This large hardback book is more an encyclopaedia with recipes than a mere cookbook. For starters, it runs to over 500 pages and represents five years of research by the author who is an internationally acclaimed food writer. This means it is not the sort of book you pick up if you just want to re-create a few tapas that you ate in a Barcelona bar. Rather, it is the comprehensive reference you buy because you are interested in the Spanish culture and the meeting of food, history and social mores.
Food can be a highlight for travellers in Spain and that rather large geographic land mass is historically a melting pot of different cultures with many regional differences but still close to its peasant roots, as far as the food is concerned at least. Claudia Roden has spent time in each area and has faithfully recorded recipes and observations from the locals. The first 120 pages provide a very readable history, a discussion of the five main regions and information on the critical Spanish ingredients and techniques. The remaining 380 pages are recipes divided into chapters grouped by type (soups, the famous bean stews, seafood, meat, desserts and pastries to name a few). It is comprehensive.
The enormously popular tapas only warrant 20 pages or so because, the author explains, these are bar food and not indicative of the dishes eaten at home by Spaniards. Fear not, paella is comprehensively covered, as are traditional Spanish ingredients such as morcillas, chorizos and delicious jamon – the Spanish ham. For New Zealand cooks, the absence of quality Spanish ingredients may be a problem in terms of achieving the authentic flavour. I don’t think my effort with black pudding quite replicated morcilla. And my local New World is a little deficient in stocks of salt cod or pigs’ ears. But there are plenty of recipes to choose from and only some require problematic ingredients. Spanish cooking does not, in the main, require a vast list of ingredients and nor is it particularly spicy.
I would just comment that when I cooked the Patatas a lo Pobre con Buevos Rotos (that is the Potatoes with Fried Onions, Garlic and Eggs), the garlic was entirely missing from the recipe.
The photography is of authentic dishes, rather than heavily styled. This is traditional home cooking, Spanish style. As one whose best memory of Cadiz was a simple tomato and bean soup eaten at an outdoor café in a square, I can vouch that simple, homestyle Spanish food is delicious.
The Food of Spain by Claudia Roden (Penguin; ISBN 978 0 718 15719 7) reviewed by Abbie Jury.
First published in the Waikato Times and reprinted here with their permission.