Friday, 15 September 2017

Top 6 Cookbooks For Spanish Home Cooking

"The Italians and Spanish, the Chinese and Vietnamese see food as part of a larger, more essential and pleasurable part of daily life. Not as an experience to be collected or bragged about - or as a ritual like filling up a car - but as something else that gives pleasure, like sex or music, or a good nap in the afternoon."Anthony Bourdain. 

Over the last few years I have amassed a respectable collection of Spanish cookbooks. I was drawn to the books as they made me yearn for a place I had not been. Many of them are in the style I love most, part cookbook, part travel seduction. But then one day I realised, I hadn't actually cooked anything from any of them and in my mind that just isn't acceptable. Cookbooks are not a display piece they are to be used, to have little smears of food on your most loved recipes and to have my signature notes on each cooked recipe, what I thought of it, the date I cooked it and what tweaks and deviations I made from the instructions.

I knew this must be remedied so I sat down with the books, trawled through my options and marked out a weeks worth of Spanish cooking, you can't of course know a cuisine or even a single cookbook in a week but it is a good place to start. Going into it I knew virtually nothing of the cuisine. I haven't managed to make it to Spain yet and due to the lack of Spanish restaurants in my city I haven't really eaten at a Spanish restaurant. There is something wonderful about coming at a cuisine totally blind. So often you have preconceived notions of what a nations food should or shouldn't be and you have a tendency to stick with recipes that are familiar but delving into Spanish cooking it was all new and wonderful in that way only brand new experiences can be. 

Over the course of the week I cooked from a range of cookbooks to get a array of perspectives and I was taken with the rustic nature of the food. It took me to that place of long hearty lunches, tapas after work and late dinners in the lingering light of a European summer. Much of what I was presented with in my books was peasant style food which is what I love the most. Unpretentious food you could see on the family dinner table being enjoyed by generations eating together. Even the names of the dishes encompassed the unpretentious nature of the food, we ate poor man's potatoes and a recipe who's title literally translates to "Tatters and Rags".

The cookbooks I used to take me to Spain, metaphorically of course, were an invaluable window into the culture and I wanted to feature those here so you to can be whisked away to another land via your kitchen just as I did.

If you were only going to own only one Spanish cookbook then Claudia Roden's The Food Of Spain is the one I would recommend. It's not that the recipes themselves are necessarily superior to any of the other books it's the authors knowledge and her voice that makes this book stand out. It is one of those books that feel like a life's work. It's a classic even before it has had time to become a classic. This book takes you into the history of Spain and it's food and puts the puzzle of the various regions into context. Each recipe has a comprehensive introduction which explains it's place in the culture of the country and many of the primary ingredients used have their own introductory explanations. You will finish reading this book feeling like you have a strong knowledge of Spain without actually having been there.

The Food Of Spain is one of a series of books by Murdoch books from 2008. It's funny, compared to most modern day cookbooks the presentation of the books is a little daggy but I have now cooked a lot from this one and the other that I own, The Food Of Morocco, and they are fantastic books. Strangely these books don't credit the author on the cover which is normally a sign of a fairly average cookbook but in this case they have actually tracked down experts in their fields. This book was authored by Vicky Harris who has written two other books on Spanish cooking. The recipes here are traditional and primarily peasant style. Lots of lovely stews, hearty seafood dishes. Recipes that feel like home and you would be happy to serve to the family. As far as skill level goes most beginners I think would be fairly comfortable with the Spanish recipes on offer in this book.

Written by an Australian expat living in Barcelona, Sophie Ruggles, My Barcelona Kitchen covers a wide range of Spanish dishes. I particularly like her take on tapas and the pictures make me want to host a little soiree to show off these tasty morsels and her story of packing up and moving the family to Barcelona is what all travellers dream of.

Frank Camorra would be considered the Australian authority on Spanish cuisine. His restaurants are well known around the country and are bustling all throughout the week. Movida Solera is specifically a collection on Andalusian recipes. This is a more regional take than his other books and the beautiful photography of the countryside, it's people and it's food such an intimate take on this region in the south of Spain. I particularly like the regional guides that recommend the best restaurants to try in each region of Andalusia and just wish I was heading to Spain sometime soon so I could try out his recommendations. For now though I will be happy cooking his recipes as they are so evocative it is almost the same...isn't it?

1000 Spanish Recipes is a case of "don't judge a book by it's cover"...or it's title. I have no idea why the quantity of recipes here is relevant and I think it is a marketing fail. The book is by Penelope Casas, someone I hadn't actually heard of till I picked up this book but turns out she was a bit of a Julia Child of her time. In the 1980's Penelope was a major proponent in bringing Spanish cooking to the American people. Her passion for Spain shines through in this book and as the title suggests it is about as comprehensive as a book on Spanish food gets. The book feels very personal and the pictures of Penelope doing her thing as far back as the 1970's helps you understand the long standing relationship Penelope has with the food of Spain.

The traveller in me really appreciates the Lonely Planet take on cookbooks. They are a mini food journey to the best restaurants around the country where each chef brings you their take on a dish of the country. As the recipes are written primarily by chefs it does have a different feel to my other cookbooks, a little more cheffy and a little less homey but it is an impressive compilation including classic recipes and reboots made modern.

And now to the food, here is a small selection of the dishes we cooked and ate.

Poor Mans's Potato's and Migas from Lonely Planet and Food of Spain

Fish in Tomato Braise from Movida Solera

Chicken in Saffron Stew with Braised Asparagus from The Food of Spain (the Murdoch book not the Claudia Roden)

Paella Valenciana, a recipe we created inspired by all the the Paella Valenciana recipes in these books. Recipe here 

Originally posted on Friday, 15 September 2017 by


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