Warning! Protect your eyes before continuing.
From the kitchen of One Perfect Bite...I first met/saw Cat Cora back in 1999 when she and Rocco Di Spirito co-hosted the Mediterranean segment of a program called the Melting Pot. They were a young good-looking pair and while they were obviously stellar cooks, they were not yet comfortable with the camera or each other. I wrote them both off and thought their stars would fizzle once the series ended. The black holes I predicted turned, instead, to novas, and, while they took separate paths, their reputations continued to grow. Cat Cora's rise was the least flamboyant of the two, but she steadily gained stature and went on to become the first and only American female Iron Chef. While her heritage is Greek-American, she was born in Mississippi to parents who were restaurateurs and her cooking reflects both those influences . Her training began in the kitchens of her childhood, but over time, her style has morphed into a blend of Southern and Greek cooking with Asian overtones. Following completion of her degree in biology and exercise science, her mentor, Julia Child, suggested she attend the Culinary Institute of America. After graduating from the CIA, she continued her training with apprenticeships in some of the great kitchens of Europe. Since being made an Iron Chef, she has also been named Teacher of the Year and executive chef of Bon Appétit magazine. Chef Cora has written two books, has two restaurants and is in the process of developing a TV show of her own. Outside of the kitchen, she is known for her philanthropy. She is a spokesperson for UNICEF and is president and founder of Chefs for Humanity, an organization that raises funds and resources for emergency, educational and hunger-related causes. Chef Cora has deservedly been named one of the 50 Women Game-Changers in Food. She is still a young woman and it will be interesting to see what she does in the future.
I find most of Cat Cora's published recipes to be grounded and family friendly. I chose this one because I thought its outrageous color would be an attention-getter and cause a smile or two. I hasten to add this paella is delicious, and if the spinach puree is a bit much for you, leave it out. I actually used only half of the puree I made and next time I'll cut the ingredients for it in half. This is a soulful recipe that is packed with balanced flavors that I think your family and close friends will enjoy. I do hope you'll give it a try. Here's how it's made.
California-Style Spinach Paella...from the kitchen of One Perfect Bite courtesy of Cat Cora
Paella4 cups Rich Chicken Stock or store-bought low-sodium stock
1/2 teaspoon crushed saffron threads
1 pound chicken tenders or boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into 1/4-by-3-inch strips
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 15-ounce link cooked turkey chorizo (or any sausage you like), sliced
1 red bell pepper, diced (about 1 1/4 cups)
2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh jalapeño pepper
1 cup drained and chopped canned tomatoes
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon Spanish smoked paprika
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1 cup medium-grain rice, preferably Spanish (or substitute Arborio)
Spinach Puree1 pound baby spinach leaves, well washed
About 1/2 cup water
2 scallions, finely chopped
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh cilantro, plus more for garnish
1) Heat the stock in a medium saucepan over medium-low heat, reduce the heat to low, and keep at a simmer.
2) Place the saffron in a small bowl. Pour about 1/2 cup of the warm stock over the saffron and let it steep. 3) Season the chicken with salt and pepper. Heat the oil in a large skillet over high heat until it shimmers but is not smoking. Add the sausage and the chicken to the pan. Cook, stirring, until golden brown on all sides, 4 to 5 minutes, and transfer the chicken and sausage to a plate.
4) Add the bell pepper, jalapeño, tomatoes, and garlic to the pan and reduce the heat to medium-high. Cook until the peppers begin to caramelize, 3 to 5 minutes. Stir in the paprika and the cumin.
5) Pour the rice into the pan and stir just until coated. Pour in 2 cups of the warm stock and add the saffron and its steeping liquid. Return the chicken and sausage to the pan along with any juices on the plate, stir to combine, and simmer over medium-low heat, uncovered, until most of the stock has been absorbed, about 20 minutes.
6) Meanwhile, make the spinach puree: In a blender, puree half of the spinach with the water. Add more spinach, a little at a time. If the mixture can’t be pureed, add more water, 2 tablespoons at a time; the puree should be very thick. Set aside. (You may not need all the stock.)
7) To finish the paella: Taste the rice and add salt to taste. If the rice is still hard, add another 1/2 cup warm stock and stir. Simmer until the broth is absorbed, 10 to 15 minutes. Taste the rice again and add another 1/2 cup broth if it is still too hard. Add more salt if necessary. The paella is done when the rice still has a hint of firmness. Turn off the heat and cover the pan with a lid or a large sheet of foil, letting it rest for 5 to 10 minutes. Stir the spinach puree into the paella. Taste and add more salt and pepper if you like. Transfer to a large platter, sprinkle with the scallions and cilantro, and serve family-style. Yield: 4 to 6 servings.
The following bloggers are also featuring the recipes of Cat Cora today. I hope you'll pay them all a visit. They are all great cooks who have wonderful blogs.
Val - More Than Burnt Toast, Taryn - Have Kitchen Will Feed, Susan - The Spice Garden
Heather - girlichef, Miranda - Mangoes and Chutney, Amrita - Beetles Kitchen Escapades
Mary - One Perfect Bite, Sue - The View from Great Island, Barbara - Movable Feasts
Linda A - There and Back Again, Nancy - Picadillo, Mireya - My Healthy Eating Habits
Veronica - My Catholic Kitchen, Annie - Most Lovely Things, Jeanette - Healthy Living
Claudia - Journey of an Italian Cook, Alyce - More Time at the Table
Kathy - Bakeaway with Me, Martha - Simple Nourished Living, Jill - Saucy Cooks
Sarah - Everything in the Kitchen Sink
Next week we will highlight the career and recipes of Soraya Darabi and Alexa Andrzejewski. It will be really interesting to see what everyone comes up with. If you'd like to join us please email me for additional information no later than Monday, May 21st.