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La Buena Mesa: a cookbook review and garlic shrimp

>> Thursday, July 21, 2011

Gambas ajillo 1

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 ajillo 2

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
  1. Thaw the shrimp if frozen. Peel them if they're not peeled.
  2. Peel and finely dice the garlic cloves. 
  3. 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. 
  4. Add the sherry, cover with a lid and cook a few minutes, stirring occasionally, till the shrimp are pink and cooked through.
  5. 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.

Cartel gambas

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.

13 comentarios:

Jennifurla July 21, 2011 at 8:13 PM  

perfectly lovely

Trix July 21, 2011 at 11:49 PM  

This sounds like an amazing cookbook. Interesting what you say about gazpacho. ... I am probably guilty of adding chillis in my time!! Sorry. Next time I do something like that I will make sure to NOT call call it gazpacho. : ) This shrimp recipe looks great, and I am with you on the boozy addition!!

Junglefrog July 22, 2011 at 12:13 AM  

Sounds like a great cookbook and I definitely like the look of those shrimps... As for gazpacho... it wasn't until I made a terribly wrong (but tasty) version of this dish that I realized that it's supposed to be all different. I still have to try a real and authentic gazpacho recipe but I will soon!

tasteofbeirut July 23, 2011 at 11:08 PM  

I liked your comment about gazpacho; that's how I feel about kibbeh or tabbouleh. One time, a chef friend was going to visit Lebanon and prior to his visit, he bought a lebanese cookbook and made kibbeh for us. This was more like meatballs than kibbeh and the recipe he got it from was nothing like the real thing! Anyway, love this shrimp dish, nothing beats garlic with shrimp!

Luv'n Spoonfuls July 25, 2011 at 4:30 AM  

A true classic! Love the photos as well. You are blessed to have a history in such a wonderful cuisine.

Magic of Spice July 26, 2011 at 3:06 AM  

Sounds like a wonderful book, I also love books that have a story to tell. And this dish looks fantastic, lovely flavors :)

Nuts about food July 27, 2011 at 10:12 AM  

I love this dish and eat it whenever I am in Spain...I will actually be eating it in a few weeks. I can't wait! I wrote a while back about being a purist when it comes to food and traditional recipes. I think all of us who love cooking like to experiment and play around with ingredients, interpreting classics with our own spin or preferences. But when it comes to our traditional cuisine we are extremely strict about what is right and wrong. I notice that personally about Italian cuisine and even American recipes. I shudder at some of the risottos published online or brownie recipes. I like things to be just so, no strange spins. Then again I have to admit that sometimes foreigners, who are not so constrained by tradition, come up with very original, great ideas for traditional dishes. I also often liberally interpret foreign dishes like curries or Thai food. So, what is the right way? Where do you draw the line? It is so much easier to be liberal and a none purist when you are making something exotic rather than your grandmother's pie recipe handed down for generations...

SweetSavoryPlanet July 28, 2011 at 5:53 AM  

Garlic and shrimp is the perfect simple food. I have never added sherry but definitely will next time. I will have to find an authentic Spanish Gazpacho recipe because now I am intrigued!

lisa is cooking July 28, 2011 at 9:59 PM  

I didn't know Galicia is known for its bread. So interesting! I'd love to visit and taste it. And, your shrimp looks fantastic. I almost smell the garlic sizzling.

Sarah July 31, 2011 at 4:12 PM  

Yum, sounds good. I haven't made gazpacho in a long time. I think I am ready for a new cookbook.

Aldy @ Al Dente Gourmet August 7, 2011 at 11:51 AM  

Oooh...I absolutely love garlic and this is making my mouth water :)



Tina August 9, 2011 at 3:14 AM  

Tried this dish tonight, very delicious! Everyone loved it! de rechupete!

Spicie Foodie August 9, 2011 at 5:53 PM  

Hola Miriam, It sounds like a great cookbook to have. The gambas look perfect! They are one of my favorite dishes.


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