Spanish food

The Foods & Wines of Spain, Penelope Casas

Sorry ladies and gents, I have not been writing in the traditional sense today. Instead I have been working on a menu and cooking plan for a supper club dinner tomorrow at my house. Ten people will come eat the Spanish food I prepare. I haven’t done a big meal like this in some time, but I’m excited. I love cooking, I love food service, and I am drooling at the prospect of a meal that offers folks a sampling of the flavors of Spain.Last night Angie and I were in Seattle, and we had dinner at the tapas bar Ocho in Ballard. It was wonderful, and it got my creative juices flowing, as well as my mouth juices. For me, the taste of Spain is smoky paprika and grassy olive oil—red and gold, the national colors.

Yes, yes, Spain is vast and diverse with its regional cuisines, but I have distilled this into a small “best-of” menu for a group of guests that is not overly familiar with this food. Paella might be their only previous connection, and I’m guessing bad paella at that, tourist paella. If they’ve had it at all.

I’ve been to Spain three times. Well, once for only a week and some change; the other two times were for 3-5 weeks each. I’m dying to go back. But each time I think the food may have been the highlight of the trip. I had a college summer job back at my old high school, helping my history/Model United Nations teacher (yep, I was one of those) with a group of exchange students from Spain. I had previously hosted exchange students two separate summers in high school. I remember as their assistant teacher the kids arriving in southern Orange County, California—land of strip malls, big malls, box malls, fast food, and beaches—and immediately complaining about the food here. Even though I was no cook at that time, and didn’t know much about international cuisine (much less that of Spain), I was offended by their whining. They seriously missed their food. Why? I told them there was plenty of stuff here to eat, that this was a teenager’s heaven: hamburgers and pizza on every corner!

The following fall I took a semester off from Berkeley and did the whole backpacking-and-Eurrailing around Europe thing. For three whole months. A third of that time I spent in Spain, in the homes of my former students. Suddenly I could see why they complained: not out of prissiness, but out of the embarrassment of riches that is the food of Spain. On my second trip, I tried everything I could get my hands on. On my third, after graduation, I tried to get a job as a cook in Seville. This was right after 9/11 though, and the world economy was tanking, people were afraid of hiring foreigners without papers, it was after the tourist season, most restaurants were family-owned and run anyway, and—I later discovered—my education was only just beginning. Studying up on the vocab of the kitchen was only the first step. I went home, penniless and dejected but with a new wealth of understanding and a new world food to try cooking.

I bought Penelope Casas’ The Food & Wines of Spain, I bought her book on tapas. I later worked for Ten Speed Press, where I got a copy of the César cookbook and Barrenechea’s The Cuisines of Spain. My friend Noelle got me another tapas cookbook for the holidays one year. When I was in college, I lived in student co-ops of about fifty people. We all had workshifts that helped keep the houses running and clean, and which also helped reduce our rent. My workshift was cooking, Eventually I would also be elected my house’s kitchen manager, a compensated position that taught me about running an industrial kitchen, developing menus, training cooks, kitchen sanitation, ordering from vendors (on time) and making substitutions, and learning what a bunch of hungry hippies would or wouldn’t eat, and would would or wouldn’t serve well.

On several occasions I was able to whip out big, elaborate Spanish feasts. Housemates who had some connection to Spain, however real or tenuous, loved it, and would invite their Spanish friends over. I did well, judging by the Spaniards’ reactions. And a few recipes I cooked often enough to virtually memorize to the point of not using exact measurements when shopping or exact times when baking. It’s done when it’s done, and I know when that is.

Anyway, it’s been a part of my life and a joy for a long time now, and I am happy to share the menu and recipes that I jotted down for tomorrow’s dinner (which will actually be served at Spanish lunchtime, at 4 pm). If you want to recreate these foods, I suggest looking the recipes up online or asking me questions; I am not a cookbook author or editor (though I’ve worked with both!), and cannot account for the same recipes working in your kitchen. I may have even used some shorthand here and there, so don’t hesitate to ask if you need to. I certainly have cut corners, abbreviating recipes and using shortcuts in the interest of time and sanity (forgive me, Penelope Casas!). S&P is salt and pepper, which i left off the ingredients lists as obvious. EVO is extra-virgin olive oil. I wrote this just for myself, and for my helpers tomorrow, but I am pleased to share it with you.

Patatas bravas
Tortilla española
Paella de carne
Gambas al ajillo
Jamon Serrano y manchego
Croquetas de Lhardy


  1. Boil potato wedges partially, adding to water before turning heat on and then draining when they boil. Toss potato wedges in olive oil, paprika & salt, and bake at 375 for about 45 min until crispy.
  2. SERVE with alioli sauce.

3-4 lbs red creamer potatoes or small Yukon Gold
Spanish paprika
roasted garlic (or minced fresh)


  1. Partially boil the potatoes, adding them to water before turning heat on, then draining when it boils.
  2. Saute onions in cast iron skillet until they start to caramelize. Add potatoes, cook. Remove. Reserve oil.
  3. Preheat oven to 350. Scrape skillet of debris, add back oil, and bring to medium-low heat.
  4. Dump onions and potatoes into bowl of beaten eggs, mix gently to coat, then pour into heated skillet.
  5. Don’t stir. Place in oven to finish, about 10-15 min. Finish under broiler if needed last minute.
  6. Can REFRIGERATE and serve at room temperature.

1 C. olive oil
4 large potatoes, peeled & cut in 1/8 inch slices
1 lg onion, thinly sliced
coarse salt
8 lg eggs, beaten


  1. Blend roasted garlic with chicken stock + 2-4 saffron strands.
  2. Preheat oven to 500.
  3. Simmer chicken stock in saucepan with saffron threads and 1 tsp paprika.
  4. In paella pan, heat oil and add chicken, beef and chorizo pieces to brown.
  5. Add rice, stirring to coat with oil.
  6. Pour hot stock over pan, increase heat to high, bring to boil.
  7. Add roasted garlic mixture, stir to incorporate, then let boil for 5 min without stirring.
  8. Decrease heat to medium, cook 5 min longer, move pan around so burner can reach all sides. Don’t stir.
  9. Finish in oven for 5-7 minutes, until liquid is absorbed and rice is tender.
  10. Remove, cover with lid or towel, and rest 5-7 min before serving. SERVE with lemon wedges.

2-4 cloves roasted garlic
3.5 C chicken stock
1/5 tsp paprika
pinch of saffron
½ C evo
½ C piquillo or pimento strips (or, blanched red + green bell pepper strips soaked in vinegar & salt)
¼ lb beef tenderloin tip, cut into small pieces
¼ boneless, skinless chicken breast, cut into small pieces
1 chorizo (3 oz) cut into ½-inch dice
1 ½ C Spanish or Arborio rice
1-2 lemons, cut into wedges


  1. Drain chili flakes and pat dry.
  2. Toss cleaned shrimp in olive oil with S&P, garlic, and chili flakes. (CAN REFRIGERATE)
  3. When you are ready to serve the entire meal: heat oil in cast iron skillet.
  4. Add shrimp mixture and punch of paprika and cook, stirring frequently.
  6. SERVE while hot.

1.5 lbs raw jumbo shrimp, peeled & deveined, tail-on

1 TBP chili flakes, soaked in water
3-4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
crusty grilled bread to serve


  1. Boil chicken until cooked. When cool to touch, mince.
  2. Make roux with oil & butter, adding flour and cooking for a few minutes.
  3. Add milk and chicken broth gradually, with S&P and nutmeg, until smooth and thick.
  4. Add chicken and minced ham and stir about 10 min more, until sauce stats to boil.
  5. Check seasoning, then cool overnight.
  6. NEXT DAY: with floured hands, make 1-inch balls.
  7. Dip croquettes in beaten egg and coat with bread crumbs. (CAN REFRIGERATE)
  8. Fry quickly in hot oil (about 390) at least ½ inch deep. Keep warm in oven at 200.

1 whole chicken breast, split in half
Butter & evo
¾ C flour
1 ½ C milk
freshly grated nutmeg
½ C finely minced cured ham
2 eggs, lightly beaten w/ 2 tsp water
bread crumbs
oil for frying


  1. Toss tomatoes with olive oil, S&P and roast 30-40 min at 375 (or use fire-roasted canned tomatoes)
  2. Combine water & vinegar  in medium bowl, add bread & soak a few minutes.
  3. In blender, add roasted tomatoes, soaked bread & liquid, piquillos, cucumber, garlic, salt.
  4. Slowly drizzle in olive oil.
  5. When finished, pour into serving bowl and add finely diced cucumbers, piquillos, and chill.
  6. Refrigerate and SERVE with shaved red onion, parsley, croutons & drizzle of olive oil.

10-12 tomatoes cut in wedges (fire-roasted Muir Glen diced tomatoes OK)
½ C extra virgin olive oil
2 TBP sherry vinegar
1 C day-old bread, cubed
½ C piquillo peppers coarsely chopped
¾ C piquillos finely diced
¾ C peeled, seeded, coarsely chopped English cucumber
¾ C finely diced English cuke
sm red onion, finely diced
finely chopped Italian parsley
fried croutons
lemon wedges

FRIDAY (2 hrs)

  • Make alioli (mix mayo with lightly sauteed minced garlic + refrigerate overnight) 5 min
  • Cut potato wedges for bravas (store in airtight container) 10 min
  • Make tortilla (cover and refrigerate) 30 min
  • Roast garlic if necessary (store in jar) can be done while working on other things
  • Make garlic-saffron-broth mixture (store in jar or plastic container) 5 min
  • Prep meat for paella (chop + store) 20 min
  • Soak chili flakes, then dry and toss with garlic + shrimp (store) 30 min/5 min
  • Make croqueta batter (refrigerate in bowl or heavy-duty bag) 20 min
  • Make gazpacho (store in bowl or heavy-duty bag) 15 min


10 AM – 2 PM

  • Prep croquetas and refrigerate until ready to fry
  • Slice manchego and arrange with jamon Serrano on serving tray

3:00 PM

  • Roast potatoes for bravas

3:30 PM

  • Make paella

3:45 PM

  • Remove potatoes from oven
  • Preheat oven to 500

3:50 PM

  • Heat oil for frying, checking temp occasionally
  • Prepare oven-safe warming dish for croquetas

4:00 PM

  • Transfer paella to oven, set timer
  • Fry croquetas in 2-3 batches
  • Serve gazpacho, jamon & manchego, and tortilla

4:07 PM

  • Clear counter space somewhere for paella
  • Remove paella from oven, let rest
  • Reduce oven temp to 200
  • Place croquetas in oven to keep warm
  • Saute gambas

4:15 PM

  • Serve paella, gambas, croquetas
  • Eat food. Drink Rioja. Enjoy company.