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Rice, Risotto and Paella


We've been traveling to the Mediterranean coast of Spain for 15 years, and to this day, Paella is my favorite dish. If I could be beamed anywhere in the world for a single meal, it would be to the Valenciana coast for a sea food Paella. The dish was first created in a small village near Valencia, where a freshwater delta, the Mediterranean and the sun intersect to provide the essential ingredients for Paella: Arborio rice, fresh vegetables, tomatoes, olive oil, fish, mussels, prawns, and chicken (and rabbit and pork).

I remember seeing older ladies taking their large Paella pans to the community ovens to bake them in the reserved heat after the bread was finished.

Risotto originates from the north of Italy, where today there are miles of rice fields growing Arborio rice -- perfect for Risotto. This creamy rice dish was quickly adopted by the rest of Italy, and there are localized versions found throughout northern and central Italy. Tuscany, with its wonderful Porcini mushrooms, brings us Risotto Funghi Porcini, while our home town of San Gimignano, a center for Saffron since medieval times, is home to the golden colored Risotto Safrono.

Your brick oven makes wonderful Risotto and Paella. You can use either a traditional Paella pan (a round pan with sloping sides made from thin steel) or a round aluminum pan. A modern tri-layer pan might be a little more forgiving, as it uses a copper layer to more evenly distribute the oven floor's heat, but see which works best in your oven. Also, see what size pan you can get through your oven door.

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