Spanish cookbooks

Time Out reviews the best new Spanish recipe books to bring sunshine to your suppers

The Food of Spain

Claudia Roden, Penguin/Michael Joseph, £25

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Spanish food, post-Ferran Adrià, has shed its Gipsy Kings reputation for something altogether more molecular. Yet the creations of la nueva cocina brigade are not the topic of Claudia Roden’s latest work. The recipes are blessedly foam-free and unfiddled with. Instead of ‘instant mousses, bubbling froths and foams, vapours and explosions’ (Roden’s words), this long-awaited paean to Spanish cuisine revels in the simplicity of ‘traditional home cooking from all the regions [of Spain], as it is cooked today’.

Roden has dedicated more than five years to the research and writing of this book, and longer still in the planning. She combines the fact-combing skills of a historian, the discipline of an anthropologist and the analytical ability of a sociologist, into compelling stories.

In the introductory chapters, the Cairo-born, London-based writer unravels the strands of Roman, Moorish, New World, French and Jewish influences on Spanish food. Roden writes particularly lucidly on Jewish influences, Jewish diaspora food being the subject of one fo her earlier books. Her grandmother was a Sephardic Jew who fled to Ottoman lands after Jews were expelled from Spain in 1492 to become part of a group called ‘Spaniolis’ in the Jewish community of the Egypt that Roden grew up in.

Later chapters are beautifully written descriptions of the food traditions of regional Spain, plus descriptions of Spanish ingredients and cooking techniques. And, of course, there are lots of recipes: starters and tapas (classic ham croquettes, salt cod fritters); soups (garlic soup, classic Córdoba-style salmorejo tomato and bread soup); egg dishes and savoury pastries (vegetable tortilla, tuna empanada); vegetable dishes (artichokes in almond sauce); a tantalising selection of rice and pasta dishes; fish, poultry and meat main courses; and indulgent desserts and pastries, such as walnut cake with brandy, chestnut and chocolate flan.

The recipes are clearly written, each has a historical headnote – and they really work. Andalusian-style oxtail stew, long associated with bull-fighting, cooked long and slow, with impressive quantities of wine and brandy, eventually emerges from its cooking pot soft, tender and aromatic. A Castilian-style chicken dish thickened with ground almonds and cooked egg yolk, delicately flavoured with cinnamon and saffron, tasted and smelled like memories of Spain.

Few cookery books have real staying power; it’s not unusual for new ones to be remaindered within months of publication and forgotten soon after. Yet Roden’s books buck the trend. Her definitive ‘A Book of Middle Eastern Food’, packed with original research and published in 1968, introduced a generation of Western cooks to what was at the time a little-known, undervalued cuisine. Follow-up titles,’ The Book of Jewish Food’ and ‘The Food of Italy’, among others, established her as one of the giants of contemporary food writing. Her latest masterwork is a must-read, must-cook-from for anyone with an interest in Spanish food and culture, and is destined to be an enduring classic.

Susan Low, Time Out London Issue 2169: March 15-21 2012

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