Before I get started, just wanted to share that I got a new job! SQUEEEE!!! I’ll tell you more about it another day because this is kind of a long post and I want to wax poetic about it at length. But I know a lot of you have been genuinely concerned for me and all the hell I’ve been going through lately, so I wanted to let you know that there is hope on the horizon once more. There is still a ton of stuff to catch up on bill-wise, and I’m still dealing with my stupid PHN and all the fun that brings with it (yeah, right), but it’s SO good to know I have a job again. Especially so soon after my other job closed down. Having the following recipe for dinner is fabulous way to celebrate! : )
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And now for a little something different. Different and wicked cool.
Last fall, I had the honor of being invited to be a featured chef in an upcoming issue of Latina Magazine. While I’ve done plenty of features and menus for online sources, the idea of being able to hold my first national piece as a recipe developer in my hot little hands was beyond awesome. Call me old school, but I’m still a huge fan of print media and books made of paper and ink.
This was a great opportunity for me to stretch my recipe writing wings and go beyond the standard PGEW recipes. (Believe it or not, my food dreams include more than just quinoa, kale, and anything topped with a fried egg.) It also gave me the chance to celebrate my Latina heritage a bit, something I’ve been doing more and more through food. The premise for this February assignment*: design a menu perfect for a girls’ night in, celebrating the love we single gals have for our girlfriends, rather than the standard Here’s What You Can Serve Your Man for Valentine’s Day (Don’t worry, gentlemen, we’ll let you have a slice of the flatbread now that VDay is over. Two if you’re good. ; ) ).
As with most of these assignments, there was a lot of work involved. When I first agreed to the feature, my mind immediately started buzzing with ideas, this recipe being the first one to make the list. I had many more recipes to test and pitch, so I was eager to get to work.
Then, about a week after I found out I had the chance of a lifetime, my Daddy passed away.
Now, I’m not good at grief. Never have been (then again, who is?). As of this writing, it’s only been four months and seventeen days since my beloved left this world, but to me everyday is still Groundhog Day and I relive the pain of that morning daily. Naturally, it has dulled some as time continues to pass, but it still hurts. A lot. And it hurt a hell of a lot more when I first got the news that Papa was gone, making it nearly impossible for me to even think. Or breathe.
I could have said “no” to the feature at this point. The editors were understanding of the situation and I could have tried to wait for another opportunity to fall out of the sky. But I’d just told my Daddy about the piece over Skype the day before he died. I know he heard me and I know even if he couldn’t tell me outright, he was happy for me. He would have wanted me to keep going, not let this chance go, make him proud even if he couldn’t be there in person.
And so I did.
Each recipe in that feature, every letter I typed, every sample photo I shot for the food stylists, I did for him. With him. Every time I wanted to throw in the towel and curl up into a ball with my grief, shaking from sorrow and the love I would no longer be able to express in simple Earth-bound human form, I could feel him near me, telling me it was okay, that I could do this, that I was strong. Like him. I cried as I cooked. I wept as I photographed. But he would have wanted me to finish, would have been pissed if I had let his illnesses or his passing take away from these opportunities (he totally would have used my full name to scold me; I always knew I was truly in trouble with him when all three names were used, haha). The show had to go on.
This recipe is dedicated to my father. Well, to both of my parents, really (even if they hadn’t been together for years, I always think of them as a unit). We did everything together, and food was a huge part of every experience. This is one they definitely would have enjoyed, as we were all huge fans of paella and Spanish food in general. My mom makes an amazing seafood paella that she used to whip up every now and then when she was feeling generous, and it was a challenge to have more than one serving if Daddy wasn’t working that night. I think he would have loved to have this as a pizza (what dad doesn’t love pizza, right?), and my mom… well, she’ll just have fun with the idea of reconstructing what I deconstructed next time I see her. : )
On to the actual recipe… this thing is pretty flippin’ delicious. I topped my standard flatbread crust with a saffron-kissed tomato sauce, adding classic paella fixings like chicken thighs, sausage, and shrimp, then gave it a Latin twist by topping with queso fresco, scallions and cilantro. The effect is both visually stunning and uniquely exciting on the palate. It’s hearty but not too filling, and just a gorgeous way to serve up a nice weekend dinner.
Now, you may ask how this can fall under anything budget-friendly, considering the ingredients. Everyone knows saffron isn’t cheap, and combining three different proteins in one recipe doesn’t exactly seem cost-effective either. This one’s definitely filed under the PGEW Splurges category, but here’s where your PGEW cooking and shopping skills come into play.
For your proteins, you have a few options. First off: use leftover chicken if you have it. There’s no need to buy extra chicken just for this, especially considering what a small amount you’ll be using, so use your leftovers first (restaurant mentality: first in, first out!). For the shrimp, use any frozen bagged shrimp you might have in your freezer if you have it. (I don’t recommend using shrimp meat or “salad shrimp” for this, as they’re too tiny and not hearty enough for this dish.) If you don’t have any on hand, all you’re going to need is about 1/4 – 1/2 pound of large shrimp, which can pick up at the seafood counter of your grocery store. For the sausage, while you’re more than welcome to use some kickass Spanish chorizo, chances are the price of that will also kick your ass. There’s no shame in using some Andouille sausage from the grocery store to take its place; that’s what I’ve done here and it’s fantastic.
Remember, there’s such a wide variety of toppings that you don’t need a huge amount of each item. Keep this in mind when shopping for and cooking other foods as well. Just because a recipe calls for a certain ingredient doesn’t always mean you’ll be using the entire box or whatever container it came in. If you need half a cup of something, that’s all you’re using; the rest of that ingredient can be used towards a new dish or even towards doubling your original recipe.
This is why I always encourage you to shop from your own kitchen before you go shopping at the grocery store. Chances are you already have what you need either in your pantry, as leftovers, or in tiny ends of product that you might eventually toss instead of use (like those last ends of a block of cheese, the last bits of a fresh bell pepper or onion, etc.). If you don’t and you do have to go shopping, you’ll know what you have so that you don’t buy doubles, and be able to use some of that money towards the ingredients you were missing. Make sense?
Yeah, but I’m still spending $9 on a bag of shrimp because my store doesn’t have a seafood counter where I can order by the pound. What then?
You’re not using that whole bag of shrimp on this pizza. You’ll use maybe 10-20, depending on their size and how many pizzas you make. After that you’re left with a nearly full bag of shrimp that can be used in a number of different dishes, like my spicy shrimp quesadillas, or this lovely springtime salad. Your $9 investment could help make about three different meals for two, which is a nice option to have. Remember, eating well on a budget isn’t always about how cheap the item is when you buy it; it’s also about how you use those items to stretch your food dollar as far as you can make it go.
But what about the saffron?!
Ahhh, yes. The most expensive part of this dish – yet one of the most essential in order to get that real paella flavor – is the saffron. Those little threads may look delicate and like they shouldn’t cost that much, but they do. My suggestions: if you have a Trader Joe’s in your hood, get it from there. It’s a pretty good quality saffron and very affordably priced, like all their herbs and spices. No TJ’s? Follow one of my favorite tricks from Tip #2 and check out the “Hispanic Foods” aisle in your grocery store. You’ll find a nice variety of spices and chilies in small cellophane bags for a fraction of what you’d pay for jarred spices. Most stores will have saffron (or azafrán) in this section and it usually runs around $2-3/bag.
Okay! Enough math and shopping tips already! This pizza looks mouthwatering and tastes just as good. It’s great for a simple dinner for one or two along with a glass of wine. For larger parties, make a couple, hack ‘em up into squares or larger slices, and voila! Instant party food. Let’s check out the recipe. Finally. ; )
Paella Flatbread Pizza (makes 4-6 servings; average cost per serving: $3.85)
Store leftover saffron-tomato sauce in a sealed jar in the fridge and use it to make more pizzas, or serve over your favorite pasta.
For the crust:
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp salt
1 tsp ground black pepper
1 tbsp finely chopped garlic
¼ – 1/3 cup water
For the sauce:
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 medium yellow onion
1 28 oz. can whole tomatoes (with their juice)
¾ tsp crumbled saffron threads
¼ tsp smoked paprika
Salt & pepper to taste
½ cup saffron-tomato sauce
1/4 – 1/2 lb medium raw shrimp, peeled & deveined
1 cup cooked chicken, cubed
1 cup Spanish chorizo or Andouille sausage slices
½ cup red bell pepper strips
1/2 cup shredded Manchego cheese (optional)
Fresh cilantro, scallions and lemon slices (for garnish)
1. Preheat the oven to 400°. Prepare the crust by combining the flour, salt, pepper and garlic in a large bowl and mixing thoroughly. Add the water and mix until a dough is formed. (If dough is too dry, add a couple drops of water so that it’s moist, but not wet and sticky.) Wrap the dough with plastic wrap and refrigerate for about 30 minutes.
2. Start making the saffron-tomato sauce. Place the canned tomatoes in a large bowl and crush together with your hands. Set aside. Heat a large skillet over medium heat and add the olive oil. When oil is heated, add the onion and cook until translucent. Add the saffron and paprika, and sauté until fragrant, about 30-45 seconds.
3. Add the crushed tomatoes with their juice and increase the heat to medium high. Simmer for about 25 minutes, or until sauce is reduced by at least a third. Check for flavoring and adjust accordingly with salt and pepper.
4. Preheat the oven to 400°. Remove the pizza dough from refrigerator. Sprinkle your work surface and rolling pin with a bit of flour and roll out the dough to about 1/8” in thickness. Place on a baking sheet and bake for about 10 minutes.
5. In the meantime, heat a small amount of oil in a medium pan. Add the shrimp with a bit of salt and pepper, and sauté lightly, until just seared. Remove from heat and set aside.
6. Remove from oven and begin assembling your pizza. Spread ½ cup of the saffron-tomato sauce on the crust. Add the sausage, seared shrimp, chicken and red pepper strips, sprinkle with cheese. Return to oven for another 8-10 minutes, until the shrimp have turned pink and cheese is melted.
7. Remove from heat and top with fresh cilantro, scallions and optional lemon slices. Cut into individually sized pieces, and enjoy!