Obituary: Penelope Casas / Author, authority on Spanish cooking

PENMay 25, 1943 - Aug. 11, 2013

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Penelope Casas, a Greek-American writer from New York City who was an authority on the foods of Spain, and helped introduce Americans in the 1980s to a continental Spanish cuisine distinctly different from its Mexican and South American counterparts, died Aug. 11 in Manhasset, N.Y., on Long Island. She was 70. The cause was complications of treatment for leukemia, said her daughter, Elisa.

Ms. Casas wrote many influential books on Spanish cooking, beginning in 1982 with "The Foods and Wines of Spain," which is considered a classic and is in its 12th printing.

Her 1985 cookbook, "Tapas: The Little Dishes of Spain," was among the first to chronicle for American readers the Spanish culinary tradition of tapas bars, or tascas, where Spaniards graze between meals over appetizers like baby eel, grilled sausage and prawn fritters, sipping sherry. That book also became a classic, riding an early wave of enthusiasm for tapas in the United States. "Tapas" was reissued in 2007 in a revised edition.

Ms. Casas published seven cookbooks, including "Delicioso! Regional Cooking of Spain" (1996), "Paella! Spectacular Rice Dishes From Spain" (1999), and "La Cocina de Mama: The Great Home Cooking of Spain" (2005).

In all of them, she took pains to describe Spanish culinary culture as well as its ingredients. The tapas tradition, for instance, emerged among the fiercely independent-minded people of Andalusia in the 19th century, she wrote, partly because it permitted them "to eat by whim, free from rules and schedules."

Ms. Casas' first exposure to anything Spanish came in her ninth-grade Spanish class in Queens. She later majored in Spanish literature at Vassar. Her fate as a Spainophile was sealed, her daughter said, during a semester abroad in Madrid in the early 1960s, when she met her future husband, Luis Casas, who would collaborate on several of her books.

Penelope Fexas was born on May 25, 1943, in Whitestone, Queens, one of two children of Antonia and Achilles Fexas, Greek immigrants. Her father was an optometrist. Her only sibling, Tom, an influential designer of racing yachts, died in 2006.

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