wc-Book-Cover

Writing about a masterpiece cookbook — and 1000 Spanish Recipes is surely that — is just a joyful experience. To discover such a book and share it with our readers here is simply fun.

Today, though, there is a patina of sadness in this review, for the author Penelope Casas passed away even before this book was published. She was an exceptional and remarkable woman, and her obituary in The New York Times gives ample proof of her importance:

Suzen and I have all her books, we have blogged about them, cooked from them endlessly and we often thought of taking one of her famous food tours in Spain — which regrettably we never did. When you read her books and the headnotes that tell you how and where she found each shining recipe, you begin to think that there isn’t a road or pathway, a market or a restaurant that she failed to visit.

I often wondered just where she came from in Spain: Madrid, Barcelona, perhaps a mountain village where she first learned some regional nuances. The truth is, of course, so much richer. She was a nice Greek girl born in Queens, majored in Spanish culture in school, and fifty years ago went to live as an exchange student in Spain. The man from that exchange family, the man who picked her up at the airport, that man married her. At age twenty, you could already recognize her intelligence, beauty and potential.

Penelope is perhaps best remember for Tapas, a groundbreaking work. But this work, 1000 Spanish Recipes, is surely her grand testament and legacy to the cuisine she loved, promoted and wrote so brilliantly about.

With a 1000 recipes, each of the chapters is rich with dozens of way to enjoy each veggie and meat and fish that might be populating your refrigerator. This is NOT a book to put on the shelf. This is book to have right on your countertop where you can swiftly answer the questions of the day: “What do I do with a pork loin, how could I make green beans really different, I have some shrimp so now what?” There are a thousand recipes here, and so a thousand answers.

Of course, in a portfolio of a thousand ideas, there have to some that you’ll find and consider the diamonds and rubies of the book. When I went through the book, chapter by chapter, page by page, I was struck by these ideas that typify Penelope’s boundless passion for the authentic and the exceptional:

Cabrales Blue Cheese Toast with Liqueur, Honey and Almonds where grappa and almonds are blissfully married

Cucumber Gazpacho, one of a dozen gazpacho ideas to keep your blender busy

Honey-Coated Fried Tuna for a fish experience of certain difference

Pork and Pomegranate Paella, one of dozens of paella ideas that proves paella does not have to be clams and shrimp

Sweet and Sour Chicken Paella with Caramelized Walnuts, see, what did I say: no clams or shrimp

Pork Loin Stuffed with Spinach, Prunes and Pine Nuts, a dish to elevate the “other white meat”

Rabbit with Blackberries and Brown Sugar displaying the Spanish fondness for the wild game thriving in the valleys between the ranges and ranges of Spanish mountains

Veal and Chorizo Empanadas, proving that empanada ideas are boundless

Potato and Banana Omelet from the Canary Islands, demonstrating that pancakes are not the only banana breakfast idea

Peach Yogurt Torte for an Arab-influenced dessert complete with cinnamon

Page after page, the ideas here cannot help but seduce you. You can imagine how some might taste, but others are a bit of a mystery: that rabbit with blackberries or the honey-coated fried tuna. There is no option here but to pin the book open, make a shopping list, and return home with a combination of ingredients that you would never have conceived of. But Penelope did. And you can enjoy all the benefits of her research and craftsmanship, you can enjoy them for years to come.

When you do cook from 1000 Spanish Recipes, perhaps you might raise a glass of cava in praise and remembrance. The rewards of her scholarship are endless. Cook from her recipes, and your gratitude will be endless as well.