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I have to admit my purchase of this book had less to so with the presence of Mario Batali and Gwyneth Paltrow on the cover than the appetizing recipe for slow-roasted chicken on page 245. A quarter-pound of diced pancetta, a quarter-pound of diced pork sausage, two cups of chicken stock and one big chicken...six hours in a pot in a low-heat oven, and you have slow-roasted chicken. That's the kind of easy, rustic cooking that even I could execute. Even though Batali is known more for his Italian roots, he is quick to point out in the book's introduction that his passion lies in Spanish cuisine since he spent his formative years with his family traveling through the Iberian Peninsula. His focus with this pleasing combination travel and cookbook is on the time-honored classic dishes which rely on fresh ingredients more than fancy kitchen techniques. For an in-and-out cook like me, that is the primary draw of this book.

Beyond that, it is obviously a companion piece to PBS travelogue series, Spain... On The Road Again, currently running on PBS of which I have watched only a couple of episodes. While the program is predictably picturesque and oriented to the food they eat, it also meanders quite a bit in following an affable celebrity quartet traipsing all over the country in a semi-reality show format. Batali and Paltrow, already an odd pair, are joined by New York Times food writer Mark Bittman and Catalonian actress Claudia Bassols. Their chemistry wavers depending on how they are paired and what the setting is, for example, the sequence on the Santiago de Campostela pilgrimage seemed endless. There is no question that Batali dominates the show, and his tendency toward know-it-all remarks can prove rather grating. The benefit of the book is that his attitude does not seem as pronounced in print, and what you focus on are the interesting travel and food facts all four collect about Spain, as well as a nice photo album of their trip. Granted there are silly sidebars in which each shares personal opinions in true Playboy centerfold fashion about their favorite candy bars, driving music, ice cream flavors, and even what they want to find on their hotel room pillow at night. On the upside, interesting reflections are provided on the restaurants and famous sights they visit like the Alhambra in Granada and the Guggenheim in Bilbao (including a brief interview with its architect Frank Gehry).

The sum of these features certainly makes for a nice coffee table book just in time for the holidays, but the beauty of the book really lies in the surprisingly easy-to-follow recipes for the food featured on the show, and that's what will keep it from collecting dust on the bookshelf. The Gypsy Salad from Madrid (page 326) offers a very Spanish combination of bacalao (salt cod), eggs, potatoes and oranges. The Pan Con Tomate (page 168) sounds like an Iberian-style bruschetta, while Torrijas (page 28) looks like a savory French Toast. The Rabo de Toro from Córdoba (page 195) is like an oxtail stew only with bull's tails if you can find them (though oxtails apparently work fine as a substitute). There's even a dish that Paltrow made up called Gwyneth's Clams (page 82) which consists of steaming clams, garlic, dry white whine and olive oil in a pot. That's it. Even a dish as comprehensive as Valencian Paella (page 316) does not seem so intimidating since not all the ingredients are essential to make this a hit at a dinner party. By the way, I find it intriguing that neither Bittman nor Bassols are mentioned on the cover as co-authors like Paltrow, yet both contribute as much to the running commentary as their more famous companions.
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on April 3, 2009
Don't get me wrong, I loved the series - and the book is ok. I bought the book for only one recipe - the paella. The paella from the master paella guy. He made it for 4-6 people and only put in 100g of rice. Even Batalli was amazed at the scant amount of rice and he had to tell us in the series that the norm for pasta is usually 100g per person (he is always comparing everything to an Italian equivalent, which is annoying). Even so, he said it was the BEST paella he has ever had. Many years ago, I was an exchange student in Castellon and this is exactly the paella I used to eat. You eat it out of the paella pan (which in Spanish we just call the paella), which sits in the middle of the table. Even though you are feeding 4-6, the paella pan is enormous - you just want a 1/2 inch thick amount of food - the 100g of rice the master put in was absolutely right. So, I ordered the book out of nostalgia. To my disappointment, Batalli adjust the recipe and includes 2 cups of rice! The scant amount of rice is surely a good secret to know, that and a very big paella pan.
I like Mario, but you have to wonder because the guy has been coming to Spain for decades and wasn't familiar with pisto or the ensaimada in Mallorca... Shame on you Mario for not giving us the recipe from the series! That is what the book is supposed to be about!
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VINE VOICEon February 9, 2009
Mario Batali has several excellent cookbooks he was written. Spain has a delightful and unique cuisine. This book fails to combine the two. I think this book makes an ok coffee table book at best. Many beautiful pictures of pain, food ingredients, scenery, and photos of the author is what the book is mostly comprised of. This book is thin on recipes, and recipes are simple. One recipe for serving pineapple was chopped pineapple, zest of a lime, and 2 tablespoons of molassas. To me, that is a preparation, and not a real recipe.

So if you are looking for a coffee table book and you like Mario Batali, this may be a good choice for you. Beautiful pictures, and tid bits about Spain make this book interesting. If you are looking for definitive recipes of Spain, you need to look elsewhere, this book is extremely thin on recipes.
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on June 20, 2011
My husband and I loved this series and we love Spain. I don't know how many of the recipes in here that I'll actually attempt to make, but I love all the visuals and descriptions (particuarly for the Basque Region.)
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on October 11, 2014
Love this! Love the show which we bought on iTunes. We are in Spain now and going to a restaurant in Toledo tonight that they went to on the show. I've made the Pisto Manchego and it's easy and delicious
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on November 22, 2008
Spain on the Road Again, the tv show plus book, is a complete fantasy come true. I love it. It may help that I have been to about half the places in Spain that they describe, but it is beautifully done escapism. The recipes I've tried are great. The book is totally worth it, from one who almost never buys cookbooks.
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on July 24, 2013
If you liked the documentary and want to follow along with their travels, then this is the book for you. I'm a GP mega fan, so of course I love it. Only tried one recipe so far, but still would buy it again.
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on September 18, 2011
I am what the French call "auto didact" or a self taught cook, and a damn good one I might add. I have a love for food, but because I am not "classically trained" I have trouble with HUGE complex recipes, and I am also NOT a fan of overly complex and pretty food.

I am ALL about the classic rustic cuisine of France, Spain, and Italy in it's simplest rawest incarnations. This is a great book for those of you who can appreciate that, appreciate simplicity.

I have made the grilled sardines, the cosido, and today, the pollo casero. I am writing this because that pollo casero was AMAZING!

How simple can it get? Salt chicken, Place crushed garlic on chicken, refrigerate for an hour, brown on both sides, remove, add chopped onio until soft, add roasted peppers and chicken with a cup of wine cover and simmer for 1 hour.

That was it. No need to over complicate things.

I almost took a star away because one reviewer said Mario changed a recipe, but that was his experience, not mine so I left it alone
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on May 15, 2015
This book showed a lot of promise but ultimately failed for the most part, in that is neither a great travel narrative nor a great cookbook. I have watched the companion TV series, and even though it captures smart, intelligent people, visiting beautiful towns in Spain, and dining on wonderful food, it somehow lacks the spark that makes you want to stay involved.
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on September 2, 2011
If you enjoy travelling through Europe, you will enjoy this book and accompanying DVD. The DVD alone is an excellent travelogue, since many (most) Americans who travel in Europe do so for the food as a primary interest. I first watched the series when it debuted on PBS, and then got the book because the food simply looked spectacular, and the foursome was having a wonderful time throughout. You just want to eat this food when you watch and listen to them. I would recommend you get both, if you have not seen the television series. I have made several of the recipes, and they are easy to execute in a typical American kitchen. Enjoy!
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