Right after college, I spent a year in Spain as an au pair. I didn't have much to do while the kids were in school, so I often observed the ritual that was cooking lunch. One of my all-time favorites was Arroz al Horno (literally, Oven Rice). Traditionally, it's prepared in an eartherware casserole called a cazuela, and it is one of my prized kitchen possessions at home. However, in France, I don't have one, so I've used a heavy oven-proof pot. It's worked out well, but it doesn't create the nice crust that the clay dish does and just doesn't look as impressive on the table. It still looks nice, but if you make this, try to use the prettiest oven-proof casserole or pot you have... **Update 7/17/09: I've updated the photos to show this dish in the cazuela.
Something else that always draws me to this recipe is that it's cheap. All it takes is a little rice, potato, tomato, garlic, and chickpeas. All easy to find and very inexpensive to make. I like to pair this with a nice, cold bowl of gazpacho and croutons to begin the meal and often serve a strong red Rioja.
I've taken some of the measurements from Penelope Casas' recipe in The Foods and Wines of Spain, but the preparation is how I learned to do it while living in Spain. Technically, this is usually served with morcilla, a Spanish blood sausage, but this can be difficult to find in the States, and it usually turns diners off, so I only use it if I'm making it for myself. I've also added chicken to the recipe, which is not typical in Spain, because my husband, as I've mentioned before, likes a little meat with his meals. I prefer it without chicken, so the recipe below is chicken-free. If you'd like to add chicken, feel free to cut a breast or two into slivers and add them during the boiling stage. And finally, it's easy enough to make this completely vegetarian by using veggie stock instead of chicken stock.
Arroz al Horno
1 can of chickpeas, liquid reserved
¼ cup olive oil
½-1 medium onion, chopped
½ large tomato, skinned and finely chopped, other half sliced
1 clove garlic, minced
½ medium to large potato, peeled, in 1/8-inch slices
¼ tsp paprika
1 cup short-grain rice
1 head garlic, unpeeled, in one piece
2 oz. morcilla in ¼ inch slices (optional)
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Drain the chickpeas and reserve the liquid. Add enough chicken broth to make 2 cups.
Heat the oil over a med-high flame in an oven/stovetop-safe casserole/pot and saute the onion until wilted. Add the tomato and cook 3 minutes, stirring often so the tomato doesn't stick.
Add the garlic, the potato slices and paprika and cook a couple minutes more. Stir in the rice and cook, stirring frequently, 5 minutes more. Add the chickpeas and broth, season with saffron and salt.
Bring to a boil and cook over a med-high flame, uncovered and stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes, or until the rice is no longer soupy but some liquid remains. Place the dead of garlic in the center of the casserole and the slices of tomato around dish.
Arrange the morcilla slices on top (if using) and place in the oven for 20 minutes. Remove and cover lightly with foil. Let rest 5-10 minutes before serving.