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Rioja & Food

Recipes: Penelope Casas

The following recipes are from Penelope Casas, a frequent contributor to the New York Times, Gourmet, Food & Wine, and Fine Cooking. She is also a consultant and lecturer on Spain, a guest speaker at the Smithsonian Institution and the National Geographic Society, and an adjunct professor at the New York University.

Ensalada De Pimientos Estilo-Andaluz
(Red Pepper, Tomato, And Tuna Salad, Andalusian Style)

This version of Andalusian red pepper salad comes from the Cazorla restaurant In Madrid and is an especially delicious rendition. It includes tomato, white-meat tuna and mild bright green olives and it is served in a bowl with lots of liquid from the peppers and tomatoes. More than salad In itself it is meant as a side dish to Andalusian fried fish and grilled shrimp to place on your plate with the fish and take more as you please.

Serves 4

6 medium-large, deep red bell peppers
1/2 pound good-quality white-meat tuna, preferably imported from Spain
1/2 pound ripe but firm tomatoes, cut into 1/4-inch slices, then halved
12 mild bright green olives, such as Cerignola
2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley
6 tablespoons fruity extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon wine vinegar, preferably mild white wine vinegar
1/2 teaspoon sugar
Kosher or sea salt

Preheat the oven to 550'F. Place the peppers in a roosting pan and cook until charred, turning once, 30 to 40 minutes. Remove from the oven and place in a deep dish. Cover with foil and let sit for 15 minutes. Peel off the skin, core, and seed the peppers, reserving the juices.

Slice the peppers into 3/4-inch strips and place in a bowl. Add the tuna, broken into chunks, the tomatoes, olives, and parsley. Fold in the oil, vinegar, sugar, and salt to taste with a rubber spatula. Refrigerate overnight. Serve cold or at room temperature.

Serve with...

Unoaked white Rioja

Light and crisp, these wines are fermented in stainless steel and are usually released after only 6 months of bottle aging.  Not meant to be showstoppers but they are often the most surprising in tastings. I can think of no other white wine produced anywhere else in the world that delivers this kind of value and consistency.


Clean and citrusy with aromas of fresh apples and pears.

When to Enjoy

Enjoy as an pre-meal aperitif or with a grilled chicken salad with arugula and tomato, shrimp kabobs, chicken marinated with ginger and lemon and then roasted and served at room temperature.

Tortitas De Camarones De Luisa Osborne
(Luisa Osborne's Shrimp Pancakes)

The Osborne family, famed for their fine sherry, arrived in Spain from England at the end of the eighteenth century and established Bodegas Osborne, today among the oldest and most prestigious sherry companies in Spain. Although many sherry companies in the city of Jerez in southwestern Spain bear the names of Englishmen, over the centuries the families have become very SPanish, although thy never forget their English roots. So when Luisa Osborne set out to write a cookbook, her recipes were for the most part Spanish, such as this outstanding recipe for shrimp pancakes, so typical in this part of Spain. This version includes the shrimp shells, which give additional shrimp flavor and extra crispness to the pancakes.

Makes 20 pancakes

Kosher or sea salt
1/4 pound very small shrimp in their shells
2 tablespoons minced onion
1 garlic clove, minced
2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley
1/8 teaspoon sweet paprika, preferably Spanish smoked
1/2 cup flour
Mild olive oil for frying

Bring to a boil in a small saucepan about I cup water with 1/2 teaspoon salt. Add the shrimp and cook briefly until just opaque. Remove with a slotted spoon and measure the liquid to 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons (boil down if there is more). Transfer the liquid to a bowl and cool.

Chop the shrimp with their shells into approximately 1/8-inch pieces. Add to the cooled liquid with the onion, garlic, parsley, paprika, flour, and salt to taste and stir until smooth. Let sit for 1 hour at room temperature. The mixture should have the consistency of a thin pancake batter.

Pour the oil to a depth of 1/4 inch into a large skillet and heat to the smoking point. Drop the batter by the tablespoon into the oil, spreading and pricking with the edge of a spoon into thin, lacy-textured pancakes. Fry until golden, then flip them over to brown the other side. Drain on paper towels. Keep worm in a 200'F oven while preparing the rest of the pancakes. Transfer to a platter and serve.

Serve with...

Rioja Rosado

Usually made with either Tempranillo or Garnacha (or a blend of the two), Rioja Rosados have a barely perceptible touch of textural astringency (the result of minimal grape skin contact) and good acidity, making them surprisingly versatile food wines.


Exuberant aromas of red berry fruit–think cherry and strawberry–with a dry finish.

When to Enjoy
Perfect for quenching your thirst on a hot day, we like Rioja Rosados alongside North African vegetable purees, shellfish, grilled turbot, and fresh goat cheese.  Just be sure to look for bottle from the most recent vintage. With very few exceptions, Rosado is not meant to age. So drink ‘em if you got ‘em. 

Arroz De Verduras De Isabel
(Isabel's Vegetable Paella)

2 1/2 cups vegetable or chicken broth
Kosher or sea salt
1/8 teaspoon crumbled thread saffron
1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 cup frozen baby lima beans, thawed
8 baby carrots (about 3 ounces), scraped and choped
8 shiitake mushrooms, brushed clean, stems trimmed coarsely chopped
1/4 pound green beans, preferably broad flat beans, ends trimmed
2 medium red bell peppers (about 1/2 pound), cut into 1/2-inch dice
1 medium zucchini (about 6 ounces), cut into 1/2-inch cubes
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 cup chopped whole canned tomatoes
1 teaspoon sweet paprika, preferably Spanish smoked
1 1/4 cups Valencian short-grain rice or Arborio

Serves 4Combine the vegetable broth, salt to taste, and saffron in a pot. Cover and keep worm over low heat. Preheat the oven to 400'F for a gas oven, 450'F for an electric one.

Heat the oil in a paelia pan that measures 13 inches across the top. Add the limas, carrots, mushrooms, green beans, peppers, and zucchini and stir-fry over high heat stirring frequently, for about 10 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 2 minutes more, then add the tomatoes and paprika and cook over high heat for another minute. Taste for salt (the mixture should be well salted) and pour in the broth. Bring to a boil, add the rice, and boil until the rice is no longer soupy but enough liquid remains to continue cooking the rice, 10 minutes.

Transfer to the oven and cook, uncovered, until the rice is almost al dente, 10 to 12 minutes in a gas oven, 15 to 20 minutes in an electric one. Remove to a warm spot, cover with foil, and let sit for 5 to 10 minutes, until the rice is cooked to taste. To make the socarrat crust, uncover the paella and return to the stove over medium-high heat. Cook without stirring for about 2 minutes, until a crust of rice forms on the bottom of the pan (be careful not to let it burn). Serve, scraping up the crust with the edge of an inverted metal pancake turner.

Serve with...

Rioja Reserva

Aged for a minimum of 12 months in oak and at least 24 in bottle before release, Rioja Reserva is the benchmark Rioja, the age category on which most bodegas stake their reputations.


Modern styles of Reserva tend to have flavor profiles tending towards chocolate, sweet spices, and what the Spanish call sabores balsamicos – fennel, anise, licorice, etc.  Classic style Riojas are aged in American oak barrels for considerably longer than the D.O.Ca. requires; they tend to have more developed aromas—things like cedar, leather, tobacco, earth—with less fresh fruitiness but generally more acidity and structure.

When to Enjoy

With shellfish paella, roasted leg of lamb, wild mushroom risotto, grilled chorizo, barbecued beef brisket, ratatouille, moo-shoo pork.

Queso Manchego Con Aceitunas Y Piquillos
(Manchego Cheese Canapes With Olives And Piquillo Peppers)

An extremely easy tapa to assemble that comes straight from Et Corregtttor, the most delightful bar anct restaurant in the region  of La Mancha where Manchego cheese is made and windmills form the times of Errant Knight Don Quixote still stand.    

Makes 24 canapes         

One 13/4-inch wedge (about 1/2 pound) Manchego cheese
30 cured black olives, pitted and chopped
3/4 cup chapped piquillo peppers or pimientos
6 anchovy fillets
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
Minced fresh parsley              

Cut the wedge of cheese lengthwise into 1/8-inch slices to form triangular pieces. In a mortar or mini processor, mash to a paste the olives, piquillos, anchovies, and oil.

Spread about 3/4 teaspoon of the mixture on each cheese slice. Sprinkle with parsley and arrange attractively on a serving dish.

Serve with...

A Rioja Crianza

An easy drinking style, crianzas tend to emphasize fresh fruit above all else and spend less time in bottle than Reservas. This fruity freshness makes them a perfect foil for aged sheep’s milk cheeses like Manchego, acting almost like a schmear of fruit jam on top of a buttery, slightly piquant cheese.


Big aromas of strawberries, cherries, with varying degrees of oakiness, depending on the producer and the type of oak used; but in general fruity and clean on the palate, superquaffable.

When to Enjoy

As an aperitif, with spicy food (think of how a chutney cools the mouth when you’re eating spicy Indian food), Thanksgiving turkey, whole roasted fish, lasagna.

Bozcocho de Naranja de Mari Carmen Martin
Mari Carmen's Orange Cake

3 large eggs
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
1 tablespoon freshly grated orange zest
1/2 cup mild olive oil
2 cups unbleached flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
confectioners' sugar for dusting

Grease and flour an 8-inch fluted Bundt pan. Preheat the oven to 350F. In a bowl, beat the eggs with an electric mixer until thickened and light colored.

Gradually beat in the granulated sugar, then -- in order -- the orange juice, orange zest, and oil. Beat in the flour and, finally, the baking powder.

Pour the batter into the pan and bake for about 45 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the cake comes out clean and the cake spprings back to the touch. Cool slightly, then turn out onto a serving dish. Dust with confectioners' sugar.

Serve with...

Barrel-fermented White Rioja
Fermented in barricas, 220-liter barrels of French oak, these modern-styled wines will spend several months in those same barrels, often kept on their lees (spent yeast detritus), moves that add a tropical fruity richness and Champagne-like complexity to the wines.


Aromas of vanilla, coconut, butter, tropical fruit, and honey. A rich mouthfeel, almost creamy, good pineapple-like acidity, and a dry finish.

When to Enjoy

Barrel-fermented white Rioja is a great Chardonnay substitute, recommended with richer fish (salmon, tuna), shellfish and stronger flavors like garlic (think codfish with garlic and clams), and things that actually have fruit in them (mango salsa, couscous with blond raisins and stewed chicken--think North African), and of course, dessert.

Recipes reprinted with permission.

We'd love to receive your favorite recipes to go with a vibrant Rioja and, with your permission, we may even publish them on the Vibrant Rioja website. You can simply send your recipes, comments or questions to We'd love to hear from you!