José Pizarro's Spanish Flavours
By José Pizarro
Kyle Books, £19.99
Ignoring the financial crisis for a moment, the enviable position that Spaniards find themselves in is that they can pluck awesome ingredients out of their back yards and effortlessly put together straightforward yet delicious food. Simple food using superb ingredients really twangs a chord deep within us and José Pizarro, who runs the successful tapas and sherry bar José and restaurant Pizarro in Bermondsey Street, London, plucks this chord and sets it jangling.
For the first seven pages or so he doesn't write a word, there are just photos: a cup of coffee, some beans, some cheese, vegetables, a sweaty fisherman and an old boy drinking wine. Sounds fairly wrong when written in a list like this, yet the pictures absolutely epitomise the light grace of Spanish cuisine. The images are vivid, raw and earthy. You immediately feel pleased, hungry, inspired and yearning for the simple rural life.
Then there are the recipes. Having lived in Spain myself for a few years and travelled extensively throughout, I feel I know what's going to be on the menu. However, Pizarro has managed a little magic trick. On the face of it he's kept to the script and covered exactly how the Spanish cook. He keeps the intrinsic feel of Spanish food, while at the same time polishing and honing it.
There's a little touch here, a light tweak there and, like a sensitive craftsman, he's managed to put a brilliant shine on Spanish food which can often be too oily, too drab, too slapdash. You feel as if you are in the hands of a professional and this is apparent from the way that he knows when to hold back rather than try to show off his ‘cheffy' skills by adding too many elements.
Among the many dishes that inspire me are: pan-fried hake with cockles, asparagus, peas and mint; pan-fried sea trout with sautéed summer vegetables; and chickpea soup with seared prawns, chorizo and pimenton oil.
Ten years ago you may have been able to level the criticism that we couldn't access the kind of good quality ingredients to do justice to such a simple style of cooking. Now, with the UK having gone through a renaissance of artisan creativity, we can buy phenomenal produce all over the country. This means we can properly take advantage of this style of cooking and there has never been a more fertile time for Pizarro to publish his book.
By James Nathan, 2008 MasterChef winner and private chef
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