Georgina Campbell's Book Review - Cava Bodega Cookbook, TAPAS A TASTE OF SPAIN IN IRELAND, by Jp McMahon

Cava Bodega Cookbook, TAPAS: A TASTE OF SPAIN IN IRELAND, by Jp McMahon, with photography by Julia Dunin, paperback, 280pp, €25 Cava Bodega Cookbook, TAPAS: A TASTE OF SPAIN IN IRELAND, by Jp McMahon, with photography by Julia Dunin, paperback, 280pp, €25
(available from the three EatGalway restaurants - Cava Bodega, Aniar, EAT Gastropub) and online from; p+p €8-12.50, depending on destination)

Chef/restaurateur and academic Jp McMahon’s passion for all things Iberian is no secret and, of the terrific trio of Galway restaurants that he and his wife Drigin operate - the much-feted Aniar, Cava Bodega and EAT Gastropub - there’s always a feeling that his heart beats fastest for Cava. This book is certainly written from the heart and, like so many books with subtitles, therein lies its raison d’etre.

We have many wonderful restaurants in Ireland that are run by passionately committed owners, and a surprising number of them have felt the need - and found the time and energy - to add an extra dimension to their work by producing a book that encapsulates their philosophy and the organic hospitality entity that they have created. It is a lovely thing to do, and can often - as here - convey the warmth, love and dedication that drives people with the hospitality gene to create something unique for others to enjoy.

JP McMahonTAPAS really is a labour of love, so much so in fact that the easy tone (almost) makes it feel effortless. While it is far from being an oversized tome, it gives a pretty comprehensive introduction to Spanish food and wine in the uniquely Irish context provided by Cava Bodega and the local suppliers - like farmers Ronan Byrne (aka The Friendly Farmer) and Brendan Allen of Castlemine Farm, among others - that are so dear to JP’s heart.

But, while local food is an essential building block in the Cava Bodega story - and Jp dedicates a full page to Euro-Toques, explaining the importance of its environmentally aware local food promoting network to chefs, cooks and producers - he makes it clear in his Preface that the local food movement is only half the story: “If we are to truly embrace our heritage we need to move beyond the local moment of the present and dig deep into shared traditions…To care about food one needs to be local and global, simultaneously - to hold past, present and future in one hand, knowing that the earth is just one big place where we can grow food to feed us all.”

And it is the bringing together of authentic Spanish cooking and a combination of Irish and Spanish ingredients (Spanish when no local Irish equivalent exists - and always in season) that is the most inspiring aspect of this warmly appealing and educational book.

Jp McMahon & Drigin GaffneyWhatever your level of interest, you can dip into it for anything from a brief history of Spanish cooking to a definition of words that are used so casually these days, like Tapas and Pincho; and you’ll find everything from an introduction to Spanish wines to the contents of the Spanish kitchen cupboard - and, fascinatingly, a thinking chef’s insight into the many foods and techniques that currently absorb the food world, such as foraging, fermentation, pickling, curing, and the ‘nose to tail’ philosophy of respect for the animals we eat.

All fascinating stuff, and that’s before you even get to the 70 or so carefully considered recipes in the second half of the book. There should be plenty to tempt all comers here, and - although there are a few cheffy details like foams and hay smoking in some of the main dishes - they are all clearly explained and easy to follow.

A book to educate and entertain, and a book to use with pleasure - highly recommended to anyone with a genuine love of food.

LING baby fennel, beetroot puree, pistachio powder SAMPLE RECIPE: LING
baby fennel, beetroot puree, pistachio powder (serves 4)

“Ling is a great alternative to cod, which is, to say the least, overfished and overeaten in Ireland. I always call ling a ‘cousin of cod’. Perhaps it’s a closer relative, like a brother or a sister.”

1 side of ling (skin-on, cut into four 150g portions, lightly seasoned)
8 baby fennel (use large fennel cut into four if you can't find baby fennel)
100g butter
olive oil
sea salt

10 small beetroot, cooked
50ml apple juice
15ml sherry vinegar
sea salt

45g pistachios, shelled
5g sugar
1g sea salt

FOR THE BEETROOT PUREE: Bring the cooked beetroot, apple juice, and sherry vinegar to the boil. Season to taste (you may need more liquid or vinegar to achieve the correct texture) and blend in a food processor until extremely smooth.

FOR THE PISTACHIO POWDER: Dry roast the pistachios in a 180°C oven until hard and crunchy. Allow to cool. Blend in a food processor with the sugar and the salt. Spread the powder onto a baking tray and place in a 55ºC oven until a crumb texture is achieved.

TO COOK THE BABY FENNEL: Fry the fennel briefly in a warm pan with some oil. Season with sea salt and add half the butter. Lower the heat and continue to cook until the fennel is soft to touch.

TO COOK THE FISH: Fry the fish, skin side down in some olive oil in an extremely hot pan. Cook the fish mostly on the skin side. If the skin starts to burn lower the heat. When you’re happy with the texture of the skin, turn over the fish and add the butter. Baste the fish in golden nutty butter. Do not allow the butter to burn. When the fish is cooked, remove from the pan and place on some kitchen paper.

TO PLATE: Place the beetroot puree on the plate and give it a swish with the back of a spoon. Then place the fennel on top of the puree. Finally, rest the fish on top of the fennel and sprinkle some pistachio powder over the entire dish.

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