Soup's on -- and it's a twist on paella

The Baltimore Sun

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.

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, the idea of a paella soup came to mind. 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, the texture became smooth and the color turned 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 easily be doubled.

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.

Betty Rosbottom writes for Tribune Media Services.

Paella Soup

Serves 4

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 cup chopped onion

1/2 cup chopped carrot

1/3 cup chopped celery

1/4 cup white rice

1/4 teaspoon saffron strands, crushed

1/2 cup dry white wine

4 cups chicken stock

1 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more to taste

1/2 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

1/2 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 to the pot. (You can also use an immersion blender to puree the soup in the pot.) Stir in the cream. (Soup can be prepared 1 day ahead; cool, cover and refrigerate.) 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.

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

Per serving: 675 calories, 39 grams protein, 42 grams fat, 14 grams saturated fat, 36 grams carbohydrate, 4 grams fiber, 260 milligrams cholesterol, 1,943 milligrams sodium.

Recipe analysis provided by registered dietitian Jodie Shield.

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