Was it really only 2 months ago that Mr. CN and I were munching and sipping our way around Spain? Summer has flown by, but the sights, smells, and sounds of bustling Barcelona and the beaches of Mallorca have still been trapped in my senses.
Thinking back on this trip is especially poignant as I’m writing this post in late August, only a few weeks following the tragedy on Las Ramblas. My husband and I strolled down that main thoroughfare, taking in the lively vendors, and stopping off the strip to visit La Boqueria market for snacks. My heart was saddened with the news of the attacks, but I was happy that local and visiting friends who were nearby reported their safety during that time. The people of Barcelona and Spain are strong, persistent, and resilient, and today’s recipe pays tribute to that beauty.
On more than one occasion during our travels we happily devoured the traditional Spanish dish, paella. Paella is a rice dish, although can be made with small-cut noodles can fideua, mixed with vegetables, seafood or meat, and most importantly, saffron and other warm spices. It is prepared in a large, shallow pan that allows for heat to be distributed more evenly and for maximal contact of rice to pan, creating a crunchy layer of rice bits. If you’re not familiar with Spanish cuisine, you can think of paella as a dish similar to Southern jambalaya or an Italian risotto, but with more of a Middle Eastern flair.
We were lucky enough to be treated to beach-side paella on our very first night in Barcelona at Restaurant Salamanca with family friends. After already indulging in fatty, but oh so luxurious, jamon serrano, Galician-style octopus, and too much pan con tomate, we were dished up massive portions of seafood paella- one with rice, the other with fideua. The flavors are rich, the seafood is salty and fresh, and the vegetables add a dose of “healthy” in an otherwise carb-based, oil laden meal. It was love at first bite! If you happen to be eating paella at a restaurant that offers a side of garlic aioli, consider adding a dollop to your dish for an added kick- just be sure to warn your kissing partner!
Salamanca was certainly the most memorable paella for me, but we tried many other varieties along the way. After a while, my now veggie-curious and veggie-loving (!) husband got inspired to create our own version once back home, except he thought we should go rice and fideua-less by using our favorite low-carb base- zucchini noodles. What a genius idea- gracias, Mr. CN!
The zoodles craze is in full force, but before the rise to fame of the spiralizer, I was using a good ‘ol julienne peeler to make my zucchini noodles. This kitchen tool is a must-have to create the zucchini fideua found in this recipe. Take your time, be patient and don’t yank on the peeler too hard. Then, with a steady hand, cut the noodles and you’ll be rewarded with a darn-good fideua substitute.
Vegetable Paella- makes 2 servings
- 3 medium size green zucchini
- 1/2 pound small cleaned shrimp, or your choice of seafood or meat
- 1/8 tsp sweet paprika
- 1/8 tsp turmeric
- 1/2 cup green peas, frozen or fresh
- 1/2 cup artichoke hearts, frozen or canned/jarred, sliced into halves
- 1 cup cherry tomatoes, sliced into halves
- 1/4 cup roasted sweet peppers, roughly chopped
- 1 tablespoon saffron salt- purchase in Spain if you’re lucky, or DIY by grinding 1 tbsp. kosher salt and several saffron threads with a mortar and pestle
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- Prepare zucchini noodles. Using a julienne peeler, create long strands of zucchini, using all sides of the squash, and stopping once reaching the inner flesh. Repeat with all three zucchini. Create tall stacks of strands from each zucchini. Then, using a sharp knife, cut the zucchini strands into 1/2 inch pieces. Repeat with all three stacks and set raw noodles aside.
- P.S. The leftover inner flesh of the zucchini are great for tossing into smoothies- waste not, want not!
- Prepare the shrimp by placing in a mixing bowl, coat with paprika and turmeric, mix until well coated, and set aside.
- In a pan, heat olive oil. If using frozen artichokes, place into pan and begin to heat through, about 2 minutes. Into the same pan, add shrimp and cook until starting to turn pink, about 2 minutes per side.
- Next add peas, cherry tomatoes, and roasted sweet peppers (also the canned/jarred artichoke hearts if using instead of frozen). Add half the saffron salt and stir all ingredients. Let cook for 4-5 minutes.
- To the same pan, add the zucchini noodles and remaining saffron salt, using a spoon to gently mix them with the other ingredients. The goal is to warm the noodles, but not begin to cook them fully, which would release their water and create mushy noodles.
- Once noodles are just al dente, after 2-3 minutes, remove pan from heat and spoon into serving bowl. Serve as a low carbohydrate dinner, or alongside pan con tomate as the Spaniards would.