Some weeks ago I received a request from Hippocrene Books to review their recently launched book La Buena Mesa, by Elizabeth Parrish. I eagerly accepted, only too flattered that someone thought I had something to say about Spanish cooking. And flattering is the best way to get people going, don’t you agree? Do you know what was my first impulse when I got the book on the mail? Checking the gazpacho recipe. Because I knew in a book on Spanish cooking there had to be one, of course. And for me, that is a rather accurate indicator of the soundness of a book on Spanish cooking. Well, when I read the recipe I could not help but smile; I found it flawless. No fancy ingredients and above all no horrible chilli additions, like I’ve seen too often outside Spain (the idea of a hot gazpacho gives me the creeps… We Spaniards are very particular about our gazpachos).
And… I started browsing through the recipes. I love cookbooks that read like a novel and this is one of them. The recipes are arranged by region and they are interspersed with brief accounts on essential ingredients or aspects of Spanish cooking; I found particularly sweet the story about cazuelas, the ubiquitous earthenware recipient for cooking all kinds of stews and other different dishes. All the recipes start with a brief introduction on some funny or intriguing related aspect. The author totally won me over when I saw her recipe for Galician sourdough rye bread! I say, that is one-daring-food-writer! If there’s one region in Spain that boasts delicious bread, that’s Galicia, so it’s worth having bread recipes in such a cookbook, a subject most Spain-published cookbooks overlook.
What else can I say? Mrs. Parrish is an American expat living in Tarragona, region of Catalonia, who has lived and cooked in Spain for more than 20 years already and her book shows the author’s love for the subject. I only wished the book was not that short. So if you intend to set out on a journey into Spanish cooking, La buena mesa is undoubtedly a very good place to start.
Therefore, to illustrate how far you can get with this book, I thought I’d cook one of its recipes. I had been wanting to write a post about gambas al ajillo or garlic shrimp for ages, so I rose to the occasion. Garlic shrimp is a very simple tapa made by stir-frying shelled shrimp in olive oil and garlic. Elizabeth calls for a dash of dry sherry too, which I had never tried before, so I was intrigued by this boozy addition.
Gambas al ajillo
Yields 4 servings
- 1 pound (500g) shelled shrimp
- 4 cloves garlic
- 4 tbsp virgin olive oil
- 2 tbsp dry sherry
- 2 sprigs parsley
- Thaw the shrimp if frozen. Peel them if they’re not peeled.
- Peel and finely dice the garlic cloves.
- Pour the oil in a saucepan (much better in an earthenware cazuela) and add the garlic. Stir-fry just till it starts to brown at the edges, then add the drained shrimp.
- Add the sherry, cover with a lid and cook a few minutes, stirring occasionally, till the shrimp are pink and cooked through.
- Sprinkle with parsley and serve in small earthenware dishes.
This has been truly one of my favourite tapas ever since I was a child. The flavors meld perfectly, with the garlic not overpowering the delicate flavor of the shrimp. For those fearful of the fierceness of garlic, the flavor is largely tamed when fried. As it happens with a lot of Spanish dishes, this will be as good as your shrimp; premium quality ingredients make for a premium quality dish.
Full disclaimer: I have not been paid for this review, at least I haven’t received any payment other than the book itself. Well, I truly liked it.