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Sep 9, 2007 06:56 PM

Bittman's Tomato Paella from 9/5 Times

Has anyone else tried Mark Bittman's tomato paella from this past week's Wednesday food section in the Times? Having a ton of tomatoes coming into my garden right now, I leapt upon it, and made it exactly as described, but I was kind of disappointed. It did come out looking spectacularly beautiful, just as promised, vibrant yellow-orange rice dotted with vivid-red tomato wedges, and the rice was moist and tender, but it tasted dull to me. My enacting of the prescribed "large pinch of saffron" was clearly much too large; all I could taste was saffron, which tasted oddly reminiscent of fish (probably because when I have had saffron before, it's often been in shellfish paella). I was glad I had used chicken broth (Swanson Organic) instead of the optional water, since the flavor of the dish was faint enough as it was. I served it alongside some grilled chorizo and sauteed chard (also from the garden). On the second day (the recipe makes 6 generous main-course servings) I reheated it with the chard and chorizo sliced up and mixed in, and with some more broth for the reheating, and it was much tastier as a one-dish meal with the protein and greens combined with the rice. But the point of the recipe was that paella can just be tomatoes and rice and that there were pleasures peculiar to this minimalist approach. I didn't find them.

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  1. I'n so glad that I'm not the only one who was underwhelmed by this recipe. On paper it looked fantastic, but the results were clearly lacking. It needed *something* to pick it up. Oh well, maybe sometimes being a minimalist doesn't pay.

    1. I'm so glad you reported, as I clipped the recipe and planned to make it this week...maybe the tomatoes need to be cooked/roasted to enhance the sweetness/richness?

      1. I made it last night, and we liked it a lot. I had two gorgeous, large tomatoes from the greenmarket, and I think that made the dish. As far as saffron, I added what I thought was a large pinch, which I would estimate at about 1/8 teaspoon. I used half water and half canned Kosher chicken broth.

        3 Replies
        1. re: annaesm

          I think this dish depends heavily on the quality of tomatoes used. If you get them at a local farmers' market during growing season, it'll probably be great. If you get them at the supermarket (even during growing season) it'll probably be boring.

          1. re: oakjoan

            I (original poster) used tomatoes from my own garden, still warm from the sun, when I made this on Friday. Would you have expected those to be as good as or not as good as farmer's market tomatoes?

            1. re: veryveryrosalind

              Sad to admit but my homegrown tomatoes aren't nearly as good as the Stupices I get at my farmers market. I made the dish with the latter, also burying four halved Basque chorizos in the mix. We found it very tasty and gobbled it up. The tomatoes got a little browned on top and were very deep-flavored by the end.

        2. Made a version of this last night with chorizo and gulf shrimp and it was fantastic. I browned crumbled chorizo before adding the onions, then added about 1/2 dozen shrimp for the last couple minutes of cooking, but otherwise followed the basic idea pretty closely. (The NY Times article is archived but you can find a free version at The Wednesday Chef.) It's a simple and tasty technique I plan to employ more often, with endless variation possibilities. I used arborio rice, it was perfectly cooked and carmelized into a crunchy crust very easily when it came out of the oven.

          I suspect those who found it lacking in flavor need to use more salt, especially if using water instead of stock.

          1. I just made this dish tonight and absolutely loved it. The flavour was deep and rich - nothing flat or boring about it at all. I'm not sure what other people expected but what I ended up with was fantastic and I'll definitely make it again. I used my own home grown plum tomatoes (extremely ripe), smoked Spanish paprika and good saffron. I used as much olive oil as he said to use - probably more than I felt comfortable using - but it was very luscious. Enough salt is definitely a key. But I think very very good tomatoes and the smoked paprika are even more important.

            Served it with garlic sauteed shrimp and some stuffed mushrooms. Should have had a nice bitter salad also but I was too lazy to make one in the end.

            4 Replies
            1. re: Nyleve

              I agree. I made this dish the other nite and we just loved it. I used heirloom tomatoes from my garden and they were so good. I didn't have any saffron which I'm sure will make the dish even better, but even without it was outstanding. I used a smoked spanish paprika as well-but I think one of the keys to this dish is great tomatoes, that you salt and pepper freely then add a good olive oil and let them sit as you make the rest of the dish. It makes a lot so next time I will cut the recipe in half. What a great tasting and beautiful dish!

              1. re: jackie de

                I have made it twice and concur with the posters who say it's a keeper. I used dry-farmed early girl tomatoes from my CSA along with some from my own garden, excellent smoked spanish paprika (essential, I think), and saffron. I did modify it both times, though. First time I sauteed about 12 oz of chorizo with the onions and used chicken broth as the liquid. I thought it was a bit bland, then I added more salt and suddenly it was really delicious. Second time I added about 1.5 lbs shrimp in the last 5 minutes and for the liquid, I used shrimp stock made simply by simmering the shrimp shells with water and a bay leaf for about 15 minutes (actually got this idea from a previous Bittman article). Therefore, I can't attest to Bittman's claim that it's splendid with tomatoes alone. But if, like me, you are battling an abundance of outstanding tomatoes, it's a great recipe.

                1. re: 2m8ohed

                  Yes it really is splendid with tomatoes alone. I used chicken broth as the liquid, which I think was good, and I believe the saffron adds a certain mysterious backnote.

              2. re: Nyleve

                My wife and I are were underwhelmed by the dish until we added some salt. Once we did, it was outstanding.

                This dish is simple and delicious. We'll be making it again soon.