Thursday, 12 April 2012

A NEW COOK BOOK

I used to buy cook books all the time, with a tendency to collect the entire oeuvre of a particular cook or food writer, such as Nigel Slater or Nigella Lawson. Many books were purchased on a whim, for one or two recipes and a collection of sumptuous photos, which amount to "food porn". Then I realised many of my cook books were lying idle on my bookshelves, gathering dust from neglect. These days, I tend to cook from a handful of favourite books, and various recipes culled from websites, friends and magazines.

I think the last cook book I purchased was Yotam Ottolenghi's Plenty, an enjoyable and imaginative collection of vegetarian recipes, and a follow up to his excellent Ottolenghi Cookbook. Lately, I seem to be buying sheet music compulsively, gaining an almost childish pleasure from receiving new parcels from Amazon and browsing through the heavy, creamy pages of a new Henle or Weiner urtext edition: I even read music scores in bed these days....

Claudia Roden is a food writer and cultural anthropologist who I have admired for a long time. Her Mediterranean Cookey is a staple on my bookshelf and a recipe book to which I return time and time again. It contains many classic recipes from the Mediterranean, as well some unusual, lesser-known ones too. One of my favourites is the Greek Walnut Cake, which I make and adapt fairly regularly. Her Book of Jewish Food is a fascinating cultural and culinary tour of the Jewish diaspora. She has also written on the food of Italy and Morocca (Arabesque); her latest book is The Food of Spain. Like her previous books, this has a comprehensive introduction to the regions of Spain and their distinctive cuisine, ingredients and cooking utensils. The recipes themselves include classics such as Gazpacho and Duck with Pears, as well as more unusual, regional dishes. I'm looking forward to trying some of the meat and fish recipes, and will blog any that are successful/delicious. At the end of the book is an interesting section on the cakes and pastries made in monasteries and convents.

I've always liked the food of Spain, and feel it is often overshadowed by the food of Spain's neighbours - France, Italy and Morocco. This book restates the importance of Spanish regional cooking. It's not for lovers of "food porn" - there are illustrations and photographs, but not on every page, but the text is lively, informative, and well-researched. A 'proper' book for cooks.

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