspire other cooks to plant veggies.
Homemade sofrito adds a load of flavor to the paella. See the cook’s notes.
Craig Strong’s Vegetable Paella
Yield: 10 servings
Sofrito, see cook’s notes
2 large white onions, finely chopped
1 head garlic, finely chopped
1/4 cup olive oil
5 Roma tomatoes, peeled and chopped, see cook’s notes
4 bay leaves
Generous pinch saffron
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon Spanish paprika
2 cups (1 pound) uncooked Bomba rice, see cook’s notes
2 quarts chicken broth (or vegetable broth for a vegetarian version)
6 red bell peppers, cored, seeded, cut into 1-inch squares, sautéed in olive oil until tender
2 cups fava beans, shelled, see cook’s notes
1 cup green olives, pitted
20 baby zucchini, trimmed, diagonally cut into 1/4-inch long pieces, sautéed in olive oil until tender-crisp
2 cups cherry or teardrop tomatoes, halved, or whole if tiny
Garnish: 1/4 cup Italian parsley, chopped
Cook’s notes: To peel tomatoes, submerge in boiling water for about 30 seconds. Refresh under cold water and peel. To make sofrito, peel 10 Roma tomatoes and finely dice; set aside. Heat 1 1/4 cups extra-virgin olive oil in medium-size saucepan on low heat. Add 4 cups finely chopped yellow onions, 1 teaspoon sugar and 1 teaspoon salt; cook, stirring occasionally, about 30 minutes or until onions are nicely caramelized, adding a little water if pan gets dry. Add tomatoes and 2 bay leaves; cook 15 minutes or until tomatoes cook down to a thick mixture. Extra sofrito will keep in refrigerator up to 5 days, or can be frozen in small batches. Use in sauces, soups, or with cooked vegetables. Bomba rice is a Spanish rice that is preferred for paella (you can buy it at Surfas in Costa Mesa); if desired, substitute Arborio rice that is sold at most supermarkets. To prep fava beans, remove beans from pods, then boil for 1 minute; refresh with cold and use thumbnail to break skin and squeeze to pop beans from skin (yes, it’s a lot of work, so often I substitute cooked edamame – not quite as good but still delicious).
1. Prepare sofrito (see cook’s notes). For paella, in paella pan or large deep skillet, cook onion and garlic on medium-high heat in oil until very tender. , and very lightly browned, about 20 minutes (reduce heat if they start to brown too much). Add Roma tomatoes, bay leaves, saffron, salt and paprika; cook until liquid from tomatoes evaporates, stirring occasionally.
2. Stir in rice. Add 1 quart of broth. Increase heat to high and cook, stirring very frequently, for 10 minutes. Add remaining broth, bell peppers and 2/3 cup sofrito. When broth comes to a vigorous simmer, reduce heat to medium; cook 10 to 15 minutes longer and do not stir (move pan around if there are hotspots on your stove). You want a crust to form on the bottom (called socarrat).
3. Place vegetables on top. Sprinkle with parsley. Cover with slightly-moist towel until ready to serve. If desired accompany with aioli.
Source: Craig Strong, executive chef Studio, Montage Laguna Beach
…Melissa’s Quick Tip …
Roast cauliflower with extra-virgin olive oil and garlic, and get ready to be dazzled.
It is scrumptious!
To roast cauliflower, preheat oven to 450 degrees and blanch the unpeeled cloves from 1 head of garlic in boiling water for 25 seconds. Drain and peel garlic. If cloves are large, cut in half lengthwise. Toss garlic with 1 large head of cauliflower (cut into 1- to 2-inch florets) and 3 1/2 tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil. Roast 18 to 24 minutes, tossing twice during roasting. Season to taste with course salt and freshly ground black pepper.
To see how, watch the video (the cauliflower how-to is at the end). Yum.