Vegetable Paella with Chorizo and Prawns cooked on a beach grill. (Photo: Sarah Elliot for Eye-Swoon.com)
Most summers my family and I travel to the Spanish island of Ibiza for a two-week holiday. Summers on the Mediterranean coast are synonymous with paella. Late afternoons are spiked with Cava sangria, feasting on a seafood paella so fresh you can taste the sea in every bite…
For the first August in quite some time we’ll skip our trip to Ibiza, so I decided I would bring a touch of Spain to Amagansett. Oddly enough, I have never made paella — I have never really cooked on the beach before, save for basic burgers and hot dogs — but never a proper meal.
Athena Calderone and Jodi Moreno. (Photo: Sarah Elliot for Eye-Swoon.com)
Together with my friend, Amagansett neighbor, and fellow foodie Jodi Moreno of “What’s Cooking Good Looking,” we set out to make the absolute swooniest Paella beach grill. We decided on a vegetable paella to support the plethora of local veggies that Amagansett farms grow in high season. We used summer squash as our base, along with white and purple peppers, mushrooms, tomatoes, thyme, and the obligatory smoky spice of chorizo to lend our paella some traditional cred. We also got our hands on some massive local shell-on prawns for the seafood lovers in our bunch.
Shells scooped up directly from the shore act as a trivet for the smoking pan. (Photo: Sarah Elliot for Eye-Swoon.com)
As for the décor I kept things light, bright, and simple, letting the surroundings guide the palette and allowing the natural beauty of the vast, sweeping views to take center stage. A white tablecloth with sea-inspired blue stripes was haphazardly draped across the sand for our linens. Recycled pieces of old weathered wood provided a table-like surface to place food, wine, and utensils. I nabbed some pale blue tie-dye pillows from home for added cushion and comfort. A collection of shells scooped up directly from the shore acted as a trivet so we could place the smoking pan of seared prawns directly on our tablecloth. We chose to grill on the bay beach, which somehow gets long forgotten here in Amagansett — usually desolate with vast stretches of sand and still waters to take in at dusk. You can see why I opted for neutrals: the breathtaking vista of the sun reflected off the bay, casting an incredible pink hue over the sky. Oh, and can we discuss the single red boat mooring at bay? To say the setting was ideal would be the understatement of the summer!
A single red boat mooring in the bay. (Photo: Sarah Elliot for Eye-Swoon.com)
Some nibbles of olives, Marcona almonds, shishito peppers and rustic bread were set out as our paella cooked, getting crispy at the bottom as it traditionally should. And as our meal simmered to swoony perfection, Jodi and I poured lavender-infused rosé sangria, served with local fruit from Balsam Farm.
Oh, one last thing: as beautiful and breezy as these images appear, we were sticky and sweaty as we began to bring things down to the beach. A meal on the beach takes a lot of effort, so prep as much as you can at home to truly enjoy the experience as the day cools down and don’t begin the actual grill until 5 or 6 p.m.
There really is something magical about eating a meal as the sun sets — the spectacular lighting, the beauty and stillness of the horizon, the soft breeze as we savored each crazy delish bite… Feasting with friends on the beach with this loose nod to Spain is the epitome of summertime swooning — who needs Ibiza anyway!
(Photo: Sarah Elliot for Eye-Swoon.com)
Vegetable Paella with Chorizo + Prawns
Extra virgin olive oil
2 large leeks, cleaned and sliced
2 large zucchini, sliced thin into 1”-long pieces
1 green + 1 yellow pepper, sliced thin
1 cup of shiitake mushrooms, sliced
1 cup of oyster mushrooms, sliced
6 cloves of garlic, minced
1 sprig of thyme, minced
1 sprig of rosemary, minced
2 cups of arboro rice
8 plum tomatoes, grated
2 links of fresh chorizo, sliced (optional)
4 cups of (homemade) vegetable broth or chicken broth or water
3-4 generous pinches of saffron
A few lemon wedges for serving
Optional for serving: some roasted red peppers (sliced thin), chives
For the prawns: 4-6 large prawns, with shells, tossed with olive oil, salt + pepper
Equipment: a 15”-round paella pan
Start by making the sofrito (cooking the vegetables):
Heat the paella pan over an open flame and an even, flat surface. You want your flame to be not too large, but not too small. Also, make sure you have twigs nearby to feed the fire if it gets too small. You can also make this over a gas grill or stove, just make sure there is even heat distribution under the pan.
Add a generous amount of olive oil, enough to coat the bottom of the pan. Then, add the leeks and cook for about 2 minutes, until tender. Then add the zucchini and peppers and cook for another 2 minutes, while stirring. Then add the mushroom. When all of the vegetables are soft, season them with a couple of pinches of salt, toss, and then push them to the outer edges of the pan creating a circle in the center. Add a little more olive oil in that circle and then add the garlic, thyme and rosemary and cook for about 2 minutes.
Add the rice, toast it, and then add the broth:
Pour the rice into the center of the pan. Add another drizzle of olive oil over the rice, and then stir well to incorporate everything. Keep stirring for a a couple of minutes and then add the grated tomatoes and stir some more to incorporate the tomatoes.
Keep stirring continuously for about 5 minutes to continue to toast the rice and develop the flavors. Add a little more olive oil if it starts sticking to the pan.
Once the rice has a nice light brown color, then add in the chorizo (if you’re using) and toss to coat. Then add the broth and stir to be sure the vegetables and rice are evenly distributed.
At this point you should leave the paella be and let the rice cook. After a few minutes, taste the broth (but be careful, it will be very hot!). Add more seasoning if need be. Also, if you’re cooking over an open flame, make sure the fire is not too hot. You do not want to burn the bottom, but rather you want to create a nice edible crust on the bottom and you do this by making sure it is hot enough to boil the water but not too hot to burn. You can move the rice around and check to make sure it is not burning underneath if you think your flame is too hot. If you are cooking this on a gas grill or stove, you would lower the temperature just slightly at this point, but the water should still be boiling / bubbling.
Cook the paella until all of the rice has absorbed the broth, and the edges are starting to get crisp and pulling from the side. Ideally you also want to have a slight crust at the bottom of the rice.
While the paella is finishing, cook the prawns:
If you only have one fire to do this, you will want to wait until your paella is cooked. Otherwise, if you have room, you can do it when your paella has about 5 more minutes to go. In a separate, medium sized pan, add a little olive oil and then add the shrimp. Cook for 2-3 minutes on each side. Remove from the heat and set aside until you’re ready to serve.
Serve the paella and prawns:
Spoon the paella into individual bowls, and place a prawn on top. Finish wish a squeeze of lemon juice, and any of the additional toppings you like.
(Photo: Sarah Elliot for Eye-Swoon.com)
Jodi Moreno, one of Yahoo Food’s Blogger of the Week, is a trained natural foods chef, cookbook author, and creator of the blog: What’s Cooking Good Looking, which showcases creative, seasonal, good-for-you recipes. She is enthusiastic about healthy living, delicious food, and showing people that vegetables can play a main role on the plate.
Athena Calderone is a lifestyle designer with an eye for the unexpected. An innately visual person who believes beauty comes from self-expression — and that self-expression is about giving yourself license to be more than one thing — her work as an interior designer, home chef, and entertaining expert embraces the use of unusual pairings while focusing on simple ideas and thoughtful execution. The result is design with texture and authenticity, all captured on her lifestyle site Eye-Swoon.com where her love of food, interiors and entertaining are seamlessly combined into one sophisticated and eclectic destination.
More delicious seafood recipes for summer entertaining: