It’s the third largest country in Europe and has strong historic links to North Africa. It faces both the Atlantic and the Mediterranean, has mountain ranges, deserts and fertile plains. Madrid, its capital, is the highest in Europe and Spanish style is respected world-wide. It’s a land of diversity and richness.
The landscape of Spain has helped it maintain a multitude of cultural and culinary traditions. Each village might have a typical celebration dish entirely different from that of its neighbour. Each family will have its own interpretation but all will have common threads – quality of ingredients and flavour.
Spain has offered so much to the dining tables of the world. Tapas are a universal favourite, paella is now found in every Mediterranean town or village, and who would want to live without Spanish olive oil? They produce more in Spain than any other country.
The author of The Cuisines of Spain, Teresa Barrenechea, was born and brought up in the Spanish Basque region in the north west of Spain. She moved to New York City as press attaché to the Spanish delegation of the United Nations. In 1991 she opened Marichu which was considered as New York’s finest traditional Spanish restaurant. Her previous book, Basque Table, was awarded the National Gastronomy Prize in 1998.
If you have visited Spain then you would have tasted fine restaurant food but perhaps, and this is probably true of every nation, you would have eaten better and more authentic food in private homes. You might not get that chance unless you kidnap a taxi driver or befriend your hotel concierge so a good cookbook will be your next-best option. The Cuisines of Spain could be that very book.
There are certainly dishes here that will be familiar to you – paella, for example. But Teresa offers four varieties all hailing from the Valencia region. Fideua is a seafood paella made with pasta. It has similar ingredients to the more common rice-based seafood paella but that rice is replaced with macaroni or angel-hair pasta.
Empanada Gallega (Bread Pie from Galicia) has a number of alternative fillings and all of them are enticing. Empanada de Berberechos has cockles and peppers, and Empanada de Sardinas has sardines and onions. The pie I’d choose for a cold winter night with the TV (or log fire if you are lucky) would be Empanada de Lomo. This has a rich and warming stuffing of pork and chorizo with a sprinkle of extra paprika and tomato sauce for good measure.
If you are a fan of the French Crème Caramel then you are sure to love Crema Catalana. Whilst the traditional French version is turned out on a plate and has caramel incorporated into the custard, the Spanish version remains in its dish, has a hint of cinnamon and a crust of caramel. The Cuisines of Spain offers a simple method for achieving a good result.
This is one of my favourite books on Spanish cooking. The photography by Christopher Hirsheimer and Jeffrey Koehler is marvellous. The recipes are tempting and there is plenty of history and anecdote for each one. The Cuisines of Spain will be sought after by lovers of real Spanish food.
Cookbook review: The Cuisines of Spain
Author: Teresa Barrenechea
Published by: Ten Speed Press
Price: $40.00US, £38.00
Cookbook review by Chrissie Walker © 2018