Paella with Tomatoes

Makes 4 to 6 servings
Time: 30 minutes

With caramelized tomatoes on top and a dish on the table in half an hour, this is gorgeous and stunningly easy. When tomatoes aren't in season, try one of the variations.

31/2 cups vegetable stock or water

1 pound ripe tomatoes, cored and cut into thick wedges

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

1 medium onion, minced

1 tablespoon minced garlic

1 tablespoon tomato paste

Large pinch saffron threads (optional)

2 teaspoons smoked or other paprika

2 cups Spanish or other short-grain white rice or parcooked short-grain brown rice

Minced parsley for garnish

1. Preheat the oven to 450°F. Warm the stock in a saucepan. Put the tomatoes in a medium bowl, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and drizzle them with 1 tablespoon of the olive oil. Toss gently to coat.

2. Put the remaining oil in a 10- or 12-inch ovenproof skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onion and garlic, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables soften, 3 to 5 minutes. Stir in the tomato paste, saffron if you're using it, and paprika and cook for a minute more. Add the rice and cook, stirring occasionally, until it's shiny, another minute or two. Carefully add the warm stock and stir until just combined.

3. Put the tomato wedges on top of the rice and drizzle with the juices that accumulated in the bottom of the bowl. Put the pan in the oven and roast, undisturbed, for 15 minutes. Check to see if the rice is dry and just tender. If not, return the pan to the oven for another 5 minutes. If the rice looks too dry at this point, but still isn't quite done, add a small amount of stock, wine, or water. When the rice is ready, turn off the oven and let it sit for at least 5 and up to 15 minutes.

4. Remove the pan from the oven and sprinkle with parsley. If you like, put the pan over high heat for a few minutes to develop a bit of a bottom crust before serving.

Simple Paella with Eggplant.

Instead of the tomatoes, use 1 pound eggplant-peeled if you like-and cubed. When you put it in the bowl, increase the olive oil you toss it with to 2 tablespoons.

Simple Paella with Mushroom Caps.

Instead of the tomatoes, use 1 pound of fresh mushrooms, like cremini, shiitake, or baby bellas. Trim the stems and save them for another use, but leave the caps whole. Proceed with the recipe, putting the caps on top of the rice, smooth side up.

Simple Paella with Spinach and Lemon Zest.

You'll have to pile the spinach up on top of the rice, but it will cook down and form a lovely green topping: Instead of the tomatoes, use 1 pound fresh spinach, coarsely chopped. When you put it in the bowl with the olive oil, add 1 tablespoon minced lemon zest.

Simple Paella with Eggs.

I love this one: Use the main recipe or the mushroom variation. Or omit the tomatoes and feature only eggs. In Step 3, use a large spoon to make 4 indentations in the rice mixture and carefully crack an egg into each. Proceed with the recipe.

Simple Paella with Oranges, Olives, and Saffron.

Warm and complex: Add a pinch of saffron to the stock or water as it warms. Instead of the tomatoes, use 2 medium oranges, preferably Valencia. Zest one of them. Peel and slice them crosswise into wheels. In Step 2, toss them with the olive oil, along with a handful of chopped pitted green olives and a few strands of the orange zest.

Simple Paella with Fava Beans.

You could also make this with limas or edamame: Instead of the tomatoes, use 1 cup shelled and peeled fava beans (frozen are fine).

Simple Paella with Prunes.

Wacky-sounding and takes about 15 minutes longer, but deeply flavored and delicious and perfect when tomatoes are out of season: Instead of the tomatoes, use 8 or 10 pitted prunes; cut them all in half. When you toss them with the olive oil, add 1/4 cup warm red wine or port and 2 teaspoons minced fresh rosemary. Cover the bowl and let the prunes steep for 15 minutes. Proceed with the recipe, pressing the fruit down into the rice a bit after you put them on top.