Longtime readers (Hi, Mom!) may recall The $12 Empanada Incident, in which His Lordship’s finely-tuned sense of food value was grossly violated by a single, tiny empanada of spinach, artichoke and Manchego cheese. Inexplicably priced at $12, this item, which would more properly have been labeled an amuse-bouche, greatly impacted what was otherwise a very enjoyable meal with my family. As I predicted, “$12 empanada” has been our household’s benchmark for restaurant gouging ever since.
By that pricing logic, tonight’s dinner should be valued at least at $12, and if it did show up on Amada’s menu, where I think it would not be at all out of place, I’d wager it’d be closer to $20. This is particularly ironic given that it’s retooled leftovers of a pantry-clearing dish.
For dinner last night, I tried out Mark Bittman’s tomato paella, in my neverending quest for a vegetarian paella that’s actually worth the bother, not to mention my desire to make inroads on a nearly-full box of arborio. I’m not sure this is the Holy Grail, since it still didn’t have all I was looking for despite the use of lovely ripe in-season locally-grown Jersey tomatoes, artichoke hearts and twice the optional amount of saffron, but it was quite nice and used half the box of rice.
It also made a ton, and in an effort to stave off boredom, I thought of frying them up as cakes served over a salad of the remaining tomatoes and fresh corn. The rice being quite sticky on its own, it wouldn’t take much more than an egg or two to hold it together, but we also had a good-sized piece of Manchego, and when is cheese ever a bad idea?
Certainly not this time. The cakes were crisp and savory, yet still lighter than the paella alone thanks to the added freshness of the salad. I love it when the leftovers are better than the original, and I love it more now that I’m completely out of sherry vinegar.
I must render to His Lordship all the credit for the paella cakes, since the idea might have been mine but the flawless execution was all his. While he was mixing and frying these golden, crusty, priceless patties, I was mixing the salad and pureeing half a watermelon for the agua fresca/granita variations I’ll be putting up shortly.
Paella Cakes with Jersey Corn and Tomato Salad
3 cups leftover paella
1 1/2 cups shredded Manchego or similar cheese
2 large eggs
Salt and pepper
Olive oil (not extra-virgin) for pan-frying
4 ears of corn, microwaved or steamed until cooked but still crisp
2 medium tomatoes
1/4 cup olive oil
2-3 tablespoons sherry vinegar
2 teaspoons mixed dried herbs (Penzeys Parisien Blend)
Salt and pepper to taste
Mix together thoroughly the paella, cheese and eggs, plus additional salt and pepper as desired. Using two large soup spoons, form spoonfuls of the mixture into ten large oval patties.
Cover the bottom of a skillet or frying pan generously with oil and set over medium heat. When the oil is hot but not smoking, add five (or as many as will fit without crowding) of the patties and fry until dark golden, 3-5 minutes on each side. Remove to a baking sheet lined with paper towels or brown paper bags and sprinkle lightly with salt. Repeat with remaining patties.
Strip kernels from corn cobs and place in a large bowl. Core the tomatoes and cut into large dice, adding to the corn. Toss the corn and tomatoes with the oil, vinegar, herbs, and salt and pepper until well-coated. Taste and correct with more vinegar and seasonings as appropriate.
To serve, build a bed of the salad in a shallow bowl and place two paella cakes on top of each mound of corn and tomatoes.
If I’d had fresh herbs, the salad would have been that much better.