When Carmen Ruiz De Huidobro and I met, nine years ago at an event at the ranch, we instantly bonded over our shared love of Spanish culture. Carmen, who lives in Los Angeles but was born and raised in Madrid, is the founder of Españolita, a tour company that offers tours and retreats that helps guests immerse themselves in Spanish daily life and connect with the country’s beautiful natural landscape. While I have never taken one of Carmen’s tours myself, I have studied Spanish culture all my life as a way of understanding my family’s roots, and in college, I spent time studying in Sevilla. Within minutes of meeting, we were deep in discussion about Spanish culture, history, and, of course, food.
A couple years ago, I was lucky enough to have Carmen come teach a paella class at the ranch. On a warm summer day, she demonstrated how to make this gorgeous seafood paella, cooking up a base of onions, tomato, squid, and cuttlefish, then flavoring the rice with saffron and paprika and topping it with shrimp and other shellfish. We all gathered around to watch her work (and smell the paella as it cooked!) then enjoyed it as a hearty lunch with a fresh salad and a dessert of lemon almond cake with fresh fruit and whipped cream. It was a magical meal that has stuck in my mind ever since.
I plan to turn to Carmen’s recipe a lot this summer, especially when I find myself missing travel. While I can’t get back to Spain anytime soon, this dish will offer me a way to immerse myself in the country’s smells and flavors and give me a way to dream of future adventures.
- Olive Oil
- 3 cups paella rice
- ½ lb head-on shrimp
- 4 spring onions
- 10 oz shellfish, such as cuttlefish, squid, or clams—or a combination, cut into large chunks
- 10 oz green beans or flat summer beans like colorful Romanos
- 1 small red pepper or green bell pepper diced
- 1 large, ripe tomato, skinned and pureed until liquid
- 6 cups chicken broth
- Sea Salt and freshly-ground pepper
- 2 tbsp Samorreta (recipe below)
- 1 tbsp sweet paprika
- 1 large pinch saffron threads
- 16” paella pan (or other large pan)
- Heat a 16” paella pan over on the grill (or over medium-high heat on the stove). Add a generous splash of olive oil and add the shrimp to the pan. Cook the shrimp, stirring gently, until they are barely cooked through, about 1 minute on each side. Set aside.
- In the same oil, cook the spring onions until softened, 3-5 minutes. Add the cuttlefish and squid and cook until the vegetables become bright and begin to soften, about 5 minutes, then add the tomato, stir, and cook, stirring occasionally, for another 5 minutes. This is the “sofrito”, it needs to look brownish. Then add your vegetables cut in small cubes, and cook, stirring, until tender. Add the sweet paprika, stir and add the Samorreta. Taste the mixture and adjust seasoning as needed (remember, the flavors should be strong, because the rice will soak them up). Add the rice and the saffron, and stir until everything is well mixed and the rice looks transparent. Add the broth and stir once to spread the rice homogeneously. (After this point, do not stir the rice again or you will ruin the dish!) Add the clams, facing down into the broth. (If cooking on a stovetop, turn the heat down to low)
Cook the paella, uncovered. (If you’re cooking on a stovetop, you’ll have to move the pan around so that everything cooks evenly.) The paella is done when the broth has evaporated and the ingredients on the bottom of the pan feel crunchy, about 20 minutes. (If the rice really hasn’t cooked through, and is firmer than al dente, you can add more stock and cook for a while longer. The slightly burnt layer at the bottom of the pan is called the scarab and is a prized part of the dish.) Turn the heat off, cover the pan with foil or a clean kitchen towel, and let the rice sit for 5 minutes to finish cooking.
This flavorful sauce, sometimes called sofrito, is used to season paella. Once you make a big batch of it, you can freeze portions for future dishes; you can also use the leftovers as a slightly spicy flavor base for soup, chiles, and other dishes.
- 3–5 ñora peppers or dried ancho chiles
- 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 3 large, ripe tomatoes cut in half widthwise
- 2 whole heads of garlic, cut in half widthwise
Cut the chiles in half and remove the stems and seeds. Heat the olive oil in a wide pan, then add all of the ingredients and cook over medium-low heat for 10 minutes. Flip the ingredients in the pan, and cook for another 10 minutes, until everything has softened. Remove the pan from the heat, peel the garlic (discard the skins), and puree everything in a blender to make a thick paste.
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Photos by Annie Meisel