on October 3, 2001
Penelope Casas can be considered the guru of Spanish cooking, as she is a true expert on this nation's cuisine. I have lived in Spain and have traveled extensively throughout the country and I know the land and cuisine intimately. The Foods and Wines of Spain is a true classic and no one wishing to prepare authentic Spanish dishes will want to be without it. Casas has written much more than a book of recipes--she gives a lot of cultural information behind the recipes that is not only informative but highly interesting. You quickly discover how incredibly diverse Spanish food is, and how numerous cultures have contributed to Spanish cuisine. You soon discover that it is hard to define "Spanish" food, as it varies from region to region. There is a significant Arab influence found in dishes from Andalucía in the south, while the dishes of the north are compeletely different. Meanwhile, rice (introduced by the Arabs) dishes predominate in the the eastern part of the country. I have made many of the recipes in this book, all with excellent results--this is the real deal if you want to recreate the dishes you relished in Spain. I highly recommend the paellas, the tortilla española, the garlic soup, and the tuna turnovers (empanadillas). These and many other recipes make this a cookbook that you will return to again and again. I highly recommend this book to all fans of authentic Spanish cuisine as well as those interested in discovering this diverse cuisine. Most of the recipes are made with common, easy to find ingredients, are easy to make, and are well liked by a large number of people--my family and friends (most of whom are not Spanish) always look forward to my Spanish lunches and dinners with great enthusiasm! Finally, my Spanish friends think they're back in Spain whenever I make them recipes from Casas' incredible book. If you love Spanish cooking or you are interested in Spanish cooking, do not hesitate to purchase the Foods and Wines of Spain--a finer Spanish cookbook has not been written.
on May 18, 2000
In 1982 Penelope Casas published the finest book of Spanish cookery ever. It is now in its 11th printing. Although she has written other books on the cuisines of Spain, "The Foods and Wines of Spain" has biblical standing among cooks. For her culinary expertise she has been honored by the government of Spain, but more importantly, she had built a following of gastronomes of all stripes who swear by her recipes. Their authenticity is never in question: she is an indefatigable researcher who goes back to the kitchen and discusses things with the local artists and then includes those recipes and techniques in her book. If a few of the dishes don't taste exactly as they did in Spain it is because not all the ingredients are available here. Still, Ms. Casas gives advice about reasonable substitutes, and now that serrano ham and some chorizos are allowed to be imported, such substitutions can be kept to a minimum.
The book contains not one but two recipes for garlic soup, simple to make by even beginning cooks, and highly addictive. The "arroz a banda" described is one of the more subtle and satisfying of the rice dishes; and of course there is the paella (about which Ms. Casas has written a separate book). In this volume its recipe appears a bit intimidating, but it is essentially easy to prepare if one does not think too much about it beforehand.
For those cooks who need exact formulas and pharmacy-like precision in their ingredients, this book will please them. For those who are relativists with active imaginations, the book will also satisfy by pointing them in the right direction: pork chops with prunes, duck with olives in sherry sauce, baked porgy and peppers with brandy, chicken with figs. Yum.
on October 27, 1998
Out of the many Spanish cookbooks that I own, Foods and Wines of Spain is by far the most authentic and informative. I lived in Spain for several years, and I know the country and its cusine very well. In Penelope Casa's book you will find authentic recipes from all of Spain's diverse regions. If you want to be transported instantly to real Spanish food, this is book to own. The recipes are easy to follow and generally require common, everyday ingredients found in most kitchens. I have made many of the recipes, all with great success, and as a result, I have converted many of my friends and family to the exciting world of Spanish cooking. More than just a cook book, the author writes of the culinary history of Spain, making this a truly interesting book.
on December 22, 2000
The great virtue of this book is its down-to-earth simplicity; you probably have the ingredients in your fridge and cupboards right now to make 60-70% of the recipes. What a relief, after putting up with the needs of many of today's slick cookbooks, e.g., flipping through a recent "simple" cookbook of a star chef in NYC, I discover I need 3 vanilla beans, fresh chervil, and grapeseed oil. Huh? Who the heck has the time to track this stuff down, let alone use it again in the next 3 years?
Ms. Casas has obviously been very careful to anticipate such problems; everything seems to have been tried over and over with the average US kitchen in mind. And amazingly, the dishes still turn out exotic and "Spanish." I have no ability to vouch for authenticity, but who cares; the bottom line is that these recipes work and are absolutely delicious.
I also appreciate the suggested accompanying vegetables and wine. Two favorite main courses: Rice and Chicken, Chicken with Pine Nuts.
In addition to the above virtues, Ms. Casas gives a straight-forward history for each of the recipes, giving context and conveying a keen intelligence and quiet passion that leave the reader wanting to try every single one of these dishes. The research is complete and stunning. There is no hype or filler. This book is a keeper.
on December 22, 2004
This book is at the same time my favorite Spanish cookbook and the most frustrating. The recipes are terrific. I also have Casas' Delicioso! (which I highly recommend as well), but I prefer this book because it is better organized, with more of the standard Spanish recipes I crave (seafood with green sauce, scallops with sherry sauce, etc.-- fantastic). But with her later books such as Delicioso, Casas (or her editor) has learned to provide clearer, more accurate cooking instructions. In The Foods and Wines of Spain, the instructions are much more vague. How high should the heat be on the stove? How long should you sautee the onions? What does it mean exactly to "dust" something with flour? These things are often not spelled out. I am a pretty experienced cook but I would definitely benefit from some better instructions in some of the recipes. I can see how this book would be confusing for the novice cook or someone fairly new to Spanish cuisine-- if you are in this category you might want to start out with Delicioso!.
`The Foods and Wines of Spain' by culinary journalist Penelope Casas was the only comprehensive coverage of Spanish cuisine when it was published at the urging of Craig Claiborne in 1979 and it is probably still the only book in English which aims at covering the entire range of Spanish cuisine. As such, it stands among some of the other notable American books on national cuisines such as Diane Kochilas `The Glorious Foods of Greece', Jean Anderson's smaller book on `The Food of Portugal', Marcella Hazan's `Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking' and the granddaddy of them all, Julia Child's `Mastering the Art of French Cooking'. Casas shares in this tradition by being published by Child's publisher, Knopf, and having the same distinguished cookbook editor, Judith Jones. Since I have never seen an unattractive book published by Alfred E. Knopf, I am certain this book benefits from this association.
Casas organizes her book by types of dishes, using the usual hodgepodge of type meaning when served and type meaning principle ingredient. The fourteen chapters on ingredients / servings are:
`Tapas', slightly misleading, as classic tapas dishes such as the famous `tortilla Espanola' appears under egg dishes. If your primary interest is in Tapas, get Casas recent book devoted entirely to this subject.
`Embutidos, Pasteles Y Empanadas', or sausages pates, and pies is one of the most convincing arguments that this book covers the whole range of Spanish cooking, as it includes doable recipes for making many classic Spanish Charcuterie such as chorizo. It also contains several very nice empanada recipes that show off one of many differences between Spanish and Mexican cooking. In Mexico, judging by a recipe by Rick Bayless, `empanadas' are just a bit larger than raviolis. In Spain, `empanadas' are much more like calzones.
`Ensaladas' Salads, including a claim that it was the Spanish and not the French who invented Mayonnaise.
`Verduras Y Legumbres' Vegetables, showing the importance of potatoes in Spanish cooking. This is historically obvious, as the Spanish brought potatoes along with all the other New World produce back to Europe.
`Sopas Y Potajes' Soups and Meals in a Pot, very similar to the northern Italian love of ministre.
`Huevos Y Tortillas' Eggs and Egg dishes. Evidence that there are many great Spanish frittatas.
`Arroces' Rice dishes, including several types of Paella. `Please use Spanish Rice'
`Mariscos' Shellfish, with as much love of mussels as the French, it seems.
`Pescados' Fish, including several bacalo (dried, salted cod) recipes and fish steaks.
`Aves Y Caza', Poultry and Game, with the usual European love of rabbit, partridge, and other wild things.
`Carnes' Almost a copy of the Italian cuisine with pork, lamb, and veal. Maybe a bit more lamb than Italia.
`Panes, Bollos Y Masas', Breads and Pastries. While I am sure this is not a complete survey of Spanish bread baking, I am just a little surprised that there is no mention of baking with wild yeasts so popular in French and Italian baking. On the other hand, there is the distinction, as in France, between bakeries that specialize in bread and shops that specialize in pastries. While almonds run through all of Spanish cuisine, it is in baking where it comes together with egg whites and puff pastry to form an especially strong affinity with Austrian baking traditions. I am not sure whether this is because these two countries shared interaction with Moorish culture or whether the countries shared the same royal house, the Hapsburgs, for many generations, or a combination of both, but it is little discoveries like this which make culinary anthropology really fascinating.
`Postres' Desserts, sharing the Italian interest in sweetened fruits above most other dishes, plus marzipan and many other almond preparations.
`Bebidas' Sangria, almonds, coffee, citrus, and almonds.
Almost all main course protein dishes include a suggestion pairing the dish with an appropriate Spanish wine. This includes the egg dishes, but not other tapas dishes. The last chapter deals in great depth with the wines of Spain, including the famous Andalusian sherries. Two of the more interesting facts here is the statement that the Italian Marsala is really a form of sherry and that a bottle of sherry may contain wine from grapes harvested over many years. So much for the James Bond quote about giving the vintage of the `underlying wine fortified to create the sherry'. Not only does this chapter give lots of details about regional wine centers; it gives extensive tables of high quality vintage wine and sherry labels and the author's opinion on their quality. Since this book was published in 1979 and not revised since 1982, there may be some question on whether this information on wineries is still valuable. I will venture a guess that it is probably as good as anything else you may find, since the lists are long and most vintners endure, especially since the fortunes of Spanish businesses have improved greatly since the restoration of the Spanish republic after the death of Franco.
Like the recipes in Casas later book on Tapas, I find all the recipes in this volume to be very good, almost as extensive as my favorites from Julia Child and Marcella Hazan. This is a real foodie book, as the discussion of regionality and authenticity of the recipes is a great pleasure to read, even if you never make any of the recipes. It is also great background for understanding the cuisine of Ferran Adria, the great modern Spanish chef working just outside Barcelona. This book also humbled my conceit at criticizing Daniel Boulud's recipe for baby eels. While they may be hard to come by, apparently the Spanish really love them.
Even if you are not a foodie, this is a great source of recipes for eggs, rice, sweet peppers, almonds, lamb, and fish. It is also a great resource if you are not familiar with Spanish wines.
on October 23, 2006
This book is one of my favorites books in the world. The recipes range from simple to slightly complicated, but there isn't one of these recipes that cannot be duplicated in your kitchen -- and to absolutely deligthful results! The instructions are clear, the chapters are well balanced and the index is thorough. The food is exquisite. But then so are the stories accompanying each chapter and each recipe.
This book is an excellent travel book, filled with all the wonders of Spain. There have been times, when looking for a recipe to cook for a special ocassion, I have taken it off the shelf and found myself completely engrossed, hours later, reading the stories. Even the writing engages all your senses.
Penepole Casas also does something I especially appreciated. She gives you a glossary and a list of substitutions. She goes further and lists mail order suppliers of hard to find ingredients.
In culinary terms this book is truly a gem. It also serves as an indispendable resource to the history and culture of Spain for those who hope to one day stroll through its lands.