A professional chef, and the man behind the successful Brindisa tapas kitchens, Jose Pizaro knows his stuff. As Spain continues to culinarily crush all before it, thanks to the El Bulli factor, Jose still has his heart set on the simple honesty of tapas type meals. A slice of Jamon with its melting fat dissolving in your mouth, a cosy croquette of ham, crispy sparkling fresh asparagus with a fried egg and jamon serrano on top. These are the things he loves to eat, things that rely not on advanced skills with a sous vide, but a respect for seasonality, a passion for fine ingredients and a simple pan set on a flame.
We know it’s Spring because our diary tells us so, even if it’s still winter outside. We can dream of the treats to come, those early peas and spinach, the baby lambs – so cute, so cuddly, so tasty – fresh cheeses and eggs from chickens cheered up by the first watery rays of sunshine. Jose’s Broad Bean and artichoke sautee makes the most of the beans plucked from their feather-bed nests, a Serrano ham and goat’s cheese salad signifies warmer days ahead. You can taste these dishes off the page and you know you have the skill to make them too.
Tapas of course derive from bits of bread originally placed over glasses in bars to keep the flies out. Today tapas bars have created a vast repertory of dishes still called tapas, even though many of them would break any glass they sat on. Pan-fried Pimenton chicken with olive oil mashed potato, for example. The chicken is infused with garlic and bay leaf, then spiked up with sherry and hot pimenton and served with the mash and fried garlic cloves. That’s got to be good hasn’t it – fried chicken, mash? Oh yes please.
Interspersed with the recipes are Jose’s thoughts on the ingredients plus personal stories from his past and particularly his family; the dishes his mother made and the memories they still evoke. His father’s job has always been to produce the abundance of vegetables the family enjoys as the seasons swing around and, interestingly, his father thinks parsley should not be eaten raw!
The recipes roll on, each page making you yearn to be in Spain under a hot sun with a glass of sherry and someone bringing you an endless supply of these dishes to sample. The fillet steak on toast would be good, or a bowl of Gordal olives as big as quail eggs and, when marinated to the recipe here, terribly addictive and one of the Brindisa restaurant group’s most popular dishes.
Packed with great food pictures and alive with anecdotes, ideas, memories and more, Jose’s book is just one of a great tidal wave of Spanish cook books now landing on our shores like a cheffy armada. Most are going to be aspirational and intricate; Jose’s is honest and delicious. If you can’t get to Brindisa restaurant, get to the bookshop instead.