Vegetable Paella

Yet another recipe inspired by a visit to the Side Street Cafe in Florence. Amanda and I went there the other night and ate the most delicious things ever. The Side Street has been offering their "Recession Proof Menu": a main course with an appetizer and dessert for $20. Obviously, I was going for this. Amanda had an elaborate beet salad (really, it was more of a main course) which inspired me last night to make Claire's Warm Beet Salad. Delicious and so simple! I, of course, got the grilled Caesar salad, aka "The Fish," so called because when they bring it out, a huge head of Romaine lettuce dark and browned from the grill, it almost resembles a fish. The thing is loaded with Parmesan shards and sun-dried tomatoes. YUM.

I wanted to attempt something like my main course, a vegetarian paella with roasted vegetables. I have never made paella before, primarily because my Spanish friends have insisted that it is a worthless dish without the seafood and meat. Well, they’re wrong. It’s a pretty good dish, even without the seafood and meat. Serve it as a main course or a side.

The other thing that held me back was the saffron. I simply can’t justify spending that much money on a spice. I think it is $13 or $14 at Robbed for Slop. I searched the Internet for a substitution, but was told again and again that, although Turmeric might do some of the work, essentially there was no sub. Don’t worry, though. Trader Joe’s saved the day. I spent $6 and got enough to last for at least 3 huge dishes of paella.

The final obstacle: finding the appropriate rice. According to the Internet gods, paella is made with calasparra or bomba rice. I looked for this (not very thoroughly) and didn’t come up with anything. I learned that some people substitute Arborio rice. This I did. It came out well, but as I was doing it, I couldn’t help think: what is paella but Spanish risotto? And since the taste of Arborio is so distinctive, my paella tasted a bit like risotto too. I think next time I will search harder for calasparra rice (let me know if you figure out where to find it).

½ tsp saffron threads
½ cup water

Quick Vegetable Stock
(or use chicken stock)
3 cups water
1 onion, peeled and quartered
1 celery rib, cut into 3 chunks
1 carrot, cut into 3 chunks
4 cloves garlic, halved
2 bay leaves
1 large sprig rosemary
3 sprigs thyme
1 tsp salt

Roasted Veggies
1 eggplant, cut into 1 in cubes
½ cup grape or other small tomatoes
2 portobello mushrooms, sliced
5 cloves garlic, halved
1 sprig rosemary
Dash Balsamic vinegar
Dash white wine
Olive oil (enough to cover the veggies)

1 onion, peeled and diced
½ cup white wine
1½ cup calasparra, bomba, or Arborio rice
1 tsp paprika
salt and pepper to taste


  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
  2. Mix the ingredients for the roasted veggies in a large bowl and let marinate while the oven heats up. Don’t be stingy with the salt!
  3. Assemble the veggie stock: sauté the ingredients in olive oil until slightly brown, then add water. Bring to a boil and then simmer, covered, for 30 minutes.
  4. Spread the veggies in one layer on a cookie sheet. Roast until tender, about 30-40 minutes depending on your oven, stirring occasionally.
  5. Saute the onion in olive oil until translucent. (Not all of us have a paellera at the ready, so alternatively you can use a non-nonstick frying pan, a dutch oven, or a heavy pot. Ideally, it should have a large surface area and a somewhat sticky bottom in order for the bottom layer of rice to get crispy.)
  6. Add rice and briefly sauté.
  7. Add wine, veggie stock, saffron (with water), paprika, and salt. Bring to a boil.
  8. Add roasted veggies, turn down heat, cover, and simmer until rice is cooked, about 20 minutes.
  9. Dust with paprika.




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