June 8, 2016

Use ugly vegetables to make this beautiful Spanish dish

Why waste an imperfect-looking mushroom when you can use it in this delicious paella recipe?

At a recent event in Washington, D.C., chef José Andrés, right, prepared enough vegetable paella for thousands. Fortunately, he pared down his recipe for you, below. Perfect for a family or small gathering! Photo by Margaret Myers/The Renewal Project

Chef José Andrés is known for popularizing his home country’s cuisine in America. The Spanish-born chef–who apprenticed at one of the world’s most innovative and award-winning restaurants of all time, Spain’s elBulli–is an innovator in his own right. His 23 restaurants offer complex culinary and cultural tours of Spain, Latin America, Turkey, Greece, and even the U.S. For chef Andrés, it’s not just about the food–it’s also about the story of the traditions and the people who produce it.

We caught up with Andrés at a recent event in his current hometown of Washington, D.C., where he was focused on feeding the masses with a hearty vegetable paella. Andrés, along with chefs from his flagship restaurant Jaleo, cooked up a couple of batches using produce rescued from area farms and wholesale markets that would have been wasted because they weren’t “pretty” enough to sell. Combatting food waste is a cause close to the chef’s heart.

“Chefs can help by setting an example,” he said. “We can explain to our guests that a tomato doesn’t have to look perfect to be tasty. And we can tell our local farmer we don’t care how her carrots look–we love them all the same.”

Here’s how you can cook like chef Andrés–and combat food waste by putting those ugly carrots to good use!

— The Renewal Project editor Margaret Myers

Paella de verduras by chef José Andrés

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
3 cloves purple garlic
1/4 cup diced onions
3 baby artichokes, cut into quarters
1/4 cup diced carrots
1/4 cup diced red bell pepper
1/4 cup diced green bell pepper
1/4 cup cauliflower florets
1/4 cup 1-inch pieces zucchini
1/4 cup halved baby yellow squash
Pinch saffron
5 cups mushroom stock, or vegetable stock
1 cup Spanish Bomba rice
2 tablespoons green peas (if in season)
1/4 cup halved French green beans
1/4 cup 2-inch pieces asparagus
Sea salt, to taste

Heat the olive oil in a 13-inch paella pan over medium-high heat. Add the garlic and onions and sauté until soft and lightly browned, about three minutes. Add the artichokes, carrots, bell peppers, cauliflower, zucchini, and squash. Lay the vegetables flat so that they form one even layer.

Crumble the saffron into the pan and pour in the stock. Lightly season with salt, as the liquid will become more concentrated (and therefore saltier) during cooking. Increase the heat to high and bring the mixture to a boil. Let the mixture boil for two to three minutes, then add the rice and peas and stir until well-combined. Reduce the heat to medium-high, add the rest of the vegetables, and cook for four minutes. Do not stir the rice again, as this can cause it to cook unevenly.

After four minutes, reduce the heat to low and cook for another seven minutes. During the last few minutes of cooking, you should hear the crackling of the rice at the bottom of the pan. Remove the paella from the heat, cover with a clean kitchen towel, and let rest for two or three minutes.

Garnish paella with fresh thyme or rosemary, and serve.

Note: The ratio of stock to rice is very important for your rice to cook properly. If using Spanish Bomba rice, always use five cups stock for one cup of rice. If using Spanish Valencia rice, use four cups stock for one cup of rice. You can find these products at many grocery stores and also LaTienda.com, which specializes in Spanish foods.

José Andrés

Chef and owner of ThinkFoodGroup