Cookbook Reviews: Spain

I’m so pleased to bring to you the second installment of the new Cookbook Review column here at Mattbites from our friend Kristina Gill. The fact that she lives in Rome yet doesn’t visit Spain regularly is a point of contention for me but imma let that go for now. Take it away, Kristina!

This week’s book reviews all began with an article in a magazine about San Sebastián, and a conversation with my {Italian} husband trying to convince him to take me to eat my way through Spain.  I began to look for Spanish cookbooks, and settled on what I think is a top quality bibliography.   If you have titles you’d recommend, or restaurants, please share!!  It’s my newest crush!  After my dog Crash! of course.

The Cuisines of Spain:  Exploring Regional Home Cooking by Teresa Barrenechea (Ten Speed Press, paperback 2009; food photographs by Christopher Hirsheimer, location photography by Jeffrey Koehler). This is the starting point for learning about Spanish cuisine.  Basque author and restaurateur Teresa Barrenechea provides a comprehensive look at the geography, customs, and recipes of Spain.  As a Spanish cuisine newbie, I appreciate the notes explaining the origin of the cuisines in the different areas and the usage and preparation of ingredients.  I try to have at least one book like this for each of the cuisines in which I am interested to better understand the people and the place which produced the food I like.

Pintxos: Small Plates in the Basque Tradition by Gerald Hirigoyen with Lisa Weiss (Ten Speed Press, 2009; photography by Maren Caruso) I haven’t been to San Francisco recently, so I haven’t had the chance to eat at one of Gerald Hirigoyen’s restaurants, but after reading his most recent cookbook Pintxos (pronounced “peenchos” in Basque, or tapas in Spanish), I want to skip his place and book a ticket to San Sebastián.  This book is divided into chapters which follow the menu at Bocadillos, Hirigoyen’s San Francisco restaurant.  And while there are quite a few ingredients in the book that I can’t source in Rome, the ones which are readily available more than make up for it.  This book spans all skill levels, offering the easiest of recipes (Griddled Ham and Cheese Bocadillos (sammiches)) through the more involved (Pork Medallions Confit with Curried Apple and Celery Root Salad).  My favorite chapters, wow, how to decide…just about everything except the organ meats!  That means bocadillos (little sandwiches), estofados (stews and braises), fritos (fried bites), ensaladas (salads), pintxos (skewers), and montaditos (bites on bread).  As Hirigoyen points out in his intro, most of these dishes are meant to be served room temperature and can easily be made ahead, so I really really recommend this book for anyone who likes to entertain.  Believe me, you will use it a lot and probably gradually create your own pintxos. { P.S.  I bet this is the first cookbook ever to feature liver and onions on the cover in a way that makes you want to eat it! }

Seasonal Spanish Food by José Pizarro and Vicky Bennison (Kyle Cathie Limited, 2009; photography by Emma Lee). As this book suggests, this is all about seasonal Spanish food.  Organized by season, the book presents recipes by the ingredients which are abundant in each particular season.  The book starts with Spring, and the first recipe is a brilliant green pea soup with Serrano ham (the ham is served on a piece of toast placed on top of the soup).  Every few recipes, there is an information page – about Spanish cheeses, salt cod (bacalao), Easter, vinegar, and so on – to put the food into a greater context, so you have the feeling you’ve made a connection with the place and the customs through Pizzaro’s recipes.  None of the recipes is too difficult– I appreciated his simple technique for preparing Galician-style Octopus, which is much shorter than other recipes I have seen, and produced a lovely dish.  I do recommend keeping an eye out for your preferred level of seasoning as I found some of the recipes, as written, tended to be under salted.  The photography in this book is beautiful, and together with the recipes, makes this a great general Spanish cuisine book, and now I am wondering myself why I didn’t stop at Tapas Brindisa in Borough Market two weeks ago when I was there!!!)

MoVida Rustica: Spanish Traditions and Recipes by Frank Camorra and Richard Cornish (Murdoch Books 2009; photography by Alan Benson). I really saved the best for last this time.    MoVida Rustica is Melbourne-based chef Frank Camorra’s second book about his native Spain’s cooking.  It is the fruit of almost two years of research.  Camorra, owner of MoVida and MoVida Next Door restaurants, ties the recipes together with his own personal experiences and the people and places he got to know as he traveled Spain to put together this volume.  This is not a book for people who don’t like to make an effort in the kitchen, as most of the recipes, although not at all difficult, do require a bit of organization and studying first, like the octopus terrine (can you tell I love octopus??). [You can see a video on how he prepares his octopus here.]This is however a book for anyone and everyone who is captivated, mesmerized even, by amazing food photography.  Alan Benson photographed my top two favorite books from 2009.  And though I don’t like to shunt the food content to the background, this really is first and foremost a high impact visual extravaganza.  The food and travel photography in MoVida Rustica is so fantastic, and the writing flows so well in this book, and the book just feels so nice in your hands, that even if you never cook from it, you’ll find yourself opening it again and again for photographic and styling inspiration.  It is available in the UK and Australia, and I hope that it will be available in the United States.


  1. says

    oh, girl-don’t wait for the husband to take you; you’re just a train-ride away!!
    Some of my favorite books about Spanish cuisine (more, Moorish), are the ones by husband-wife team of Moro restaurant in London; they have 3 books that are simply beautiful and draw you into the food and culture of place. These all look interesting too.

  2. says

    I had tried contacting Kristina awhile back because I’d love to meet her. I’m leading a group on a culinary trip to Italy in April and we’ll be starting in Rome for a few days. I seem to share a passion around world hunger issues with Kristina (I’m a volunteer chef educator and on the advisory board for Operation Frontline Colorado which is a community outreach arm of Share Our Strength, teaching families with very low incomes how to eat healthy, fresh foods within their budget). Is there a way for you to pass this to Kristina and ask her to contact me to see if she’ll be in Rome when I am there and to see if I can buy her a glass of wine to learn about what she’s doing?

  3. says

    OMG! Love these! We’re lucky enough to have the Spanish Table here in Berkeley, a fabulous little Iberian shop that stocks all of these books. I’m totally heading down there today.

  4. says

    Congrats to Jose Pizarro for his IACP nomination and also to Andrea Nguyen’s whose book we featured in the last round up!

  5. Melissa says

    Movida Rustica is a beautiful cookbook. I live in Melbourne and late last year I went to a reader’s dinner at Frank Cammora’s new restaurants MoVida Aqui and Terraza which are just as brilliant as MoVida and MoVida Next Door. In MoVida Rustica there is a recipe we enjoyed at the reader’s dinner called Cordero con Cognac which is a lamb forequarter slow roasted for 3 hrs in cognac (pg 241). It is a simply made dish that smells and tastes like heaven well worth wasting a good bottle of cognac on. I have made it 4 times now for dinners at my house and everybody has loved it.

  6. says

    I’m in a hurry, so I will come back and read more and make recommendations, but I have one minor correction. In Spain you distinguish between tapas and pinxos. It is not the same. It is similar, but not the same. So when speaking Spanish you would not say tapas to pinxos. You would say either tapas or pinxos. Unless you are on a mission for both. Wishing you a good Saturday!

  7. says

    Hi Ann Marie,

    I’m so very sorry! I tried to be as succinct as possible in summarizing. In Gerald Hirigoyen’s book intro he writes: “But whether you call them by their Spanish name -tapas- or Basque name -pintxos-, it is the casual way they are served that makes these small plates synonymous with a relaxed, fun-filled atmosphere.” I understood he meant “small bites of food”, similar to dim sum, meze, and antipasti, and not so much a literal translation when he compared them. But alack and alas, I will rely on others’ expertise for clarification!

  8. says

    The difference between “tapas” and “pintxos” is that the first are usually bigger than pintos. The tapas are to be eaten with a fork or a little spoon, and the pintxos are bite-size.
    I am so happy that spanish food is begining to be know worldwide and most of all, the regional cooking, because in Spain we eat other things besides “paella”, “gazpacho” and “tortilla de patatas”. In my region, Galicia, you can find the best fish and seafood of the whole country.

  9. says

    Please do not be sorry :-)

    I just wanted to clarify… explain that there is a differnce between the two (tapas/pinxos) even if just a “nuance”. I’m not sure I’m making sence. But anyhow, nothing you need to apologize for. And yes, they are both small bites of food so in that sence they are the same. I’ll be back for recomendations of where you can taste both, and don’t forget the Txacoli!

  10. Wendi in Biarritz says

    Matt if you’re serious about tasting your way around San Sebastain let me know. My husband Sassoune is known as a local tapas aficionado (after many years of in depth field study :-) in San Sebastian. We live in Biarritz, in the French Basque Country, and met up with Gerald Hirigoyen last February when we were in San Francisco-he’s from Biarritz too. We’d love to show you some of our favorite haunts in San Sebastian.

  11. says

    @Melissa if it’s good, it’s not really wasting the Cognac is it?? Thanks for sharing your experience with the cookbook and Frank Camorra’s restaurants. I will definitely try one of them next time I’m in Melbourne!! For now, I just have to use the book and dream!

  12. says

    I was also going to comment on the pintxos-tapas, thing, but since it´s been said, I´ll let it go. Just to say, though, pintxos is the Basque spelling, but it´s a Spanish word too, pinchos, and we use it all over. Tapas is more of a Southern Spain thing.
    Great selection of books, I´m loving this section a lot.

  13. mbk says

    I’m not sure if you are looking exclusively for English-language books, but I’m in love with a fuego negro’s ‘pintxos y viñetas’….a beautiful little softback that is graphic novel meets cookbook. very unique.
    @Wendi in Biarritz…does that invitation extend to other traveling eaters? I tend to find myself in Donostia in September….

  14. says

    @mbk – thanks for your recommendation! Although I do not have access to that title, I’m sure some of the other readers do and appreciate the tip! I too was wondering if Wendi’s offer was only for Matt!!

  15. Wendi in Biarritz says

    kristina & mbk-I didn’t realize that my offer to have my husband Sassoune take Matt on a tapas tour of San Sebastian would generate so much interest. I certainly don’t want to use Matt’s site as a place to pitch my wares, you see we own an incoming travel company in Biarritz. But if you are genuinely interested you could contact me at and we could talk.

  16. says

    I’m from Bilbao Matt and seeing all these books makes my heart flutter. I own every single one of them but Pintxos holds a dear place in my heart (of course). Pintxo bar hopping has always been a favorite tradition in our family. Pintxos and txakoli. Thanks for sharing this list.

  17. marta says

    Matt I am from Madrid (Spain) I loved the book reviews. I am flutter too, as Aran. Every year I go to San Sebastian for a pintxos trip. Txacoli (white vasc wine) its great to drink with pintxos! I also love drinking tiny glasses of beer called Zuritos.

  18. says

    Just came across your blog, nice work on it! I like this post because I’ve just gotten interested in Spanish cuisine. Barrenechea’s Cuisines of Spain appeals to me most as a beginner. I was wondering if you know anything about Penelope Casas’s The Foods and Wines of Spain? I’ve heard it’s pretty good as well.

  19. says

    All of these books look terrific! Thanks for giving me an excuse to head to the bookstore this weekend. If anyone is curious about Teresa Barrenechea’s previous book, “The Basque Table”, I just posted a recipe from it here:
    Tortilla de Patata… pretty simple, and excellent. Enjoy!


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