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Book Review: ‘Spanish Flavours’ to savour

Jose Pizarro - Spanish Flavours.
An abundance of Spanish flavours under the cover.

Squinting through my sunglasses in Edinburgh this past weekend it was almost possible to imagine I was in the Mediterranean, as opposed to Scotland. Clear blue skies, glorious sunshine and – best of all – alfresco dining. Eating outside on a balmy summer’s day or evening is one of my favourite culinary pastimes – whether in the UK or somewhere more exotic, such as Italy or Spain. How appropriate then that I found myself sat in the green behind Scrumptious Scran Towers snacking on tapas whilst thumbing through Spanish Flavours, the latest book by Spanish-born and UK-based Chef, José Pizarro.

Growing up on a farm in the western Spanish region of Extremadura, it was whilst he was studying as a dental technician that Pizarro discovered his love for cooking. This lead to him attending cookery school, and ultimately a stint at Madrid’s award-winning restaurant Meson de Doña Filo where he cooked nuevacocina – the deconstructed approach to Spanish cuisine made famous by Ferran Adrià of El Bulli. Fourteen years ago Pizarro relocated to London in order to “try something different”. After achieving this as a key player behind London’s new wave of Spanish eateries such as Eyre Brothers, Gaudí and Brindisa he chose to open his own sherry and tapas bar José, closely followed by his restaurant Pizzaro. So much for the biography…

Regular readers will know that I love Spanish food, and in Spanish Flavours Pizarro demonstrates how well he knows his way around the mosaic-like cuisine which stem from what sometimes appears to be “…seventeen countries all rolled into one”. Identifying links between history and culture, climatic influences, and the use of common ingredients, the book examines in turn the recipes of Spain’s North, East, Centre, South and its Islands. And in doing so, in each chapter Pizarro provides a lyrical snapshot of the flavours, bars and restaurants, and dishes that make these regions so memorable.

As might be expected from an author grounded in nuevacocina, the recipes are not without a twist and turn, an invention that develops Spanish cooking in a slightly different direction. It’s subtle; the sort of tweaking that might traditionally have allowed one village to steal an edge over its neighbour when it came to claiming the best paella. Yet it’s an alchemy grounded in a mastery of really knowing how those ingredients exemplifying Spanish cooking truly work together.

Braised peas and jamón with eggs.
Braised peas and jamón with eggs.

To be frank, whilst having read the book from cover to cover, I’m still in the early stages of working my way through cooking the abundance of recipes in Spanish Flavours – these things should be enjoyed and not rushed – but already several dishes have caught my eye. Griddled scallops with cauliflower purée and chorizo oil sounds like a delicious starter. Roasted monkfish with Serrano ham, black olives and thyme is a great take on “surf and turf”. Oxtail with cinnamon, red wine, sherry vinegar and prunes sounds warming and quite literally “Moorish”. Almond and honey creams with lemon verbena peaches, a perfect pudding. As you will see from my next post, my initial venture into exploring Spanish Flavours involved my first foray into cooking “proper” croquetas – with crab and prawn in this instance – which were delicious, and a favourite tapa of mine.

So if you are looking for an introduction to the cooking of Spain, its origins, and where it might be heading next, do seek out a copy of Spanish Flavours. I, for one, am very glad that José Pizarro chose not to stick with a career in dentistry!

Credit should also go to Emma Lee for the great photographs that illustrate the culture of Spain, and the recipes contained in the book.

Spanish Flavours is published by Kyle Books, and is available in hardback at £19.99.

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