Dining with Duvall

Don't be misled by the title of the first cookbook by José Andrés first cookbook. José, who was recently named "Chef of the Year" by Bon Appetit, explains in the preface of "Tapas" that almost all his recipes for "little plates" or tapas, can be used for breakfast, supper meals, dessert or dinner entrees.

When my pre-publication copy of "Tapas" arrived, I jumped for joy. As readers will recall, I heaped high praise on Mark Bittman's PBS television series, "How to Cook Everything Bittman Takes on America's Chefs." For me, his appearance on the Bittman show was the highlight of the first season.

José is the chef-owner of seven restaurants, all located in the Washington, D.C. area. One can only hope that a Vegas hotel will soon tap his talents, bringing us closer to tasting Jose's unique version of Spain's culinary treasures.

For "Tapas," José teamed with co-writer Richard Wolfe, a senior White House correspondent for Newsweek. Wolfe is a fan of cuisine and has done a first-rate job of letting the chef's voice be heard clearly throughout the book. The tantalizing food in Francesc Guillamet's superb color photos jumps right off the page, almost into your mouth.

Each of "Tapas" 16 chapters open with an essay on the chapter subject. Over a hundred recipes are introduced, accompanied by tips, and a photo. Wine aficionados will cheer to see a Spanish wine pairing for every recipe. Wine suggestions include the name of the grape variety, a great help if a substitution is required.

Let me tease your taste buds with the titles of some of the tapas recipes: Basque-style Stuffed Maryland Blue Crab, Chorizo Stewed in Hard Cider, American Red Snapper Baked in Salt, Lobster Paella. José claims that his Spanish cooking has not become less traditional or authentic in America.

"On the contrary," he writes, "it becomes richer by adapting its spirit to the flesh of the local ingredients." José asserts that he has taken the best traditions learned at home in Spain and combined them with "the open-minded approach that lies at the heart of America."

I have only one minor quibble with José. He insists on Spanish extra-virgin olive oil, exclusively. As a proud Californian, I'm a booster for our state's agriculture, so if you have an excellent California oil, use it.

The book's publisher, Clarkson Potter (a division of Random House), states that "Tapas" is the first major Spanish cook book to appear on these shores in two decades. "Tapas" was written for American home cooks by a Spanish chef whose creations are appreciated by his customers and highly praised by his celebrity chef peers.

The title "Tapas" gives the book a fashionable, trendy tone, perfect for marketing. True, the recipes allow you to prepare a remarkable repast of little dishes, accompanied by wine, which will dazzle your guests. However, long after the tapas trend fades away, becoming a distant memory like the 80's grazing fad, you'll be glad to have a volume of a stunning Spanish recipes on hand and lots of at-home Spanish dining experiences under your belt. Due to the healthy style of cooking José favors, it's likely you'll still have that belt buckled in the same notch.

Today, I've chosen to share his Catalan-style spinach. The chef writes that in Catalonia traveling troubadours were paid with a plate of almonds, pine nuts, raisins and other dried fruits. José uses the Catalan fruit-nut combination to make spinach sing.

Write Lynn Duvall at boblynn@ix.netcom.com or in care of the Valley Sun.

Jose Andres Spinach, Catalan-style

* 2 tablespoons Spanish extra-virgin olive oil

* 1 golden delicious apple, peeled, cored and cut into 1/4 inch cubes

* 1/4 cup pine nuts

* 1/4 cup seedless dark raisins

* 1/2 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste

* 10 ounces baby spinach, washed

Heat the olive oil in a large pot over a high flame. When the oil is very hot, add the apple cubes and cook until they are a little browned, less than 1 minute. Add the pine nuts and cook until they are brown, about 20 seconds. Keep the pot moving so the nuts don't burn. Add the raisins and the 1/2 teaspoon salt, and stir together.

Add the spinach, mix and sauté very fast until it starts to wilt. Then remove the pot from the heat; the spinach will continue to wilt off the heat. Add salt to taste and serve immediately.

Serves 4.

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