Tomato rice

Tomato rice

Finding Fire

Paella is a traditional peasant dish from the town of Albufera in Valencia where rice has been grown on wetlands for 1200 years. It was introduced here by the Moors. Originally paella was cooked by the workers in the fields over an open fire, incorporating ingredients that were at hand. By burning grapevines or even orange wood, the rice would be infused with the smokiness from the fire. Citrus wood pairs well with the ripeness of tomatoes and the richness of the parmesan, but paella is first and foremost a rice dish so the quality of the rice itself is crucial. The best rice is said to come from Calasparra, a town in the neighbouring mountains of Murcia where it is grown along the Segura River. The cold clean mountain water slows the growth of the rice down, producing rice kernels that are drier with the ability to absorb three times the amount of liquid of other rice varieties.

Other than the rice, the most important elements of paella are the pan (from where the dish gets its name) and the stock, which in this case is the tomato water. The holy grail of any paella is the socarrat, the crisp golden layer that forms as the rice caramelises on the base of the pan. The flat, wide base of the paella is designed to cook the rice evenly while producing a good socarrat. Consequently it is important that the pan is sized in accordance with how many people you are cooking for.

The thin base of the pan does mean that the rice can burn easily if you’re not careful. The ability to control the heat and cook a delicate rice dish over fire is one of the hardest skills to learn.


Quantity Ingredient
100ml olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, finely minced
1 red chilli, deseeded and finely chopped
1 fennel bulb, peeled and finely chopped
2kg vine-ripened tomatoes, peeled, seeds removed and diced (seeds and skins retained for tomato water)
2 piquillo peppers, finely chopped
1 teaspoon pimento (smoked paprika)
100g aged parmesan, shaved and rind reserved
sea salt
300g paella rice such as bomba calasparra rice
1 litre Tomato water
1 rosemary sprig
4–5pesticide-free tomato leaves from the vine
1/4 bunch flat-leaf (italian) parsley, leaves picked and torn
100ml light, fruity style extra-virgin olive oil such as arbequina or koroneiki


  1. 1. Prepare your embers and arrange a grill approximately 30 cm (12 in) above the embers.
  2. 2. Spread the embers evenly across the base of the grate.
  3. 3. In a paella pan, heat the olive oil and sauté the onion, garlic and chilli together with the fennel until soft. Add tomatoes, piquillo peppers, pimento, parmesan rind and a good pinch of salt, and stir in the rice ensuring the grains are well coated and form an even layer.
  4. 4. Carefully add the tomato water, stirring once to combine the ingredients. Simmer vigorously for 8–10 minutes, rotating the pan to ensure the rice cooks evenly.
  5. 5. Reduce the fire and allow the rice to cook gently for a further 15 minutes, being careful not to stir. The surface of the rice should be pitted with small holes.
  6. 6. Place the rosemary sprig and tomato leaves on top of the rice. Immediately cover with a clean, damp tea towel (dish towel), remove from the heat and leave to rest for 5 minutes.
  7. 7. Remove the tea towel and return the pan to the heat to create the soccarat, gently toasting the rice on the base of the pan for 5 minutes until it forms a golden crust.
  8. 8. Remove from the heat and serve immediately with torn parsley leaves, shaved parmesan and a generous drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil.
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