Jonathan Reynolds's New England Spider Cake
Russ Parsons's Peach Gelato

Las Nenas's Vegetable Rice


I have to be honest - my heart wasn't really in my last post. Could you tell? I felt like choosing that recipe was a bit like grasping at straws - I didn't really want to be making it, and once I made it I didn't really want to eat it. Luckily, I was able to fob the rest of the cake off on my office mates (who polished it off in no time) and decide that life is too short to make recipes I don't want to make. Least of all eat, or write about. So that's that.

In other news, however, I had a great time making this rice last night. It was going to be a quiet night alone at home, and I figured it was one of those evenings where I could get away with making a pot of vegetable-filled rice for dinner and nothing else. Not that that meant the recipe was easy or quick. In fact, this is one of more complicated preparations I've ever done for a rice dish. But? It was totally worth it.

The recipe comes from two American women (chef transplants from California) who live in Catalonia (yet another part of the world I am just itching to see - preferably on a Vespa as I noodle around the winding roads and villages in between staggeringly beautiful countryside and delicious, rustic meals - nice vision I've got for myself, no?) and run an inn called Las Nenas. A writer for the LA Times, Betty Hallock, stumbled upon the place before a pilgrimage to that other Catalan temple of food, El Bulli.

Betty and her traveling companion cooked a meal with the owners of Las Nenas and then shared the recipes with the LA Times. While the grilled rabbit, lamb and chorizo with romesco seemed far too complicated to recreate at home alone, the vegetable rice was another story. It featured the Catalan version of soffritto, long-cooked onions and garlic, plus three tomatoes grated maddeningly on the side of a box grater.

That tomato-grating business was the worst part of the whole endeavor. Why, I grumbled to myself, as seeds spurted every which way and the tomato meat Would. Not. Detach. Itself from the skin, can't I just use a can of peeled tomatoes, crushed? But then it was over, and the house smelled divine, like onions and tomatoes and saffron and coziness, and I had already moved on to the next part of the recipe.

I substituted canned lima beans (you might think I'm nuts, but this is a new discovery of mine, and I think I'm in love) for the fava beans, because - gasp - I think fava beans might be overrated and in any case I can barely afford them and after grating all those tomatoes, the last thing I wanted to do was to parboil and peel and boil again a bunch of darned beans. And I used frozen baby peas instead of the English peas called for, but we all know that that is fine and no crime against gourmandiserie in any case.

After I stewed the onions and garlic for a while and then added in all that tomato slop and two healthy pinches of saffron and the rice (I used Carnaroli instead of Bomba) and wine and stock and all those beans and peas and asparagus lengths and salt (salt!), the casserole was stuck in the oven where over the next 20 minutes, it turned into a gorgeous, golden, fragrant pot of the most wonderfully flavored rice and vegetables. I cut up strips of piquillo peppers to decorate the top , as instructed, but I'd advise against that if I were you. It's fussy and unnecessary and the rice tastes more delicious without those little red interlopers.

But do not forget about the lemon wedges. The freshly squeezed citrus brightens everything up and makes this risotto-like dish sparkle. I had two helpings for dinner and then more for lunch today (because, by the way, this recipe is really not meant for the single girl - thanks be that I have friends coming over to help polish this off), and am so relieved to have found a recipe that I am thrilled to have made and can't wait to make again.

Vegetable Rice
Serves 6

2 medium onions, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup olive oil (I used far less - about 4 tablespoons)
3 tomatoes (about 1 1/4 pounds)
2 large pinches of saffron
2 cups short grain rice, ideally Bomba
1/2 cup dry white wine
3 cups chicken or vegetable stock
1/2 cup favas (about 1 pound), out of pods and peeled
1/2 cup fresh English peas (about 8 ounces), shelled
1 cup asparagus (about 10 spears), cut into about 2-inch pieces
3/4 teaspoon salt
3 piquillo peppers for garnish, thinly sliced
Lemon wedges

1. In a large, heavy, ovenproof casserole, make a sofregit by cooking the onions and garlic in the olive oil very slowly over low heat until tender and golden but not browned, about 40 minutes to an hour.

2. Cut the tomatoes in half and grate them by pressing the fleshy side against the medium holes of a box grater. Discard the skins. After the onions are tender, add the grated tomato and saffron and cook slowly for 10 minutes. Heat the oven to 375 degrees.

3. Add the rice and stir to coat the grains in the sofregit. Add the white wine, stock, favas, peas, asparagus and salt.

4. Bring the rice mixture to a simmer over medium heat. Remove from the stove top and bake, uncovered, until stock is absorbed and rice is cooked, about 20 minutes.

5. Remove from the oven and cool for 5 to 10 minutes. Decorate with the piquillo pepper slices and serve with lemon wedges.