Simple, seasonal recipes and memories from my home.
Finding myself in Spain for a month that coincided with the release of this book, I thought it would be a great opportunity to try some real Spanish food, using genuine Spanish ingredients. I was further encouraged by the fact that this book is ‘home’ recipes since I am working with a less well equipped kitchen than I am used to.
I usually spend a lot of time with a cookbook before I start cooking, reading the stories, getting a feel for the structure and marking recipes I want to try. I marked a lot of recipes in this book – so many that it might have been easier to mark the things I wouldn’t cook, although I’ve checked again and there’s really nothing that would make that list.
Look and feel
This is a book full of food memories, family memories, photographs and personal reflections. Each recipe is introduced with a note detailing its provenance, history, emotional resonance or a simple serving recommendation.
The structure is very straightforward with four clear sections – Vegetables, Fish and Seafood, Meat and Sweet. Top marks for this approach, when I grab a cookbook looking for a recipe the last thing I need is to have to weave through obscure chapter titles and recipe names. There are suggestions about how you might pull recipes together to make a full meal – with timings and the order you would do things in, a very useful addition and one I would love to see in some other books (ref my recent moan about having no idea how to set up a mezze table).
The book is bright, clear and above all – maybe a strange word to use – happy. There are many sumptuous photographs of completed dishes (by photographer Emma Lee). Not all recipes come with an image of the completed dish which, as I have observed before, some people love and others find a real problem. For myself, I would really have liked to know where some of the non-food images were taken. The family groupings from José’s personal album at the start of the book are introduced but there are wonderful images of Spain throughout the book without a specified location.
There’s a comprehensive index which is gloriously easy to read – there seems to be a conspiracy in cookbook design to squeeze the index into as few pages as possible, resulting in small print and hard to follow flow.
What sort of food is it?
There’s a lovely range of different dishes, with some unexpected flavour combinations – Citrus Salad with Chorizo and Crispy Fried Egg (pg 153) or Tomato Soup with Figs (pg 30) for example. Each section contains dishes that would be robust as a main, but also recipes that are more likely to contribute to a tapas style sharing table.
I cooked the Grilled Rabbit (pg 148), following the suggestion of adding a marinade from another recipe, Cuchifrito with Preserved Lemon Salsa (pg 134). It was delicious – rabbit isn’t so easy to get at home in Ireland, although my mother who is in her 90s says that it was a staple when she was a girl. It’s in every supermarket in Spain so it was an obvious place to start. It was delicious and the recipe was elegant in its simplicity. The Escalivada Salad with Roasted Tomato Dressing (pg 69) was good, but my oven was a bit of an unknown and I think it would be even better if I reduced the cooking time or temperature (note to self – check and taste as you go!). The Mushrooms on Toast with Torta del Casar Cheese was a delight – very grown up flavours.
Look out for sauces, dressings or marinades that you can lift from a menu and use in a different dish. The Seared Veal Rib (pg 176), for example, includes a Lemon Thyme Mayo and a Mojo Rojo Sauce. The Crispy Fried Sea Bream and Bones (pg 117), includes Aioli, as does the Deep-Fried Calamari Sandwich (pg 88).
There are a few dishes that require deep frying. I haven’t cracked the ‘what do you do with used frying oil’ problem so have avoided these so far, but as I am determined to try to Girolle and Walnut Croquetas (pg 62) and the Hake Croquetas (pg 79), I’ll need to get on top of that.
Obscure equipment needed?
No. If you have a good frying pan, a range of pots including a hob-friendly casserole dish, and a food processor you’re good to go. Many of the recipes are visually stunning so it would be lovely if you had great dishes to serve them on.
Ingredients easily available?
Yes, mostly, although you may need access to a shop stocking things like dried peppers and a good range of vinegars. There’s a teaspoon of ‘bee pollen granules’ in one recipe which I presume can be found in health food stores, and I gasped at the idea of using a whole truffle with a spatchcock chicken, because of price not flavour. But these are exceptions, the vast majority of the recipes are made with easy to access fresh food.
Who is it for
The recipes are easy to follow, there are very few elaborate techniques (and the internet will be a help if you’ve never cooked with things like squid before and need to know how to approach). I would say it’s the right book for someone who is producing a reasonable variety of recipes already and who would like to expand their repertoire.
I’ve been poring over this lovely book since it arrived last week and with every visit I’ve marked additional recipes I want to try. Lovely book – highly recommend!
Published by Hardie Grant Books
Follow José on Instagram @Jose_Pizarro