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Great, easily accessible recipes. Buy It!
on November 22, 2005
`tapas, a taste of spain in america' by Washington restaurateur, jose andres with wordsmithing by richard wolffe, is a very creative look at tapas from a modern point of view by a disciple of the great Spanish chef Ferran Adria. While there are many excellent books on traditional tapas by Spanish food experts such as Penelope Casas, this book gives us a whole new look at this genre of cooking.
The first thing that appeals to me about the book is the organization of the chapters by principle ingredient. The highlighted ingredients are:
Olives and olive oil
Vegetables and More
Garlic and onions
Cheese and eggs
The first entry is obvious as there is no cuisine on earth, even the Italian cucina that is more infused with olive oil, as Spain is the producer of the largest share of the world's olive oil by a significant margin. Things the French may do with pork fat, such as confits, the Spanish do with olive oil.
Of course, I could not resist jumping to the chapter on potatoes to see Andres' take on the Spanish tortilla or, as Andres puts it, `Tortilla de patatas' which is actually much less confusing than its more familiar name. Virtually every treatment I have seen of `Tortilla do patatas' uses the same basic four ingredients, potatoes, eggs, onions, and olive oil, plus salt, and Andres' recipe is no exception. The procedure is just a bit more fussy than traditional recipes, with the quartered and thinly sliced Idaho potatoes being fried to almost the consistency of a chip before combining with the other ingredients. The sautéed onions are also given a special treatment in that they are strained to remove excess oil after cooking.
Otherwise, the recipe is pure tradition. That cannot be said of the next recipe, where the raw potatoes are replaced with commercially available potato chips. Instead of sauteeing the potatoes, the chips are `marinated' in the raw egg. The tortilla is then cooked de rigeur, but without onions.
There are a lot of little things about this book that endear it to me. In addition to the organization, I like the table of contents at the beginning of each chapter which gives the Spanish and English names of each dish plus the wine tip for the dish. This small consideration means, for example, that you can look down the list of mushroom dishes to find one which best matches a wine you may wish to serve.
Be clear that chef Andres goes far beyond the original meaning of tapas from Andalusia where it meant something to cover your glass of wine, generally sherry. This means that not all the dishes herein are `finger food' AND many, such as the lobster paella and the roasted beef tenderloin will serve well as a full course of a sit-down meal. On the other hand, almost all recipes are imbued with the tapas spirit in that they are relatively easy to prepare, although some, such as the `slow-roasted' beef tenderloin may take a fair amount of hands off cooking time. On the other hand, I did find some instructions that begged more details. One dish instructs us to add vinegar to an olive oil confit, with no instructions on how we are to get the oil and vinegar to work together. So, the price for the simple instructions is that you will do much better with these recipes if you already know your way around the kitchen.
In addition to the `Tortilla do patatas', I found several other takes on very familiar recipes such as the apple, cheese, and walnut salad which is customized by the use of Murcia al vino goat cheese instead of a blue cheese and the absence of a green such as Belgian endive.
Overall, we get about 120 relatively simple recipes at the standard price on a popular theme but all with enough of a twist to raise the eyebrows of the culinary cognizanti.