Cookbook Reviews: Spain

by Matt on March 3, 2010

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.