Cookbook 105: Paella! Spectacular Rice Dishes from Spain

I bought Paella! Spectacular Rice Dishes from Spain by Penelope Casas some years ago when I thought it’d be nice to learn how to cook Spanish food.  I didn’t have a paella pan at the time so this book sat on my shelf waiting for the moment when I got one. That happened to be this year thanks to my lovely husband who bought me one for my birthday.

Overall, however, this book is a bit of a problem.  Most of the recipes in this book call for a 17 – 18 inch pan (yes it is USian, how could you tell?), and only a handfull for a 13 inch pan (the one I got).  All the recipes require that the paella finishes in the oven, so you have to have an oven big enough to fit the pan into.  The recipes are also really verbose, so it’s hard to read in the kitchen and remember what you’re up to.  The one dish I made from this book made a significant amount of paella (probably enough to feed 6-8), and was a little dry, but tasty.  I give this 3 stars out of 5, and I won’t be keeping the book.

Chicken, Peppers and Eggplant “Samfaina” Paella

Ingredients (Converted to metric)

  • 2 x 250g eggplants, cut crosswise into twenty 0.5cm rounds, the rest partially skinned with a potato peeler and cut into 0.5cm cubes
  • Kosher or sea salt
  • 4 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 tablespoon minced parsley
  • Half a 1.3kg chicken (or 650g bonless chicken thighs)
  • 6 tablespoons olive oil
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 3 cups chicken stock
  • 1/8 teaspoon crumbled saffron threads
  • 2 tablespoons diced Spanish serrano ham or prosciutto, cut from a 0.25cm slice
  • 1 large onion, preferably Spanish or Vidalia, slivered
  • 1 medium green capsicum, cut into 1cm strips
  • 1 medium red capsicum, cut into 1cm strips
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon thyme leaves or 1/4 teaspoon dried
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 large tomato, finely chopped
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 3 cups Spanish or Arborio short-grain rice


  1. Arrange the eggplant slices and cubes in a colander and sprinkle well with salt, mixing to distribute the salt.  Leave for 20 minutes to drain. Meanwhile, mash to a paste in a mortar or miniprocessor the garlic, parsley, and 1/8 teaspoon salt.
  2. Cut the chicken thigh into 3 – 5cm pieces with a knife or kitchen shears.  Cut off the bony end of the leg and divide the wings into 2 pieces, discarding the tip.  Cut the breast into 0.5cm boneless cubes.  Sprinkle the chicken all over with salt. (Or cut most (90%) of the boneless chicken thighs into 3 – 5 cm pieces, and a few into 0.5cm pieces)
  3. Preheat the oven to 220C (200C fan forced)
  4. Dry the eggplant on paper towels and transfer to a greased baking tray.  Drizzle with 2 tablespoons olive oil, sprinkle with pepper, and bake int he oven for about 10 minutes, until tender.  Leave the oven at this temperature for the paella.
  5. Combine the stock and saffron in a pot and keep hot over the lowest heat.  Heat the remaining oil (4 tablespoons), measuring about 33cm at its widest point (or in a shallow casserole of a similar size).  Saute all the chicken pieces except the breast cubes over a high heat for about 5 minutes, turning once (they should not be fully cooked).  Remove to a warm platter.  Add the chicken breast cubes, saute 1 minute, and remove.  Add to the pan the ham, onion, greed and red capsicum, thyme and bay leaf, cover with foil or with a lid, and continue cooking at medium-low heat for 20 minutes.
  6. Stir in the tomato, raise the heat, and cook, uncovered, until any liquid has evaporated.  Add 1.4 cup of the wine and boil away, then stir in the remaining 1/4 cup of wine and boil away gain.  Stir in the eggplant cubes, lower the heat, and cook 2 minutes more.  Discard the bay leaf, then stir in the rice and coat well with the pan mixture.
  7. Pour in the hot stock and the mortar mixture, and bring to a boil.  Taste for salt and continue boiling, stirring occasionally, until the rice is no longer soupy but sufficient liquid remains to continue cooking the rice, about 5 minutes.  Stir in the cubed chicken and arrange the rest of the chicken pieces and the eggplant slices over the rice.
  8. Transfer to the oven and cook, uncovered, until the rice is almost al dente, 10 – 15 minutes.  If the rice still has liquid, place the pan on top of the stove over high heat without stirring until it has boiled away.  Remove to a warm spot, cover with foil, and let sit 5 – 10 minutes, until the rice is cooked to taste.

Notes on this recipe:

  • The eggplant got quite bitter.  I skipped the salting it part, but by the time this recipe was done (as you can see in the photo) the eggplant was quite toasted through, and that probably played a part.  The eggplant in the paella was delicious.  If I made this again (I probably won’t) I’d cover the paella dish with foil instead of eggplants and just dice the eggplant to go into the dish and cook it better that way.
  • The rice was not entirely cooked through by the time this was done.  It was definitely al dente, I would have preferred it to be a little less solid.
  • Overall this was tasty, and it fed us for dinner twice (3 people and then 2 people), and then for lunch at work.  We had big servings as well.
  • I want to make more paellas, but far less complicated ones than this.