In addition to my rather large collected of recipes printed from the internet or cut from magazines, I have also managed to amass rather a lot of cookbooks. I love looking at recipes for inspiration and buy myself a new cookbook a couple of times a year as a treat. The best of these books become treasured friends whose contents I return to time and time again.
Jose Pizarro’s runs two Spanish restaurants in London, but I’ve never been to either and wasn’t aware of them until I researched this book a little more. Instead I bought Spanish Flavours after seeing some of the recipes on the Guardian website (here and here) and liking the sound of them.
When the book turned up I wasn’t disappointed. It’s packed full of gorgeous pictures (both of food and of Spain and Spanish culture) and on looking through it there were immediately many many recipes I wanted to try. Fish and seafood recipes feature quite heavily (e.g. sautéed squid onions potato and chilli and john dory chicory ham and mint), but there are also vegetarian and meat options (chicken in beer, salt crusted potatoes with carion der majo) as well as some delicious sounding desserts.
The book is divided into 5 regions; the North, the South, the East, the Centre and the Islands. Each section is then prefaced with an explanation of its culinary traditions followed by a selection of sweet and savoury recipes based on these traditions. The recipes may not be exactly how grandma would have made the dish, but they encapsulate the ethos and honesty of the Spanish food and ingredients while giving them a little bit of a modern makeover.
Helpfully for those of us who don’t have a local Spanish deli nearby, while championing Spanish produce, Jose has also helpfully suggested alternatives that can be used where appropriate.
One of the first dishes that caught my eye was the pan fried hake with cockles, asparagus, peas and mint in the North section. When making this I had a minor hiccup with my French, confusing merlu with merlan, meaning that I ended up using whiting rather than hake.
Putting that, and the fact that I had to use jar asparagus rather than fresh due to the season, aside, this dish was extremely quick and easy to make and tasted delicious. All in all it took about 15 minutes from getting the ingredients out to actually eating the dish and I was very pleased with the result.
Another simple but tasty offering is the grilled sausages with beans, garlic and sage (from the East). I will admit that I cheated with this and used tinned cannellini beans rather than properly soaking and cooking dried arrocina beans as the recipe stated, but the end result was extremely tasty regardless of (although my presentation is obviously lacking compared to the photograph in the book!).
From the South section I had a go at the flamenquin. Jose says that this is a traditional tapas dish – I served it with rice to make it a meal, but I reckon potatoes or pasta would work just as well. For this I had to substitute the Queso de Grazalema for Gruyere as suggested but I did manage to get hold of some proper serrano ham at least!
What with making the sauce and breading and deep frying the pork rolls this all took quite a lot longer to make than the previous two recipes. The dish was well worth the effort though and tomato sauce was absolutely brilliant.
And so onto the desserts. There are so many that I want to try including the orange scented apple bunueos and the chocolate and hazelnut tart but, since it meant that I would get to use my new food processor for the first time, the first dessert I’ve made from this book is the orange, almond and pine nut tartlets (from the Centre). I’m also a sucker for almond/frangipane desserts so that may have swayed me in the tartlets direction!
As with the flamenquin these involved a fair few processes and required a bit of time and effort. And as with the flamenquin the results were divine and worth the effort. Even the pastry was gorgeous all by itself and I used my spare ends to make some little biscuits. The tarts themselves were substantial and rich without feeling too heavy.
Overall I love the passion for food and for Spain that comes across in Jose’s writing. Every recipe I have used so far has worked, been well written and was easy to follow (I wish I could say the same of all the cookbooks I’ve tried) and I can’t wait to continue trying things out. There are a wide range of dishes of varying complexities, however I haven’t seen anything yet that I felt would be difficult to achieve if I have the time.