Cookbook review: José Pizzaro - Seasonal Spanish Food

For me some cookbooks get mentally archived and re-introduced as and when the season dictates. Although José Pizzaro’s heartfelt tomb had arrived on my doorstep a year ago I had archived it mainly due to the Spanish penchant for Jamón and my partner’s penchant for vegetarianism. But this Spring the rust red cover of the book called me and I delved into its pages filled with warm Iberian sunshine and tasty food.

Seasonal Spanish Food moves through a year of seasons beginning with a good introduction to particularly iconic ingredients and techniques, such as olive oil, chorizo, and the making of the perfect tortilla (frittata/Spanish omelette), peppered throughout. We are all, or think we are, familiar with Spanish cuisine so it’s nice to have the traditions and intricacies explained in more detail. It gives more meaning to the dishes and really helps you comprehend the reality of eating through the seasons. A detail we are so sorely divorced from in our day-to-day culinary habits.

As it is almost Easter and lamb is jumping round the fields - and with any luck swiftly onto my plate - I was particularly interested in Jose’s roast and bbq’d lamb recipes. I had grand ideas about bbqing a leg of lamb but, as expected the 12/24 marinating time proved too much for my little head to plan in advance and I trialled the slow roast (with only 2 hours marinating). After about four hours of roasting and constant loving care the meat was soft and juicy and easily pulled from the bone, it was also incredibly scrummy. I accompanied the lamb with a first attempt at tortilla. I have always known the recipe was incredibly simple but it’s the technique and, crucially, the leaving overnight that improves this dish. My first attempt was OK but the following week’s second attempt was much more of a success. I honestly think this is a dish well worth mastering as it’s so versatile and portable once cooked. I’m having visions of picnics, friends’ bbq’s and having it as a stand-by fridge snack or emergency lunch with a little salad. I promise I will work on it Mr Pizzaro.  José says in his book that Brindisa, Borough Market’s popular tapas bar, uses 15 kilos of potato’s a day making tortillas!

The following week I attempt chicken pepitoria in the entirely wrong season, according to the book. José says the dish is a popular Christmas or celebration dish and as this is a celebratory thank-you meal for a very good and talented friend I reasoned that it’s appropriate. It’s also really simple and very, very, richly tasty. I use joints of chicken as instructed and it reminds me of the huge pieces of chicken my Nonna would always dish up at family celebrations. A long languid lunch means the bones are picked clean by the end of the meal. The added bonus with this recipe is the gravy – it’s fantastic and we mop it up with piping hot flat breads fresh from the bbq.

Over both meals I trial a selection of salads: orange salad, green bean salad with anchovies and courgette salad. All are well balanced and make great substantial sides for hungry vegetarians.

I also attempt crème Catalan to the delight of the lunch guests. The recipe is a resounding success with the guest-of-honour more than happy to go back for seconds of the citrusy chilled custard and fig combination. Even if I don’t own a blow torch to create the perfect sugary crust.

José also goes through the details for Spanish classics such as paella and gazpacho. I have a go at the latter and although it’s reasonable it really is worth investing or begging/borrowing/stealing some well grown tomatoes because the insipid, pale, watery supermarket variety just don’t cut it. I once read in Greg Wallace’s veg cookbook that leaving the nasty supermarket variety in the sun for a bit improves them considerably – I am dubious but I guess it’s worth a try.

I guess one of the key lessons learned from José’s book is the importance of quality ingredients. Whether it be good cheeses, meats or vegetables – if you source the good stuff you’re half way there. Although those of us inner city dwellers have  great access to traditional Spanish ingredients from specialist retailers we perhaps have to try a little harder to find fresh seasonal ingredients that might be easier to source out in ‘the countryside.’

Overall the book is a great inspiration, and there are many more recipes I am longing to try in the near future. I am also reliably told that if I don’t fancy trying them out in my own kitchen the man himself is opening his first solo venture/s in Bermondsey, London mid-May. Initially there is a tapas and sherry bar called José followed by a restaurant call ‘Pizzaro’ and although José appears to be splitting himself in two I’m sure his punters will be chuffed to be able to sample the tasty morsels  from Mr Pizzaro’s kitchen.