Chef Megan McCulloch Makes a MALTed Paella
June 2, 2020
Marin-local chef Megan McCulloch of Fairfax-based Wild Food has prepared memorable meals for MALT’s community of supporters at numerous MALT events over the years. Dedicated to using fresh, organic and seasonal ingredients, Megan sources from a plethora of local and regional farms, including many MALT-protected farms and ranches. Known for her foraged-food pop-up dinners, catered multi-course dinner parties and make-your-own paella classes, hosted at her home in Fairfax, Megan has adapted to shelter-in-place restrictions by offering meal pick-up and delivery in Fairfax, San Anselmo and Ross. While she sadly won’t be hosting paella parties for some time, she has kindly shared her go-to paella recipe with MALT so that you can make your own at home — and support MALT producers in the process!
Paella is a dish that has always transported me. There is something in the thoughtfulness it takes, the layering of each ingredient in careful succession, the patience it takes to watch it cook, slowly, without stirring, the calamity of flavors that always seem to blend perfectly, no matter how much you add, that make this dish something to celebrate. It also has almost as many ingredients as it does renditions. This rendition is a spring-inspired vegetarian paella, with an ode to the produce that is popping now in this hot California spring we are experiencing. It is prepared in a cast iron pan, only to make it more accessible to those who don’t own a paella pan — although you can of course use it if you got it!
- 1.5 cups bomba rice (or similar rice, like arborio)
- 1 quart vegetable stock or water (stock recipe below)
- 1 large red bell pepper
- 1 cup County Line Harvest early girl tomatoes, finely diced
- 1 medium Little Wing Farm yellow onion, finely diced
- 3 Little Wing Farm or Table Top Farms garlic cloves, finely chopped
- ½ cup Iacopi Farms gigante beans (or other white beans), cooked
- ½ a pound Iacopi Farms English shelling peas
- ½ a bunch of Full Belly Farms asparagus, sliced to one-inch pieces
- ½ cup McEvoy Ranch Tuscan table olives
- 1.5 tablespoon capers
- 10 to 20 threads of saffron
- ½ teaspoon cumin seed, whole
- 1 teaspoon fennel seed, whole
- 1 teaspoon coriander seed, whole
- 1 teaspoon Allstar Organics chili flakes
- 2 teaspoon sweet paprika or Calabrian chili powder
- 3 tablespoon olive oil, plus more to finish
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Lemon to finish
- Little Wing Farm or Table Top Farms parsley to finish, finely chopped
If you have the time to make your own stock, use the scraps from the vegetables needed for the paella.
- Roast your bell pepper over a direct flame until the skin is mostly blackened. Remove from the fire with tongs and place in a pot with a lid to steam for 20 minutes.
- Shell your English peas, placing the shells in a stock pot.
- Take one half of your onion, quarter it and add that to your stock pot.
- Remove fibrous ends from your asparagus and add to your stock pot.
- Cut the tops from your tomatoes and add to your stock pot.
- Once the pepper has steamed, remove the skin, stem and seeds and add all to the stock pot, along with a dash of olive oil and a good pinch of salt.
- Slice your bell pepper into strips and set aside.
- Fill pot with 1.5 quarts of water and bring to a boil, then simmer for 40 minutes.
- Strain through a fine strainer and set aside.
Before starting your paella, make sure your vegetables are prepped and prepare your toasted spices:
- Heat a small pan over a medium-low flame and add the coriander and fennel seeds. Toast for a few minutes, shaking regularly.
- Add cumin seeds and cook for another 2 minutes until fragrant.
- Turn off the flame and add chili flakes, just to heat slightly.
- Transfer everything to a mortar and pestle or spice grinder and grind into a rough powder.
- Boil ¼ cup of water and pour over saffron threads in a small bowl to bloom for at least 15 minutes.
To start the paella:
- Heat a 12-inch cast iron skillet over a medium-low flame.
- Add 3 tablespoons of olive oil and the diced onion. Sweat for about 7 minutes, until translucent.
- Add garlic and your dry spice mix and paprika and sauté for another 2-3 minutes, stirring regularly.
- Add chopped tomatoes and a good amount of salt and pepper (you need to add sufficient salt at the start, as you won’t be able to stir your rice once stock is added) and cook down until most of the juices have evaporated and the mix resembles a chunky paste — about 8 minutes — stirring frequently using a wooden flat edge spoon.
- Add your rice and cook for another 5 minutes, scraping the mixture regularly from the bottom of the pan so that the rice gets some color but does not burn.
- Add ¾ of your stock and saffron mixture. Make sure the rice is evenly distributed across your pan, then sprinkle around your red bell pepper, olives, white beans and capers. At this point you do not want to stir your rice any further, so that you can develop a crunchy bottom layer called socarrat, so make sure the ingredients are evenly distributed.
- Keep at a medium-low heat and cook until all liquid has evaporated. If the liquid is gone and your rice is still undercooked, add a little more of your stock to the pan. Meanwhile, toss your asparagus and peas in a little olive oil and salt.
- Once paella is done, turn off heat, sprinkle vegetables on top, cover with a lid and let steam until vegetables are bright green.
- Serve with lemon and chopped parsley and enjoy!
Love this recipe? Remember that Megan is offering similar creations through Wild Food’s new pick-up and delivery service, available in Fairfax, San Anselmo and Ross. Place your order today!