- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 29, 2007

In the early days of my career as a cooking teacher, I was fascinated by the creative aspects of my work. I loved to take traditional recipes and give them new twists.

One of my first inventions was a paella salad offered in a course on summer salads. Saffron-scented rice was combined with cooked shrimp, julienned red and green bell peppers, and fresh herbs, then tossed in a red wine vinaigrette.

Almost overnight, this recipe became a smash hit with my students. Repeatedly they told me that the paella salad was one of their favorite entrees and that they used it often when entertaining.

Fast forward more than 20 years, and you’ll find me enthusiastic about another paella variation.

While working on a collection of soups for a new book, I got the idea for a paella soup. Many failed attempts ensued until one day I found the right combination of techniques and ingredients.

I combined sauteed onions, carrots and celery with a little rice, seasoned this mixture with crushed saffron, then simmered it in chicken stock and white wine. When pureed and enriched with some cream, it took on a smooth texture and a rich golden hue.

As finishing touches, familiar paella ingredients — shrimp, diced chicken, bits of chorizo and peas — were added.

When the recipe was sent to testers, their response was the same. Of all the soups they had tested, this was the one they liked best.

Satisfying but not heavy, paella soup makes an ideal entree for summertime entertaining. The base of the soup can be prepared and the garnishes readied a day ahead so that at serving time, all that is necessary is to simmer the shrimp and other additions for a few minutes.

The recipe serves four but can be doubled easily.

Offer this delectable dish with a green salad and some crusty bread for lunch or a light supper, and don’t be surprised if guests ask for the recipe.

Paella soup

This soup can be prepared 1 day ahead up to the stage before it is heated and the shrimp added. Cool, cover and refrigerate. To reheat, bring to a simmer over low heat and follow the directions by adding the shrimp, etc.

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 cup chopped onion

½ cup chopped carrot

1/3 cup chopped celery

1/4 cup white rice

1/4 teaspoon saffron strands, crushed

½ cup dry white wine

4 cups chicken stock

Kosher salt

½ cup heavy or whipping cream

1 pound large uncooked shrimp, shelled and deveined

3 ounces Spanish chorizo sausage, cut into thin rounds or diced (available in many supermarkets and in Spanish food stores)

1 cup fresh peas, or frozen peas that have been defrosted

½ cup diced cooked chicken, preferably white meat, optional (see note)

2 teaspoons chopped chives

Heat oil in a large, heavy saucepan set over medium heat until hot. Add onion, carrot and celery, and saute until softened, 3 to 4 minutes.

Add rice, saffron, wine and stock, and bring to a simmer. Season with 1 teaspoon salt.

Bring mixture to a simmer and reduce heat. Cover and cook at a simmer until vegetables and rice are soft, about 20 minutes.

Remove from heat and cool mixture 10 minutes.

Puree the soup in a food processor, blender or food mill, and return the soup to the pot.

(You also can use an immersion blender to puree the soup in the pot.)

Stir in the cream.

Place over low heat, and when mixture comes to a simmer, add shrimp, chorizo, peas and, if desired, chicken. Cook until shrimp have turned pink and curled, about 3 minutes. Do not overcook or shrimp will become tough.

Season with additional salt to taste. Ladle soup into 4 bowls and garnish with a sprinkle of chives.

Makes 4 servings.

Note: I use leftover roast chicken (bought at the supermarket) in this soup, but if you don’t have any, you can omit it.

Betty Rosbottom is a cooking school director and author of “Big Book of Backyard Cooking” (Chronicle Books).


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