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Published: Tuesday, 3/30/2010

A taste of spring: Chef of Spanish heritage cooks foods of his native country

BY BOB BATZ, JR.
BLOCK NEWS ALLIANCE

Finally it's spring, when a young man's fancy turns lightly to — fresh seasonal recipes?

Well, many men of all ages and I are fancying those right now, especially after the winter we had.

London chef Jose Pizarro, in collaboration with food writer Vicky Bennison, last week published the American version of a book full of them: Seasonal Spanish Food: 125 Simple Recipes Bring Home the Flavors of Spain (Kyle, $32.95).

Originally published in the United Kingdom late last year, the book is a finalist for a Julia Child Award — for a first book — at next month's International Association of Culinary Professionals gathering.

Mr. Pizarro is a native of a village in Extremadura, Spain, who worked at a Michelin-starred restaurant near Madrid before moving to London. He now runs the kitchens of London's four Brindisa restaurants, which share a name with a company (brindisa.com) that imports Spanish foods.

Smoked paprika. Membrillo. Marinated anchovies. Padron and piquillo peppers. The book will make you hunger for them in all seasons, starting in spring, when Mr. Pizarro guides you in cooking with artichokes, fava beans, asparagus, spinach, eggs and other first signs of life.

He also sprinkles in a bit about his homeland's traditions, including Easter, which in rural Spain is marked by processions, vigils, and services, some somber and some raucous.

Jose Pizarro, author of 'Seasonal Spanish Food.' Jose Pizarro, author of 'Seasonal Spanish Food.'
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“Easter is a quieter occasion in Talavan,” he writes. “As a family, we always make sure we are at home with my parents. And there is, of course, food to be eaten. Good Friday is meatless, so we have a stew of Swiss chard, salt cod, and potatoes. Easter Sunday lunch is a casserole of cabrito (kid [goat]), followed by leche frita (literally “fried milk”). Often the weather is beautiful, so quite a few of our friends venture into the countryside and have a paella picnic. Chocolate Easter eggs don't happen, but we do eat a lot of sweet, honeyed pastries; torrija, slices of fried bread flavored with cinnamon, is a popular snack throughout Lent.”

He shares his family Easter recipes of Cabrito and Leche Frita.

This is the latest in a string of good Spanish cookbooks that have been coming out in the past couple of, well, seasons.

I'm still a bit awestruck by one described as “Spain's Joy of Cooking” — 1080 Recipes, which Phaidon published in English for the first time in November, 2007. This true bible of Spanish cooking was updated by Simone and Ines Ortega, and designed and fabulously illustrated by Javier Mariscal. Mr. Pizarro was one of the celebrated “guest chefs” who contributed a menu that included Fillet Steak on Toast with Caramelized Onions and Melted Cheese, which he also shares in Seasonal Spanish Food.

“This recipe is a result of playing with the memories and flavors from my childhood,” he writes. “I remember being scared of the unwashed and silent farmers who used to come to the door in early summer selling Torta de Barros cheese — which was sealed in boxes to contain the fetid-feet stench ...”

I'm so looking forward to cooking with him and his book in all of the coming seasons.

At a time when every cookbook seems to be trying too hard to be seasonal and simple, Chef Pizarro comes by it naturally.

The Block News Alliance consists of The Blade and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Bob Batz, Jr., is a writer for the Post-Gazette.

Conatct him at: bbatz@post-gazette.com



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