Janet Mendel is an American-born journalist and food writer who has penned several other books about the food of Spain. My Kitchen in Spain was winner of the Andre Simon Award and was short-listed for the Glenfiddich Food Book of the Year award. I have already reviewed Traditional Spanish Cooking, Janet’s other book.
Cooking from the Heart of Spain is the title but where exactly is the heart of Spain? Well, it’s La Mancha and although you might not be able to stick a pin in a map and hit right upon it, I don’t doubt that you would have heard of its produce… and Don Quixote.
La Mancha is a region that encompasses cities such as Toledo, Cuenca, Ciudad Real and Guadalajara. Unless you have travelled away from the Costas you probably wouldn’t realise that the REAL Spain in all its culinary glory lays waiting for you. Manchego cheese (wonderful served with quince paste), saffron, and Serrano ham are the products of this area along with wine and olive oil. In short, the foods we think of as typically Spanish are probably from La Mancha.
Janet shares nearly 200 recipes that give a flavour of all that the Heart of Spain has to offer, everything from tapas to desserts. Almost every recipe has a foreword which charmingly gives the cultural context to the dish. Cooking from the Heart of Spain is not only a cookbook but also a guide to food and its place in Spanish society.
The recipes have the solid and rustic feel of seasonal dishes. They are simple to prepare from ingredients that are readily available in the high street. Spanish Potato Tortilla has long been a favourite in tapas bars but it makes a substantial and cheap family lunch. Tortilla with Artichokes and Ham is another version that might be more appropriate for a smart meal with friends. A recipe that is both posh and rustic, if that is not an oxymoron.
Spain has winter and cold weather, so it’s no surprise to find such a fine collection of warming soups and One-Pot Meals. La Mancha is also the heart of garlic country, and Garlic Soup is said to be a good hangover cure, although Don Quixote’s advice to his companion Sancho Panza is…”Don’t eat garlic or onions, so that they don’t take you for a peasant.” Glad we are more enlightened these days because Janet also recommends the Double Garlic Soup!
Cooking from the Heart of Spain has dishes suitable for every occasion and with so many fish and vegetable recipes, this is a book with broad appeal. There is so much more to Spanish food than Paella, and Janet Mendel acts as a guide through delicious and authentic alternatives.
Cooking from the Heart of Spain
Author: Janet Mendel
Published by: Frances Lincoln
Cookbook review by Chrissie Walker © 2018