Vegetable paella is one of our standard summer dishes. We eat it about once a week, and we never tire of it, partly because we use different vegetables for nearly every paella--whatever is fresh and in season goes in--but mainly because they are so good and so easy to make. Once you have the technique down, you can make a vegetable paella in just half an hour.
To make a great vegetarian paella, you need three special ingredients.
Pimentón is essential: it gives the paella a rich smokey flavor.
You can make paellas with a good short-grain brown rice, too. See my post on brown rice paella for the technique.
While I would not say that saffron is essential--you can get away with colorante, yellow dye--it does add a subtle flavor that makes paella, paella.
Once you have these three key ingredients, you can make many, many different types of vegetable paellas in a snap. You can choose nearly any vegetables you like. What's in season is usually bonito, bueno, y barrato, as Esperana, my mother-in-law, always says.
We always start by sauteeing a chopped onion in about 1/3 cup of olive oil. (Use a heavy skillet or a small paella pan.) We then add garlic (whole peeled cloves or chopped), a chopped tomato, and a handful of chopped parsley.
We then add green beans, diced summer squash, peas, butterbeans or limas--whatever you find that you like at the market. (One exception is eggplant, which I always prefer to cook separately and serve alongside the paella. See my post on Spanish rice with eggplant).
Cook the vegetable/rice mixture a few minutes, then add 2 and 1/2 cups of water.
Bring the liquid to a boil. Simmer uncovered for 18 minutes. Towards the end of the cooking time, check with a wooden spoon to make sure the rice isn't burning. A crust at the bottom of the pan is ideal. If it seems the rice will burn, turn off the heat and cover the pan.
We usually have paella with that other classic Spanish summer standard, gazpacho.